July 28, 2014

Former Panthers lineman Travelle Wharton to retire

Former Carolina Panthers offensive linemen Travelle Wharton and Jordan Gross would head in to Bank of America Stadium most mornings during the season.

The two are heading out together, too.

Wharton, 33, will announce his retirement Tuesday during a news conference at Wofford, ending his career where it began 10 years ago after the Panthers drafted the former South Carolina standout in the third round of the 2004 draft.

Wharton is expected to join Gross, his longtime teammate and neighbor, as a co-host on Gross' weekly TV show on the Panthers' newly launched channel on Time Warner Cable.

Gross retired after 11 seasons in February and will serve as the sideline reporter during the Panthers' radio broadcasts.

Wharton did not want to comment ahead of Tuesday's announcement.

Wharton was a starter for the Panthers until 2012 when he signed with Cincinnati. He blew out his knee in the first preseason game that year and never played a regular-season game with the Bengals.

He returned to Carolina last year after the Panthers had a spate of injuries at guard, and started 12 games at left guard.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on July 28, 2014 at 09:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

July 27, 2014

Greg Hardy: I hate I've been a distraction to the team

SPARTANBURG In his first public comments since he was convicted of assaulting and threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend, Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy repeatedly declined to comment about the domestic violence case, but said he regrets being a distraction to the team.

Hardy would not say whether he's apologized to his teammates, calling it a team matter he wants to keep internal.

"I hate that I have distracted my team, but other than that I can't really answer any questions," Hardy said Sunday at Wofford, site of the Panthers' training camp.

Before Hardy addressed the media Sunday, a Panthers spokesman said Hardy would not discuss anything related to the case.

Six times when asked questions related to his guilty verdict, Hardy said he "can't answer that question."

A Mecklenburg County district judge this month found Hardy guilty on the two misdemeanor charges, stemming from the early morning altercation with Nicole Holder at Hardy's uptown condo on May 13.

He appealed the decision and has a jury trial pending, almost certainly after the season.

The Panthers have indicated they plan to allow the league to handle Hardy's potential discipline, which general manager Dave Gettleman believes would happen after the legal process is complete.

Hardy, who signed a $13.1 million franchise tag two months before his May arrest, said he wants to stay with the Panthers long-term. He wouldn't answer a question about whether he believes the events of the offseason have hurt his chances to remain with the organization after this season.

Hardy, the Panthers' sixth-round draft pick in 2010, tied a team record with 15 sacks last season and went to his first Pro Bowl.

"I love this place. This is a great atmosphere," Hardy said. "I love the ownership, love my teammates. I've had a great five years here.

--Joseph Person and Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on July 27, 2014 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

July 25, 2014

A healthy Silatolu will help solidify Panthers' interior line

The knee-jerk reactions on Twitter to the Panthers' health updates Thursday were predictable and understandable, with fans bemoaning the latest injuries to running back Jonathan Stewart and second-year guard Edmund Kugbila (Jeff Otah 2.0).

But sometimes no news is good news, and that was the case with a name Panthers GM Dave Gettleman didn't mention when I asked him about the injured list:

Amini Silatolu.

Silatolu, the second-round pick from 2012, was part of a Panthers' guard rotation that seemed cursed last season.

Silatolu, Garry Williams, Jeff Byers, Chris Scott and Kugbila all missed significant time last season with injuries.

The Panthers were able to patch things together at guard, thanks to their signing of veteran Travelle Wharton and the steady play of the versatile Nate Chandler.

But the Panthers are a better team with a healthy Silatolu, who was figuring things out at the end of his rookie season before injuring his wrist in Week 15. Silatolu then missed the final 12 games last season after tearing his ACL in a Week 4 loss at Arizona.

As recently as five weeks ago, Silatolu said he still wasn't quite 100 percent. But after spending the summer in Charlotte working out and finishing up his rehab, Silatolu believes he is fully healed.

"It's been a long offseason with rehab, but I'm ready to go," he said Thursday. "I feel like it's 100 percent."

Silatolu slides back into the starting lineup at left guard, leaving Scott and rookie Trai Turner to battle it out at right guard. Williams, who's also healthy again following his own knee surgery, will work at guard and tackle.

And Wharton, who lives in Fort Mill and still has not announced his retirement, presumably would be available in a pinch.

But Silatolu hopes the Panthers' guards are due for some good karma following last season's parade to the training room.

"It was weird, but we had Nate stepping up," he said.

"We're all going to be competing," Silatolu added, "and I think we have a good set of guys."

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on July 25, 2014 at 11:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (15)

July 21, 2014

Jameis Winston: Benjamin blessed to play with Newton

399-F89NJ.St.55GREENSBORO Even though Kelvin Benjamin has a new quarterback, he still chats plenty with his old quarterback.

At ACC Football Kickoff this weekend, Florida State quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston said he and Benjamin still keep in contact regularly.

And each time they talk, Winston tells him the same thing.

“I tell K.B. every time I talk to him it’s a blessing he got the opportunity to play with Cam (Newton),” Winston said Sunday. “As I was coming up I always loved Cam’s game. I feel like we have some similar qualities—obviously he’s better. But K.B. going from me to Cam, that’s amazing.

“I think he’s really going to help Cam out and I know Cam’s always going to have an influence on his players. They’re going to have probably one of the most dynamic combinations in the NFL.”

Benjamin hauled in 54 passes for 1,011 yards and an ACC-high 15 touchdowns in 2013, including the game-winning touchdown in the national title game against Auburn.

The Panthers selected the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Benjamin with the 28th overall pick in the draft with hopes that his big-play abilities in the red zone will transfer from college to the NFL.

And while his college quarterback will closely watch Benjamin in the NFL, Winston isn’t exactly rooting for the entire Panthers team.

“I was blessed to have an opportunity to play with Kelvin,” Winston said. “And no, I'm still not a Panthers fan, but I am a Cam Newton and K.B. fan. I am an Eagles fan, to answer that.”

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on July 21, 2014 at 11:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (17)

"Riverboat" Ron Rivera joins Twitter

Just as Ron Rivera was slow to embrace his "Riverboat Ron" nickname, it took the Carolina Panthers' coach some time to come around to Twitter.

But Rivera jumped into the Twitter world over the weekend as @RiverboatRonHC.

We're told the account is Rivera's, and should be verified soon.

Rivera joins his wife, Stephanie (@CoachRiv2), who is active on Twitter. Stephanie Rivera tweeted pictures from the couple's European vacation this month.

It will be interesting to see how often Rivera uses his Twitter account, and what the tone of his posts are. Sean Payton and Pete Carroll are among the NFL coaches who tweet regularly.

Rivera's first two tweets were links to ESPN's piece on Cam Newton's day with Make-A-Wish child George Gring during OTAs.

Rivera's Riverboat is filling up fast on Twitter. He went from 70 followers to more than 2,300 in about an hour Monday morning.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on July 21, 2014 at 11:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

July 16, 2014

Panthers partner with Time Warner on local programming deal

The Panthers are pumping up their local TV presence, partnering with Time Warner Cable SportsChannel on a multi-year programming agreement, the team announced Wednesday.

Beginning next week with the premiere of "Panthers Camp Confidential," the Panthers will produce more than 250 hours of annual programming that will be broadcast throughout the Carolinas on TWC SportsChannel.

TWC SportsChannel becomes the Panthers' exclusive local cable home, and will air each of the team's preseason games. WCCB in Charlotte also will simulcast the preseason games.

TWC SportsChannel is only available to Time Warner subscribers.

The Panthers said the agreement is one of the largest ever developed by an NFL team with a regional channel. Financial terms were not disclosed.

In addition to the preseason games, TWC SportsChannel will televise a live post-game show and nightly Panthers programs, including one hosted by longtime offensive lineman Jordan Gross.

Gross, who retired in February, also will serve as the sideline reporter on the team's radio broadcasts.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on July 16, 2014 at 01:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

July 03, 2014

Luke Kuechly named No. 15 on NFL's Top 100 list

Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly comes in at No. 15 on NFL.com's top 100 players list this year, moving up from No. 79 last year.

Posted by Observer staff on July 3, 2014 at 09:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (18)

June 26, 2014

Cam Newton cracks top 25 on NFL Network list

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is moving up the charts in terms of respect from his NFL peers.

Newton, the two-time Pro Bowler and the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2011, came in at No. 24 on the NFL Network's list of the league's top 100 players. Newton was 46th last year on the NFL Network list, which is voted on by current players.

Newton was No. 40 after his rookie season.

Newton is ranked ahead of the likes of Matthew Stafford (100), Colin Kaepernick (81), Joe Flacco (58), Philip Rivers (34), Ben Roethlisberger (31) and Andrew Luck (30). Luck broke Newton's rookie passing record a year after Newton took down Peyton Manning's rookie passing mark.

The NFL Network's three-minute highlight clip of Newton features a couple of impressive scrambles from last season. Fullback Mike Tolbert talks about a pre-snap check Newton made last year during a game-winning drive at Miami -- a facet of Newton's game that has been slow to develop.

Newton is the third Panthers' player on the top 100 list to this point, joining center Ryan Kalil (93) and defensive end Greg Hardy (53).

Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, figures to be the Panthers' highest-ranked player -- after he failed to crack the top 75 in Pro Football Focus' list of the top 101 players.

NFL Network will reveal its top 20 players in 10-player installments at 9 p.m. each of the next two Wednesdays -- July 2 and July 9.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on June 26, 2014 at 01:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (20)

June 20, 2014

Five observations from Panthers' OTAs

The Carolina Panthers concluded OTAs Thursday with the final practice of their three-day minicamp.

Five observations from the four weeks of OTAs (with a list of 20 observations coming in Sunday's editions of the Observer):

1 -- Cam Newton's choppy start Thursday -- he threw his first two passes high and missed on seven of his first 10 throws -- illustrated how critical it is for Newton to be ready for the start of camp so he can develop timing with his new receivers.

First-round pick Kelvin Benjamin plans to stay in Charlotte this summer to work with Newton, but it's impossible to replicate the speed and intensity of team drills. The Panthers must find a balance between keeping Newton's ankle healthy and getting him the reps he needs.

2 -- After Benjamin reached over cornerback Melvin White to snare an underthrown pass from Derek Anderson in the end zone Thursday, pro scouting director Mark Koncz mimicked Benjamin's grab in a gesture to general manager Dave Gettleman. Interpretation: That's why we drafted him. Benjamin's size is impressive, and he immediately upgrades the Panthers' red-zone passing attack.

3 -- With no live contact, the offensive linemen were unable to get the initial "punch" to stymie their defensive counterparts, who had the upper hand. If Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson are still beating tackles Byron Bell and Nate Chandler around the edge in Spartanburg, Ron Rivera can start to worry.

4 -- Gettleman and Rivera are going to have some tough decisions to make at tight end. New arrival Ed Dickson runs well and knows how to get open, while Brandon Williams looks more fluid in his routes in his second year. And those are just the receiving complements to Greg Olsen.

5 -- Safety-turned-cornerback Charles Godfrey was listed as limited at the start of OTAs, but he did very little in his return from Achilles surgery. Rookie Bene' Benwikere took most of the reps at nickel corner in Godfrey's absence, and showed good ball-hawking skills.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on June 20, 2014 at 03:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

June 19, 2014

Newton 'sluggish' in return to Panthers practice

After weeks of underwater treadmill training and very little practice, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton participated in 7-on-7 drills on Thursday in Carolina’s final minicamp practice.

The fourth-year quarterback was shaky to begin the day but got more comfortable by the third drill. He finished the day going 8-for-15 while most of his incompletions were high.

“Real sluggish,” Newton said of his performance. “My mind was moving faster than my body but that comes with time. I’m excited to get back out there. I’m not 100 percent yet but any progress is good progress for me.”

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said only he, Newton and the coaching staff knew Newton would participate as much as he did Thursday.

Newton went 2-for-5 in his first drill, including two high incompletions to start the day. He went 1-for-5 in the next drill and just missed receiver Kelvin Benjamin on a pass in the back of the end zone.

His final drill, one with much less resistance from the defense than the previous two, saw him go a perfect 5-for-5 to end the day.

“He has a little high, a little eager,” Rivera said. “He talked about feeling like he had been cooped up and he got a chance to go out there and spread his wings a little bit. He made some good decisions, made the right reads but just didn’t deliver the ball where he needed to and that’ll come with time. The healthier he gets, the better he gets.”

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on June 19, 2014 at 12:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (43)