- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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Updating our previous item on the Carolina Panthers leaving Charlotte while the Democratic National Convention is in town, the team just made the official announcement that it will practice at IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla., in the days leading into the Sept. 9 season opener at Tampa Bay.
As we said earlier, it makes total sense for the Panthers to practice somewhere in the Tampa Bay area.
“We researched places on the West Coast, Midwest and East Coast in anticipation of the 2012 schedule release,” general manager Marty Hurney said. “After the opener at Tampa Bay was announced, we scouted a few places in the Tampa area and IMG made the most sense. The facility offers the privacy and infrastructure that we need to prepare for the season opener.”
But there’s even more behind the logic to this one. The Panthers have built some strong ties to IMG. Former Carolina quarterback Chris Weinke is the director of football operations at IMG, which has a first-rate facility with multiple fields, a training room and dorms to lodge players and coaches. Don’t underestimate the Weinke connection here.
Weinke and Hurney always have had a good relationship, but it’s gotten even stronger in recent years. Weinke helped get Cam Newton ready for last year’s combine. Newton then returned to IMG and worked with Weinke during the lockout. Newton obviously worked out pretty well for the Panthers.
They then turned around this year and drafted Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly, who did his combine prep at IMG.
I went down to Bradenton back in February and did stories on Kuechly and some other draft prospects. There’s obviously a trend developing. When I go down to IMG next February, I think I’ll just ask Weinke to point out Carolina’s first-round pick for 2013.
Weinke's career with the Panthers didn't go the way he wanted. He was the starter as a rookie, but fell into a backup role as soon as coach John Fox arrived. Weinke wasn't happy about that, but he handled things like a pro and kept good relationships.
That's still paying off for the Panthers.