Today's heat provided a good preview of Spartanburg and a reminder of how grueling practices can be. Chris Scott left early, presumably from the heat, after being limited to conditioning drills for the day. He was the only casualty.
Deangelo Williams summed up nicely how veterans feel about OTA's. When a fan asked for his autograph on the way to the practice field, Williams replied "After Practice. If I have to be here all day so do you!" This got many laughs.
Watching Kelvin Benjamin walk out and towering over his team mates never gets old.
Benjamin has quickly learned to keep the fans happy, signing autographs before and after every practice.
Lots of tennis balls are being used this year on the field. The balls are tossed around by the players to help keep their hand eye coordination sharp. A fun game they play is a round robin of trying to make each other drop a ball. Thomas Davis was fond of looking one direction while tossing it another. This caught Jonathan Stewart off guard more than once.
The starting offensive line today was Bell, Silatolu, Folkerts, Turner, and Chandler. Kalil did not dress.
Bell and Chandler are still swapping left and right tackle positions throughout practice. After practice I asked Nate Chandler when he would know which side they decide to keep him at. "They haven't given us any indication. Everyday me and Bryon come out and say lets work. Lets get after these guys on defense." Chandler and Bell are treating this as healthy competition and are taking on the challenge with a positive attitude.
Trai Turner once again playing with the first unit furthers my belief he is the opening day starter at right guard. During individual drills Turner impressed with his ability to move his feet and pull quickly, getting him to the second level of blocking. This will open up running lanes for Deangelo Williams that were just not there last season.
Turner also held up very well against a Greg Hardy stunt. Turner kept his footing and his hands inside, an impressive rookie performance against one of the leagues fastest defensive ends.
I also asked Nate Chandler for his thoughts on Trai Turner.
"He is looking good, he is getting better every day" Said Chandler. "He is a young guy, a red shirt sophomore coming out. Thats pretty tough coming to the NFL. The steps he has made this far is excellent, you can tell he is a real fast learner."
If anything is for certain at OTAs, it is that the punt return job is wide open. It probably would be easier to list the skill players that did not return punts that did. Once again, however, Cason caught the first ball and seemed to be the front runner.
Tight End Brandon Williams got time with the first string offense in an H-Back role. While lining up out side, he is frequently motioned to the traditional fullback position on running plays. This could be a good sign that his blocking skills have improved over last season.
No one is talking about Jonathan Stewart, but they should be. This is the first time Stewart has participated in offseason workouts since I can remember. There is no sign of any hesitation in his running. A fully healthy Jonathan Stewart should be something all Panthers fans can get excited about.
Graham Gano is someone else rarely talked about, but he impressed a great deal today. He continuously was splitting the uprights, and each time they would move him back 5 yards. "That last one was a 62 yarder" Gano said to me in a nonchalant manner. Just another day at the office.
Coach RIvera remarked that De'Andre Presley showed flashes today, and I agree. The most memorable was on a reverse where he got out in front of LB Jason Williams and proceeded to immediately leave him in his wake for a touchdown.
Cam Newton did not practice, so QB Coach Ken Dorsey spent some extra time with QB Joe Webb, who had his best performance so far this offseason. His "Cam-Like" runs were a highlight for the offense today.
Kenjon Barner had a better day today. He returned punts and ran some with the first string. At one point Barner caught a nice ball out of the backfield for a TD, much to the dismay of Thomas Davis who immediately began telling the safeties about it. As fast as Davis is, he was not able to keep up with Barner.
Philly Brown had an off day today. He has a tendency not to keep his eye on the ball all the way into his hands which leads to a dropped ball. He has some ability, but will need to show more consistency if he hopes to make the roster.
Kelvin Benjamin lived up to his @KBRedzone Twitter handle today with a nice catch in the end zone over Carrington Byndom. Byndom, at a respectable six feet tall, was unable to match Benjamin's altitude.
Kealoha Pilares made a few nice grands today as well as participating in punt returns. Pilares is one of those guys you just cannot count out due to his work ethic and motor.
Charles Godfrey was not very active today. He spent much of the day in conditioning drills, a step back from last week. Kugbila seems to have progressed though, this week doing a few individual sled drills where he showed his strength and why David Gettleman feels he has such an upside.
I really enjoy watching RB Darrin Reaves in team drills. He runs with an aggression that is obvious, often ending the run with a little extra contact to the defensive player. I can't wait to see him with pads on.
Jason Avant showed why the Panthers picked him up, with a sly veteran sideline push off and tip toe grab along the sideline. This earned him many cheers from the sidelines and high fives from his fellow receivers.
The most worrisome part of the day was the Panthers two minute drill. One the first play, Derek Anderson would have been sacked on a Melvin White cornerback blitz if contact were allowed. Then a stifled running play, followed by an Antoine Cason interception. It is apparent that it is still very much the offseason where the offense is concerned.