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NFL: Panthers scrimmage without stars

Associated Press
CHARLOTTE ó The Carolina Panthers held their annual Fan Fest without their regular stars.
Panthers coach John Fox elected to rest most of the top players during the 36-play intrasquad scrimmage Saturday at Bank of America Stadium.
The 15,549 fans didn’t see running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart or wide receivers Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad. Defensive stalwart Julius Peppers also didn’t play.
Fox said he withheld the players because the Panthers reported to training camp a few days later than normal. The Panthers open the preseason Aug. 17 on the road against the New York Giants.
Quarterback Jake Delhomme participated in six plays before making a quick exit in Carolina’s first exhibition since its stunning 33-13 playoff loss to Arizona in the NFC divisional playoff.
“We were two days late coming to camp this year and we wanted to ease into it a little bit,” Fox said. “We got a little taste of some tackling. We were able to look at the younger guys and we have plenty of time with four preseason games.”
The Panthers were without their “Double Trouble” attack of Williams and Stewart, who helped set a franchise rushing record last season with 2,437 yards and 30 touchdowns. Stewart is nursing an Achilles’ tendon injury, while Williams jammed his toe in practice Friday.
“It feels fine,” Williams said. “No big deal.”
As for Smith, Muhammad and Peppers, they were held out so as not to risk injury. Linebackers Thomas Davis (knee) and Jon Beason (hamstring) have missed most of training camp while recovering from their injuries.
During the short scrimmage, the defense completely dominated as the first- and second-team offenses managed a combined two first downs. The offense failed to get into scoring range after starting drives at their 35-yard line.
The third-team offense managed a field goal, but there were no big plays.
The first-team offense had looked good in camp, but Fox refused to read too much into Saturday’s lackluster performance, which featured no plays longer than 20 yards.
“I think usually most camps this time of the year, the defenses are a little bit ahead. But there were some guys standing over by me that are weapons out there on offense,” Fox said. “But I think we accomplished what we wanted to, getting guys some live hitting and tackling.”
For many young players, it was their first chance to step foot inside the home stadium. Defensive end Everette Brown, the team’s top pick in the NFL draft, couldn’t stop smiling after practice.
The North Carolina star grew up in Stantonsburg, N.C., and said he got shivers walking through the tunnel for the first time.
“I haven’t been back to this stadium since I was 14,” Brown said. “I just turned 22, so it’s been awhile. But this gives me a little taste of what it’s going to be like to play here this season. I can’t wait.”
The Panthers have Sunday off and resume practice Monday in Spartanburg, S.C.

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