The Carolina Panthers kicked off their final team workouts of the offseason on Tuesday with their first day of mandatory minicamp.
From a few big plays to the return of one very big guy, here’s what stood out from the morning’s practice:
Russell Shepard is who Panthers thought he was.
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Full-contact workouts during training camp will show a little more of what free agent pickup Russell Shepard can handle, but for now, the receiver is dazzling in team drills.
Shepard and linebacker Shaq Thompson have been matched up often over the middle, and Shepard bested the capable Thompson on Tuesday out of the slot with a stunning grab of a ball thrown by quarterback Derek Anderson.
It seems like Shepard has made big play after big play throughout OTAs and is carrying that into minicamp – and head coach Ron Rivera is not surprised.
“He’s a veteran guy that we felt was on the cusp,” said Rivera. The Panthers signed Shepard in the spring after he spent four seasons in Tampa Bay, after a 2016 campaign during which he sealed his up-and-comer status with 23 catches for 341 yards and two touchdowns.
“Those are the kind of guys you look for in free agency,” Rivera said, “the guys who have been three, four years in the league and they’re right on the cusp of taking the next step. We feel like he’s one of those guys.”
Curtis Samuel, Charles Johnson are working on the sideline.
Carolina’s second-round draft pick, Curtis Samuel, worked mostly on the side with trainers.
A source said Samuel is dealing with hamstring soreness. Rivera did not comment on the specifics of Samuel’s injury, but said the receiver is doing what he needs to do in meetings and adjusting to the NFL.
Receiver Charles Johnson continued his routine from OTAs of working on the side and on the stationary bike. Rivera declined to comment on the nature of Johnson’s injury. Defensive end Ryan Delaire and defensive tackle Vernon Butler also spent time on the side with trainers and on the bike.
Quarterback Cam Newton did not throw, although it was previously thought he would do so this week.
Defensive end Charles Johnson, who is recovering from a spring microdiscectomy, worked on the side with trainers, as did center Ryan Kalil, who had shoulder surgery during the 2016 season.
Julius Peppers is back on the field.
Lumbering up the path into practice on Tuesday was 16-year veteran defensive end Julius Peppers.
Peppers missed most of OTAs for the last few weeks as he worked through some soreness. Rivera said during that time that withholding him from team workouts was precautionary, as the team wants to preserve his body for the long season ahead.
Still, his presence is huge – literally and figuratively. The 6-foot-7, 295-pound defensive end even loomed over Newton as the two headed into practice.
“Well, it’s good having him out here,” Rivera said. “Again, once we got to the point where, you know, he had some soreness and all that, but we let the trainers handle it, let them take care of him, keep him conditioned, keep him working at getting better in terms of his skill sets.
“The nice thing about him is he’s been out in all the meetings. ... But it’s good seeing him out here on the field.”
Christian McCaffrey’s first day will be a test.
Running back Christian McCaffrey, Carolina’s first-round pick, will be unable to attend workouts until Thursday of this week. That means the Panthers have to cram a lot into one day of minicamp.
McCaffrey’s alma mater, Stanford, is on the quarter system and falls under the archaic NFL rule that an athlete – even one who left school to declare for the draft – is still under that school’s jurisdiction until the spring semester ends. Stanford’s finals wrap up on Wednesday, and McCaffrey is able to fly out to Charlotte on Wednesday night.
“It’s very tough. Because we believe he can be an integral part of what we can do on the offensive side,” said Rivera. “He’s very anxious to be here and we’re looking forward to seeing him on Thursday...
“What we’re going to do is we’re going to find out right off the bat where he fits. He’s been working with coach (Jim) Skipper, and we’re allowed to FaceTime, so they’ve been FaceTiming late in the evening, going over game planning and all that kind of stuff.
“From what I understand he’s done a nice job.”
Panthers have waived a safety, signed a receiver
Right before Tuesday’s minicamp workouts, the Panthers announced that they had waived safety Brian Blechen and signed wide receiver Cameron Posey.
Posey, a slot receiver out of Purdue, participated in Carolina’s rookie minicamp earlier this spring.