Carolina Panthers

Panthers training camp superlatives: Bests, worsts, and what remains unknown

The Carolina Panthers endured three serious injuries near the start of training camp, and wrapped up things Monday at Wofford College with a four-interception day by their franchise quarterback.

In between, they integrated three new coordinators and found a handful of rookies who should make an immediate impact.

Cam Newton went about a week without throwing an interception when camp started, but he was off the last couple of days in Spartanburg.

Coach Ron Rivera wasn’t sure what to make of Newton’s struggles, other than to say maybe it was time for everyone to head home. Players are off until Wednesday, when practices shift to Charlotte.

“I just know that we’re working on a lot of different things. Putting a lot of different stuff in. Sometimes you just have days like that. Sometimes they run back-to-back,” Rivera said of Newton. “Sometimes it’s time to get a break, and that’s what we’ve got right now.”

Rivera didn’t want to name camp superlatives.

But we sure will!

Offensive MVP

Jourdan says: I’m going to be different, because let’s be honest, it’s hard to pick a most impressive receiver in this group, and Newton did look sharp early on.

I think what offensive tackle Taylor Moton is having to do — step in for starter Daryl Williams at right tackle — is a lot more responsibility than people realize, and he has really stepped up. There’s a lot of preseason left, but Moton will be solid if he keeps up his current trajectory.

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Joe says: When fans last saw tight end Greg Olsen, he was coming off foot surgery in 2017 and not looking much like the player who posted three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons from 2014-16. But Olsen ran fluidly throughout camp, got open and caught most everything thrown at him. One of Newton’s favorite targets appears to be back.

Defensive MVP

Jourdan says: Rookie cornerback Donte Jackson battled early and often with every receiver on the team, including much-taller Devin Funchess. He gave as good as he got, playing with freakish speed and athleticism and a ton of tenacity. The Panthers may have found a real one in the second round.

Joe says: Shaq Thompson, the Panthers’ versatile fourth-year linebacker, didn’t have to wait until Thomas Davis’ four-game suspension to make an impact. Thompson made three terrific interceptions in successive practices and games, including a diving pick in the exhibition victory at Buffalo. One of the Panthers’ best athletes could be on the verge of a big year.

Biggest surprise

Jourdan says: I thought receiver Jarius Wright was going to be a situational guy, a go-to third down target for the Panthers. But he was spectacular in camp as one of Newton’s favorite targets, and will clearly be one of their main options in the slot. By the way, for a 5-foot-10 and 190-pound receiver, he sure is physical after the catch.

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Jarius Wright (13) has established himself already as more than just a situational receiver. He has been one of quarterback Cam Newton’s favorite targets so far. Jeff Siner

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Joe says: Because of an injury to Chris Manhertz, rookie tight end Ian Thomas, this year’s fourth-round pick from Indiana, was thrown right into the fire. He responded by consistently finding open lanes in the secondary and pulling down intermediate-length passes.

Carolina Panthers tight end Ian Thomas (80) was thrown immediately into the fire as rookie because of an injury, and he has responded. David T. Foster III

Most tense moment

Jourdan says: I will never be able to get the sound of Panthers cornerback Ross Cockrell’s leg breaking out of my head, or the image of his shaken teammates on one knee praying for him. It’s a reminder of the physical tolls the game takes on the players’ bodies.

Joe says: Newton and Bills receiver Kelvin Benjamin used to be teammates and friends after the Panthers drafted Benjamin in the first round in 2014. No longer. Benjamin’s verbal shots at his former quarterback prompted Newton to confront him before the Buffalo exhibition, adding a little spice to an otherwise meaningless August game.

Funniest moment

Jourdan says: Jackson picked off Newton in the end zone on Sunday and ran the ball all the way back to the opposite end zone. As he got to the 1, he whipped a towel out from around his waist and folded it over his arm, and then held the ball up as if it were a serving platter, looking every bit like a waiter in a fancy restaurant. If this is his celebration in training camp, I can’t wait to see what happens in a game.

Joe says: It’s always cool to see big guys get a chance to show off their athleticism. That was the case Monday, when Moton and defensive tackle Dontari Poe successfully fielded punts off the foot of Michael Palardy, drawing a big reaction from teammates and assuring the final practice would end early.

Best quote

Jourdan says: From who else but QB1? On Sunday, he hyped up the early morning crowd on the hill and then said with a huge grin, “Ain’t none of y’all go to church either, huh?” The crowd burst into laughter. Then, Newton said, “I need someone to pray for me!”

Joe says: “He’s very athletic with it, too. Reminds me of a certain somebody I knew back in ’85.” Rivera, referencing former Bears teammate William “Refrigerator” Perry, when discussing the 346-pound Poe, who has three career touchdowns.

What still needs work

Jourdan says: After two injuries to starting offensive linemen (Williams and guard Amini Silatolu), the Panthers have some promising talent in reserve but they are largely untested. The preseason will be huge for getting Moton snaps at right tackle, and Greg Van Roten and Brendan Mahon snaps at left guard.

Joe says: Rivera said Jackson’s performance has given him more confidence in his corners than he’s had in a couple of years. But relying on young guys — rookie safety Rashaan Gaulden also will be in the rotation — means there will absolutely be growing pains. New defensive coordinator Eric Washington has to find another corner he can trust behind Jackson and James Bradberry.