SPARTANBURG For a unit that struggled to create turnovers last season, the Panthers defense got off to a good start Saturday trying to turn around that turnover stat.
Safety Sherrod Martin picked off Cam Newtons first pass of training camp, stepping in front of tight end Greg Olsen for the first of four interceptions by the defense. Newton, the Rookie of the Year in 2011, threw three of them, including two in a three-play span during team drills. The Panthers had 14 interceptions in 2011, tied for the third-lowest total in team history.
One of the things were preaching is playing with vision, and as a result you saw us intercept four balls, coach Ron Rivera said. So that was a good thing to see.
Linebacker Jon Beason, who called the defensive signals, had one of the picks on a deflected Newton pass. Beason, coming back from Achilles surgery last September, lined up at his usual spot in the middle, with first-round pick Luke Kuechly flanking him.
I think with Lukes stoutness and size, he really helps us on the strong side with the running game. I kind of like what weve got going right now, said Rivera, adding Kuechly would also get reps in the middle in the event Beason is re-injured.
Newton had his share of good plays. He hooked up with Steve Smith, who beat rookie corner Josh Norman for a long touchdown, and had a nice run on a quarterback counter.
Ad-itude: When Panthers center Ryan Kalil stepped in front of a bank of microphones and tape recorders Saturday, someone jokingly asked him: So, anything been going on with you?
Its been four days since Kalil took out a full-page ad in the Charlotte Observer promising fans their loyalty would be rewarded with a Super Bowl title this season.
I knew Id take some heat for it, and rightfully so. Its a bold thing to say, especially in such a tough game, Kalil said. But what I care about is who I wrote it for and who it was intended for, and that was the fans and my teammates. So in that regard its been very positive.
Pro Bowl goal: Despite the struggles of the Panthers defense last season, one of the brightest spots was the performance of cornerback Chris Gamble, who rebounded in 2011 after falling out of favor with the previous coaching staff in 2010.
The secondary is working under new defensive backs coach Steven Wilks, who played at West Charlotte High and Appalachian State. Gamble said Wilks has focused on improving technique and getting the defensive backs to make more plays.
Golden State Warriors star and new dad Stephen Curry and his brother, Duke guard Seth, spent a big portion of their Saturday with the Panthers. The Currys sat in on a quarterback meeting to get a feel for what goes on as compared to basketball meetings and then they watched the evening practice from the sidelines.
Gotta give credit to the fan who went to the trouble of bringing a grandfather clock to the sunny side of the stadium and spending the afternoon and early evening with it, holding a handmade sign that read, Our Time.
The Panthers are wearing a small Pepsi patch on the front of their practice jerseys, the first time theyve sold an ad on their practice gear.
• Pretty impressive that the Panthers drew 12,871 fans to their preseason party/practice. The most dedicated honor goes to the four guys who showed up at 10 a.m. for a practice that started around 6 p.m.
• There was a nervous moment when Steve Smith hit the turf holding his left knee after catching a pass. He banged knees with Charles Godfrey and there was no injury to Smith.
• Rookie Kuechly lined up with Beason and James Anderson getting first-team reps throughout practice. No surprise there.
• Most surprising interception of the night? Maybe the one when defensive tackle Sione Fua reached up and plucked a Newton toss near the line of scrimmage.
• Rookie cornerback Norman got more reps than second-year corner Brandon Hogan during the evening session.
• Gamble left practice early with heat-related issues. Rivera said Gamble did well in the conditioning test in hotter conditions.
Three questions with
Strong safety Charles Godfrey
Q: You sounded defiant when you said the secondary would hold up this year. What makes you so confident?
Because were taking the right steps. We watched (last years tape). We admitted that we didnt do well. We owned up to that. We corrected what we need to correct. Now were fixing it.
Q: What impact can Ron Edwards have when hes healthy?
They have to account for him. That big body in there, those O-linemen have to account for that guy. We have linebackers that can run from sideline to sideline. So thats what were priding our defense on. Were stopping the run first, and then the pass.
Q: What was your reaction to Ryan Kalils ad?
We believe that and well stand by that. I think everybody on the team believes that. This is the beginning to the journey.
Getting To Know
Defensive end Jyles Tucker
Height: 6-3 Weight: 255
College: Wake Forest
NFL experience: Played four seasons with the San Diego Chargers, starting 12 of his 29 regular-season games played.
The scoop: Tucker was signed as a free agent by the Panthers after missing the entire 2011 season following his release from the Chargers. Tucker is another of a group of former Chargers to join the Panthers since coach Rivera was hired.
Bet you didnt know: Tucker was the AFC defensive player of the week in 2007 after recording three sacks and scoring a touchdown in a victory over the Oakland Raiders.