The Carolina Panthers' first round of minicamps and organized team activities (OTAs) is in the books, and the team is coming along well according to head coach Ron Rivera. But where does that leave the Panthers heading into training camp on July 29?
Rivera told a group of reporters that his players' communication and understanding of what they were doing and why improved greatly from the first week of voluntary OTAs to the second week, especially on the defensive side of the ball and on the offensive line. Via Panthers.com:
You see the little things that last week they weren't doing, they're doing now. The communication aspect as far as the defense is concerned has been outstanding [and] the adjustments you see the offensive line make have been even better.
However, Rivera noted that "you take it with a grain of salt," because the players are not in pads at OTAs.
Expectations are high for the Panthers heading into the 2012 NFL season, and so was participation in the voluntary practices.
"It is a bit unusual," Rivera said when asked about the high level of participation at the Panthers' offseason practices, "especially when you go back and look at the participation we've had from day one when we started the phases [of mini-camp and OTAs] a month-and-a-half ago."
"It's very pleasing, and I'm very excited for these guy because a lot of them have taken ownership," Rivera said.
Still, Carolina has a lot of room for improvement between now and the start of the season, and the biggest progress will be made when the team is forged at training camp, but the Panthers are making the most of an opportunity they didn't have a season ago.
Panthers All-Pro center Ryan Kalil also spoke with reporters after an OTA session on the importance of having the opportunity for players and coaches to work together in the offseason that just was not possible last season because of the lockout. Via Panthers.com:
It's huge, especially in this offense. You know, we've got a lot of moving parts and we do a lot of things in our scheme, so it's nice for the young guys to get a head start on that.
The Panthers are entering their second season in offensive coordinator Rob "Chud" Chudzinski's creative offensive scheme, and Kalil noted that the offense felt more like a "well-oiled machine," even when it comes to routine things like getting in and out of the huddle.
That is made easier thanks to second-year quarterback Cam Newton's experience running the offense and the entire unit's familiarity with Chud's offensive system.
For those worried that NFL defensive coordinators will figure out the Panthers' offense and slow down what made them so effective in 2011, Kalil did not show any concern.
"We call [Chudzinski] the 'Mad Scientist,'" Kalil said, referencing Chud's dedication to studying a variety of offensive philosophies and creating new ideas and different ways to run the same type of plays from a multitude of formations.
Thank goodness there is no lockout again this spring, because football practice in May is a good thing.
Check back later in the week for a full review and grades for each Carolina Panthers positional unit heading into training camp in Spartanburg, S.C. in just under eight weeks.
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