5 Biggest Takeaways from the Carolina Panthers' OTAs
The Carolina Panthers wrapped up their first session of organized team activities (OTAs) and will begin the second session today. The final session will be conducted next Monday, June 9 and that will be followed by a mandatory minicamp starting June 17.
The first week of workouts have had its share of on-going and developing stories. While it may be early, what is currently taking place should make the upcoming weeks more interesting as training camp approaches.
How are some of the key veteran players doing so far? Are the rookies showing promise? Which positions should be closely watched over the next few weeks?
The following slides will highlight these questions and discuss what was learned after the first week of OTAs for the Carolina Panthers.
Bene Benwikere Is Showing Promise
There is no doubt the Carolina Panthers saw potential in cornerback Bene Benwikere when they drafted him. After all, the team traded up in the fifth round to get him. It was assumed he would sit and learn behind veterans and be groomed to be a future starting cornerback.
That wait may not be long.
Benwikere has challenged veteran Charles Godfrey for the nickelback position and could be staking a claim to be the starter. He has drawn praise from head coach Ron Rivera, who didn't hesitate to name the San Jose State product as the biggest surprise during OTAs.
The rookie still has a long road ahead of him and nothing is guaranteed. However, he has started off on a positive note and looks to build upon his solid first impression. Hopefully, training camp will tell the tale of what can be expected of Benwikere in 2014.
Left Tackle Still to Be Determined
Who wants to be the Carolina Panthers' left tackle?
That is a question that remains to be answered, but seems to be between Byron Bell and Nate Chandler. While many fans would have preferred a rookie to protect Cam Newton's blindside, the pair offer a strong veteran presence and seem to have the confidence of their teammates and coaches.
Ron Rivera feels that Bell can succeed at left tackle because the position is a more natural fit for him. During an interview with Joe Person of The Charlotte Observer, the Carolina head coach had this to say about Bell and his potential to assume the left tackle role: "Byron’s a natural left tackle. He played it all through college. He’s a natural left-hander."
Take from that what you will.
The best case is that Bell can fill the void and be a suitable left tackle and negate concerns about the position. The worst case, he won't be the long-term answer at the position.
Rivera has noted that despite his lack of experience, Chandler has made consistent improvement. That is a good sign, but doubts may not be put fully to rest until live contact drills are conducted and game situations challenge the converted defensive tackle.
It should be noted the Panthers did win seven of eight games last season with Chandler at right guard and Bell at right tackle. Perhaps that success can be carried over into the 2014 season.
Cam Newton Doing as Much as He Can Despite Not Being Cleared
You have to give Cam Newton credit: He continues to develop as a leader and is not going to let his recovery from ankle surgery slow him down.
That is, of course, not too much.
Newton was spotted in a red jersey, and he even took time to throw to rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin. This is the kind of attitude the Panthers need from their quarterback as training camp approaches.
There was concern that Newton would be rusty from the offseason inactivity. Nevermind the fact that establishing a chemistry with his new teammates also would be slowed by his recovery. Apparently, he's having none of that.
After workouts were done, Newton and Benjamin stayed behind to work with each other and develop a rapport. It might not have been a live-game situation or a passing drill for that matter, but Newton wants to get use to his new receiver's tendencies. Considering they will be the future of the Carolina offense, it makes sense.
Newton's progress and recovery will no doubt be monitored, and he may try to push for an early return to the practice field. The next few weeks should offer some great insight as to how Ron Rivera and his coaching staff will manage Newton's practice reps.
Philly Brown Making a Case for Himself
Undrafted free agents Robert Lester and Melvin White defied the odds and became solid additions to last year's defense.
The same thing could happen this season on offense.
So far, Carolina has signed former Canadian Football League offensive tackle David Foucault, after he impressed coaches during rookie camp.
Another offensive player to keep an eye on is Ohio State receiver Philly Brown.
Brown has a tough road ahead of him, with a crowded receiving field and a decent mix of talent—veteran, rookie and otherwise. Still, he hauled in a deep pass and, according to ESPN's David Newton, warrants some attention as a potential sleeper to round out the receiver corps.
He figures to help bolster the special teams unit and could pair with Kenjon Barner as a returner. It may be a simple matter of him starting out as a special teams player before moving to the offense on a more permanent basis.
For the moment, he will have to continue to show promise and prove he can make big plays whether it's on offense or special teams.
Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant Embracing Mentorship Role
If there's one thing can be said about the Carolina receiver corps, it's that it lacks the veteran presence from a year ago. That has not stopped free-agent acquisitions Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant from stepping up and becoming role models to the young players on the team.
Together, the duo has established themselves as veteran leaders and are doing their part to instill a strong work ethic into each receiver on the team. After the first week of OTAs, Ron Rivera discussed their value and what it means to the team:
Jerricho and Jason are two veteran guys that have played in a lot of big games, and they've really shown that to the young guys with their work ethic and professionalism.
With any luck, both receivers will have a productive 2014 season and offer some merit of what hard work and determination can do as it relates to the younger players. They will be counted on both to be productive members of the Carolina offense as well as mentors and leaders on the field and off it.