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What we learned Wednesday during SB50 week

SAN FRANCISCO -- Panthers coach Ron Rivera listens to his players. And his players didn't like the idea of moving practice periods and meeting times this week at the Super Bowl.

"The biggest thing, when I talked to the captains about it was, 'Oh, no, coach,' Rivera told USA Today's Jarrett Bell for the official pool report following Carolina's practice Wednesday.

This week is largely about trying to keep things as normal as possible in an ocean of abnormality. So Rivera listened to his players and kept the practice times the same, although the vibe at practice is different. The Panthers held their last padded practice last Friday, so Wednesday's session was about fine-tuning details at half speed. Cam Newton, who has literally spoken to the media for two hours this week, admitted that he was running out of ways to phrase things differently. But he's still looking sharp on the field; not a single Newton pass hit the ground Wednesday.

The Broncospracticed for 95 minutes and both their banged-up safeties -- T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart -- look ready to go for Sunday. Panthers defenders Jared Allen and Thomas Davis also appear like they will be ready to play. We have a few more practices to go, but Sunday can't get here soon enough.

"Our goal here is to be short and sharp," coach Gary Kubiak said. "We had a really good start today, I thought. Our retention from last week was very good, and guys were very focused."

Here's what else we learned Wednesday:

  1. It's a beautiful evening in lovely San Francisco, but that won't stop us from banging out a few takeaways from Wednesday's gathering with Broncos players and coaches. It starts with Peyton Manning, who -- like Cam Newton -- seems entirely ready to escape the hundreds of tedious questions thrown his way over the past 72 hours. The Broncos quarterback has been asked to dance around his potential retirement while answering lingering queries about alleged use of human growth hormone. He simply looked tired Wednesday morning, and who can blame him? Super Bowl week lifts these players up, but also asks them to deal with far too many insanely dull what-ifs from a horde of fleshy, coffee-breathing journos. Nobody's crying for these pro athletes, but they're put through plenty in the run-up to the Super Bowl.
  1. Broncos wideouts, though, were happy to answer a few questions from this pasty, out-of-shape scribe about the differences between Manning and Brock Osweiler. Perhaps give that a read if you're feeling especially lonely.
  1. The best part about hanging out with these teams before Super Bowl 50 is a chance to speak with the coaches. The players are great, but every teams houses their share of experienced assistants. They're usually sitting alone at a table during media time -- in mega-anonymous fashion -- and more than willing to chat. We enjoyed talking with Denver's two linebacker tutors, Fred Pagac and Reggie Herring. Both gushed over pass rushers DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller, with Pagac saying: "First of all, DeMarcus Ware's as good as they get. He's a great person. Loves the game of football. He's a pro's pro, he's been doing it a long time. He'll be in the Hall of Fame someday. Von Miller and him have been together, what, two years now? Von might as good an athlete as I've been around in 37 years of coaching."
  1. Broncos rookie Shane Ray was equally complimentary, calling Miller and Ware "two extra tutors" in the linebacker room, adding: "To see how they prepare, to see how they attack guys. It helps me a whole lot. I feel like a lot of guys when they come into the league, they got to figure out everything on their own. I got two of the best in my room every day, so I can see what I need to do to be great."

Ware and Miller, though, weren't around to prevent Ray from dropping his cell phone in the hotel elevator. When I interviewed him, I couldn't help but notice the device's shattered screen. "It definitely messed up my day," he said.

  1. Condolences to Broncos defensive lineman Antonio Smith, who learned Wednesday that his father, Marty Christopher Williams, had passed away while serving a life sentence in jail. "It's rough. I just found out this morning," said Smith, who still plans to play in the Super Bowl.
  1. While Johnny Manziel flames out in Cleveland, Denver appears to have found a genuinely plugged-in young passer in Osweiler. He's been one of the most astute and enjoyable players we've met with this week and we chronicled his memorable season under center for Around the NFL. Check it out here and take heart: We're just four days away from game time.

-- Marc Sessler

  1. The Panthers' offense is somewhat hidden up their sleeve for Sunday. They haven't really needed a back-pocket play call this season and it rolled through the playoffs against Arizona. But in the biggest game of the year, coach Ron Rivera's team knows that if they get up early, the night is over. Players have -- obviously -- been cagey about sharing the details of their game plan, but they didn't rule out using something from deep in offensive coordinator Mike Shula's bag of tricks.
  1. Cam Newton is bored. The Panthers quarterback had another day chock-full of media responsibilities ahead of him, but he wants the reporters to raise their game, too. Newton rolled his eyes at a banal question heaved at him during Wednesday's news conference, continuing his late-season run as the NFL's greatest truth teller.
  1. Roman Harper means more to this team than advertised. The gray-haired safety is the only one who can wrangle cornerback Josh Norman. He's also the only one who knows exactly how to slow down Peyton Manning in a Super Bowl. These are some of his best qualities -- other than being extremely trusting. Harper is renting out his swanky Charlotte pad for the week on Airbnb, with all proceeds going to charity.

-- Conor Orr

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