Here’s what Ron Rivera thinks about Panthers progress through OTAs
For Carolina Panthers players and coaches, a long summer break before training camp is officially in sight.
They just have to get through minicamp, first.
Carolina’s three-day mandatory camp will take place Tuesday through Thursday at the under-construction practice fields outside of Bank of America Stadium. It’s the last chance for the staff to evaluate how well young players are retaining the playbook and to see how well veterans are meshing.
It’s also the last chance for media members, who have access all three days, to keep track of some important storylines heading into the break.
Here’s what we’re watching this week:
Cam Newton is (still) throwing
The Observer reported in late May that Newton had begun throwing overhand with a regulation-sized (and weight) football. But Newton was doing that behind closed doors, as the team wanted to keep his rehabilitation process private.
This week, the team confirmed Saturday, Newton will throw during the team’s workouts, in front of curious eyes.
It’s another step in his recovery, which is important to keep in mind. Newton will be participating in quarterback drills and throwing a limited number of reps to stationary targets. So basically, the headline here is: “Drills Newton was already doing in private will now be made public.”
Still, it will be of interest to see how Newton’s range of motion is doing after his arthroscopic surgery in January.
Newton remains on track for a full return to workouts by training camp in late July.
All of the pieces matter
Development along the offensive and defensive lines and in the secondary continues to be a key focus for the Panthers through the spring.
Carolina secured a huge final piece to their defensive puzzle last week when they signed defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to a one-year deal.
The team hopes McCoy’s presence is an immediate lift to a defensive line that is still working to get back to elite-status when pressuring the quarterback, both off the edge and up the middle. The Panthers will want to work McCoy in immediately as a defensive end in their three-man front, but what will his role be when they feature four down linemen?
Expect a lot of rotation, fluidity, disguises and shifts moving forward out of a defensive front whose current members have been been to the Pro Bowl a total of 10 times.
In the secondary, second-year safety Rashaan Gaulden continues to get work at free safety and big nickel, but the Panthers will also want to see who can offer some competition there. How Gaulden exits minicamp, will tell the team a lot about whether they still need to add safety depth before training camp.
On the offensive line, two major role players — center Matt Paradis, and tackle/guard Daryl Williams — continue to rehab from 2018-season surgeries as they work to return by camp.
Meanwhile, guard Trai Turner and tackle Taylor Moton are leading the group of offensive linemen, which is in need of development from rookie left tackle Greg Little and depth at every position.
Which receivers will rise to the top?
The Panthers are in a rare position this spring and summer with such a crowded wide receivers room, featuring a healthy combination of youth and veteran players.
While receiver Torrey Smith continues to rehabilitate the knee he had surgery on mid-season in 2018, the Panthers will continue to plug Chris Hogan into a variety of positions. Second-year receiver DJ Moore told the Observer in mid-May that he’s been working to improve his change-of-direction speed, while third-year receiver Curtis Samuel’s special skill-set can shine this fall — provided he stays healthy. Jarius Wright has been a consistent, stabilizing presence who has stepped up in big situations for the last year.
The Panthers kept six receivers after initial 53-man roster cuts last September. If the above receivers all make the squad, that would leave just one available opening.
Who can edge in? The Panthers drafted Terry Godwin in the seventh round, and he’s shown to have a sure, consistent set of hands so far. Rashad Ross hopes to become a return man and a deep threat for the Panthers, but so does Aldrick Robinson — both late free agent signings this spring. Also competing are swift Nicholls State star Damion JeanPierre, large-framed wideout Andre Levrone and former Alabama receiver DeAndrew White.
It’s a tight room — and coaches hope competition heats up this week as a preview of training camp in July.