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May 29, 2014

Jonathan Stewart snaps must-see lightning photo

Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart took an amazing photo Thursday night during a thunderstorm.

Stewart, sitting at his piano in his uptown high-rise condo, snapped this picture of the storm and lightning in the distance.

 

Stewart has long played the piano, and music is one of his greatest passions other than football. 

He's coming off multiple ankle injuries suffered in the past two seasons. He's healthier now than he has at this point in the offseason in the past two years.

Stewart ran well Wednesday during the Panthers' organized team activities that were open to the media. 

At the time of this post, Stewart's photo had just more than 1,000 likes on Instagram. 

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on May 29, 2014 at 08:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Panthers sign second-round pick Kony Ealy

The Carolina Panthers have signed former Missouri defensive end and second-round pick Kony Ealy, the team announced Thursday.

Terms of Ealy's four-year deal were not disclosed. Atlanta Falcons cornerback Robert Alford received a four-year, $3.4 million deal last year as the 60th overall pick, which was where the Panthers took Ealy this year.

The Panthers have agreed to deals with four of their six draft picks. First-round pick Kelvin Benjamin, the former Florida State wide receiver, and guard Trai Turner, the third-rounder from LSU, remain unsigned.

Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said he assigned a first-round grade to Ealy, who was an All-SEC selection last season after finishing with 9.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss.

Ealy was overshadowed by Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, the SEC's Co-Defensive Player of the Year who became the first openly gay player to be drafted when St. Louis took him in the seventh round.

But Ealy is expected to make an early impact with the Panthers.

Defensive end Greg Hardy has pending criminal charges following a May 13 altercation with his ex-girlfriend, while backup defensive end Frank Alexander is suspended the first four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

Ealy might have a bigger role in 2015, when Hardy could be a free agent and defensive end Charles Johnson is scheduled to count $17.4 million against the salary cap.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on May 29, 2014 at 05:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

DeAngelo Williams memorializes his mother in SI column

Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams lost his mother, Sandra Hill, after a long battle with breast cancer on May 16, but he continues to raise awareness for the disease that took his mother and four aunts.

In a column for Sports Illustrated's MMQB, Williams writes a first-person account of how he dealt with coming to terms with his mother's disease for nearly a decade, and he details the final days with her.

“This is what I want you to remember me by,” Hill said in her final days, according to Williams' column. “None of your aunties made it to the age of 50 and today I’m 53. I’ve stolen a few years and have enjoyed every minute, especially thanks to those two incredible granddaughters you’ve given me. You and your sisters are safe and know how to maintain and live and survive.

“My job here is done.”

Williams and HIll are credited with being the inspiration for the NFL allowing players to wear pink in October for breast cancer awareness month. The NFL began doing that in 2009.

Each October, Williams is usually asked to do various multiple media appearances. And despite the running back usually sticking to a strict one-media-availability-day-a-week, he welcomes any opportunity to get in front of a camera to raise awareness. 

He asks readers of the MMQB piece two things: To wear pink once a month and to ask five women you care about if they have gotten a mammogram lately for the purposes of early detection.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on May 29, 2014 at 12:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

May 27, 2014

Travelle Wharton is not retired -- yet

Travelle Wharton hasn't officially announced his retirement yet, but the longtime Carolina Panthers offensive lineman continues to give every indication he's done playing.

Wharton, 33, who has played 10 NFL seasons, said on a Panthers podcast Tuesday an announcement will be made soon.

"I'm enjoying my family time right now," Wharton said. "I'm in a routine I've never been a part of before, picking up kids, dropping them off."

Wharton, who spent nine years with the Panthers, said he has continued to work out. He joked he hasn't lost as much weight as former Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross, who retired in February.

"He's lost so much weight, he looks like a different person," Wharton said, laughing.

Wharton and Gross are close friends and neighbors who carpooled to Bank of America Stadium during the season. The feeling around the organization has been Wharton and Gross would go out together, and Wharton did nothing to change that perception during his appearance in the Panthers' radio booth Tuesday.

"This has been a great run for me," he said. "Ten years in the NFL for a guy from Fountain Inn, South Carolina."

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on May 27, 2014 at 12:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

May 21, 2014

Panthers OT Byron Bell showing off his footwork

For a guy whose footwork has been questioned, Carolina Panthers left tackle Byron Bell showed off some nimble moves Wednesday at Bank of America Stadium.

Bell wasn't hitting a sled or running through bag drills. The 6-5, 340-pounder was dancing in the locker room to George Clinton's 1982 funk classic "Atomic Dog" in a 15-second Instagram video posted by Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart.

Bell was stepping along with linebacker Jason Williams in the clip. Near the end of the video, Stewart says, "Check the footwork," an apparent reference to the drumbeat surrounding Bell since he was tabbed the heir apparent at left tackle following Jordan Gross' retirement in February.

Bell will compete with Nate Chandler, the defensive tackle-turned-offensive lineman, for the job protecting Cam Newton's blind side.

General manager Dave Gettleman recently said too much is made of what Gettleman called "classic left tackle feet."

Gettleman is a former scout who dives into film study while scouting draft and free agent prospects. Bell may have given Gettleman something else to check out.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on May 21, 2014 at 11:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

May 13, 2014

Panthers add DT Drake Nevis

The Panthers added another defensive lineman to their arsenal on Tuesday.

Carolina claimed Drake Nevis off waivers from the Jaguars Tuesday afternoon, according to the NFL transactions site. 

Nevis, who was a first-team All-American at LSU, was a third-round pick by the Colts in 2011. He played two seasons in Indianapolis before going to the Chargers in 2013. He also played for the Cowboys in 2013 before Jacksonville signed him prior to the 2014 season.

The Jaguars released Nevis on Monday.

Nevis is a 6-foot-1, 310-pound tackle with one career sack in 26 appearances. He joins a stable of defensive tackles for the Panthers with Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short, Dwan Edwards, Linden Gaydosh, Casey Walker and Colin Cole.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on May 13, 2014 at 05:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

May 12, 2014

Todd McShay on Kelvin Benjamin, Panthers' failure to draft a tackle

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said three teams came out of the draft failing to address a glaring need -- Cleveland and Kansas City didn't draft a wide receiver, and the Carolina Panthers didn't take an offensive tackle.

And McShay doesn't have a problem with that.

"I've tried to make the point several times, that's OK. If you chase needs and try to plug holes all the time in the draft, you wind up getting yourself in trouble," McShay said Monday during a conference call. "Carolina's trying to do the right thing."

With the top four tackles off the board after the first 16 picks, the Panthers stuck with their plan to draft a receiver.

They thought Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin would be available at No. 28. When he was, GM Dave Gettleman took about a minute getting the pick in.

"I had Kelvin Benjamin rated a little lower, but I completely understand this fit," McShay said. "You've got a quarterback in Cam Newton that can put the ball up, he can drive it down the field vertically and he throws a pretty good fade route and is able to put his receivers in position to go up, elevate and make a play on the ball."

Benjamin's size -- he's 6-5 and 240 pounds -- also will be beneficial when Newton extends plays and is looking for receivers downfield. McShay said Benjamin caught a lot of passes from Jameis Winston on scramble plays at Florida State.

But McShay said Benjamin needs some polish.

"Benjamin's going to drop passes. He has some maturing to do. And he has to learn how to separate better," McShay said. "But he right away is going to provide a red-zone threat, and hopefully for their sake he's going to be a vertical play-maker."

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on May 12, 2014 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (18)

May 10, 2014

List of undrafted free agents going to Carolina

The Panthers drafted six of the 256 draftees this weekend. Carolina will bring in nearly two dozen undrafted free agents that the team will sign or bring in for a rookie minicamp tryout.

The Panthers will have a real interest in four or five of the guys, general manager Dave Gettleman said Saturday. He referenced DE Wes Horton, CB Melvin White and S Robert Lester as three players from last season they had interest in who turned into solid contributors and/or starters for the team in 2013.

Here's a list of the players who will at least work out with the team at next week's minicamp:

Texas CB Carrington Byndom

Ohio State WR Corey Brown

Montreal Carabins OL David Foucault

Miami OL Jared Wheeler

Missouri WR Marcus Lucas

Michigan State Denicos Allen

West Virginia DL Shaq Rowell 

Ohio State OL Andrew Norwell

UAB RB Darrin Reaves

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on May 10, 2014 at 07:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (60)

Panthers move Charles Godfrey from safety to corner

Charles Godfrey recently took a massive paycut, and now he's taking a new position.

Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said Saturday the Panthers have moved Godfrey from safety to cornerback after restructuring the seventh-year defensive back last week.

"What went into was when we first got here, he was a guy that played corner in college and moved to safety," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "We were looking at some of the things that he has and brings to the table. When we first got here we tried to play him at nickel with the idea being putting him back at corner and see if he has that nickel ability. We’re going to start him at corner, do all the corner skills and drills, and give him an opportunity to play that position as well as the nickel position. That’s why we made the move."

Godfrey, 28, had his base salary cut from $5 million to $750,000, and he can earn $1.7 million back in per-game roster bonuses. His cap figure went from $7.1 million to $3.06 million.

Godfrey started 25 of his 28 games at Iowa at cornerback. He's played at safety since joining the Panthers. In Week 2 of the 2013 season at Buffalo, Godfrey tore his Achilles and missed the rest of the season.

Rivera said Godfrey is not 100-percent healthy and that he has not earned a starting spot.

"We’ve guaranteed nobody anything other than the opportunity to earn the right to be the starter and earn the right to be a Panther as we go into the 2014 season," Rivera said.

Godfrey will face competition at cornerback from newly signed free agent Antoine Cason and second-year back Melvin White. The Panthers also plan to work fifth-round pick Bene Benwikere in at slot corner after Captain Munnerlyn signed with Minnesota in free agency.

Godfrey is tied for seventh in franchise history in career interceptions with 11. 

--Jonathan Jones 

Posted by Observer Sports on May 10, 2014 at 05:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

May 09, 2014

Film review: What Kelvin Benjamin brings to Carolina

After watching four games of tape on Kelvin Benjamin, there’s plenty to like and plenty to wish for in the Panthers’ first-round receiver.

Benjamin, at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, was a dominant college football player despite playing just two seasons. Perhaps because of that, though, Benjamin still has some things he needs to work on.

Game tape from FSU vs. Clemson, Duke, Florida and N.C. State shows Benjamin likes to jump for passes, can secure the ball without his chest, runs OK routes, is a good blocker when engaged, has a case of the drops and has great football speed.

There are two highlights you will see from Benjamin’s redshirt sophomore season with the Seminoles. Let’s go ahead and get those out of the way.

This incredible catch against Clemson can be played on a loop for teams looking to draft a short corner.

 

This touchdown against Florida is a microcosm of the Gators miserable 2013 season.

Benjamin likes to jump for passes, and a lot of times doing that ensures you snag the ball before the defensive back does but you then give up your speed. One thing wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl will impress upon Benjamin is to stay on the ground, use late hands and catch the ball in a fluid motion to have an opportunity at yards after the catch.

(Click the links for videos, most of which come from DraftBreakdown.com.)

The Panthers lost their best blocking receiver in Brandon LaFell. He was good at it because he could engage his blocker or spontaneously pick one up. If Benjamin knows he’s going to block you, he can sometimes downright embarrass an opponent. But other times on tape he looked lost.

There’s no better example of how “meh” and how good he can be in blocking than these back-to-back clips.

Sometimes there’s a fear with big receivers that they will trap the ball with their chest. Benjamin has hands, and he can use them. For as great as his tape is from the Florida game--and Dave Gettleman called it "spectacular"--it also shows three really bad drops and a touchdown that shouldn’t have counted because of an obvious hold.

In four games, Benjamin had six drops. One led to an interception and five were inexcusable.

A big knock on Benjamin is if he can deal with being jammed at the line in the NFL. Well, he’s never before played in the NFL, and the defenses he played against in these tapes were playing coverage softer than a baby’s bottom. It's difficult to discern if he has trouble with jams.

Another knock is his speed. People want to compare him to Calvin Johnson because of his body but he doesn’t have that last gear, as evidenced by his 4.61 40-yard dash at the combine.

Not so fast.

Everyone knows football speed is different than straight-line speed. Florida DB Loucheiz Purifoy ran an identical 4.61 40-yard dash at the combine. Look at the separation Benjamin got on this route.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on May 9, 2014 at 10:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (27)

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