Like last week, the most exciting thing to come out of the Carolina Panthers OTA practice session that was open to the media happened immediately to the left – at least from my vantage point – of the practice fields where the Panthers were installing plays, testing players’ ability to take plays they’d seen on whiteboards and in meetings and translating them to the field and evaluating not only the talent at the top of the roster, but who might surprise and perhaps be able to make an impact on Sundays.
Panthers owner David Tepper strolled onto the practice fields but instead of walking out to the sidelines – which he would eventually do and chat with a group that included Shaq Thompson, Richard Rodgers and Eric Reid – he veered left and walked out onto the half-field of artificial turf that is soon to be ensconced in what we have simply reverted to referring to as “the bubble”, walking the sidelines of his new project that will protect the Panthers from inclement weather once it’s completed in August. He bent to pick up the rubber shreds that make up the turf and crumbled it in his hands. Bounced up and down to test the mettle and give.
Walked to the opposite end of the field, put his hands on his hips and surveyed one of the first projects under his ownership to come to fruition – likely the first of many – like a sultan looking over his kingdom and contemplating what his next move would be.
Then he went over to the sidelines and talked to Marty Hurney – likely about what his next move might be.
David Tepper is out at OTAs today – first thing he does is check out progress on his new bubble. pic.twitter.com/LKWTHKvbNa
— Josh Klein (@joshkleinrules) May 28, 2019
Here are some of my other observations from Tuesday’s session of OTAs:
- The Panthers were joined by a new signee at practice today as 11-year old Peyton Raper from Sneads Ferry, NC spent the bulk of practice with Christian McCaffrey, his favorite player, catching passes and learning the nuanced art of route running. Peyton has been diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma, a rare but highly aggressive B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but has joined the Panthers on a contract which included a signing bonus of “a big bucket of candy” – a source close to the situation revealed that the hybrid running back/wide receiver’s favorite candy is watermelon Sour Patch Kids. Peyton got a locker room tour, including a locker next to McCaffrey, spent time during and after practice with McCaffrey, Greg Olsen, Luke Kuechly and others – he even got an invite to play against his favorite player in Call of Duty, but details of the final score were not available.
- Cam Newton was not in attendance at this voluntary session, but Ron Rivera said after practice that it was a personal day for the quarterback, who wasn’t throwing during last week’s session and likely won’t throw during the spring at all. Newton informed the team he wouldn’t be attending today’s session and like last week, Rivera downplayed the quarterback’s absence. “It’s just one of those things – [this practice] is voluntary. He was nice enough to let us know he wasn’t going to be able to make it, so we appreciate that.”
- After Ian Thomas and Landon Turner sat out last week’s session, both players remained on the sidelines but were joined Tuesday by Torrey Smith – who didn’t participate last week – guard Dorian Johnson, tight end Marcus Baugh and fourth-round pick Christian Miller. Miller battled a hamstring issue at Alabama, so it’s not surprising that the Panthers will be careful with the rookie – especially so early in the process. Greg Olsen and Shaq Thompson also joined on the side working with trainers for the second part of practice, although Olsen continued doing stretches and calisthenics longer than the linebacker.
- An underrated battle this spring and summer will be at wide receiver, where Torrey Smith, Chris Hogan, Rashad Ross, Aldrick Robinson and Terry Godwin will be competing for roster spots – while all have had their moments, Ross caught my eye with a leaping catch during individual drills. Hogan, Robinson and Godwin have all looked solid, but it will likely be a combination of special teams prowess – where Ross likely has the early advantage – and other abilities that make them stand out over the others with Curtis Samuel, DJ Moore and Jarius Wright appearing entrenched in their roles
- Speaking of wide receivers making spectacular plays, practice closed with an eye-popping diving catch from Curtis Samuel that had the third-year player shaken up as he knocked the wind out of himself coming down with the ball – Rivera said after practice that Samuel was fine.
- Team drills began with an interception from Luke Kuechly – the first of two for the All-Pro linebacker off of Kyle Allen – and featured a fumble recovery from Andre Smith that would have gone for a touchdown had this been a real game. Smith thinks that the new look of the Panthers defense will be extremely helpful for Kuechly – Rivera said after practice he’s seen a lot of inside linebackers be extremely successful with a three-man front in front of them. It isn’t necessarily a surprise to see the defense holding strong against the Panthers’ three backup quarterbacks, but Taylor Heinicke continues to look – at least to me – the most polished of the three; it will be interesting to see where they are once training camp begins in August.
- With Matt Paradis, Trai Turner and Daryl Williams continuing to participate in installs but not team drills, it was another chance for the Panthers to get a look at young offensive linemen like sixth-round pick Dennis Daley, who played mostly left tackle in college but with the Panthers’ penchants for flexibility, would be well-served to feel comfortable on the inside as well. Take practice participations this early in the process with a grain of salt – when players start sitting out training camp practices with pads on, that will be the time to start taking notice.
- With – at times – both Greg Olsen and Ian Thomas on the sidelines, recent acquisition Temarrick Hemmingway, the 6-5 TE from Little River, SC, had a couple of nice catches in succession.
- Donte Jackson showed off during individual drills with a one-handed grab near the sideline as he skied in the air to pull one down a la Odell Beckham, Jr. – Jackson said after practice that he considers himself more of a vet this season after a lot of playing time as a rookie.
- Ron Rivera participated in the #CrackCancer challenge as players like McCaffrey, Kuechly, Thompson and others cracked eggs on the coach’s head. Check out the video below.
Rivera challenges John Harbaugh, Sean McDermott and Pat Shurmur.
Greg Olsen: “I’ve been waiting to do this for nine years, Coach” pic.twitter.com/WOHXOAjzMQ
— The Riot Report (@RRiotReport) May 28, 2019