Carolina Panthers

Panthers rookies, tryout players to face scrutiny at weekend minicamp

Louisiana Tech’s Vernon Butler, selected by the Carolina Panthers as the 30th pick in the first round of the 2016 NFL draft, hits the practice field for the first time this weekend.
Louisiana Tech’s Vernon Butler, selected by the Carolina Panthers as the 30th pick in the first round of the 2016 NFL draft, hits the practice field for the first time this weekend. AP

Draft picks and undrafted free agents for the Carolina Panthers were at Bank of America Stadium on Thursday taking headshots and being fitted for their helmets.

They won’t need the headshots, but the helmets will be useful this weekend.

The Panthers will hold their rookie minicamp Friday and Saturday, hosting their five draft picks, seven undrafted free agents and about 30 players invited on a tryout basis.

Including the draft picks and undrafted signees, Carolina has 85 players on its 90-man roster, leaving at most five slots for the tryout players.

Here’s a look at five players to watch this weekend in their first time on Carolina’s practice field.

DT Vernon Butler

One of the most exciting parts of the weekend will be watching Butler, a 320-pound first-round pick, slither. That’s the football term Panthers coach Ron Rivera used for the defensive tackle’s movement.

Butler has hips that flip nicely when he comes off the ball. He shows violent hands and can push the pocket.

What we will see from Butler this weekend, though, won’t necessarily be what he’ll be by the time the season rolls around. The Panthers want to build his lower-body strength, and that will come with offseason and training camp work in the weight room. He’ll also pick up some tips from defensive line coach Eric Washington on how to finish in the backfield after just five sacks in college.

Butler will certainly stand out among all others this weekend.

CB James Bradberry

The Panthers spent a second-round pick on Bradberry believing in his abilities despite his small-school background at Samford.

In fact, one team source suggested Bradberry would have been a first-round pick had he played in the SEC.

At 6-foot-1, Bradberry has the length and range coveted by many NFL teams in an outside cornerback. Though the Panthers are primarily a zone defense, Bradberry played mostly man coverage at Samford.

Friday and Saturday, his length and press abilities should show as he opens competition against fellow draft pick Daryl Worley for the vacant starting cornerback position.

WR Keyarris Garrett

At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Garrett is probably the most intriguing player at the camp.

His size offers another big-body receiver for Cam Newton to potentially target along with Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess, who were added to the team in consecutive years. His 1,588 receiving yards led the nation last year, so he’s highly productive.

And he went undrafted.

Quality players go undrafted each year, and the Panthers have been able to find some diamonds, such as guard Andrew Norwell. But Carolina put extra emphasis on getting the top undrafted free agents this year in Garrett and former Duke linebacker Jeremy Cash.

TE Jake McGee

A former Virginia and Florida tight end, the Panthers clearly like McGee. Carolina has little tight end depth past Greg Olsen and Ed Dickson and used the next-to-last pick in the draft on Montana State tight end Beau Sandland.

But the Panthers were also high on McGee, whom they quickly got as a priority free agent. The 6-foot-5, 250-pounder is a pass-catching tight end, but Carolina may have greater plans for him.

His exceptional hands, coupled with learning better blocking techniques, could make McGee a steal.

Carolina also signed tight end Andrew Bonnet from North Dakota State, and they could use Bonnet in a role similar to former fullback Richie Brockel.

McGee will take his first steps toward becoming a better blocker this weekend.

QB Seth Lobato

Lobato, 25, could be the oldest player on the field this weekend, and this could be one of his last shots in the NFL.

Lobato signed with the Colts in 2014 but was released before camp. He spent time on the Dolphins practice squad and was signed with the Buccaneers in 2015.

But Lobato, a former standout at Northern Colorado, has never appeared in an NFL game. His experience with three different NFL teams should give him a slight advantage this weekend.

The Panthers already carry three quarterbacks on the roster, with No. 3 quarterback Joe Webb giving the team versatility in special teams. But Carolina could carry a fourth in OTAs and training camp to take the reps off the other quarterbacks’ arms.

If that’s the case, Lobato will be competing for that slot against former Samford quarterback Michael Eubank, who also received a camp invitation.

Jonathan Jones: 704-358-5323, @jjones9

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