The Carolina Panthers held their first padded practice of training camp on Tuesday and that enhanced level of physicality may have been a step too far in one instance. According to those on the scene in Spartanburg, South Carolina, the session was stopped momentarily after safety J.T. Ibe leveled wide receiver Keith Kirkwood, who was eventually taken away in an ambulance.
Kirkwood, who had two broken collarbones last season, was down on the field as players and coaches gathered around him. The medical staff then put a backboard underneath the pass-catcher and he was then carted off and taken away in an ambulance. Following practice, head coach Matt Rhule said that Kirkwood was moving his legs following the hit. The team announced Kirkwood has since been released from the hospital after sustaining a concussion.
"I don't want anyone to get hurt," Rhule said. "Anytime a player gets hurt it bothers me, whether it's something like that or a guy pulls his hamstring. I just recognize how much work these guys put in and how important this time is for them. Everybody, whether it's a guy like Keith I coached in college or a guy that just got here a week ago. As a man, as a person I don't like seeing anyone laying there in pain or hurting or just missing reps or battling through it. I can't stand those things. But injuries do happen in football. But it's important to me that when our players do get banged up, ... they know their value to me and us is not just what they do on the field. We care about who they are."
Meanwhile, Ibe, who signed with the team as an undrafted free agent back in April out of South Carolina, was kicked out of practice and has since been waived by the team.
"That completely unacceptable to do something like that," said Rhule. "There's things, bang-bang plays, that happen. Guys will hit the ground, but you can't tee off on somebody. That's not what we'll do. It's undisciplined by us, so that can't happen."
Kirkwood is entering his second season with the Panthers after signing with the club in April of last year. His arrival to Carolina reunited the receiver with Matt Rhule, who was also his head coach during his days at Temple. Those collarbone injuries limited his availability during his first season with the team, catching just one pass for 13 yards. Back in February, Kirkwood signed a one-year extension to stay with the Panthers through this coming season.