10 Biggest Takeaways from Carolina Panthers' First 10 Days of Training Camp
Jeremy Brevard-US PRESSWIRE
Carolina Panthers training camp is more than halfway in the books with 11 practices down and only five more to go at Wofford College.
Hope springs eternal whenever a journey is just getting underway, and the Panthers camp has had no shortage of hope, optimism and swagger that comes when hard work meets talent.
Carolina has plenty of both while expectations are high for a winning season and a possible playoffs berth in 2012.
There is still plenty left for the players to prove and for the coaching staff to decide before the start of the season, but there are 10 resounding themes that have echoed throughout the Panthers' stay in Spartanburg.
Here is a look at the biggest and most entertaining storylines from the first week-and-a-half of the Carolina Panthers' training camp.
Captain Munnerlyn Won't Back Down
Captain Munnerlyn, covering the Houston Texans' much taller Andre Johnson, has never met a challenge—or a receiver—he thought was too big.
Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE
Captain Munnerlyn is a fighter with self-proclaimed "Little Man Syndrome."
No one, except perhaps Munnerlyn himself, expects the 5'8", 190-pound defensive back to reprise his starting cornerback role in the Panthers' secondary this season.
Despite all of his detractors, Munnerlyn welcomes the competition and wants to be a starter again in 2012.
In fact, while Brandon Hogan and Josh Norman are gunning for his position, he is going after a much bigger fish—Chris Gamble. Via Panthers.com:
"They might be coming for my job, but I'm coming for Chris Gamble's job. I want to be the No. 1 corner," Munnerlyn said. "I remind Gam that, ‘Hey, they're coming for me, but I'm trying to come for you.'"
Munnerlyn, who is also practicing the nickel cornerback position in Sean McDermott's defense, has been in a couple of well-publicized skirmishes with Steve Smith and Jonathan Stewart following plays in which the two offensive stars took offense to his physicality in practice.
Though he has as much fight in him as anyone on the Panthers roster, including Smith, holding down the No. 2 cornerback position may be too tall of a challenge for Cap to overcome.
Chudzinski's Offense Is Going to Be Hard to Stop
Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski talks with tight end Greg Olsen (88).
Jeremy Brevard-US PRESSWIRE
The Carolina Panthers finished the 2011 NFL season with the fifth-highest scoring offensive unit in the league after finishing dead last in scoring in 2010.
The most obvious difference was having Cam Newton at quarterback instead of Jimmy Clausen.
However, the most important person behind the Panthers' high-scoring attack is offensive coordinator Rob "Chud" Chudzinski, who is worth his weight in gold.
In an abbreviated offseason that did not allow mini-camps and organized team activities (OTAs) during the 2011 NFL players strike, Chud only had four weeks of training camp to implement his creative schemes, and the offense did not really begin clicking until late in the season.
However, Carolina is starting out way ahead of last year's schedule in 2012 with mini-camps and OTAs that had nearly unanimous player participation, and that extra time has allowed Chud to implement an even more complex offensive scheme that has taken the players several months to learn.
With only a week to prepare for the Panthers offense during the season, Chud's diabolical playbook will cause even more nightmares and match-up problems for defensive coordinators in 2012.
The Kicking and Punting Positions Are Wide Open
Olindo Mare (10) is in a stiff competition for the Panthers' kicking job.
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After the first week and a half of training camp, Ron Rivera has not decided who his kicker and punter will be for the 2012 NFL season.
Ron Rivera says both the kicker and punter battles are very close and so far very good.
— RonGreenJr (@RonGreenJr) August 2, 2012
That could change shortly, though, with the Panthers playing their first two preseason games at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday, August 11 and Friday, August 17 against the Houston Texans and the Miami Dolphins.
With the kicking competition between Olindo Mare and Justin Medlock in full swing, the Panthers coaches have decided to add a bit more chaos to their lives by waiting until the last second to decide which kicker will take the field before field goal opportunities.
Olindo Mare told Panthers.com that chaos is nothing new in a kicker's life, especially when there are only 32 positions available in the NFL at any given time. Via Panthers.com
"That's the first I've heard," Mare said, when asked about the preseason kicking procedure. "If that's the plan, then that's the plan… I know there's always chaos, just like at the end of a game there's always something happening and (the coaches) are trying to create that (chaos)."
The situation at punter is not any clearer with rookie sixth-round draft pick Brad Nortman competing with 12-year NFL veteran Nick Harris.
One thing is clear, though, and that is the Panthers don't want to spend the entire preseason deciding who will handle the kicking and punting duties this season.
Luke Kuechly Is Turning Heads
Luke Kuechly at the Panthers Fan Fest 2012. Photo courtesy of Panthers.com.
Luke Kuechly has been turning heads since his college days at Boston College, when he led the NCAA in tackles in his final two collegiate seasons.
The Panthers' first-round draft pick made Michael Jordan turn his head when he tried to open the locked door of the Charlotte Bobcats owner's Ferrari, thinking it was Cam Newton's vehicle coming to pick him up for dinner on Kuechly's first night in town after being drafted.
When Jordan exited the car, Kuechly simply said, "Hey, I'm Luke."
Like Newton, Kuechly is often compared to Superman, but it is as much for his glasses-wearing, Clark Kent appearance as it is for style of play on the field.
But make no mistake about it, "Super Luke" has the football instincts, the speed and the physical tools to play like a hero in his rookie season.
Kuechly is expected to be the Panthers' starter at weakside linebacker this season and he will move to the inside linebacker position alongside Jon Beason when Carolina lines up in the 3-4.
He has already intercepted a couple of passes in front of the home crowd in the Panthers' open-to-the-public OTA practice and at Fan Fest 2012.
If he lives up to his billing, the 2011 Bronko Nagurski Award and Butkus Award winner could hoist another piece of hardware at the end of the regular season as the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
DeAngelo Is Looking for a New Dance
DeAngelo Williams (34) and Jonathan Stewart (28) boogie down after a score.
Dale Zanine-US PRESSWIRE
Cam Newton does the Superman whenever he score a touchdown.
Steve Smith gyrates and spins the ball like a top whenever he makes a big play.
Now DeAngelo Williams wants to get into the mix with a signature celebration move of his own.
The Panthers' starting tailback is looking for some new moves to try out in the end zone if he scores a touchdown this preseason and he took to Facebook to get some fresh ideas for a new celebration dance.
Though he will likely only play in the first quarter of the Panthers' preseason opener against the Houston Texans, D-Will has promised to attempt the most creative touchdown dance submitted by a Panthers fan if he makes it into the end zone.
Williams' touchdown celebration contest will continue throughout the preseason.
Early money is on "The Day Watch," submitted by Jeremy Weiner.
Mike Tolbert Is Lethal Weapon No. 3
Mike Tolbert (35) doing drills at training camp.
Jeremy Brevard-US PRESSWIRE
Carolina's biggest move of the 2012 NFL offseason was the acquisition of former San Diego Chargers fullback Mike Tolbert.
At 5'9" and 245 pounds, Tolbert is much more than just a blocking fullback, though he will be asked to do that as well.
With the absence of tight end Jeremy Shockey, who caught a career-low 37 passes for 455 yards and four touchdowns as a Panther last season, Tolbert could become one of Newton's top safety valves along with his security blanket at tight end, Greg Olsen.
Tolbert can also fill in for DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart if either player is injured this season, and he could become Stewart's replacement in 2013 if the soon-to-be free agent signs a lucrative deal with another NFL team next year.
Brandon LaFell Is Growing into His Role
Brandon LaFell (11)
Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE
Brandon LaFell emerged late in the 2011 season as a big-play receiver for the Carolina Panthers and he is expected to perform even better as the full-time No. 2 receiver in 2012.
David Gettis is expected to return to the practice field this week after continuing to rehab the ACL he tore in training camp a year ago and the Panthers traded for former Oakland Raider wide receiver Louis Murphy just days before training camp.
However, the starting wide receiver job opposite Steve Smith is in LaFell's hands.
LaFell, has stepped up to the challenge to be a star player in his third year by running more precise routes and attacking the ball in the air better than he ever has in a Panthers uniform.
The real test for LaFell will come in the Panthers' preseason games against the Houston Texans, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers, but the job is his to lose, and so far he has gotten it done in practice.
Cam Newton Is Taking the Reigns
Cam Newton (1) throws a pass on the first day of training camp.
Jeremy Brevard-US PRESSWIRE
Cam Newton entered his rookie training camp in 2011 with the weight of the world and the hopes of Panthers Nation on his shoulders as the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft.
After exceeding expectations during his record-setting NFL Rookie of the Year campaign, Newton entered the Panthers' 2012 training camp with the team's goals and aspirations resting squarely and much more comfortably on those same broad shoulders.
In an August 8, 2012, interview with WFNZ 610AM's "The Drive" sports talk radio hosts Marc James and Taylor Zarzour, Newton discussed the team's high expectations and the extra work he puts in watching film.
While fans may have high hopes for the Panthers' season, Newton said that the team's expectations should be higher than the fans' or they will be getting off on the wrong foot and doing a disservice to those who cheer for Carolina on Sundays.
As a quarterback, Newton's job is to know what everyone else on the offense is supposed to do on any given play.
That is an especially daunting task in coordinator Rob Chudzinski's complicated offense, but it is a task Newton is up for.
Newton wants to be a great quarterback and he wants to win as badly as any player in the NFL.
Greatness, he said, is decided by what one does when his best is required, and the ability to perform at the highest level in crunch time is grounded in preparation.
Cam Newton is prepared for greatness, and he is ready to lead his team there as well.
Panthers Fans Have Shown Their Support
Cam Newton signs autographs at Fan Fest 2012. Photo courtesy of www.panthers.com.
With exactly one week left before the Carolina Panthers break training camp at Wofford College, a record number of fans have already come out to watch the team prepare for the 2012 NFL season.
Carolina had its highest Fan Fest attendance since 1996 when 20,070 fans showed up at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday, August 4 for the team's only training camp practice on their home field.
In total, nearly 35,000 fans have already attended Panthers practices with six training camp practices remaining.
Expectations are high among the Panthers fans, players and coaches for an exciting and successful season.
Everyone Is Ready to Hit a Different Colored Jersey
Jonathan Stewart (28) runs free against the Houston Texans in 2011.
Brett Davis-US PRESSWIRE
Every team reaches a certain point in training camp when players get tired of hitting one another and things get a little chippy.
Take Captain Munnerlyn's scuffles with Jonathan Stewart and Steve Smith, for example.
Those both took place in the first week of practice, so after 10 days of black on teal on white—and of not getting to hit the guys in red—everyone is ready to line up against someone wearing a different colored jersey.
That opportunity will come soon enough, though, when the Panthers take on the Houston Texans at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday, August 11.
Are you ready for some football?
The Carolina Panthers certainly are.