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July 31, 2013

Panthers linebacker Chase Blackburn at training camp

New Carolina Panthers linebacker Chase Blackburn met with the local media during player availability to discuss his new team and having been to two Super Bowls with the New York Giants.

Posted by Observer staff on July 31, 2013 at 02:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

TE Brandon Williams off to good start at Panthers camp

When the Panthers cut reserve tight end Nelson Rosario on Tuesday, it was good news for more than just Zack Pianalto, the former North Carolina tight end who took his roster spot.

It also was an encouraging sign for rookie tight end Brandon Williams, who is fighting for the third TE spot behind Greg Olsen and Ben Hartsock.

Williams is the epitome of a project. The former Oregon player has been out of football since the spring of 2011, when a collision in the Ducks' spring game led to the discovery that Williams had a spinal condition.

After graduating from Oregon, Williams actually played basketball last winter at Portland Bible College. After hiring a new agent and getting cleared medically, the 6-4, 250-pound Williams went to the super regional combine in Dallas, where the Panthers spotted him.

He missed OTAs and minicamp following minor knee surgery, but has had a good start to camp.

Williams doesn't have blazing speed, but he's fast and athletic enough to get downfield and make plays in the passing game. He's also strong enough to hold up at the point of attack, which was the downfall of Rosario, the former UCLA wideout.

Williams had a nice lock-out block on LB Ben Jacobs earlier this week.

Olsen insisted in the spring the Panthers didn't need to add another tight end following the loss of Gary Barnidge to Cleveland in free agency.

Williams still has a long way to go before making the team. But given his interesting background and promising start to camp, he bears watching.

--Joseph Person


Posted by Observer Sports on July 31, 2013 at 11:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

July 30, 2013

Panthers sign TE Zack Pianalto, waive Nelson Rosario

The Panthers bulked up their tight ends position with a new addition Tuesday.

Carolina signed former University of North Carolina tight end and third-year player Zack Pianalto on Tuesday while waiving TE Nelson Rosario, the team announced Tuesday afternoon.

Rosario spent all of the 2012 season on the Panthers roster, but head coach Ron Rivera said recently he liked Rosario, a former UCLA wide receiver, as a pass catcher but he struggled to hold up at the point of attack.

At 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, Pianalto brings both size and pass-catching abilities to the Panthers tight end group. He grabbed four passes for 40 yards for Tampa Bay in 2011, appearing in 13 games for the Bucs.

Greg Olsen and Ben Hartsock are 1-2 on the Panthers' depth chart at the position, and Pianalto figures to compete with undrafted rookie Brandon Williams at No. 3. Williams has shown some great athleticism, but the former basketball player has struggled at times this camp with being in the right spot at the right time.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on July 30, 2013 at 04:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

Panthers general manager: Time for Cam Newton to win


Panthers first-year general manager Dave Gettleman believes Cam Newton is the team's quarterback of the future, but said it's time for Newton to win.

Gettleman was hired in January to replace Marty Hurney, who drafted Newton with the first overall pick in 2011. Newton has thrown for more yards than any quarterback in his first two NFL seasons, but has yet to lead the Panthers to a winning season.

“Cam has had the best two years of any rookie quarterback in NFL history. And everybody talks about the other young (quarterbacks),” Gettleman said Tuesday. “What he's done has been completely lost in the sauce because of the elephant in the room – the 13-19 record.”

Gettleman was asked whether Newton was the quarterback to build around.

After a pregnant, seven-second pause, Gettleman said; “Yes, he is. But now it's time to win.”

Under the new CBA, the Panthers cannot begin negotiating with Newton on a new contract until after this season. His four-year, $22 million deal includes a club option for a fifth year, and the Panthers also could use the franchise tag on Newton.

“Technically, you have rights to him for six years,” Gettleman said. “I'm a big believer in letting nature take its course. Things will happen naturally.”

As for the Panthers' third-year coach, Gettleman said he set no specific expectations for Ron Rivera beyond winning.

“I didn't set any expectations. I think that's a mistake. My goal was to put them in a position to be successful. … That's been my goal all along,” Gettleman said. “I'm giving him all my support and he knows it. We have a very good relationship.”

--Joseph Person


Posted by Observer Sports on July 30, 2013 at 01:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (49)

Newton has bad day, throws 2 picks


Cam Newton threw two interceptions, and nearly a third Tuesday in his worst practice of training camp.

Newton, the Panthers' franchise quarterback, was picked off on the first play of a team passing drill by cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who returned the interception for a touchdown.

Newton was looking for Armanti Edwards on an out route along the left sideline. But he didn't get enough zip on the ball, and Munnerlyn broke in front of Edwards.

Munnerlyn almost had another pick on a poor throw by Newton, who has had a good camp before Tuesday. Linebacker Chase Blackburn had the defense's other interception on a Newton pass across the middle.

“He missed a couple of throws, he was a little bit late coming out (and) throwing to the sideline one time,” Rivera said. “And the other time, he made a secondary read and tried to come back to it. He's going to have to speed that up. And those are things that will be corrected.”

Newton and the rest of his teammates will get a 24-hour break to rest and regain their energy. The break is mandated under the new CBA.

Because kicker Graham Gano made a 50-yard field goal at the end of practice, Rivera excused players from the scheduled evening meetings. The Panthers will resume drills Thursday.

Several players got an early start on the break. Three veterans were given the day off – wideout Steve Smith, center Ryan Kalil and defensive tackle Dwan Edwards.

Rivera said he had hoped to see a couple of the other receivers step up in Smith's absence.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on July 30, 2013 at 12:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (23)

July 29, 2013

Mitchell and Campbell competing for starting strong safety

SPARTANBURG It's still early, but the Panthers' secondary--the biggest positional question mark this preseason--is starting to take shape.

Charles Godfrey is holding down the free safety position while Drayton Florence and Captain Munnerlyn have been getting the bulk of first-team reps at the cornerback positions.

Free-agent acquisition Mike Mitchell has been making noise at strong safety this camp, especially the past two days. Mitchell picked off a Cam Newton pass intended for tight end Greg Olsen after making a dive for the grab and holding on.

It was the second consecutive day Mitchell had an interception.

"We always felt his strengths would be once we got into pads," Rivera said. "He’s done well, as has D.J. Campbell. It’s a very good battle shaping up at the strong safety position. We’re excited about what we’re seeing right now."

Campbell started the final four games of last season at strong safety after the team slid Godfrey to free safety.

The Panthers showed interest in free-agent safety Quintin Mikell this month, and he's still on the market.

Of note: Panthers owner/founder Jerry Richardson made his training camp debut Monday. He drove around on his golf cart accompanied by two notable friends: NBA legend Jerry West and longtime sports broadcaster Jim Gray.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on July 29, 2013 at 12:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

July 27, 2013

Kugbila carted off with hamstring injury

Panthers rookie guard Edmund Kugbila's NFL career is off to a rough start.

The fourth-round pick from Valdosta (Ga.) State injured his hamstring Saturday during the Panthers' second training camp practice. The injury comes after Kugbila missed most of OTAs and minicamp with a left knee injury.

Kugbila was carted to the training room after he was injured early in Saturday's practice.

“He tweaked his hamstring,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “So we'll see how he is and we'll treat him day by day.”

Rivera said Kugbila's injury “probably” was related to his inactivity during the spring, but pointed out that he's not a doctor.

Kugbila was working with the second team, behind starting right guard Geoff Hangartner, before leaving practice.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on July 27, 2013 at 05:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

Video: Joe Person reports on Carolina Panthers' 1st day of 2013 training camp

Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer reports from the Carolina Panthers' first day of training camp. Head coach Ron Rivera liked the pace of the practice in addition to the play on both sides of the ball.

Posted by Charlotte Observer on July 27, 2013 at 03:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

July 26, 2013

Beason takes pay cut in restructured deal

Panthers linebacker Jon Beason agreed to a significant pay cut this season, although Beason can recoup a lot of the money by staying healthy and remaining on the roster.

Under the terms of his restructured contract, Beason's base salary drops from $5.25 million to $1 million guaranteed, a league source with knowledge of the contract told the Observer on Friday.

Beason earns a $500,000 roster bonus Saturday, and can collect an additional $1.75 million in roster bonuses throughout the season. The contract also includes a $500,000 bonus if Beason makes the Pro Bowl a fourth time.

The restructuring drops Beason's cap figure from $9.5 million to $5.75 million, counting Saturday's roster bonus.

The rest of Beason's base salaries remained unchanged through the 2016 season, creating the potential for another restructuring next year when his cap figure is $10.75 million.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on July 26, 2013 at 05:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Newton focused on wins, not contract


When Cam Newton was asked about his reaction to Matt Ryan's new $100 million contract, the Panthers quarterback smiled.

“I didn't think anything,” Newton said. “Good for him, but nothing more than that.”

Quarterbacks across the league have been cashing in this offseason with monster deals, beginning with Joe Flacco and continuing through Ryan. Newton, who missed out on millions as the first No. 1 pick signed under the new collective bargaining agreement, said Friday he's not concerned about his next contract.

“The only thing that's on my mind right now is a three-letter word. I think y'all know what that three-letter word is,” said Newton, referring to his desire to win.

Newton, who is 13-19 as a starter, signed a guaranteed four-year, $22 million deal in 2011 that includes a club option for a fifth year. Compare that to the six-year, $78 million contract Sam Bradford received as the No. 1 pick the previous year.

Under the terms of the CBA, players can not begin renegotiating their rookie contracts until the end of their third season.

New general manager Dave Gettleman has been clearing cap space since he arrived in January, when the Panthers were $16 million over the cap. He'll have to clear more if the Panthers want to lock Newton up after this season.

In the meantime, a lighter, leaner Newton is looking to continue his development after two record-setting seasons that did not include as many wins as he envisioned.

If Newton set any specific goals for his third year, he didn't share them with the media.

“It's easy for people to just go and shoot off goals that they want, and I think it would be cliché right now,” he said. “For us it's going to be hard work and dedication.”

--Joseph Person


Posted by Observer Sports on July 26, 2013 at 12:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)