After wrapping up last week’s introductory OTAs (organized team activities) session and enjoying the long weekend (perhaps a bit too much, as backup quarterback Derek Anderson remarked to reporters after what he called a sluggish practice), the Carolina Panthers were at it again for week two.
What we learned from Tuesday morning’s sessions:
1. Julius Peppers’ absence is precautionary
Last Thursday, 16-year defensive end Peppers missed the OTA session (although he was on the premises), and coach Ron Rivera said witholding him from workouts was a “precautionary” measure because of soreness.
Tuesday’s workout was no exception as Peppers was absent from outdoor team activities but got an indoor workout in, and Rivera expanded a bit on the team’s strategy to preserve some of the veteran players – notably many on defense .
“This is a 16-year vet. We want to be smart,” he said. “A guy comes in and we talk about how he’s feeling, he says ‘a little sore’ and then fine, we’re not going to put him out there.
“We need to be sure we are using these guys the right way and not overusing them.”
2. Undrafted receiver Austin Duke is exceeding expectations in a tight roster competition
Duke made a stunning layout catch on a deep ball Tuesday morning that got the whole sideline celebrating.
The undrafted free agent out of Charlotte has been a bit of a spark at practice – where standing out is especially important since the receivers room is crowded with young, fresh and speedy legs.
3. A few faces we missed last week returned
Linebacker Luke Kuechly did not participate in team drills last week after lower back tightness, but flew around in practice on Tuesday. Cornerback James Bradberry was back at practice after missing Thursday to attend his sister’s graduation, and rookie receiver Curtis Samuel was back in full participation after attending to a death in his family last week that caused him to miss the duration.
After rolling his ankle in practice last week and getting carted off the field, receiver Devin Funchess was back and made a few plays. Rivera said Funchess has done a nice job of taking some of the younger players under his wing.
Guard Trai Turner ran in late after some issues with a flight, according to the Panthers. Tackle Michael Oher was not present, as has been the case for the past two sets of OTAs.
Receivers Charles Johnson and Brenton Bersin spent most of practice on the exercise bikes, and Johnson worked on the side with athletic training staff as well.
Punter Michael Palardy was not present.
4. Matt Kalil’s cleaning things up
Kalil will be Carolina’s starting left tackle this fall and was signed in free agency to a $55.5 million contract.
So him becoming his best self is, well, pretty important to Carolina’s coaching staff, especially offensive lineman-whisperer (and run game coordinator) John Matsko.
Rivera said Matsko is taking extra time to clean up the little details with Kalil.
“I would go over and watch Matsko work with these guys and with Matt it was constantly footwork, footwork, footwork,” said Rivera. “That, and hand placement.”
Rivera said on tape, Kalil’s athleticism is apparent – it’s just those details that the Panthers want to iron out.
5. Taylor Moton’s versatility continues to be in spotlight
Moton, Carolina’s late second-round draft pick, has been working out well at right tackle and right guard, while also re-learning the left tackle position – something he hasn’t had to do since high school. Coaches and teammates have bellowed his praises, and Tuesday’s work on the tackling sled continued to display how well Moton is adjusting.
Moton took repetitions on the sled at right guard and tackle, displaying two important traits: Comfort in bursting out of a three-point stance, and excellent pad-level against the would-be defensive lineman.
6. Mario Addison is hungry
Defensive end Addison took his offseason contract extension and ran with it, apparently.
Addison, who is 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, appears to be in tremendous physical shape and looks leaner and faster than he did last season. But showing up ready to elevate his game is nothing new for him, according to his head coach.
“That’s how Mario always is,” said Rivera. “In light of the fact that we extended him, gave him a new contract, it’s just one of those things where he’s getting a little bit more attention. He’s earned it and he’s done some good things so far.”
Addison, 29, signed a three-year, $22.5 million contract with the Panthers this offseason. He was used mostly situationally in the past several years in Carolina, but may step into a fuller role in 2017 to complement older players Peppers and Charles Johnson.
7. Latest on receiver Kelvin Benjamin
Benjamin, who has drawn close scrutiny and at times viral online speculation about his conditioning this offseason, declined to talk to media but continued to work through his repetitions and routes.
8. Graham Gano isn’t sweating a little competition
A brief conversation with Carolina’s kicker after practice confirmed what his demeanor on the field has showed: Gano is fairly relaxed that Carolina used a draft pick on Georgia Tech kicker Harrison Butker.
Gano knew since his three misses against Tampa Bay to close last season that the Panthers would bring in competition for him. However, the true heat doesn’t come until training camp in Spartanburg.
9. David Mayo is stepping up
After A.J. Klein left for New Orleans in free agency, the Panthers needed another middle linebacker to step up as a serviceable backup to Kuechly.
Mayo has done the job, according to teammate Shaq Thompson, who said Mayo is not “the new A.J. Klein,” remarking instead that “he’s David Mayo, and he’s doing David Mayo things out there for us.”
10. Another local product gets a shot
East Carolina linebacker Zeek Bigger, a minicamp tryout player last month, was signed by the Panthers Tuesday morning, with the team waiving linebacker Alex Bazzie as its corresponding move.
“We’re always constantly looking at guys and we always want to work guys out,” said Rivera. “Zeek is a guy who came in and did some nice things. He showed good quickness and picked up things well. We just want to take a look at guys, and obviously want to stay fluid with the bottom portion (of the roster) as you look for guys that fit what you do.”