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  1. One of the more interesting stories of the 2015 Carolina Panthers OTA sessions has been the improvement of Corey Brown at the wide receiver position. A few days ago during practice I was standing next to Bill Voth of BBR discussing Brown's improvement. We came to the conclusion that the best sign of his arrival as a player was the fact that we were no longer really taking note of his receptions. Meaning, Corey Brown making plays had become routine, not noteworthy. That is a true sign of a player's growth. After the final Panthers OTA practice, I wanted to speak to Corey about his growth and his thoughts of the receivers group as a whole. So I waited, and waited, and waited a bit more. You see, Corey was across the field catching one handed passes with the defensive backs. The receivers group was not doing any extra reps after practice, so Brown took it upon himself to find another group to work with. Once I did catch up with him, I asked him how he went from an undrafted free agent in 2014 to one of the more impressive receivers early in 2015. "All I can control is what I do." Brown said of his improvement. "Staying focused, not letting anything that happened last year get to me." Brown had some success as a rookie, but clearly he is focused on building on his achievements, not reminiscing over them. Brown understands the numbers with this 2015 receivers group. Even though he has been playing mainly with the first team, he knows his roster spot is not guaranteed. For the first time in a long time, talented receivers are not going to make the Carolina Panthers roster. For the team, that is a great thing. For the individuals, it provides extra motivation. "Its a way more competitive group this year, from top to bottom. There is nothing but skill at the receiver position. There is a lot of competition this year." Part of the increase in skill level was due to the Panthers trading up for receiver Devin Funchess in the second round. The Panthers had Funchess graded as a first rounder, and it has shown on the practice field. Corey Brown has been impressed. "I've known Funchess, he played at Michigan so I have been watching him for a while. He is picking up the offense fast." Brown remarked. "He is going to be huge for us this year." If you look at the above photo again, the other player in the photo dressed in all black is Gamecocks rookie Damiere Byrd. Like Brown in 2014, Byrd is an undrafted receiver trying to make his way. Clearly he has taken note and is looking at Brown's work ethic as an example of what it takes to succeed. This is the first look we have gotten at Corey Brown the mentor. "I told (Byrd), sometimes you may not get one rep the whole period" Brown said. "You can't let that get you down, because then when it's your time to go you aren't going to mentally be able to perform. I told him many times just wait until camp. Once camp comes around you are going to get as many reps as you need."
  2. One of the more interesting stories of the 2015 Carolina Panthers OTA sessions has been the improvement of Corey Brown at the wide receiver position. A few days ago during practice I was standing next to Bill Voth of BBR discussing Brown's improvement. We came to the conclusion that the best sign of his arrival as a player was the fact that we were no longer really taking note of his receptions. Meaning, Corey Brown making plays had become routine, not noteworthy. That is a true sign of a player's growth. After the final Panthers OTA practice, I wanted to speak to Corey about his growth and his thoughts of the receivers group as a whole. So I waited, and waited, and waited a bit more. You see, Corey was across the field catching one handed passes with the defensive backs..... View full article
  3. The last OTA practice of 2015 was both the hottest and the practice with the least enthusiasm. With Ron Rivera in California for his daughters graduation, the Panthers seemed to lose focus. It showed both in their demeanor and on the field. It was a rough day for Cam Newton. After looking pristine for most of the OTA sessions, today he looked off kilter. Many of his end zone passes were high. His long throws either short or long. Colin Jones made the play of the day, intercepting Cam Newton in the red zone and taking it for what would have been a pick six. Cam Newton was visibly unhappy about the interception, and tried chasing Jones down.... without luck. Colin Jones also made a beautiful break on a ball from Newton later in the practice, nearly intercepting another ball meant for Ted Ginn on a curl route. Yes, Colin Jones is my player of the day. The first defensive player of the day I have named... which should tell you how the day went. Other Notes: - Brandon Williams struggled as he dropped a catchable 30 yard bomb from Cam Newton. Williams had both hands on the ball, but could not hold on. - Devin Funchess had more second string snaps today, due to Kelvin Benjamin being back on the field. Funchess did get a few first string reps in. When with the second string, he appeared to be running many of the same routes as Benjamin did with the first string. - Cam's sure fire connection to Greg Olsen was just not there today. Both targets in the end zone soared well above Olsen's head. - Both linebacker draft picks, Thompson and Mayo, spent time in the second string together. - Stephen Hill mainly played with the second string, no plays of note to mention.
  4. The last OTA practice of 2015 was both the hottest and the practice with the least enthusiasm. With Ron Rivera in California for his daughters graduation, the Panthers seemed to lose focus. It showed both in their demeanor and on the field. It was a rough day for Cam Newton. After looking pristine for most of the OTA sessions, today he looked off kilter. Many of his end zone passes were high. His long throws either short or long. Colin Jones made the play of the day, intercepting Cam Newton in the red zone and taking it for what would have been a pick six. Cam Newton was visibly unhappy about the interception, and tried chasing Jones down.... without luck. Colin Jones also made a beautiful break on a ball from Newton later in the practice, nearly intercepting another ball meant for Ted Ginn on a curl route. Yes, Colin Jones is my player of the day. The first defensive player of the day I have named... which should tell you how the day went. Other Notes: - Brandon Williams struggled as he dropped a catchable 30 yard bomb from Cam Newton. Williams had both hands on the ball, but could not hold on. - Devin Funchess had more second string snaps today, due to Kelvin Benjamin being back on the field. Funchess did get a few first string reps in. When with the second string, he appeared to be running many of the same routes as Benjamin did with the first string. - Cam's sure fire connection to Greg Olsen was just not there today. Both targets in the end zone soared well above Olsen's head. - Both linebacker draft picks, Thompson and Mayo, spent time in the second string together. - Stephen Hill mainly played with the second string, no plays of note to mention. View full article
  5. The Carolina Panthers opened up an additional day for media, which came as a nice surprise this morning. So I rearranged my schedule and headed to Biggs Camera for my gear. Those guys are so awesome they are providing me with equipment this season so that I can bring these images to you. Having them in my corner this year is a load off my mind in terms of equipment. So make sure you show them some love if you are in Charlotte and in need of camera gear or prints. They are good people. Charles Johnson was showing off some nice kicks and a new haircut today. Kelvin Benjamin and Bene Benwikere again were limited in their practice involvement. I spoke to Bene after practice. He is feeling good and should return as soon as tomorrow possibly. After practice coach Rivera mentioned Kelvin also may return. Just because Kelvin is limited in team drills doesn't mean he is taking it easy. He spent a lot of time with the ball machine, catching pass after pass. He seems more aggravated by not being able to participate on the field than by a nagging hamstring. Earlier this year on the Huddle Podcast, Josh Norman expressed how important veteran safety Roman Harper is to the defensive backs. Norman sees Harper as kind of an older wiser brother and credits Harper as a source for knowledge. It is obvious on the field that these two have a mutual respect and fondness for one another which is great to see. Clemson product Garry Peters was a highly ranked UDFA, but he hasn't managed to see the field yet. He spent the day with the trainers again, trying to get his legs healthy. This is not the position a UDFA rookie wants to be in, especially with how competitive the cornerback position is this season. During offensive line drills, Andrew Norwell looked like, well, Andrew Norwell. Taking everything deadly serious as if it were a gameday situation, and bringing that mean streak we all have grown to love. A source within the organization has told me Norwell looks like a 10 year starter for the Panthers. Cam again looked sharp today, and not just because of the highlighter green shirt. He continued to have plenty of zip on the ball and precision accuracy. - Player of the Day: Greg Olsen. Olsen hauled in three touchdowns while making the Panthers safeties look less than stellar. The Cam to Olsen connection was nearly unstoppable today. - Rookie receiver Damiere Byrd closed out practice with a long bomb touchdown again today. Once he gets behind a defender, there is little chance of catching him. - Jarrett Boykin had another rough day today, dropping a touchdown pass in the red zone. Boykin had both hands on the ball, but just could not hold on. - The Panthers changed up the offensive line a bit today. Mike Remmers spent some time at center, and Martin Wallace got a few snaps with the second team at left tackle. - The scary moment of the day was a bad communication on the offensive line that put Michael Oher far out of place and a leaving Mario Addison untouched as he got to Cam Newton. Of course, Addison did not touch Cam, but if it was an actual game Cam would be at serious risk. - Frank Alexander spent the most time at left defensive end with Charles Johnson still on the right. Thats all for general observations. I will have more specific observations about players and units in the coming hours and days. As always, I will be having extended coverage including photos and observations in the All-Pro section of the Huddle. If you are a huddle regular and enjoy what I provide here, I encourage you to sign up and help keep it going.
  6. The Carolina Panthers opened up an additional day for media, which came as a nice surprise this morning. So I rearranged my schedule and headed to Biggs Camera for my gear. Those guys are so awesome they are providing me with equipment this season so that I can bring these images to you. Having them in my corner this year is a load off my mind in terms of equipment. So make sure you show them some love if you are in Charlotte and in need of camera gear or prints. They are good people. Charles Johnson was showing off some nice kicks and a new haircut today. Kelvin Benjamin and Bene Benwikere again were limited in their practice involvement. I spoke to Bene after practice. He is feeling good and should return as soon as tomorrow possibly. After practice coach Rivera mentioned Kelvin also may return. Just because Kelvin is limited in team drills doesn't mean he is taking it easy. He spent a lot of time with the ball machine, catching pass after pass. He seems more aggravated by not being able to participate on the field than by a nagging hamstring...... View full article
  7. Kelvin Benjamin returned to practice today in OTA's, but in a limited role. After missing the entire OTA session last week, Benjamin took part in individual drills (without a helmet). It was easy to spot exactly what was missing last week from the receiving core without Benjamin's length. Although Devin Funchess is only an inch shorter, you just cannot replace Kelvin's wing span so easily. Kelvin spent time along the sidelines coaching up the rookies. He seems to be taking on a nice leadership role for himself in that unit.
  8. Kelvin Benjamin returned to practice today in OTA's, but in a limited role. After missing the entire OTA session last week, Benjamin took part in individual drills (without a helmet). View full article
  9. One of the most important stories of the week that few people are talking about is Cam Newton and his health. After an injury plagued 2014 offseason that only got worse into the regular season, Cam's health probably should be more at the forefront of the Panthers fan concerns. I can remember in training camp of 2014, after practices Cam could barely walk up the hill to the ice tubs. The physical toll after a single practice was obvious to even the most casual observer. He would cringe after each step, soreness from surgery performed on his ankle nagging at him. It would continue to bother him throughout the entire season. Throw in a couple of rib injuries before the end of 2014, and it is easy to see why his health should be a big concern. So at Thursday's OTA session, I was curious to see how Cam behaved. The first indication of his health came just after stretching, when Cam ran to the near practice field for drills. It wasn't a jog, or even a casual run. It was a near sprint to get to his next station. I had not seen that from Cam at practice in over a year. Next up was his throwing motion. Was there any indication that his rib injuries would nag him into 2015? Would there be any effect on the balls thrown? I've watched Cam in offseason drills now for five years. Watching him throw deep to Stephen Hill and Corey Brown showed me something I had not seen since his rookie season. Great form and precision accuracy. Cam entered the league and broke rookie passing records. After that, he struggled at times with high throws. Those, for the time being at least, seem to have disappeared. Cam hit his receivers in stride time after time on Thursday. It was the best practice performance I had seen from him in recent memory. Maybe his ankle truly did bother him for the past few seasons. Maybe he has been putting in extra work to correct technical mistakes. Whatever the reason, Cam Newton looked as sharp as I had ever seen him. Next up, what about those running plays, bother planned and improvised. Well, it was not long before Cam was running with the ball and matching the speed of Joe Webb (something that Cam could not do last season). There was little difference, if any, between the speed at which Webb would run with the ball from under center and when Cam Newton ran the same plays. Yes, it is the offseason. Yes, there is no risk of Cam getting hit. But I am comparing apples to apples here. Last season's training camp to this season's OTA's. The improvement in his physical ability is real. Finally, what about his demeanor after practice. Would he limp to the tubs like last year? Would he struggle to just make it off the practice field? Well, in this case, I will let the picture do the talking.
  10. One of the most important stories of the week that few people are talking about is Cam Newton and his health. After an injury plagued 2014 offseason that only got worse into the regular season, Cam's health probably should be more at the forefront of the Panthers fan concerns. I can remember in training camp of 2014, after practices Cam could barely walk up the hill to the ice tubs. The physical toll after a single practice was obvious to even the most casual observer. He would cringe after each step, soreness from surgery performed on his ankle nagging at him. It would continue to bother him throughout the entire season. Throw in a couple of rib injuries before the end of 2014, and it is easy to see why his health should be a big concern. So at Thursday's OTA session, I was curious to see how Cam behaved. View full article
  11. In the first open media OTA session of 2015 my main objective was to get a real glimpse of how the Carolina Panthers receiving corps were shaping up. With Kelvin Benjamin out with injury and rookie Devin Funchess out of town, there was a real opportunity to see which players would step up and make a case for themselves as that second or third option. Those two receivers today were Corey Brown and Stephen Hill. As the practice started, I became a bit concerned about the level of play from the receivers. Stephen Hill had an easy drop early in drills, and Corey Brown slipped a couple of times mid route. Brenton Bersin, Jarrett Boykin also had drops on well thrown balls. I started to wonder if the Panthers were in for a tough day without Kelvin and Devin. Then a funny thing happened, team drills began (no photography permitted) and Stephen and Corey started making play after play. First, Stephen Hill hauled in a long bomb from Derek Anderson over Josh Norman on a seam route. Once Hill got behind Norman he used his length to grab the ball. Norman was turned in the air, unable to make the play on the ball, and a Stephen Hill touchdown was the result. Immediately after Cam Newton ran onto the field, whooping and hollering as if he was the one that threw the touchdown. Cam's excitement was undeniable. Later, Hill got a chance to catch a few from Newton and hauled in a couple of nice catches and an additional touchdown. I noticed a nice chemistry Cam and Hill seem to be developing. I get the feeling he is as excited about the potential of Stephen Hill as anyone. Next, Philly Brown took the stage with the first string. Cam connected with Brown for two touchdowns before the drill was over. Brown doesn't look a little faster than last season, he looks much faster than last season. I asked him about that after practice... Philly is absolutely right when he says speed isn't everything. Stephen Hill has had speed his entire career, but has been unable to make an impact in the NFL. But if today's practice is any indication whatsoever, both of these players could push Ted Ginn or Jerricho Cotchery down the depth chart. It will be interesting to see how the veterans respond next week. More photos and observations coming in the coming hours/days.
  12. In the first open media OTA session of 2015 my main objective was to get a real glimpse of how the Carolina Panthers receiving corps were shaping up. With Kelvin Benjamin out with injury and rookie Devin Funchess out of town, there was a real opportunity to see which players would step up and make a case for themselves as that second or third option. Those two receivers today were Corey Brown and Stephen Hill. View full article
  13. Personally I think that it's way too early for excitement and guesswork over the depth chart at any position, much less WR, but I suppose that people the Huddle is busting out out of the cabin like an airbag at the moment of impact of post draft anticipation and subjective prognostication. So, for what it's worth, ESPN's Dave Newton's first write-up after the start of OTAs is worth it's grain of salt also. Though admittedly noting that Corey Brown had a decent showing today, Newton was most impressed by Stephen Hill. Newton noted that Hill's over-the-shoulder catch from Derek Anderson that led to a TD after Hill blew by the protection down field received the biggest reaction of the day from Cam Newton and others. David Newton also noted something that Panthers fans, who have perhaps been spoiled by little big man, Steve Smith, may not necessarily want to hear, and that's that size does matter when it comes to determining who will get the nod on game days (especially, all other things being equal). Ricky Proehl sounds excited also, noting that if Hill can show consistency, then he will be in the mix to not only play on the opposite side of Kelvin Benjamin, but also back up Benjamin if that were ever to become necessary. Hill is still humble and knows that he has a long way to go, much like all of the receivers and potential receivers who will make up the Panthers' 2015 receiving corps. But it's nice to see the competition get off to a nice start for two receivers that so many Huddlers believe have the most promise outside of Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess.
  14. Every off season we find that some of the positions on the field are set in stone. We know the starting defensive line. We know the running back lineup. We know which linebackers we will see with the starting unit. When it comes to receivers, however, the depth chart is far from cemented. I've seen Kelvin Benjamin and Marcus Lucas with the ones. I've seen Brenton Bersin and Jericho Cotchery take first string snaps. McNutt and King have played with the starters as well. Philly Brown and De'Andre Presley? Yep, them too. Every single receiver at some point has gotten time with the starting unit The message is clear from the coaches to the players: The receiver positions are wide open for competition. David Gettleman has created a ragtag group of receivers who all are looking for a chance. Undrafted rookies like Philly Brown and Marcus Lucas want to prove he should have been drafted. Other young players, like King, McNutt, and Presley, are looking for the chance to prove their worth in the NFL. Veterans like Tiquan Underwood and Jason Avant are wanting to prove they can become a more productive receiver with the right team. The result? A group of hungry receivers who see real opportunity. Often times "camp competition" is just an illusion, something coaches say to motivate players. These receivers, however, know for certain that the competition this year is very real. There is no one in front of them. This is a chance they may not get again in the NFL. In fact, There are only two factors that will decide if any of these players get a locker this season: Desire and Ability. For any hungry NFL player, you can't ask for anything more.
  15. 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.
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