Carolina Panthers OTAs: Latest Player Reports and Analysis
The Carolina Panthers are undergoing the early stages of their offseason workouts. With the rookie minicamp completed, the team can now focus on organized team activities (OTAs) that will bring together the rookies and veterans. These early workouts will help determine the team's potential moving forward and should serve as a means to start trimming the roster.
While it is early, a few storylines have gained a bit of traction. They have ranged from minor team news to news significantly impacting the Panthers.
Here are a few of the reports coming out of the Carolina Panthers camp as of now.
Cam Newton Not Participating
Cam Newton had ankle surgery back in March and was projected to be out four months before he could begin taking part in drills and practice. This leaves him with a projected window of July for his return. His absence may affect the chemistry with his receivers, and he should be expected to be rusty early on. But, he shouldn't miss any of the regular season.
Newton himself has said that he is recovering rapidly and is not thrilled to be missing time to work with his new receivers, per ESPN.com's David Newton:
"I was looking at those guys helplessly walking back to the training room. It's all for a good cause. I need to get 100 percent for myself, but my production as far as how I can get better does not stop."
Despite his feelings, he knows the importance of being in prime condition for the start of the season, and his growing maturity has been showing, as he has restrained himself from rushing his return to the field.
With any luck, he shouldn't miss too much time when training camp opens.
Greg Hardy Back with Team
While there is nothing new to report about the domestic incident involving Carolina defensive end, Greg Hardy, it should be noted he returned to voluntary workouts with the team this past week. Hardy was placed under the franchise tag earlier in the offseason and will be paid $13.1 million for the season. His future with Carolina beyond 2014 is uncertain.
For now, it is good to have him on the field and helping his team to get ready for the upcoming season. His presence, along with fellow pass-rusher Charles Johnson, should go a long way toward helping mentor rookie defensive end Kony Ealy.
The young man was projected to be a backup at defensive end and possibly defensive tackle, but Hardy's offseason incident could propel him into a starter role earlier than anticipated.
The Panthers can only hope for a quick resolution involving their talented defensive end. He may miss time, but if he does, the team is equipped to counter his absence.
Rookies Could Shape the Face of the Offensive Line
The Carolina Panthers still have questions regarding the offensive line. However, some of them could be answered in the form of their rookies. General manager Dave Gettleman drafted offensive guard Trai Turner in the third round and signed undrafted free agent David Foucault after he impressed coaches during the rookie minicamp.
The latter was a top-five pick in the Canadian Football League draft and could possibly make the team's final roster. He might even be a dark-horse candidate to start, but there is a long way to go before that becomes a reality. As of now, he has impressed his coaches with his ability and potential. This is why he was offered a contract.
Turner has the aggressiveness to be an excellent inside blocker, and that could help running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart gain a lot of rushing yards up the middle. If anything, he looks to be the first piece of the offensive line's future.
It is unknown who will start at left tackle, but the presence of the rookies who play on the offensive line could merit a closer look. Byron Bell may or may not move to the left side, but it's very likely the line as a whole will be comprised of new faces—starter or backup.
So Far, So Good for Kelvin Benjamin
The overall response to the selection of Kelvin Benjamin by Carolina with the 28th pick was mixed. Fans either loved it or hated it. Early on, it would appear that Benjamin is doing his part to ease concerns about his rawness and is flashing the skills that made him stand out to Dave Gettleman, wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl and head coach Ron Rivera.
Benjamin had an impressive one-handed catch with two defenders on him in rookie camp. The play stood out to all of those in attendance and left a positive impression on Gettleman and Rivera. Per David Newton of ESPN.com, Rivera had this to say regarding Benjamin's catch:
"That was pretty impressive. He's got the kind of ability you're looking for."
The question left to be answered is how he will respond to live contact drills and game situations. The Panthers cannot afford to see their first-round pick turn into a bust, but for now, he seems to be showing some encouraging signs that he will develop into a very productive member of the Carolina offense.
The Theme for Carolina's Defense in 2014 Is Versatility
The Panthers drafted three defensive players in this year's draft with the selections of Kony Ealy (60th), Tre Boston (128th) and Bene Benwikere (148th). According to Bryan Strickland at Panthers.com, all three players will probably be used in a variety of ways.
Ealy could someday replace either Greg Hardy or Charles Johnson, but in 2014, he could be on the field with them. Using the philosophy instilled by Gettleman's former New York colleague (and former Carolina head coach) John Fox, Rivera could use Kony as that quick defensive lineman battling in the trenches creating mismatches. As noted earlier, Ealy could see some playing time by lining up at defensive tackle.
Boston has experience as a cornerback, but he will most likely be used as a safety. Boston told the Panthers' website he believes he can offer a variety of different looks while in the defense:
"They see me as a safety. If I have to I could play both, but I'm coming in to play safety. I'm not just one type of safety. I can ball-hawk and I can come up and play in the box."
It should be interesting to see how he fares in a position battle that features proven veterans Roman Harper and Thomas DeCoud in the mix and up-and-coming talent Robert Lester right behind them. If anything, Boston offers a bit of depth, and he could eventually have a future in the secondary if all goes well.
Carolina traded up to acquire Benwikere, and he could move into a cornerback role later on in his career. He projects to be playing on the outside and at nickel corner. Gettleman was impressed with his ability to play and defend passes, which was the driving force to trade up for him.
There will be plenty of youth on the Carolina defense in 2014, but like last year, there is a good mixture of veterans and young players who can make the Panthers competitive.