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May 31, 2012

Panthers will leave town for Democratic convention

The Panthers will hit the road in September when the Democratic National Convention comes to Charlotte Sept. 3-6.

The Panthers plan to practice at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., prior to their regular-season opener at Tampa Bay on Sept. 9.

Barack Obama is scheduled to give his acceptance speech the evening of Sept. 6 in Bank of America Stadium. The Secret Service establishes a security perimeter for any public appearance by the president. That means extra scrutiny of vehicles and people entering the perimeter, and likely delays.

The Panthers have a history with IMG, which initially was founded as a tennis academy but has grown to include high-level instruction for athletes at varying ages in nearly every sport.

The Panthers' first-round picks each of the past two years -- QB Cam Newton and LB Luke Kuechly -- both trained at IMG under former Panthers QB Chris Weinke, who runs IMG's football division.

Ken Dorsey, the former Cleveland Browns quarterback, worked with Weinke last year before joining the Panthers as a pro scout.

If the Panthers stayed in Charlotte, players, coaches and team officials would be subjected to an array of security checks any time they entered or left the stadium or the adjacent practice fields, which are likely to be within the security perimeter.

A typical game week for the Panthers includes treatment, meetings and film study on Mondays, off days on Tuesdays, and full-scale practices on Wednesdays and Thursdays before a Friday walkthrough.

With President Obama's speech at the stadium on Thursday, that schedule would be disrupted.

Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said the team could have stayed in Charlotte, but Panthers' officials thought it would be easier to clear out of the facility.

"We could've gotten it done, for sure. But we made the decision we didn't want to inconvenience the DNC and thought it's less distractions to go and practice somewhere else," Hurney said. "We just thought it was best for both sides to do that."

Hurney said the Panthers have not finalized their travel schedule, but indicated the team would be at IMG for most of the week before playing the Bucs.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on May 31, 2012 at 01:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (35)

May 30, 2012

Luke Kuechly is man of many hats

Panthers rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly is wearing several hats in his first few weeks in the NFL – and carrying them, too.

Kuechly, who is taking reps at both middle and weakside linebacker, made the quarter-mile walk Wednesday from the Panthers' practice fields to Bank of America Stadium toting four helmets: his own and those belonging to veteran linebackers Jon Beason, Thomas Davis and James Anderson.

The pack mule tradition has long been part of rookie indoctrination in the NFL.

Kuechly is taking it in stride – about 300 strides or so after every OTA (organized team activities) practice.

“It hasn't been too bad. It's my job,” Kuechly said. “You've got to come in and you've got to take care of them.”

Kuechly, the ninth overall pick in the April draft, had two helmets in each hand as he walked along the paved path between the practice fields and the stadium Wednesday afternoon.

“It gets more difficult the longer you walk in,” he said. “You think it wouldn't be that bad. But by the time you turn that corner up there, everything just starts pulling.”

Kuechly, the former Boston College standout, is the NCAA's all-time leader for tackles in a season (an average of 15.9 a game in 2011) and over his career (14.0 per game). But he is starting over on an experienced, though somewhat hobbled, linebacker core.

“You've got to earn the respect. It's not like they're going to give it to you,” Kuechly said. “For me it's just come out and learn as much as you can and watch as much as you can because all the guys that are in there right now know what they're doing.”

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on May 30, 2012 at 02:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

May 29, 2012

Cam Newton says he was a bad teammate last year

Following his comments last week that he wanted to be more of a leader in his second season, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton told Yahoo! Sports' Jason Cole he was a "bad teammate" during his record-breaking rookie season.

"I was very immature," Newton said in the Yahoo! story. "I'll be the first one to tell you, the pouting and the moping, I kind of overdid it. I know that. I was a bad teammate. I shut off to some people who gave unbelievable effort. ... That's where I have to mature."

It's no secret Newton's brooding sideline act after bad series and his down-in-the-dumps locker room demeanor after losses began to wear on teammates last season.

Veteran offensive linemen Jordan Gross and Ryan Kalil took Newton aside two-thirds of the way through the season and told him to be more upbeat and reminded him he wasn't the only one on the team who disliked losing.

But remember: Newton was someone who had never lost at any level. His last two college seasons ended with national championships.

And most of his Panthers' teammates seemed to realize that and give him the benefit of the doubt.

"Cam is not a bad teammate; he's just a young guy learning how tough this game can be," Panthers tight end Greg Olsen told Cole in the Yahoo! piece.

Olsen brings an interesting perspective to the discussion. After a loss at Chicago in October, Newton brushed off Olsen's attempt to encourage him after the game.

Olsen said then it wasn't a big deal, and his comments last week echo that.

Still, the fact that Newton -- whom Panthers coach Ron Rivera referred to as "Mr. Mopeyhead" last season -- plans to be more positive can only be viewed as a good thing for a team most observers believe is on the rise.

--Joseph Person

 

Posted by Observer Sports on May 29, 2012 at 03:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (17)

May 26, 2012

Patrick Willis latest to chime in on Panthers-49ers feud

Jon Beason has always had one of the strongest voices in the Panthers' locker room.

The middle linebacker proved Friday he can make his presence felt in cyberspace, as well.

Beason ripped Alex Smith on Twitter after the San Francisco quarterback pointed to the Panthers' Cam Newton as an example of a quarterback who puts up statistics but doesn't win.

“Alex smith, don't hate on Cam (because) your stats would've gotten u cut if Peyton decided to come 2 San Fran,” Beason wrote on Twitter. “Truth b told. That's after a 13-3 yr.”

Peyton Manning met with the 49ers this offseason before signing as a free agent with Denver.

In Jim Harbaugh's first year as head coach, the 49ers advanced to the NFC championship game despite finishing 29th in the league in passing. Newton was the NFL's Rookie of the Year and broke Manning's rookie passing record for the 6-10 Panthers.

“I could absolutely care less on yards per game,” Smith told reporters last week. “I think that is a totally overblown stat because if you're losing games in the second half, guess what, you're like the Carolina Panthers and you're going no-huddle the entire second half. Yeah, Cam Newton threw for a lot of 300-yard games. That's great. You're not winning, though.”

San Francisco linebacker Patrick Willis took to Twitter to defend Smith, posting: “Wins are Wins I stand with My Qb Alex Smith and all my teammates. I can't wait for the season.”

Unfortunately, the teams will have to wait until the 2013 season to face each other – unless they meet in the playoffs. If so, prepare for a lot of chatter – online or otherwise.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on May 26, 2012 at 04:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (30)

May 24, 2012

Where does Rivera rank in SN coaches list?

The Sporting News has published its rankings of NFL head coaches, from No. 1 (Tom Coughlin) through 32 (Joe Vitt).

The Panthers' Ron Rivera comes in at 21, with the following comment: "Having Cam Newton gives him plenty of hope for the future. A .500 season would be another step in the right direction."

Interestingly, Rivera is ranked just below Norv Turner, who hired Rivera in San Diego after the Bears let him go.

Former Panthers coach John Fox is ranked seventh after leading the Broncos to the playoffs in his first season while taking advantage of Tim Tebow's unique skill set.

--Joseph Person



Posted by Observer Sports on May 24, 2012 at 03:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (23)

Jon Beason feels good, but sits anyway

When Thomas Davis walked off the practice field early Thursday, visitors all had the same reaction: Not again.

Panthers' fans can exhale. It turns out Davis had a dental appointment, and had not re-injured his thrice-repaired ACL.

The Panthers are taking precautions with their two recovering linebackers. Middle backer Jon Beason, who had Achilles surgery after Week 1 last season, said he learned Monday that he would not be involved in any of the team drills during OTAs.

Beason, who said his Achilles feels “great,” was disappointed initially but understands the team's thinking.

I think they're just protecting me from myself,” Beason said. “Practice is practice. But to me you come out and compete. You try to win every down and you play the game a certain way. I think that had a lot to do with it, too.”

Beason was at middle linebacker for the installation period, with first-round pick Luke Kuechly flanking him at weakside. But after that, Beason kneeled on the sideline and watched.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the plan is to have Beason ready for the start of training camp in late July.

I'd like to believe when we get to training camp, we can put Jon in full-go at that point, and Thomas, we'll ease him back in,” Rivera said.

Other notes/observations from the Panthers' third OTA practice (but first open to the media):

--Veteran wideout Steve Smith was excused to attend a relative's graduation ceremony. Backup WR Seyi Ajirotutu also missed practice; Rivera said he thinks Ajirotutu is getting married this weekend.

--DE Charles Johnson (knee) and DT Ron Edwards (biceps) were not in uniform. Neither is expected to participate in OTAs.

--Undrafted RB Tauren Poole sat out for the second consecutive day with a hamstring injury.

--Jeff Otah, who has missed 31 of the past 35 games due to injury, worked at second-team right tackle. Byron Bell, who started in Otah's place last year as a rookie, was the first-team tackle.

--DE Greg Hardy made a nice, one-handed interception of a Cam Newton pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage.

--CB Brandon Hogan, who began last year on the physically unable to perform list following knee surgery, worked with both the first and second teams.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on May 24, 2012 at 01:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

May 21, 2012

Top defensive and special teams position battles for Panthers

DEFENSE

NO. 2 CORNERBACK

Candidates: Captain Munnerlyn, Brandon Hogan, Darius Butler, Josh Norman

Favorite: Munnerlyn

Comment: No corner in the league gave up more completions last year than the diminutive Munnerlyn, who was beaten on more than just jump balls. But the 5-8 Munnerlyn is in a contract year and won't concede his spot without a fight. Hogan, a year and a half removed from ACL surgery, will get a long look – as will Norman, the long-armed, fifth-round pick from Coastal Carolina.

FREE SAFETY

Candidates: Sherrod Martin, Haruki Nakamura, Jordan Pugh, Reggie Smith

Favorite: Martin

Comment: Martin was put on alert this offseason, first in dismissive comments from owner Jerry Richardson and later through the acquisition of free agents Nakamura and Smith. Martin must make better decisions when the ball's in the air or risk losing his job to Nakamura, who gets a chance to start after backing up Ed Reed for four seasons in Baltimore.

SPECIAL TEAMS

PUNTER

Candidates: Brad Nortman, Nick Harris

Favorite: Nortman

Comment: Ron Rivera said the Panthers drafted Nortman for a reason – to be the long-term replacement for Jason Baker, who was cut in March. And Nortman showed off a strong leg at the rookie minicamp. But Harris can attest that being drafted comes with no guarantees: Harris was beaten out by Tom Rouen in Denver after the Broncos took Harris in the fourth round in 2001.

--Joseph Person

 

Posted by Observer Sports on May 21, 2012 at 05:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (17)

Panthers best position battles, offensive edition

The Panthers begin Phase 3 of OTAs this week, beginning with a helmets-and-shorts practice on Tuesday.

They'll practice a total of 10 days over the next three weeks, before holding a minicamp June 12-14.

It seems like a good time to look at some of the best position battles that will play out over the coming weeks, although most likely won't be decided until training camp.

We'll start on the offensive side.

NO.  2 WIDEOUT

Candidates: Brandon LaFell, David Gettis, Armanti Edwards, Darvin Adams, Seyi Ajirotutu

Favorite: LaFell

Comment: The Panthers play a ton of three- and four-receiver sets, and their hope is that LaFell will continue to develop and Gettis will come back strong from ACL surgery. If not, they could always rent a veteran like they did last year with Legedu Naanee. Joe Adams and Kealoha Pilares aren't included here because they play exclusively in the slot.

LEFT GUARD

Candidates: Amini Silatolu, Mike Pollak, Byron Bell, Garry Williams

Favorite: Silatolu

Comment: Silatolu's biggest challenge will be mastering the playbook, but the Panthers have little doubt about his physical abilities. Pollak has starting experience with the Colts should Silatolu falter, while Bell and Williams each can play guard and tackle.

RIGHT TACKLE

Candidates: Jeff Otah, Byron Bell, Garry Williams, Bruce Campbell, Lee Ziemba

Favorite: Otah

Comment: The Panthers shut Otah down last year and put him on injured reserve (again) in the hopes that he could stay healthy long-term. If Otah's healthy, he's the best option here. Hands down. But that's been a big if the last two-plus seasons.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on May 21, 2012 at 02:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (23)

May 18, 2012

Rivera: Panthers have not arrived

With Cam Newton a year older and the expected return of a couple of injured defensive starters, the Panthers have become a trendy pick as a team that can contend for the NFC South title.

But as Ron Rivera prepares for next week's OTA practices, the second-year Panthers coach has a message for his players: Don't believe the hype.

Rivera, speaking to the Observer on Friday, is pleased with how the Panthers finished 2011 by winning four of their final six games. But Rivera said his team hasn't proven anything, yet.

We have not taken the next step. We have not arrived, in any fashion or manner,” Rivera said.

I think it's Woody Hayes who said: 'If you give a man something he hasn't earned, you've lessened who he is.' And I don't want that. I don't want us to think we've arrived. I don't want anybody telling us, oh, you guys are going to the playoffs. No, you're not. You don't know who's going to the playoffs. That's why you play them.”

Because of the lockout, the Panthers did not have the benefit of OTAs or minicamps before Rivera's first season. Rivera is looking forward to competitions at several positions this summer, most notably at the No. 2 wide receiver and cornerback spots, free safety, left guard and right tackle – the position formerly occupied by the oft-injured Jeff Otah.

Otah has missed all but four games the past two seasons with knee injuries, and Rivera made it clear Otah would not be handed the job upon his return.

Nobody's getting anything there. Byron Bell did a hell of a job for us last year,” Rivera said. “We know what Jeff's capable of. But the problem with Jeff is we haven't really seen him in two years. It's up to Jeff. If Jeff wants to come back and be a huge part of it, it's on him. He's got to do the things we ask him to do. He's got to do them the right way.”

Look for much more from Rivera in Sunday's editions of the Observer.

--Joseph Person

 

Posted by Observer Sports on May 18, 2012 at 04:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (23)

May 15, 2012

Panthers claim Armond Smith off waivers

The Panthers added a player to their roster Tuesday, although he was not among the 32 who tried out this past weekend.

The Panthers claimed second-year running back Armond Smith off waivers from Cleveland – a minor move at the Panthers' deepest position. Smith, who had three carries for 2 yards in three games as a rookie with the Browns, is expected to compete with Josh Vaughan and three undrafted free agents – Tauren Poole, Princeton McCarty and Lyndon Rowells – for the fourth running back spot.

To make room for Smith on the 90-man roster, the Panthers waived defensive back Reggie Sullivan, the former Johnson C. Smith player who joined the team's practice squad late last season.

Smith, 26, attended Hutchinson (Kans.) Community College and Shorter before transferring to Union, a NAIA school in Kentucky. Smith, 5-9 and 194 pounds, rushed for 1,376 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2010 before signing with Cleveland as an undrafted free agent.

He also spent time on the Browns' practice squad last season.

--Joseph Person

 

Posted by Observer Sports on May 15, 2012 at 05:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

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