Now that the Carolina Panthers 2017 minicamp has completed, I thought I would take a moment and reflect back on the three day event. Some things look promising, others not so much. For better or worse, here are five things I learned.
Good Golly, That Defense
Most of the banter this offseason has been around the Panthers “evolved” offense, but it is the defense that has me most excited. The addition of Captain Munnerlyn appears to have filled the aggressiveness void Josh Norman left. The Panthers’ secondary not only looked much like the 2015 version, but may even be better. I am trying to temper my enthusiasm a bit here, but it isn’t easy.
The addition of safety Mike Adams and the continued development of sophomore corners Bradberry and Worley should lessen concerns over allowing big offensive passing plays. The days of automatically giving up 10 yards to a receiver at the line may be a thing of the past. If Steve Wilks can now trust his young secondary fully, you can expect dividends paid not only in coverage but in sacks as well this season. Good news all around.
Second round pick Curtis Samuel has tremendous potential as a play maker, but if any of that is to pan out he needs to be able to stay on the field. A few weeks ago during Panthers rookie camp, Samuel missed time due to a pulled hamstring. That same injury nagged him through OTA’s and now through minicamp as well.
Workouts in May and June are far from the most physically taxing. Compared to full contact practices in Spartanburg they are a stroll in the park. Samuel needs to take the next several weeks and really focus on getting back to 100% in time. We have seen receivers have early hamstring issues (Funchess in 2015). It tends to hinder their development well into the season. The Panthers cannot afford for this to happen to such a high draft pick this season.
Julius Peppers is a man among boys
I can still remember talking to Julius Peppers back during his rookie season in Spartanburg. In all honesty, I would hardly recognize him today if I had not seen him sense. Julio Peppers is bigger than I can ever recall. Having played a 3-4 linebacker the past several years, I had concerns he may have dropped weight to gain speed. This doesn’t appear to be the case at all, quite the contrary.
If Peppers can be just 70% of what he was for the Carolina Panthers years ago, watch out.
Kelvin Benjamin can dominate (when he wants to)
Panthers minicamp gave us a look at the two Kelvin Benjamins. On Wednesday, Benjamin was out-played by the defense. All of the subsequent media coverage was about James Bradberry and the others shutting down the Panthers offense. Apparently, some of that got under Kelvin’s skin. On Thursday, he came out with a renewed focus and intensity. Benjamin imposed his will on the field and there was not much anyone could do about it. It was like a totally different player put on the number thirteen jersey that day.
Benjamin has all the ability in the world. It seems to be a matter of proper motivation with him. If he can get that part figured out, a pro bowl appearance could be in his future.
Oh, and the new running back
Christian McCaffrey was able to attend the final practice of minicamp. You probably heard about that by now. McCaffrey ran the ball. He caught the ball. He even passed the ball once. When the Carolina Panthers promised to use all of McCaffrey’s abilities on offense, they weren’t joking.
McCaffrey saw time with the first string offense immediately both as a receiver and a running back, pushing veteran players down the depth chart in the process. There is no doubt that McCaffrey will be an integral part of everything the Carolina Panthers do on offense this season.