The Carolina Panthers began organized team activities Tuesday with the first of 10 scheduled sessions over the next three weeks.
The practices, which are closed to the public, will not feature full pads or live-contact drills. But they’ll give coaches a chance to begin integrating the rookies and newcomers with the returning players while installing the offensive and defensive systems.
First-round draft pick Shaq Thompson will not participate in OTAs because the outside linebacker is finishing school at Washington, which is on the quarter system.
Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who is coming off a strong rookie season, will be sidelined for the start of OTAs with a hamstring injury.
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But the rest of the 90-player roster should be represented. A look at five players to watch:
The franchise quarterback sat out OTAs last year while recovering from ankle surgery and missed an opportunity to work with the revamped receiving corps. But Newton is healthy and is expected to be a part of most, if not all, of the practices. He’ll get to throw to several new wideouts, including Ted Ginn Jr., who was Newton’s favorite deep target two years ago.
The second-round pick from Michigan started learning all three receiving spots during the rookie minicamp. That knowledge will come in useful with Benjamin out this week. Funchess, 6-4 and 232 pounds, looked fluid in his route-running during the rookie camp.
The Panthers’ new left tackle blamed at least some of his struggles last season at Tennessee on a toe injury. Oher had surgery to correct the issue, but this will be his first chance to test it at close to full speed. The Panthers have options behind Oher (waiver claim pickup Jonathan Martin), but they signed Oher to be Newton’s blind-side protector.
The defensive end was suspended for the first 14 games last season for two violations of the NFL’s drug policy. Alexander played in the regular-season finale at Atlanta, but was inactive for the two playoff games. Alexander, a training camp standout last year, could provide a pass-rushing boost to a defense that did not sign or draft a replacement for Greg Hardy. But it’s tough to expect too much from a player with 3.5 career sacks.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera has always admired the longtime Chicago Bears cornerback, who was limited to 10 games the past two seasons because of triceps injuries. Tillman, 34, the NFL’s Man of the Year in 2013, will be a good addition to the locker room. And if he stays healthy, the Panthers are confident he can still be a ball-hawking presence in the secondary.
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