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Panthers’ Trai Turner shines as offensive line displays progress

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/25/22/39/1aAne0.Em.138.jpeg|231
    Jeff Siner -
    Panthers tight end Greg Olsen waves enthusiastically to the stands during the team's first practice of training camp on Friday.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/25/22/39/bdYYR.Em.138.jpeg|215
    Jeff Siner -
    Linebacker Luke Kuechly signs autographs after Fan Fest Friday at Bank of America Stadium. Defensive end Greg Hardy was another favorite. Near the end of a drill, he crept to the stands for autographs while asking the fans to be quiet so they wouldn’t blow his cover.

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Fan Fest is a place for fans to get autographs, watch Cam Newton throw to his new receivers and do the wave.

Few came to see how the offensive line meshed, but Panthers coach Ron Rivera kept an eye on it.

Carolina’s offensive line rotated several players with the first and second teams, though the Panthers’ first-string line remains static.

From left to right, Byron Bell, Amini Silatolu, Ryan Kalil, Trai Turner and Nate Chandler got the majority of first-team reps together Friday night, just as they did during June’s three-day minicamp.

Rivera isn’t necessarily putting much stock into the line’s performance until they get into pads on Sunday.

“It was tough to tell, but listening to them communicate and talk is important,” Rivera said. “I thought Kalil did a nice job.”

Kalil, one of the top centers in the league in his eighth year, is the most veteran player on the offensive line. While most eyes were on quarterback Cam Newton and his surgically repaired ankle, Kalil was focused on getting the calls with his younger linemen.

“I think in these practices you’re looking for ability to pick up the scheme,” Kalil said. “It’s a big playbook, a lot of information is being thrown around early on, so you’re looking at how guys are playing.

“You don’t really ABC it. We’re getting pretty down-the-line (defensive) looks right out of the gate, so it’s a good way to see how guys adapt and how they work things out on the fly in high-game speed.”

Of the young guys around him, Kalil said Turner stood out the most. The Panthers drafted Turner out of Louisiana State in the third round of this year’s draft, and Turner turned 21 just last month.

He’s gotten the majority of reps at right guard since minicamp.

“He’s so young and he’s doing such a good job,” Kalil said.

Bersin shines: By Aug. 30, 34 of the 89 Panthers currently on the roster won’t be around, so it’s a good idea to impress early and often.

Receiver Brenton Bersin did just that Friday, and Rivera said the former Wofford College receiver impressed him the most of the younger players on the field.

Bersin, who last year was on Carolina’s practice squad after his second training camp with the team, made a nice sliding catch on a throw from Derek Anderson in one-on-one drills early in practice.

But his highlight came in team drills. On a sideline throw from Anderson, Bersin took advantage of undrafted rookie Carrington Byndom playing the ball rather than his man.

Bersin, on the outside of Byndom hugging the sideline, stepped in front of Byndom, who was awaiting the ball for an interception, and caught the pass. Bersin then ran into the endzone untouched for a touchdown.

“I thought he made some really good plays,” Rivera said of Bersin. “He made it against a young rookie that’s got to learn.”

Bersin did have a drop on a ball that made him slide to the ground during one-on-one drills. He got both hands on the ball but couldn’t come up with the catch.

Roster changes: The Panthers placed fourth-year cornerback Josh Thomas on the non-football injury list Friday.

Rivera said Thomas had a tight back and the team placed him on the list, which means he can’t participate in team meetings or walk-throughs, and he still counts against the team’s 90-man roster.

“We’re just being careful,” Rivera said. “We’ll see how he is (Saturday). Hopefully he’ll be in pads Sunday.”

Thomas played in 13 games last season and started in six. Rivera called the cornerback position an open competition, though Melvin White and Antoine Cason took the majority of first-team reps in minicamp.

Carolina also released defensive tackle Shaq Rowell. The West Virginia product was signed by the Panthers as an undrafted free agent in the spring but didn’t stand out in workouts in a deep tackle group.

Second-year guard Edmund Kugbila was officially placed on the injured reserve. He will have back surgery on Aug. 8 and will miss his second consecutive season.

Observations

•  Cornerback Josh Norman tightened up midway through practice and did not participate in the final hour.

•  Cornerback Charles Godfrey had ice on his right foot and ankle toward the end of practice. Friday was his first practice back from an Achilles injury suffered last year, and he worked at nickel and left corner.

•  Rivera said he was impressed with the tight ends. Ed Dickson made a handful of good catches while Brandon Williams looked more sure-handed. Williams still looks robotic in routes and often gets his feet tangled before and during the catch.

•  Running back Kenjon Barner missed an easy check-down pass from Anderson during team drills. Anderson led Barner slightly to his right and Barner sat down on the route, reaching out his hand in a futile attempt at making the catch.

•  Receiver Tiquan Underwood has battled a hamstring injury since minicamp. He came on late in practice but early on Friday he didn’t show good hands. Underwood dropped a deep ball from Matt Blanchard placed in his hands.

•  Kealoha Pilares, Philly Brown, Mike Tolbert and Barner took kickoff return duties. On one kickoff, Pilares and Tolbert ran into each other calling for the ball, and Tolbert came up with possession.

•  Safety Robert Lester had his right big toe checked by a trainer during practice. He later went back to practice.

•  Defensive end Greg Hardy was still a fan favorite Friday. Near the end of a defensive line drill, Hardy crept to the stands to sign autographs while asking the fans to be quiet – so they wouldn’t blow his cover. When no one produced a pen, Hardy shrugged and rejoined his position group.

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9
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