Joint practices between the Panthers and Patriots have not gone smoothly this week.
Fights have peppered both sessions, with multiple players being ejected the past two days. On Wednesday, the conflict sprang up once more when Panthers safety Kenny Robinson flattened Patriots returner Kristian Wilkerson in what was supposed to be a "thud" (not full contact) drill. Robinson stood over Wilkerson, who was in visible distress, NFL Network's Mike Giardi reported, sparking a fracas.
That wasn't the last of it. Another scuffle broke out when Christian McCaffrey -- the Panthers' star running back who has missed most of the last two seasons due to injury -- was knocked down and visibly angered, enough to engage what was essentially the entire Patriots defense. During that fracas, a fan was clipped by a helmet. She was later deemed to be OK and received free tickets to an upcoming game, per Giardi.
Each time a scuffle breaks out, practice is interrupted, robbing the teams of valuable time to improve through competition.
Robinson was kicked out of Wednesday's practice, his second straight ejection in as many days, and running back Chuba Hubbard was also tossed.
Panthers coach Matt Rhule is entering a pivotal third season and knows his team can't afford to waste time, so he was understandably upset about the nearly half-dozen nonsensical fights that have broken out over the last two days.
"It's just unfortunate that a day of so much good football -- and I know a lot of it will be about what happened -- the decision of one or two guys impacts a lot of different people," Rhule said. "No. 1: My thoughts are with the woman that was hurt over there, hoping that she's OK. ... And obviously we sent Kenny [Robinson] off the field.
"I didn't really see the hit, but I did see him standing over the player. That's not how we want to practice. Things happen in football, there were some good, clean hits. But we don't stand over somebody and taunt them. It can affect their livelihood, so we sent him off. The officials sent Chuba off, I don't know what Chuba did, but the officials sent Chuba off, said he threw a punch."
News of Tuesday's collection of fights seemed to indicate there was more fighting than practicing. When Wednesday's practice began and more fights followed, it started to feel as if the entire exercise was a lost cause.
Rhule's comments appear to reject that belief. Still, ask anyone on either side and they'll respond with two facts: scuffles are part of camp and they don't help anyone.
They might also cost Robinson his job. Rhule didn't rule out cutting the safety after the two fights.
"Two days now that practice was affected by a guy," Rhule said. "We'll have to talk about it."
The two sides face off this Friday in preseason action. We'll see if they've worked out their differences by then.