Carolina Panthers

Early reviews from Panthers first practice in new bubble? Better than a ballroom

Carolina Panthers’ new practice bubble

Panthers coach Ron Rivera says practice was a little snug in the new bubble, but worth it for climate-control.
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Panthers coach Ron Rivera says practice was a little snug in the new bubble, but worth it for climate-control.

For the first half hour of Panthers practice Monday, it was business as usual.

Excruciating heat. An occasional breeze of sweet relief. The Charlotte skyline in the distance.

And then, into the bubble players went.

It was the team’s first practice in the climate-controlled bubble since its completion earlier this summer. After owner David Tepper bought the team last summer, he said building such a facility was among his utmost priorities, and construction began in March.

Even in limited use, veteran tight end Greg Olsen said he could tell a difference.

“About 30 degrees,” Olsen noted after practice. “It’s nice, a nice relief from being outside. I think it was nice just to get in a little change of scenery. I thought everybody ran around pretty hard. I thought we had good speed, good energy.”

As for the actual functionality of the bubble, there are a few things to know.

The first, and one of the most important, is that given the pressurized nature of the facility, players have to be careful using the air lock doors to enter. Opening one at a time is fine, but more than that and...

“Don’t open both doors,” Olsen joked. “You’ll deflate the whole bubble.”

Players learned that in real time Monday, lining up in two single-file lines at doors in the rear. They then had to alternate which line went in at a time, to ensure both air lock doors weren’t open simultaneously.

Another effect of that air lock is that upon entering the facility, it’s not uncommon for your ears to pop a little, similar to gaining elevation in an airplane. Olsen said his did, and several reporters experienced the same.

The actual field inside is about 60 yards long, not including the lone end-zone space. It isn’t a full field because the team won’t be using it for full simulations — instead, time in the bubble will be for install purposes and situational drills. That also means there are no field goal posts.

Coach Ron Rivera said that after all the anticipation, he was pleased with the facility’s functionality.

“I thought it went pretty well,” Rivera said. “Just getting used to how tight it is — you know, we do have a 90-man roster right now, and that makes things a little bit tighter.”

Similar to how college basketball players struggle with depth perception when forced to play in football stadiums — the Final Four oftentimes is in those larger domes, and that extra space distorts what players see when shooting — the Panthers’ bubble is almost the opposite. Instead of having green grass behind them or an open bowl of fans, the bubble walls are tight along the edge of the interior field.

Rivera said that might be an issue at first, but should sort itself soon.

“That will be one of those things these guys will have to get used to, but again, I think the benefits of being inside far outweigh that. They’ll get used to it very quickly,” Rivera said. “This gives us a good alternative when it’s blazing hot like it is right now.

“We did start practice outside for the first 30 minutes of it. I wanted them to get a little of the heat in full pads, so we did that and then we brought it in to finish practice. I thought their tempo was good throughout practice, so that was something that was a huge plus for us.”

One extra benefit is that the turf inside the bubble should help the team better prepare for playing turf teams. For example, it works out well that the Panthers can practice on turf before traveling to face the Patriots — who play on turf — for the preseason this week.

That said, the bubble is only a temporary space until the team finishes construction on its mixed-use practice facility in Rock Hill. Builders are expected to break ground on that project in April of next year and finish by 2022.

But as whistles echoed through the cavernous space Monday, one thing was clear:

Even if it’s temporary, this is better than a ballroom.

Olsen agreed that the idea of practicing in the Charlotte Convention Center, as they used to when it rained, seems somewhat ridiculous in hindsight.

“Yeah it did, but you know, we were just dealing with the circumstances that were present at the time. That was the best we could do,” Olsen said. “Now to have this, obviously during the season its big, but I think in the ... early offseason when the weather here is still not very good, to be able to come in here, I just think there’s going to be a ton of benefit to a facility like this.”

Brendan Marks is a general assignment sports reporter for the Charlotte Observer covering the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, NASCAR and more. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has worked for the Observer since August 2017.
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