Bills pick “perfect” practice partner in Panthers

Sports

Joint practices are becoming more popular and more common in the NFL. The reason is obvious.

Teams get the same fresh look from opponents as they would in a preseason game without dangerous hazards like tackling or being in the general vicinity of the starting quarterback.

However, choosing the right opponent takes a bit of work.

Brandon Beane said on Tuesday a couple of teams approached the Bills about a joint practice, but they worked out something with the Panthers because the situation was “perfect.”

“We know the fields are good, we know the setup and, obviously, we know the staff,” Beane said.

The discussions about joint practices began at the NFL Combine. The Panthers checked all the boxes of what the Bills desired.

“You’re looking for an opponent, ideally, that you don’t play in the season,” Beane said. “Also, we were looking for some heat. The third thing is you’re looking to practice against people who are looking to get good work and, hopefully, avoid any skirmishes.”

“Good work” was a theme repeated by Sean McDermott and many of his players. The Bills head coach said facing a team as good as the Panthers offered a lot of benefits.

“Trust is a big part of it and a big part of coming here,” McDermott said. “Knowing how the Panthers practice. Knowing how we practice. We’re similar in that regard in terms of what we want to get done and how we want to get it done.”

Both McDermott and Panthers head coach Ron Rivera emphasized to their teams, and publicly, they would tolerate no fighting.

On day one, both squads acted as if they had gotten the message. Pat DiMarco said he’s participated in three joint practices before this season.

This was the first without a fight on day one.

DiMarco credited the team leaders for not just obeying their coaches, but following their example.

“I talked to Luke (Kuechly) pre-practice was like, ‘Hey, do you guys have anyone we need to worry about, to keep under control? You get your guys. I’ll make sure my guys are pretty good’,” DiMarco said. “And he’s like, ‘Hey, we’re good’.”

McDermott has never been the head coach for a joint practice, but Beane witnessed Rivera navigate a smooth and productive joint session with the Dolphins in 2015.

“He did a great job of keeping it under control. I know Sean and him are on the same page,” Beane said.

DiMarco remarked about the mutual respect held by each head coach, but that respect does not end at the top.

“Their players are all pros and so are we,” Star Lotulelei said. “We’re not UFC fighters. We don’t come out here to fight each other. We come out here to work and get better.”

It doesn’t hurt that each team is carrying four players who have played for the other.

“You got a lot of guys that know each other. It’s not like there’s a lot of beef coming in,” Micah Hyde said. “There was a little smack talk which was normal, but I think, at the end of the day, fighting comes out of frustration when you’re losing.”

Shaq Lawson is participating in his first joint practice this week. He expected more fireworks, but had a much simpler explanation for the cool tempers.

“The only thing I’ve seen on joint practices is fights, fights, fights,” Lawson said. “We just came and got that good work in. It’s too hot to fight. Why do you want to fight out here when it’s hot? There’s no point to fighting.”

Just like there’s no point to a joint practice with the wrong opponent.

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