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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)

June 12, 2014

Cam Newton continues to bond with Kelvin Benjamin

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton hasn't been able to throw much to rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, but it hasn't stopped the two from spending time together in the weeks since the Panthers drafted Benjamin in the first round.

Newton invited Benjamin to Georgia over Memorial Day weekend, when the two went boating on Lake Lanier outside Atlanta. At an NFL Play 60 event Thursday at the Panthers' practice fields, Benjamin said he was scheduled to join Newton for dinner Thursday night.

Newton, who is recovering from March ankle surgery, was close with former Panthers receiver Louis Murphy, Newton's teammate at Florida.

But Newton generally hasn't done a lot away from Bank of America Stadium with teammates, so his bonding with Benjamin is worth noting.

"I think that's big," Benjamin said. "The connection between a wide receiver and a quarterback is real big. It's like a relationship, like girlfriend-boyfriend. He's a great guy, great teammate. He's always telling me I can work on this to get better. That's what I need -- somebody to push me."

Newton, who has given Benjamin the nickname 'Benji,' joked that one negative about Benjamin is his former school.

"He always finds a way to mention Florida State, and that's the bad," Newton said.

In his final game with the Seminoles, Benjamin caught the game-winning touchdown pass from Jameis Winston in the BCS title game against Auburn, which Newton led to the 2010 national championship.

Other than Benjamin's FSU background, Newton apparently has found a lot of common ground with the player the Panthers hope will be his No. 1 receiver for years to come.

"It's nothing for us to go get anything to eat. It's nothing for us to hang out and talk about life issues, as well as on the field issues, as well," Newton said this week. "We're here together. We're teammates now. But our relationship goes farther than the field, and that's very good for us."

--Joseph Person


Carolina Panthers' quarterback Cam Newton (1) walks beside rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin (13) as Benjamin answers a reporter's questions following an NFL football organized team activity in May. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

Posted by Observer Sports on June 12, 2014 at 06:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (18)

June 11, 2014

Newton says receiving group knows it's projected 'sorriest receivers in the NFL'

Cam Newton knows what has been said about the new Carolina Panthers receiving corps.

The team did not return a single wide receiver who caught a pass for the team in 2013 after Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon all found new homes in free agency. And in articles, blogs and TV shows across the nation, Carolina's receiving group has been lambasted.

Newton said it's not only an insult to the receivers, it's an insult to him.

"The elephant in the room has already been stated," Newton said. "Those guys have already accepted the challenge. You don’t have to go in there and tell those guys, 'Hey, you’re projected the sorriest receiver (group) in the NFL.' We already know.

"But with that, those guys already have that fire in their eyes. I would rather those guys be like that and for them to go out there and bust their tails like they’ve been doing. It’s kind of like a slap in--not only their face--but my face as well. The things that have been said, the reports, who cares? Because at the end of the day, we will be ready to play football, and Carolina Panthers football. Hard-nosed, and everybody’s going to have to do their job.

"This is something that is not new. This is something that was expected last year. This is something that was expected the year before that, five years before that, 10 years before that. At the end of the day, when you look around those 11 specific position, everyone has to do their job. And I have no doubt in my mind, come game time, everyone will be on the same page with doing their rightful obligation."

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on June 11, 2014 at 02:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (39)

Hardy, Newton miss Wednesday practice

Greg Hardy and Cam Newton beat the heat and stayed inside the team facilities Wednesday during organized team activities, but Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he has no concerns about the health of the duo.

Hardy was receiving “maintenance” on his leg, said Rivera, who mentioned Hardy’s history with a knee injury. Last Wednesday, Newton stayed inside to work on the underwater treadmill, and Wednesday he was back inside again rehabbing his ankle.

“There’s no surgery, no major injury or anything,” Rivera said of Hardy. “He should be on the field tomorrow.”

Rivera said Newton has participated in six OTA sessions in the past three weeks but the team wants to keep him off his feet.

"Physically, I’m coming along fine," said Newton, who did not rule out returning to practice for next week's veteran minicamp. "I think I’m on pace to be right where I’m expected to be. Mentally, I’m bored. Watching the film, going over those things, becomes monotonous but I know it’s making me better. I understand that and the point that I’m at in my career, it’s not about (cramming) or doing as much as I can. It’s about taking a smart look and sitting back and saying how can I become better than I was last year.

Mario Addison took the majority of first-team snaps in place of Hardy and performed well. Frank Alexander also got his share of first-team snaps.

Other notables:

  • Cornerback Josh Norman had a great interception and another pass breakup Wednesday. Norman intercepted Derek Anderson’s long pass intended for Toney Clemons, catching the ball with his left hand while falling down. Later he broke up a pass intended for Marcus Lucas.
  • Fullback Michael Zordich did not practice as he continued to rehab a torn ACL from last season. Guard Edmund Kugbila also did not practice. He has not for the entire OTA weeks.
  • Guard Chris Scott missed practice Wednesday. Rivera said it had to do with conditioning, health and “some other things.”

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on June 11, 2014 at 01:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

June 10, 2014

Greg Olsen picks up pizza tab for scouts


Panthers TE Greg Olsen with members of Pack and Troop 63 from Charlotte after Olsen surprised the scouts by buying their dinner last week.

NFL players picking up restaurant tabs has been a bad look since Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson recently tweeted a picture of a receipt from a $17,000 dinner the team's rookies were expected to pay.

But Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen generated some goodwill among a Charlotte boy scout troop last Friday when he took care of the scouts' bill at the Mellow Mushroom in uptown.

Tommy Lee Hayes-Brown, the cubmaster for Pack 63 from Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, said the scouts were eating pizza before heading to the Charlotte Knights game.

Olsen noticed the group on the outdoor patio, walked out and struck up a conversation. Unbeknownst to Hayes-Brown, Olsen then paid for the dinner for the group of 40 scouts, parents and siblings.

Hayes-Brown, who contacted the Observer about Olsen's gesture, estimated the tab was at least $500.

"I'm not into sports. I didn't know Greg Olsen from anyone and celebrity doesn't really impress me," Hayes-Brown said. "But what impresses me is people who care and want to make a difference."

Hayes-Brown, 48, who has four sons in scouting, said Olsen gave him his email address and told him to contact him if there was anything he could help with in the future.

"I'm a marketer by trade," Hayes-Brown said. "So when somebody says, 'Get in touch with me,' believe me they're going to hear from me."

Hayes-Brown has already been in touch with Olsen -- to thank him.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on June 10, 2014 at 02:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)