The Panthers began phase two of their offseason activities this week, and the media has been invited to attend one practice each week – while it’s hard to have firm takeaways from two hours of a non-padded practice where we’re on one side of the field and the offensive linemen are in the opposite end zone, I’ll try to do my best to share with you some of my thoughts and observations from an interesting day on the Panthers practice field.
Before we jump into what happened between the lines, we should talk about what else is happening on the Panthers practice field currently as their new practice bubble is being constructed along with additional fields – over the course of the two-hour practice session, workers laid sod on the field next to where the Panthers were working….something that Greg Olsen couldn’t keep his eyes off of.
“I wish we could use that turf now, it looks ready,” said the always affable Olsen. “I think that was the highlight of the day – watching that guy drive that little truck and put sod down 18 inches at a time was mesmerizing. That was fascinating! And then the machete guys and the rake guys — these guys are serious. I mean, they put 50 or 100 feet of sod in an hour and a half practice, it was amazing.”
“More exciting than practice.”
Maybe for the oldest guy on the team – but for the rest of us, there were still nuggets to be taken from practice.
- While wideout Mose Frazier, who suffered a broken arm during the first OTA session, wasn’t expected to be present as he heads towards surgery; Torrey Smith also wasn’t at practice – tight ends Landon Turner and Ian Thomas both worked on the side with trainers and didn’t participate. Thomas was “going through some rehab on a sore leg,” rode the bike and moved around, so it didn’t seem like something that would linger at this point.
- Also limited were linemen Matt Paradis, Daryl Williams and Trai Turner – as far as Paradis, who is recovering from a broken leg suffered last season, Rivera says that he thinks he’s on schedule and the 29-year old has done everything that’s been asked of him. It seems as if Williams, who was carted off the field during Week 1 of last season, might have the easiest path to a starting job at left guard after the performance by second year player Taylor Moton at right tackle. Williams and Paradis both participated in installs and individual drills but gave way during the team drills. Rivera specifically highlighted the team’s depth with players like Brendan Mahon, Taylor Hearn, Tyler Larsen and Greg Van Roten adding to a group that seems as if it might be the most talented to ever line up in front of Cam Newton – if they all can stay healthy. Don’t forget the team lost three tackles in a week’s span at last year’s training camp – the Panthers certainly haven’t.
- Speaking of Cam, while he made some aggressive throwing motions on the side, he didn’t throw – something, like the rainy weather at the beginning of practice, we’re certainly accustomed to seeing on the Panthers practice fields – he joined in the huddle multiple times but ceded the throwing to his three backups. Even though Taylor Heinicke looked the most accomplished today, that likely changes on a daily basis; rookie Will Grier is still experiencing growing pains as he threw an interception to Ross Cockrell and didn’t look as crisp as Heinicke or Kyle Allen. Heinicke, who said his arm feels good earlier this week while bashing Game of Thrones on the It Is What It Is podcast, completed two deep balls near the end of practice – one to a streaking Jarius Wright matched up with Rashaan Gaulden and another to Curtis Samuel between two defenders.
- Some jersey number cleanup: Corn Elder is now rocking #29 and Kevon Seymour has made the change to #23. In case you’re curious, no one was wearing 67, 87, 89, or 90.
- While Rashaan Gaulden has a lot of pressure on him entering his second season, he saw reps at both free safety alongside Eric Reid and at nickel corner – he performed well at both positions, but it was Ross Cockrell who had the flashiest plays of the session. After missing all of the 2018 season with a broken leg, the Panthers are happy to have Cockrell back, who flashed with a pass breakup that was followed on the next play with an interception of Will Grier. It’s going to be interesting to see who comes out of the secondary competition aside from Bradberry, Jackson and Reid. “That’s probably going to be one of the more competitive groups we have in terms of not just who’s going to start and be key backups – but who makes the roster.”
- Speaking of the secondary, Kai Nacua, who was signed to the practice squad in Week 14 last season and spent time with the Browns and Ravens, looked fast and instinctual during some individual and team drills – others that stood out during individuals that I saw were Efe Obada, Mario Addison and Terry Godwin, who continues to show excellent hands and fluid movement.
- Donte Jackson finished up the practice session with an interception that looked as if he ran the route as he hauled it in just before stepping out of bounds – another young guy who I know people are excited about, Brian Burns, looked as fast as he did two weeks ago at rookie mini-camp – at times, too fast as he blew around the edge and accidentally knocked the ball out of a red-jerseyed Heinicke’s hands. As soon as the mistake was made, he held his hands up in the classic “I didn’t do anything!” pose.