Panthers’ offensive line taking shape, Cam’s progress highlight Day 2 in Spartanburg

A reminder, that anything that transpires on the second day of Carolina Panthers training camp is exactly that:

The second day of many in this marathon-like march to the regular season.

That isn’t to say there were no takeaways from Friday afternoon’s practice at Wofford College, because there certainly are. It just means to show some restraint when evaluating those takeaways. Pump the brakes a little, if you will.

But one of the most readily apparent things Friday was the continued progress of one of the Panthers’ biggest unknowns: the offensive line. That unit, an equal split of holdovers and newbies, is one that coach Ron Rivera said he was looking forward to watching as far back as spring workouts.

And after two days under the Spartanburg sun, that hasn’t changed.

“Probably the biggest thing I would say we’ve got to shore up on the offense is the offensive line,” Rivera said. “You know, we’ve got five veteran guys working together right now, adding probably the newest player to the group is Matt (Paradis). He’s a veteran center that I think is going to adapt very quickly to what we do and how we do it.”

Paradis isn’t a question mark just for the fact that he’s new to Carolina — a fractured fibula prematurely ended his 2018 season with the Denver Broncos. That he didn’t start camp on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list shows that he’s rehabbing well from that injury, and it’s allowed him to begin working with quarterback Cam Newton right away.

To the right of Paradis, the Panthers feel confident in guard Trai Turner and tackle Taylor Moton. Both return as starters, and they’re two of the more dependable players on this team. To Paradis’ left, however, is where things are becoming clearer. Greg Van Roten again took first-team reps at guard, and Daryl Williams finished the first-team off at tackle.

How Williams — who tore his knee in camp a year ago Sunday — continues improving is especially paramount.

“Daryl looks good. You can tell (he’s) a little bit rusty,” Rivera said. “There’s a couple of things he’ll miss just because it’s almost been a year since he’s played, but it was exciting to watch him and you could see the confidence the last two practices.”

For Williams’ part, he said his knee feels fine physically now, but that isn’t all there is to the equation.

“It’s definitely mental. Definitely mental,” Williams said. “I feel like I talk to myself a lot more when I’m out here, just to get those demons out of my mind or those bad thoughts.

“When everything’s clicking, I will know when I’m good. I’m not thinking about those bad thoughts or when I feel like the rust is off, it’ll come.”

Roster notes and participation

While the Panthers’ offensive line was a focus Friday, it would be remiss to ignore the man they’re protecting.

Newton threw for the second consecutive practice. Rivera said there was no lingering soreness Friday morning from Newton’s deep passing at Thursday’s training camp opener.

“(He responded) very well. He came in and was ready to roll again, so we’re pretty excited about it,” Rivera said. “Again, trying to make sure we’re keeping an eye on his throws, what’s happening out there with his technique, and it’s all been solid. It’s really been good. I think very positive, not just for him but for the rest of the offense.”

Rivera also said Newton has yet to hit the team’s “pitch count” in either training camp practice.

“We were below it yesterday and they told me were below it again today, so we’re not worried about it,” he added. “If we’re not hitting that number, then we’re not going to push it.”

First-team offensive and defensive fronts were the same Friday as they were Thursday night. From left to right, the offensive line again went: Williams, Van Roten, Paradis, Turner, Moton. DJ Moore, Curtis Samuel, and Jarius Wright opened as the first-team receivers.

Defensively, the team opened in a 3-4 formation again with Kawann Short and Gerald McCoy at defensive end and Dontari Poe at nose tackle. Bruce Irvin and Mario Addison were the first two EDGE rushers in, with Shaq Thompson and Luke Kuechly at linebacker. The secondary also was unchanged, with Donte Jackson and James Bradberry at cornerback alongside Eric Reid and Rashaan Gaulden at safety.

Corn Elder saw first-team reps at nickel, and Cole Luke was the third safety in the team’s nickel package.

Terry Godwin, Rashad Ross, Chris Hogan, Jaydon Mickens, and Damion Jeanpierre Jr. all took reps at punt returner.

Kyle Allen took second-team quarterback reps, and Will Grier spent more time with the third-team. With Jermaine Carter Jr. on the PUP list, Jared Norris and Andre Smith were the two second-team linebackers behind Kuechly and Thompson.

Final observations

Running back Jordan Scarlett continued to impress, but perhaps even moreso for his hands than for anything he did in the running game. Scarlett was essentially a non-factor in the passing game at Florida, so that aspect of his game has been a pleasant surprise and should help him in the running to back up Christian McCaffrey.

Wright might not be the big name that Samuel and Moore are, but he just makes plays. His diving catch from Cam Newton on a downfield crossing route was arguably the best play of the day.

First-round pick Brian Burns was consistently disruptive at the line of scrimmage, using his length and speed from a standup position to maneuver throughout the offensive line.

McCoy is earning himself a lot of fans these past two days. The veteran defensive tackle said Thursday he would carry his teammates’ helmets in after practice every day, and through two days, he’s kept his word. Also, that he goes behind the barrier for fans and signs autographs right in the middle of everyone is just freaking fantastic.

Gaulden showed off some nice hands in positional drills, and he had a pass breakup on a long Newton throw intended for Moore.

Saturday will be the team’s first padded practice.

Brendan Marks is a general assignment sports reporter for the Charlotte Observer covering the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, NASCAR and more. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has worked for the Observer since August 2017.
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