A little later Jaxon will be giving you a detailed breakdown of what really stood out to us today in Spartanburg, but until then I have a more general look at what went right and wrong during today's session.
It was a great day for practice. The threat of thunderstorms was ever-present, but thankfully this cooled down the stadium nicely. Rather than holding practice on one of the practice fields at Wofford, we were inside the stadium which helped keep everything pleasant, and easy. The mood was fantastic. With the exception of a brief scuffle over a ball Cam Newton threw into the crowd a few rows in front of us, fans were engaged, intelligent, and friendly.
The session began with Brad Nortman and Nick Harris going through their punting drills. Initially Harris looked far better than the Panthers' rookie, but quickly it became apparent that the plan was to work on directional punting. When Nortman finally opened up and began to punt for distance it was a pretty stunning exhibition of punting. We were counting 50 yard punts, with an average of 5.5-6.0 second hang-time. Not only that, but he was punting with direction. It's clear than Nortman needs to work on getting the ball out faster, but it was impressive nonetheless.
What wasn't impressive was Olindo Mare. Following several offensive drills he was asked to kick in the 40-45 yard range where he went 3/5 with almost no pressure. One miss was wide right, the other hit the post on the left. Following those five kicks he was done for the day, and we didn't get to see Justin Medlock kick, who didn't look to have cleats on.
More after the jump
Now the nitty-gritty. The message for the day was 'rotation', and at times it was hard to keep track of all the switches-- especially at linebacker, cornerback, safety, and wide receiver. It appears the base defense will feature Luke Kuechly at middle linebacker, flanked by Beason and Anderson as expected. However, there were numerous times we saw Davis enter the lineup for Anderson. On other occasions Beason moved to middle linebacker, while Kuechly went to the weakside, but overall it looks like Beason/Kuechly/Anderson will be the backers.
At safety, time was split equally between Sherrod Martin and Haruki Nakamura. Thankfully Martin looks much improved this year. He always had the physical tools, but often looked like his instincts were lacking. On one play today he read Newton's eyes like a book, jumped the route, and came up with a big interception. Nakamura didn't have a landmark play, but he breaks on the ball very quickly and looked desperate to get into pads, you could tell he wanted to hit someone. Reggie Smith was working primarily with the third team, with Jordan Pugh with the second, so I think it's safe to start counting out Smith.
Chris Gamble sat out much of the day due to 'heat issues', something we found out after the fact. The players getting the lion's share of snaps were Josh Norman and Captain Munnerlyn. Norman has a huge amount of confidence, bordering on cockiness. Something that Steve Smith quickly abused as he burnt the rookie on a double move for a huge reception. Norman looks completely unafraid, and wanting to bump at the line of scrimmage. Given his size it should serve him well.
It's clear that Cam has a rapport with Louis Murphy. The two walked onto the field together, and when they weren't participating in drills they were chatting, and throwing the ball back and forth. During drills Murphy looked impressive as he made several really good catches.
Kealoha Pilares is poised to surprise Panthers fans. Today he was all over the offense. There were times he lined up in the slot, times he was a running back, times he ran the end around, and even on occasion where he was the Wildcat QB and handed the ball off to Cam Newton. It looks like he'll be a Swiss army knife, like Mike Tolbert, and used in a variety of situations.
Tolbert was as good as advertised. He has astoundingly soft hands as a receiver, and is a powerful one-cut runner. On field in shells he looked like someone in pads, and that was impressive. Also at RB Tauren Poole looked very good. Poole had the lion's share of carries at 3RB, and has a great feel for the game.
Quick thoughts on the rookies:
Kuechly: He is who we thought he is. You never would have guessed he was a rookie. With the exception of a big catch he allowed to Greg Olsen he was on point. An impressive INT capped off a great first day.
Silatolu: It's very difficult to get a sense for the offensive linemen when they're out of pads, but from what I saw he didn't look overwhelmed, and more than handled his job.
Adams: Muffed one punt late in the day, but had an amazing reception from Cam Newton, and looks deadly in space.
Alexander: Worked primarily with the second team at DE, and looked good. Had one play where he beat the tackle inside, and stuffed a Jonathan Stewart run. It was a great play.
Overall it was a really great day, and the players performed well. There is a different air surrounding this Panthers camp, and I'll be back at the practice tomorrow to bring you more from Spartanburg.