‘I didn’t mean to hit him like that’: JT Ibe apologizes after Panthers camp collision

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Carolina Panthers defensive back J.T. Ibe walks onto the practice field at the NFL football team’s training camp in Spartanburg, S.C., Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021. Carolina Panthers wide receiver Keith Kirkwood was hit in the neck area during practice Tuesday, carted off the field and taken away in an ambulance. Defensive back J.T. Ibe delivered the hit on a pass play and was immediately kicked out of the team’s first padded practice by coach Matt Rhule. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

J.T. Ibe wants to apologize.

The Carolina Panthers rookie safety was kicked out of practice and then waived Tuesday after hitting wide receiver Keith Kirkwood too high during a team drill. Kirkwood was put on a backboard and on a cart. He was later placed in an ambulance.

Ibe spoke to The Observer in an exclusive interview and expressed his remorse about the hit. He said he didn’t intend to hurt Kirkwood.

“I was so in the moment, I didn’t even realize it,” Ibe said Tuesday, minutes after the Panthers waived him. “I just saw the ball and him and I wanted to interrupt it. It wasn’t me aiming for his head. It was just me trying to jar the ball out.”

Tuesday’s practice was the first day of full pads in the Panthers’ training camp. The team was running 11-on-11 drills when Ibe hit Kirkwood as he went up for a catch.

Kirkwood fell to the ground and stayed there while trainers looked at him. It was a scary sight as his teammates took a knee around him.

He was then carried off on a cart and into an ambulance. Panthers coach Matt Rhule said after practice that Kirkwood was able to move his legs, and did not feel pain in his neck.

“I just felt bad,” Ibe said. “I looked at him when I landed, and I just felt bad. I asked the trainers to tell him I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to hit him like that. It wasn’t intentional at all and I’m praying he’s OK.”

“Obviously, I’m in an emotional state right now, but at the end of the day it’s not about me — it’s about Keith being OK.”

Ibe spent two years at South Carolina as a graduate transfer, where he played in 47 games and had 191 total tackles.

He went undrafted in 2020. The Panthers signed Ibe in April after seeing him at South Carolina’s NFL Pro Day. Rhule said then that he came away impressed with the former Gamecocks safety.

But his time with the Panthers ended Tuesday, not long after the hit.

“It’s completely unacceptable to do something like that,” Rhule said before the Panthers announced the move. “There’s bang-bang plays that happened, guys will hit the ground, but you can’t tee off on somebody.”

Ibe said those weren’t his intentions, and he planned to contact Kirkwood.

“I want to contact Keith and tell him I’m sorry,” Ibe said. “I’m praying for his success and his health, and call Coach Rhule, Coach Simmons and Scott Fitterer and just thank them for my time with the team and giving me this opportunity, honestly.”

“I just want everybody out there just to know I’m a good dude and this is not my game. I’m not a dirty player, I don’t have any dirty hits on my record. I just feel bad.”

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