Not a great day for photos, but the day did yield some things worth seeing. 
 
First off, Kelvin Benjamin continues to impress. This long reception from Cam Newton over Carrington Byndom put an exclamation point on his day. Kelvin has been catching the ball very well, with very few drops. 

 
Shaq Thompson has been very quiet in team drills. There is no bad news, but there is no good news on that front. In drills, however, it is easy to see how athletic he is. He moves exactly like that linebacker/safety hybrid he was billed as. It remains to be seen how this will translate on game days 

I am really impressed with Brandon Wegher's speed. Once he hits a hole he bursts out as quickly as any running back I have ever seen. Keep an eye on this kid, he could be a sleeper to make the practice squad or more. 

Jordan Todman took the field again after missing some time yesterday. He is in direct competition with Wegher for a roster spot, but Todman's experience returning kicks will most likely give him the edge. 

Kurt Coleman has been very impressive in camp so far. He spent some time in the strong safety position today with Roman Harper sliding over to free safety. He made a really nice adjustment on a poorly thrown Cam Newton ball intended for Greg Olsen and made the interception. No comment on the socks... 

After being Captain America yesterday, Today Cam was Spiderman. Tomorrow.... Ironman? 

A funny moment occurred after practice as the linebackers practiced catching interceptions. Kelvin Benjamin strolled through their drill casually and purposefully, taking his time. 
 

Kelvin was notified by Thomas Davis that it would be the last time he did that, as Kelvin just grinned. 
 
Other thoughts not pictured- 
- Ted Ginn was very impressive today. His TD reception over Josh Norman was something the Panthers could have surely used early last season. Norman was a good five or six yards yards behind Ginn. 
- Up until now the offense has been winning the training camp battle, which is typically how it works. It will likely be a different story on Sunday when the pads are on. 
Last season, then rookie Kelvin Benjamin was selected to get in special reps with Cam Newton away from the other players. Typically, they would go over end zone routes or fine tune a few things here or there.
Well, that trend is happening again this year, but they have added one more participant. 
Devin Funchess

During Saturday's training camp session, Kelvin and Devin joined Cam Newton on the opposite field to work together away from the rest of the team. 
 
They caught extra passes from Cam Newton while running various routes, and then spoke to Newton about them. 

 
 

 
Small adjustments were made, and the routes run again. 
 
During one of the drills, Funchess had a chance to show off his vertical while going for an overthrown ball. I found it fairly impressive. 
 

I realize this may not seem like much, but it could be early signs of a Kelvin/Devin duo taking over the receiving corps.
 
Stay tuned. 
Each day during Carolina Panthers training camp I will be giving a few observations on how some of the Panthers rookies are shaping up according to their performance that day. Not all rookies will be discussed, as I only have a single set of eyeballs. 
Offensive Tackle Daryl Williams seems to have improved since OTAs. This may be because contact is allowed now, giving a guy like Williams his full arsenal to work with. 
Williams was able to get out of his stance quicker, kick that back foot and not letting speedy defensive ends around him as easily. 

Ron Rivera watched on as Williams demonstrated his improved technique. 

Note: Daryl Williams spent time in drills on the right AND the left side. A sign of things to come? Could be. 
Cameron Artis-Payne had the crowds in the stands and on the lawn pretty excited. He showed a really nice second gear once he got past the defensive line. He also covered up and protected the ball well. At this point you could not ask for much more from a rookie runningback. 

Devin Funchess had a relatively quiet day. Nothing negative to report, but not much positive as well. He caught the ball well in drills, but did not have many opportunities in team drills. 
 
One could easily make the argument that Carolina Panthers guard Andrew Norwell was the biggest steal in last year's rookie class. At the cost of an undrafted free agent, the Panthers landed an impressive full time starter in year one. 
Now, in year two, he seems to have picked up right where he left off. 
During 1 on 1 drills between the offensive and defensive lines, Norwell displayed exactly why he is currently the starter over former starter Amini Silotulu. 
Norwell is not a physical specimen. He does not have the measurables and stats that pro scouts adore. 
But he does have a special set of skills....

 
Norwell is technically sound and football strong. Even while taking hands to the face from Dwan Edwards. 

He recovers, plants himself, and drives the defensive opponent backwards. 

Later, he did much the same with KK Short, which is no easy task. 
 
 
Notice the quick feet, wide stance, and punishing forearm that will keep Cam Newton looking down field and not for somewhere to run. 
 
I know, I know, its another Norwell article from Igo. But really folks, this kid is a long term solution for the Panthers that did not cost a draft pick. In today's NFL of high priced QBs and other marquee players, Norwell is exactly the type of player that allows a team to contend year after year. 
The Carolina Panthers need unsung guys like Norwell if they expect to be playing in January. 
 
 
It is about to get a little sappy on the Huddle. If that bothers you, click away now....
While there is much media coverage of some of the more negative things that happen in any given year to any given team, very little attention is sometimes paid to the more understated positivity that becomes the foundation for a team's identity. Its character. 
After Friday night's practice, spectators got a glimpse of what is the real heart of this Panthers team and what makes a veteran player one that is respected both on and off the field. 
You know, I can't really relate to these guys in most areas. I am not particularly athletic or competitive. But after practice on Friday night I found myself relating to the Panthers players in a new way. A much more important way, in fact. I related to them (and I assume many onlookers did as well) as a parent, not just a player. 
After the whistle had blown and the helmets came off, the men in black and blue were just dads. Dads on a football field seeking autographs for their kids. Can you relate?
Greg Olsen and Ryan Kalil made sure the gang got some attention from Cam Newton, who thoroughly enjoyed the exchange. I imagine Cam's Captain America shirt may have meant more to the kids at that age. None the less, lasting memories made. 

Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly happily signed for the kiddos as well. 

Luke added a high five for good measure. 

Greg Olsen was sure to introduce his son to Panthers rookie Shaq Thompson. Olsen made sure to instruct him on how to make a proper and courteous introduction, as all good fathers do. A practice I have made countless times with my own twin boys. Again, commonalities and relating to the person, not just the player. 

After the fanfare and before signing countless more autographs (how these guys have the energy for so many fans and autographs after practice I will never know), Thomas Davis managed some one on one time with his daughter who reveled in the opportunity. 

And that, my friends, is an example of the underlying foundation of this entire team.

 
Carolina Panthers training camp 2015 kicked off on Friday night to a good sized crowd, anxious to see what their 2015 squad had to offer. 
To help get the crowd excited, Mike Tolbert and Cam Newton had a contest of sorts. Which player could get the crowd louder. Tolbert may have won, in my opinion. 

Cam Newton continued to look very sharp throughout the day. I remarked in OTAs that this may be the best I have ever seen him. One can only hope this development continues when the pads are on. 

Newton and new left tackle Michael Oher have a special hand shake they do before each series. It is important that these two develop a trust quickly if the Panthers offense hopes to improve on last season. 

Colin Jones could possibly be the most improved defensive player of the offseason. He may not let go of that buffalo package roster spot as quickly as some think. Jones is the fastest defensive player on the team and a real asset against those offenses that like to spread the ball around. 

Stephen Hill practiced and improved on a lackluster June performance. My only concern remains his propensity to catch the ball with his body and not look it into his hands. He has a tendency to take his eye off the ball more than any other receiver I have photographed. 

Ted Ginn, on the other hand, nearly always is looking the ball into his hands.... observe...

Fozzy Whitaker showed the explosiveness that the fans grew to love last season. He has some new competition this year in Jordan Todman and rookies Artis-Payne and Wegher, but Fozzy does not appear to be going anywhere anytime soon . 

Even though he is on the sideline, Cam Newton doesn't take a break. He continues to go through mental reps that helps him prepare. Cam's growth as a player has as much to do with what he does on the sidelines as what he does under center. 

Brenton Bersin made a few nice catches much to the delight of the Wofford crowd. "Here we go Bersin, here we go" was the chant of the day. 

Josh Norman had a mixed day. While he did may a couple of nice plays on the ball....

He also let Jerricho Cotchery get behind him for a long completion from Cam Newton (would have been a touchdown.). 

Ted Ginn was first team punt returns, and quickly impressed. 

As he bolted up field and to the sideline, he received from praise from new Panthers safety Kurt Coleman who exclaimed "Oh, he is fast". 

Speaking of Coleman, I liked what I saw out of him on Friday. He had an interception and a really nice break up on a Cam Newton to Ed Dickson connection. Note the ball coming out below.... 
Former Panthers safety Chris Harris is back in a Panthers uniform, this time coaching up the defensive backs as an assistant. He and Peanut Tillman spent a lot of time going over the finer points. 

Damiere Byrd got in a few snaps late. While he was able to get behind the defenders, he was then slowed by contact that probably would not have drawn a flag. Byrd needs to learn the finer points of playing through such contact on a pro level. He has time, and I feel the Panthers are impressed enough with him to keep him in the mix and see if he improves. 

Overall, it was a solid first practice. I was happy with the tempo and enthusiasm. The Panthers are looking less like a young team in search of an identity and more like a veteran team on a mission. 
 
 
Over the past several weeks, Kelvin Benjamin had to live with the first bit of real negative press about him concerning his weight. Of course, we all remember in June when Ron Rivera remarked he was 10 pounds overweight, which played a role in his hamstring pull.
Well, if the first training camp practice of 2015 was any indication, Kelvin Benjamin has turned that criticism into motivation and made a statement saying exactly that. 
Kelvin made multiple catches from Cam Newton, finding a nice soft spot in the zone defenses and making the grab. While being covered by a variety of players, from Boston to Byndom to Norman, Benjamin made play after play, and did it with style. 

Towards the end of practice, Kelvin hauled in a long bomb form Cam Newton in which he out bodied and out jumped Carrington Byndom for what would have been a first down in the red zone. 

I think it is safe to say we can all officially put to rest the concerns over Kelvin's conditioning (which I never fully bought into in the first place.) Kelvin has picked up exactly where he left off last season, namely the most dangerous receiver on the team. 
 
The Carolina Panthers Training Camp last season introduced us to guys like Andrew Norwell and Corey Brown. Two undrafted free agents who ended up making major contributions to the playoff run of 2015. 
So who will be the sleepers this season? Well, here are my best pre-camp guesses.....
 
1. Damiere Byrd - WR South Carolina
While small in stature, Byrd has the physical gifts that the Panthers need, namely pure speed. During OTA's, Byrd connected with the Panthers backup quarterbacks for multiple long bomb touchdowns. This local kid has what it takes to shine in camp this year if given the opportunity. Given the uncertain future of Stephen Hill and his recent transgression, Byrd may just get that chance. 
2. Lee Ward - FB Stanford
I love me some Lee Ward. A bruising throwback fullback who punished his opponent as he lays waste. While not the most glamorous or highlight generating position, the pure blocking fullback is something I would love to see added to the Panthers arsenal. He would also aid in protecting Cam Newton given the unknown skill level of the Panthers 2015 left tackle Michael Oher. 
3. Dean Marlowe - S  James Madison
You haven't read much about Marlowe until now, but that could quickly change. If there is one position on the Panthers roster that an immediate impact could be made, it would be Safety. Marlowe saw plenty of snaps in OTA's and looked sharp. If he can also contribute in Special Teams he may be able to carve out a roster spot. Not an easy accomplishment for an undrafted free agent on this Panthers squad. 
 
So there are the top 3 young guys I am hoping can make an impact. Who are yours? 
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A look at the 2015 New Orleans Saints offseason. Have they made moves to improve and contend for the division title? 

This week we take a quick look at the New Orleans Saints and the bullet points of their offseason. (Last week we looked at the Atlanta Falcons)
 
The Draft
The Saints selected OT Andrus Peat in the first round of the 2015 NFL draft. Peat would have been the Panthers selection according to sources. This was a solid selection that will pay dividends in years to come. 
The Saints went on to address defense for 6 of their remaining 8 picks. You only need to look at the Panthers at Saints game last season to figure out why. 
Their second 1st round pick was spent on LB and Clemson alum Stephone Anthony. Anthony is extremely quick and athletic, will probably be starting by mid season if not sooner. 
The Saints addressed their pass rush in round 2 with the selection of sub package player Hau'oli Kikaha out of Washington. He will play OLB on situational downs where a bit of extra speed is needed on the pass rush (something the Carolina Panthers struggle with)
In the third round the Saints showed concern over the diminishing play of Drew Brees by selecting Garrett Grayson out of Colorado State. I like Grayson and think he has a chance to do well in the NFL. 
 
Free Agency
The biggest loss for the Saints obviously was Jimmy Graham. Graham was the life line the Saints needed in many games against the Panthers over past seasons. 
The Saints also lost WR Kenny Stills, C Ben Grubbs, and RB Pierre Thomas on offense. 
Their biggest offseason acquisition was RB CJ Spiller who should do well on the Saints fast home turf. 
On the defensive side of the ball the Saints lost one of the only bright spots in Curtis Lofton and his 144 combined tackles in 2014.
Overall, the Saints took a net loss in free agency, that fact would be difficult to argue against. 
 
Drew Brees
 2014 marked the first season of any real noticeable decline in the play of 14 year veteran Drew Brees. As the season went on, the physical toll on Brees became more apparent.
The Saints organization also took notice. The majority of draft picks being spent on defense signifies that. The days of the Saints simply out scoring opponents may be over. A NFL caliber defense is probably needed now, and the Saints know it. 
Throw in the fact a 3rd round selection was used on a QB, and well, it is easy to read the writing on the wall. Can you imagine the controversy if Carolina spent a 3rd rounder on a QB? Yet barely a mention of it in New Orleans. The Saints fan base may be in a bit of denial. 
 
Conclusion
Jon Beason once told me "If you aren't getting better, you're getting worse." 
The Saints.... they aren't getting better in 2015. They are in real danger of finishing last in the division. 
 
But what do you think?
 
 
Next week.... Bucs. 
 
 
With less than a month to go until NFL training camps open, I thought it may be helpful to take a look at the Carolina Panthers southern rivals and start a dialogue on their offseason changes. 
First up, Atlanta Falcons. Here are the important bullet points of the Falcons offseason... 
COACHING
Atlanta has a new head coach. Those words should concern any Carolina Panthers fan who has paid attention to Ron Rivera's record against rookie head coaches. Adding insult to injury, the Falcons hired former Seattle DC Dan Quinn as Mike Smith's replacement at head coach. Quinn obviously has had success against the Panthers over the past two seasons. Panthers OC Mike Shula will have his work cut out for him. 
If Quinn can improve the Falcons defense in his first year, Atlanta could contend for the title in the NFC South. 
 
IN THE DRAFT
The Falcons addressed their need for defensive improvement in the first two rounds of the draft.
Falcons first round pick DE Vic Beasley should improve Atlanta's pass rush from day one. He was used mainly on the left side in Falcons workouts last month, but did switch to the right occasionally. Beasley's game is speed, how well the Panthers counter with Remmers and Oher remains to be seen. 
In the second round the Falcons selected CB Jalen Collins. This was a good value as many had Collins as a first round talent. Collins will most likely catch on quickly as he faces guys like Julio Jones in practice, helping him prepare to defense Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess. Collins was a good pick for the Falcons and should help them at depth initially, with Collins taking over a starting role later in the season. 
On the offensive side of the ball RB Tevin Coleman and WR (and Huddle favorite) WR Justin Hardy. Coleman could see increased playing time as the season progresses while Hardy looks to have already earned the #3 WR spot. 
Overall, Atlanta had a solid 2015 draft based on early reviews. 
 
FREE AGENCY
The Falcons released a few names Panthers fans were used to seeing, Harry Douglas and Steven Jackson the most notable. The loss of these two players were addressed nicely in the draft. Negative impact should be minimal. 
OLB Brooks Reed was added from the Texans and could be a real impact player for the Falcons. How much did he benefit from playing with JJ Watt? We will soon see. Reed will not be playing behind anyone of Watt's caliber anytime soon in Atlanta. 
The Falcons extended S Charles Godfrey which is excellent news for the Panthers. Godfrey's best days are well behind him.  
The Falcons signed a couple of new tight ends, Tony Moeaki and Jacob Tamme. Could they be an adequate long term replacement for Tony Gonzalez? Clearly, Toilolo last season was not.
 
OTHER TIDBITS
Apparently, the Falcons are trying to move QB Matt Ryan out of the pocket more often. This is an interesting development to keep your eyes on. If the Falcons can give a few looks a game of Ryan rolling out of the pocket to throw it could change how aggressive the Panthers pass rush can be. 
 
CONCLUSION
Like it or not, the Atlanta Falcons improved a good deal this offseason. Mike Smith was not a good head coach. This was obvious to anyone that watched "Hard Knocks" on HBO last year. Dan Quinn will bring a tougher more hard nosed attitude to the Falcons. 
What say you? 
 
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