Tom Sorensen

Visit to Panthers training camp makes it clear Hog Mollies Era is over for Panthers

Whether it’s in Spartanburg or Charlotte or the season opener in San Francisco, look forward to seeing Carolina Panthers wide receiver Curtis Samuel (10) on the field.
Whether it’s in Spartanburg or Charlotte or the season opener in San Francisco, look forward to seeing Carolina Panthers wide receiver Curtis Samuel (10) on the field. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

The Carolina Panthers player I most want to see is this season is Curtis Samuel, the second-round pick out of Ohio State. Samuel is out with a hamstring pull. You saw him with the Buckeyes. He is the only Ohio State player with 1,000 rushing and receiving yards.

Samuel is a testament to speed. It’s as if running fast is what his body is designed to do. Like to see it in Spartanburg, and if not on the practice field in Charlotte or in an exhibition.

That he was available with the 40th pick was good fortune for the Panthers, and they took advantage of it. I’m tired of hog mollies. In some drafts Carolina’s top five picks weigh 1,600 pounds. Not this time. ...

When you go to training camp, you’ll see a player make a good play and think, “Yes, they have to keep him, he’s going to be good, I promise.”

Among them is Russell Shepard. Shepard, 26, played for Louisiana State, and his first four NFL seasons for Tampa Bay. He looks as if he knows where to go and how to get there. His hands are good and he’s fearless. Despite being new, it’s as if he says: “Follow me. I’ll get us there. Let’s go.” ...

The ball to Greg Olsen appeared to be overthrown. But Olsen stuck out a hand, and that was enough. What’s that saying? It hit him in a good place, the hand? The Panthers gave up a third-round pick for Olsen in 2011. After a practice early that season, I watched him work the JUGS machine. I felt bad for the machine. Wherever that ball went, Olsen’s hands (or hand) did. Don’t think I’m being reckless when I say that the Panthers made a decent trade. ...

Charlotte Observer Panthers beat writer Jourdan Rodrigue discusses what she has noticed in the first week of Panthers training camp.

A defensive back whose number I didn’t recognize stepped between a receiver and a ball, tipped it, maintained his balance nicely picked off the pass. No. 32 is cornerback Cole Luke, an undrafted free agent. He played 51 games for Notre Dame and started 36. He’s 5-11 and 198 pounds. Will there be room for him when injured cornerback Corn Elder, the fifth-round pick out of Miami, returns from injury? Some players push their employers to make tough decisions. ...

Guy I miss seeing at camp is Ricky Proehl. Proehl ran routes as if they were plotted on a graph. I stood high above the field one day and trained the binoculars on Proehl. Nothing was lazy, every cut precise. As receivers coach, his players worshipped the man. ...

Speaking of receivers, I ran into former tight end Wesley Walls, who played for the Panthers from 1996-2002. Walls, 51, is always a good guy to run into, friendly and interesting. What distinguished Walls were his hands. If he got his hands on a ball, he caught it. It’s conceivable he never dropped a pass.

“Ah, that’s not true,” Walls says. “I might have dropped one.”

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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