Bills face Panthers, extreme heat at joint practices

The Associated PressIn this July 25 file photo, Buffalo Bills wide receiver John Brown catches a pass during practice at the team's training camp in Pittsford.

SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Panthers coach Ron Rivera decided to have a little fun with Bills coach Sean McDermott over the weekend, sending a screenshot of the heat index in Spartanburg, South Carolina, at 110 degrees along with an orange emoji face dripping with sweat.

"A psychological game," Rivera joked of the scorching heat that awaited McDermott and the Bills this week.

The Panthers hosted the Bills for joint practices Tuesday and today at Wofford College prior to their preseason game Friday in Charlotte, North Carolina.

It is a reunion of sorts for players, coaches and front office officials.

When McDermott left his post as Panthers defensive coordinator in 2017 to join the Bills it started a pipeline between Carolina and Buffalo.

A few months later, the Bills hired Panthers assistant general manager Brandon Beane as their GM. A handful of former Carolina players also followed McDermott to Buffalo as free agents. The teams have also made a few trades, including one involving 2014 first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin.

The exodus of former Panthers became so rampant that fans and players alike in the Carolinas referred to the Bills as "Carolina North."

So organizing joint practices only seemed part of the natural evolution for two teams that act like brothers.

"I think it helps going in knowing that we are going to be on the same page with them," Beane said.

Before the practices, Rivera said he hoped his close relationship with McDermott would allow them to control the tempo.

"We're going to try and create as much live action as possible," Rivera said. "... We're not looking for the live contact (or tackling). That's one thing we can't afford to have."

Fighting is another no-no.

Rivera and McDermott discussed the ramifications of any on-field skirmishes, and agreed anyone involved in a fight will be removed from practice and disciplined.

"We're not here to fight," Rivera said. "That's bull. What we're here to do is learn from each other and help each other win. That's the most important opportunity to come out of this."

The Panthers previously participated in joint practices against the Dolphins in 2015 and Titans in 2017, and Rivera said he doesn't expect any altercations.

Beane said the Bills had other options for joint practices, but chose Carolina partly because they wanted to practice in a hot weather location.

The Bills host their training camp at St. John Fisher College, which is traditionally cooler and less humid than Spartanburg, where blazing 90 degree temperatures during the summer are the norm.

Beane got his wish.

The forecast called for temperatures to reach the mid-90s with the heat index above 100, although both practices will be held in the morning and completed by noon.

"I got a text message about the weather from Ron, too," Beane joked. "He just can't help himself. He's always joking. But it's all good banter."

McDermott said the Bills' training staff has helped players prepare for the heat.

"It's not any surprise to us," said McDermott, who spent six summers in Spartanburg as Rivera's assistant. "The heat is real down there. So we want to make sure we're out in front of it."

The Bills like the idea of practicing against Carolina's 3-4 defense given they're scheduled to play a few teams with similar schemes this season.

The Bills have three former Panthers defensive starters on the roster — safety Kurt Coleman, defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and recently signed cornerback Captain Munnerlyn.

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