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 (2)

"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 (5)

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)

June 18, 2014

Panthers agree to contract extensions with three players

The Panthers extended the contracts of three players Wednesday, including the versatile offensive lineman who is in the running to start at left tackle.

Nate Chandler, competing with Byron Bell for the role of protecting Cam Newton's blind side, signed a three-year extension, while backup defensive end Mario Addison and special teams standout Colin Jones received two-year extensions, the team announced.

Financial terms were not disclosed.

All three were heading into contract years. Chandler would have become a restricted free agent after the season, while Addison and Jones were set to become unrestricted free agents.

"You have to think long-term and be proactive," general manager Dave Gettleman told the team's website. "Around here we talk about earning the right, and these three young guys have earned the right to these contract extensions."

"We think all three are ascending as players," Gettleman added. "This gave us a chance to lock them up long-term."

Chandler, the former defensive tackle, started eight games last season -- six at right guard and two at right tackle.

He looks like a lock to start at one of the two tackle positions.

"Going into this year I really wasn't thinking about an extension or anything like that. After OTAs it came up, and it really hasn't hit me yet," Chandler said.

"I'm just so thankful for them believing in me. I came in as an undrafted rookie not knowing if I would make the team, and now the two years of work I've put in has gotten me to this point. It's a really good feeling."

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on June 18, 2014 at 01:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Panthers lineman Andrew McDonald recovering from surgery to remove cancer

Panthers0619_18Panthers reserve offensive lineman Andrew McDonald is recovering from surgery to remove testicular cancer last month, and says the cancer has not spread.

McDonald, 25, who joined the Panthers as a practice squad member last season, said he noticed a "little bump" and mentioned it to a team physician during a physical May 19. An ultrasound revealed the cancer, and he had surgery the following day to remove it.

"It was obviously surprising. Then they scheduled surgery for the next day, so it kind of hits you at once," McDonald said Wednesday. "I just kind of made up my mind not to get down, not to let it affect me, as much as I could. Just stay positive, and obviously it's worked out. Thank God for that."

McDonald said doctors believe they caught the cancer before it spread. He said the incision is healing well and he expects to be ready for the start of training camp next month.

McDonald also talked for the first time Wednesday about the Miami Dolphins' hazing scandal. McDonald was "Player A" in the Ted Wells report that looked into the bullying of Miami offensive lineman Jonathan Martin.

According to the Wells report, McDonald "frequently was subjected to homophobic name-calling and improper physical touching," and was spoken to in a demeaning, homophobic way.

The Wells report also states former Miami offensive line coach Jim Turner gave McDonald a male blow-up doll as a Christmas gift in 2012 during McDonald's rookie season.

"I just kind of saw it as rookie -- picking on the rookies and stuff. And just kind of playing around, messing with them," McDonald said. "But some people goes a little too far sometimes. That's pretty much it."

McDonald was asked whether the bullying had gone too far with him.

"I don't think I want to get into that, really," he said.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on June 18, 2014 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

June 17, 2014

Cam Newton tests ankle but doesn't participate in Panthers practice

Cam Newton did more Tuesday on his surgically repaired ankle than Panthers coach Ron Rivera was expecting, but he won’t be on the practice field for team drills until training camp.

Newton tested his ankle on three- and five-step drops on passes to receivers Tuesday at Panthers mandatory minicamp. After stretching and the short throwing session, he did not participate in any other drills.

“There was an outside chance he’d be able to go full but he’s on track,” Rivera said. “We’re not going to force any issue with him so he was able to do what he was supposed to.”

Rivera said what Newton will likely do the same light throwing on Wednesday and Thursday, the final two days of minicamp. He spent part of organized team activities inside the facilities working on the underwater treadmill.

The Panthers quarterback is 13 weeks removed from surgery that tightened loose ligaments in his ankle. The original timetable had him slated to return by training camp in late July.

“I think I’m on schedule to make a speedy recovery,” Newton said after practice. “We are in the last curve and I am just trying to be smart about it, do everything that the trainers ask of me and more and see where that gets me.”

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on June 17, 2014 at 12:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)