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Panthers training camp takeaways

Three camp MVPS

1-WR Kelvin Benjamin

After bruising his knee the first week, the first-round pick came back and caught nearly everything thrown to him. Benjamin has to work on the finer points of the receiver position -- how to adjust to double coverage, for one -- but the 6-5, 240-pounder looks to be the big target Cam Newton has been waiting for.

2-DE Greg Hardy

Some wondered what Hardy's mindset would be after he was convicted of domestic violence charges last month (he appealed and has a jury trial scheduled for November). But Hardy showed up focused and in shape, and was the most disruptive player on the field.

3-DT Kawann Short

Short played in first-round pick and fellow defensive tackle Star Lotulelei's shadow for much of his rookie season. But considering the way he blew past the team's young guards in camp drills, Short looks poised for a breakout year.

Three camp disappointments

1-RB Kenjon Barner

With Jonathan Stewart sidelined and the Panthers limiting DeAngelo Williams' reps, Barner had a great opportunity to make a mark. But he did little with the touches and also showed he's a liability in pass protection.

2-WR Tiquan Underwood

Underwood was signed to give the Panthers a deep threat to replace Ted Ginn Jr. But as he did during OTAs, Underwood was plagued by drops and is in danger of not making the team.

3-CB Josh Thomas

The former starter was sidelined at the start of camp after injuring his back doing yard work this summer. Thomas didn't have a great showing against the Bills, but will get more chances as coaches look at different corner combinations.

Three remaining position battles

1-Nickel corner

Charles Godfrey still doesn't look entirely comfortable at his new position after moving from safety during the offseason. The Panthers like Godfrey's leadership, but rookie Bene' Benwikere has been making more plays.

2-Outside linebacker

A.J. Klein is younger and more athletic than Chase Blackburn, who is more experienced and knows every linebacker spot. Klein has been working more with the first team in recent days.

3-Right guard

Rookie Trai Turner, who just turned 21, has picked up the offense quickly and does not seem overwhelmed by the transition from LSU. Chris Scott, who started eight games last season but has had conditioning issues, played well off the bench against Buffalo.

Three remaining questions marks

1-Secondary

There were questions about this group last year at this time, too, but players such as safety Mike Mitchell and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn answered them. Rivera says he's still concerned about corner, where Antoine Cason and Melvin White will try to hold off challenges by Thomas, Josh Norman, Godfrey and Benwikere.

2-Offensive line and receiver depth

Coaches feel good about the top three receivers -- Benjamin and veterans Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery. After that it gets a little shaky. Same for the backups along the line, where Garry Williams and Scott are the only experienced reserves.

3-Return game

Kick returner Kealoha Pilares and Barner, who returned punts, weren't factors against the Bills. Young players such as Philly Brown will get the next shot, but the Panthers might have to search the waiver wire for help.

Three things we didn't see in Spartanburg

1-Hot weather

At least not much of it. Ron Rivera is worried the team didn't get enough heat conditioning before going to Tampa in Week 1.

2-Fights

There were a couple of heated exchanges, but no punches were thrown. Rivera said that's a good thing. The cool weather may have contributed.

3- Big crowds

Maybe it was all the weekday morning practices, but there weren't as many fans on Wofford's hill as in past summers, particularly considering the Panthers are coming off a playoff season.

High point of camp

When linebacker Luke Kuechly stopped fullback Mike Tolbert at the goal line during a Saturday practice at Gibbs Stadium, it wasn't just payback for Tolbert's Pro Bowl hit on Kuechly. It raised the effort level during the most intense practice of camp.

Low point

The morning after the intense practice mentioned above, there were 14 injured players vying for time on the exercise bikes. The group included defensive ends Charles Johnson and Hardy, although the Panthers broke camp without any significant injuries to a starter.

Best quote

"He said une, deux, trois, which means 1, 2, 3 ... Panthers," -- running back Jonathan Stewart, describing what French-Canadian offensive lineman David Foucault said while breaking the team down before Monday's practice.

Worst quote

" " -- running back DeAngelo Williams, who declined all interview requests from TV and print outlets during training camp.

Joseph Person
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