Carolina Panthers Fans Get First Glimpse of Team Before 2012 Training Camp
The Carolina Panthers, wrapping up their second preseason minicamp, held their final practice before training camp in front of a few thousand fans at Bank of America Stadium on a sun-drenched day in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Those who took time out of their busy schedules to catch a glimpse of Cam Newton firing passes to Steve Smith with laser-like precision were treated to a bevy of highlight-reel plays while showing their support for the home team.
A few lucky fans even went home with a souvenir NFL football tossed into the stands by the likes of Smith, DeAngelo Williams and Josh Norman.
Several players stood out, particularly in non-contact seven-on-seven and full-squad drills in which the Carolina offense started at midfield and worked its way into the end zone.
Here is a look at the highlights from the Panthers' final practice before bunking in the dorms at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina for training camp.
Cam Newton to Steve Smith
Cam Newton looked sharp distributing the ball to his playmakers, including Steve Smith, Mike Tolbert and Brandon LaFell.
How will the Panthers fare in 2012?
Smith made an especially nice catch on a precise back-shoulder pass thrown by Newton to the perfect spot in tight one-on-one coverage.
Newton's arm is noticeably stronger than that of his backups, Derek Anderson and Jimmy Clausen, and he looked sharp running a pared-down version of Rob Chudzinski's offense.
Armanti Edwards and Kealoha Pilares
Armanti Edwards and Kealoha Pilares each moved well and made impressive catches on crossing routes over the middle of the field, though they were not always in sync with backup quarterback Derek Anderson.
Edwards leaped high into traffic to pluck an Anderson pass out of the air, and Pilares went low for a sliding catch near the end zone.
Pilares' roster spot is safe, but Edwards will need to play at a high level to earn his spot on the team following a disappointing 2011 season in which he averaged an NFL-worst 5.5 yards per punt return.
Tauren Poole, the undrafted rookie running back from Tennessee, is a big back in the Jonathan Stewart mold who displayed his quickness and elusiveness on a couple of inside handoffs.
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Poole ran for over 1,000 yards in his junior season as a Volunteer, and he will likely battle with Josh Vaughan to back up DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart in the backfield.
Another newcomer to Carolina's backfield, fullback Mike Tolbert, showed off his pass-catching skills to the delight of Panthers fans, as well.
This just in: Luke Kuechly is good.
The ACC's all-time leading tackler and last year's recipient of the Dick Butkus and Bronko Nagurski awards, Kuechly showed off his football instincts, his hands and his speed all in one play when he picked off a Jimmy Clausen pass and returned it down the sidelines for a touchdown.
Kuechly got reps lining up at both the middle and weak-side linebacker positions, and he moved as well as anyone else on the field.
Josh Norman may turn out to be the steal of the Panthers' draft.
Norman repeatedly took on Steve Smith in one-on-one coverage and, more often than not, stayed right in Mighty Mouse's hip pocket.
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Norman forced a couple of incomplete passes thrown Smith's way, and he may have gained a new fan when he tossed a ball into the stands after popping it loose from DeAngelo Williams at the end of a run near the goal line.
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