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June 26, 2013

Panthers report to training camp July 25, and other important preseason dates

For Panthers fans, the dog days of Spartanburg are less than a month away.

The Carolina Panthers released their training camp schedule Wednesday afternoon, and the team will report to Wofford College on Thurs., July 25.

The team will hold its first practice the following day, which will also be the Back to Football Party.

Training camp will end Aug. 13, and between dates the Panthers will hold Fan Fest at Bank of America Stadium (Aug. 3) and play their first preseason game at home against the Chicago Bears (Aug. 9).

The coaching staff will trim the roster from 90 players to 75 on Aug. 27, and the final 53-man roster must be made by Aug. 31 before the regular season kicks off Sept. 8 at home against Seattle.

As always, the training camp practice sessions are free and open to the public. Click here for more information.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on June 26, 2013 at 05:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Mike Shula: We want Cam's comfort level at the highest it's ever been

As Mike Shula settles into his first offensive coordinator role since the late 1990s with Tampa Bay, one of his main focuses is to make sure his quarterback is more comfortable than ever.

“We want (Cam Newton's) comfort level the highest it’s ever been,” Shula told NationalFootballPost.com. “We looked at the things we’ve done our first two years. The things we do well, we want to continue to build on. The other stuff, we look at how we can do it better or get rid of it. We’re looking at different ways for him to think faster and play faster on the field.”

Shula takes over as the Panthers offensive coordinator after Rob Chudzinski took the head coaching job in Cleveland this offseason after two years with Carolina. Shula was promoted from quarterbacks coach to OC, and he's working to keep a clear line of communication with his quarterback.

That was some of the advice his Hall of Fame father, Don Shula, told him. The younger Shula called his father, the most winningest coach in NFL history, a "constant sounding board."

The Panthers have already instituted simpler verbiage in the offense in an attempt to make things quicker in the huddle and thus getting to the line faster. By all indications, the Panthers plan to go to a more traditional rushing style this season, looking more like the second half of the 2012 season than the first half when zone-read rushes were employed in abundance.

Newton said earlier this month he's very comfortable with the direction of the offense--both with his coaches and new offensive pieces--heading into Year 3 as the franchise quarterback.

“I think it’s a credit to what Shula has been doing and also (quarterbacks coach) Ken Dorsey,” Newton said. “Every offensive coach that we have, they’ve spent a lot of time with trying to get everybody on the same page to do the things that they’re comfortable and do the things they’re good at doing.”

The report also contained a somewhat surprising stat from STATS LLC. Newton's progress as a pro-style quarterback has been apparent over the past two years, but statistics show he was actually better last year under center than out of shotgun.

In 375 shotgun attempts, he had a passer rating of 82.9. In 110 from under center, he finished with a 97.4 passer rating. 

“That just shows me what his football mind is about,” Shula said. “He has a great football mind.”

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on June 26, 2013 at 11:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Munnerlyn joins Davis, believes Panthers can be one of best defenses in 2013

Carolina defensive back Captain Munnerlyn said this week on WFNZ that he believes the Panthers can be the top defense in the NFL.

His comments followed one week after LB Thomas Davis told Scott Fowler that he thinks Carolina can be one of the best defenses in the league, and Munnerlyn was asked if he agreed.

"It'll be scary how good we can be," Munnerlyn said. "I'm excited about this year. I feel like we can be the top defense in the NFL."

The Panthers finished 10th last year in total defense and fourth in the NFC, and the additions of Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, along with a healthy Davis and Jon Beason to start the season, does nothing but help their potential ranking for next season. 

But questions linger about the team's secondary. There's no clear-cut starter in the defensive backfield except Charles Godfrey at free safety. A number of players including Munnerlyn, Josh Norman, Josh Thomas, Drayton Florence, James Dockery and D.J. Moore could start at either cornerback position while the strong safety spot is also up in the air.

Last year the Panthers had the worst opponent completion percentage (66.8) of any team in the league, tied for 23rd in interceptions (11) and 23rd in quarterback rating per game (91.7).

"Nobody (is) really giving us a chance in the secondary to be great," Munnerlyn said. "For me, being a leader in the secondary, this is my opportunity to step up and be that guy."

Munnerlyn suffered an abdominal strain at the start of organized team activities and sat out nearly all of spring workouts. He expects to be back by training camp, where he will compete for his nickel back position with Moore.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on June 26, 2013 at 09:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (24)

June 24, 2013

Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart refutes report that he has cancer

To the best of his knowledge, Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart does not have cancer.

But an injury report on the Sporting News stated the Carolina running back has been sidelined since June 9 with cancer and is out indefinitely.


In reality, Stewart hasn't seen the field since Week 12 of the 2012 season when he injured his ankle against Philadelphia. He had surgeries on both ankles in the offseason and coach Ron Rivera has called Stewart "very limited" in offseason workouts and minicamp during the spring.

The Sporting News issued a correction late Sunday evening saying they were working to understand "why Stewart was improperly listed in the report" and removed all instances of the false report from the site.

Here's the statement to the Observer from Garry Howard, Editor in Chief of Sporting News Media:

“We regret the published error on Jonathan Stewart, which was totally due to an automated feed that has since been corrected. Glad that Mr. Stewart set the record straight on Twitter.”

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on June 24, 2013 at 10:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (27)

June 19, 2013

Panthers sign WR Dale Moss, waive/injure R.J. Webb

The Panthers waive/injured wide receiver R.J. Webb and signed WR Dale Moss in his place, according to the league's official transaction page.

Moss, a 6-foot-3, 213-pound receiver, went undrafted out of South Dakota State in 2012. He bounced around practice squads last year with Green Bay, Tampa Bay and Chicago before getting released by the Bears this month.

Moss played basketball at South Dakota State as well as football. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.51 and had a 41 1/2-inch vertical at his pro day in 2012. He'll likely compete this summer in Spartanburg for a spot on Carolina's practice squad.

Last Tuesday during minicamp, Webb planted awkwardly and told the Observer he likely tore an ACL and chipped a bone in his right knee. 

Webb was signed by the team following the rookie tryout camp. A Furman graduate, Webb caught 85 balls for 1,082 yards for the Paladins. 

Update: Moss is not from the planet Krypton, thus he does not have a 41 1/2 foot vertical as previously mentioned. I regret the error.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on June 19, 2013 at 07:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

Greg Olsen contributing $289,000 to Levine Children's Hospital fund

Panthers tight end Greg Olsen is giving from his heart.

Olsen, whose son, T.J., was born with a heart defect, will donate more than $289,000 to Carolinas HealthCare System's Levine Children's Hospital through his foundation that will help provide home care support to pediatric heart patients once they're discharged.

The contribution will be presented Friday at 2 p.m. at the hospital as part of Olsen's HEARTest Yard Fund. According to a press release, the fund will "extend the family-centered care concept beyond the hospital walls so the transition from there to the home will be easier for other families with children suffering with congenital heart defects."

Here's our story from October on Olsen and T.J., who in late May underwent the second of three surgeries.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on June 19, 2013 at 03:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Canadian DT Gaydosh hopes to crack Panthers final roster

The Panthers were the only NFL team that called the Canadian Football League's No. 1 overall pick, and he hopes he can stick with Carolina through training camp.

In an article on Panthers.com, defensive tackle Linden Gaydosh said while he was flattered to be the top pick in Canada's top football league, his dream is to play in the NFL.

"It was a great honor and something that will always be dear to me, but I'd like to move on from that and move up and play the highest level of football that I can," he said.

Along with the weather, the biggest adjustment for Gaydosh has been getting closer to the ball on the line. Panthers coach Ron Rivera said during rookie tryout camp that he and the coaches had to push Gaydosh closer to the ball when lining up due to Canada's different rules.

"I'm still getting used to the ‘no-yard' coming from Canadian rules," Gaydosh told Panthers.com. "We've got a one-yard neutral zone area in Canada, so you have a little more time to read and react. Here, it's just bang, right in your face as soon as the ball is snapped."

Making the final cut come late August will be a task for Gaydosh considering the Panthers' situation with interior defensive linemen. Dwan Edwards and first-round pick Star Lotulelei enter training camp as the starting DTs while veteran Colin Cole and second-round pick Kawann Short are their immediate backups. 

Siona Fua, a 2011 third-round pick, and Frank Kearse figure to be on the third string while starting defensive end Greg Hardy has played tackle in obvious pass situations the past year.

There's such a logjam at defensive tackle that the team flipped Nate Chandler to the other side of the line so he'd have a better shot of staying on with Carolina.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on June 19, 2013 at 08:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

June 18, 2013

Five surprises from Panthers minicamp

It was three days in shorts and helmets.

So Panthers first-year general manager Dave Gettleman, while pleased with what he saw during the mandatory minicamp last week, cautioned not to put too much stock in it.

The real test will come in Spartanburg in six weeks when the pads come on and the intensity rises along with the heat and humidity.

But there were a number of pleasant surprises during the Panthers' minicamp. Here are five:

JqzLR.St.1381) Armanti Edwards – Some have been trying to bury the former Appalachian State QB for two years.

When the Panthers drafted Joe Adams in 2012, Edwards would be gone. When they signed Ted Ginn Jr. this past offseason, surely that would be the last of Edwards in Charlotte. Or so the thinking went.

Entering Year 4 of the Armanti Experiment, Edwards is beginning to look like an NFL receiver. He's running fluid routes and catching the ball in traffic.

It likely won't be enough to make him the No. 3 wideout. But it should keep him on the roster for another year.

2) Josh Norman – Panthers coach Ron Rivera says both cornerback spots are wide open, but Josh Thomas and Norman spent a lot of time with the first team last week. Norman was benched at the end of his rookie season because of his inconsistent play and freelancing in coverage.

Secondary coach Steve Wilks said Norman came back for his second season more disciplined and focused. He has the talent and confidence to be successful if he improves his technique, particularly in zone coverage.

3) Star Lotulelei – The All-American nose tackle from Utah showed up in good shape and was everything the Panthers thought they were getting when they drafted him 14th overall. Maybe a little more.

On draft night, the Panthers said Lotulelei needed to improve as a pass rusher. And with second-round pick Kawann Short more accomplished in that area, it was thought Lotulelei might come out in certain passing situations.

But he was on the field a lot during minicamp.

Rivera says Lotulelei already has “come a long way” as far as using his hands to shed blockers.

4) Robert Lester – A school-record nine players from Alabama were drafted in April. Lester wasn't one of them.

But the former Crimson Tide safety, who had 14 interceptions and was part of two national title teams in Tuscaloosa, had a solid spring and is in the mix for the strong safety spot opposite Charles Godfrey.

Lester has good size (6-1, 215 pounds) and instincts, and that championship pedigree.

5) Ben Hartsock – The veteran tight end showed he could catch the ball. Who knew?

Hartsock spent most of his first nine seasons as a glorified third tackle, clearing space for running backs and protecting quarterbacks and rarely getting any balls thrown his way.

But Cam Newton targeted Hartsock on a number of underneath routes at minicamp, and Hartsock caught everything.

--Joseph Person



Posted by Observer Sports on June 18, 2013 at 05:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (27)

June 14, 2013

Panthers set Fan Fest at Bank of America Stadium for Aug. 3

After one week in Spartanburg this summer, the Panthers will return home to Bank of America Stadium for Fan Fest 2013 on Saturday, Aug. 3, the team announced on its Twitter account Friday.

Fan Fest will have games for kids as well as entertainment opportunities around the stadium. Gates will open at 2 p.m. The team will also host a scrimmage on the field.

Last year's Fan Fest drew an announced crowd of 22,070, the largest for the event since 1996.

After a scrimmage in which the score is unlikely to be kept, players will sign autographs for fans.

The Panthers will return to Spartanburg the following Monday for a few days before making their way back to Charlotte to play their first preseason game against the Chicago Bears on Friday, Aug. 9.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on June 14, 2013 at 11:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

June 13, 2013

Video: Carolina Panthers wrap up minicamp

The Charlotte Observer's Joe Person reports from Bank of America Stadium after the Carolina Panthers wrapped up their three-day minicamp on Friday. Greg Olsen, Charles Godfrey and head coach Ron Rivera spoke to the media.

Posted by Observer Sports on June 13, 2013 at 05:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)