Football is back and fans all over the country couldn't be more excited. Right now it is just training camp, but preseason contests are right around the corner. If you haven't had the time to swallow bit by bit everything that has come through the media and the twitterverse regarding the Carolina Panthers camp experience so far, here is a summary to get you up to speed.
DE Kony Ealy - Concussion protocol; must pass NFL mandated testing before return.
CB Bene Benwikere - PUP; ankle. Still dealing with some effects of last season's injury.
CB Leonard Johnson - Achilles; signed while injured, Panthers knew he would miss time.
FB Devon Johnson - Back; unknown severity. Rivera says he is progressing but is going to see a specialist.
Stock Rising - Offense
WR Kelvin Benjamin - Showing no ill-effects from last season's knee injury, Benjamin showed up to camp having added 10 pounds of muscle and even on limited reps has proven his dominance hasn't missed a beat. He currently has the best catch of camp so far after elevating high above Kurt Coleman for a difficult long grab.
WR Devin Funchess - Not to be outdone by KB, Funchess is continuing his strong showing from mini-camp by proving he is grasping some of the more fine points of being an NFL receiver.
WR Stephen Hill - Now healthy and having benefitted from an entire year of competition with KB, is showing the raw playmaking ability that made him a second round pick out of Georgia Tech. His reps, like KBs, have been limited... but working with the backups he has clearly been in a class of his own working the deep routes.
RB Cameron Artis-Payne - The Panthers are looking for a young guy to establish himself as the firm #2 back behind Jonathan Stewart and potentially as the future of the position. So far in camp, Artis-Payne has shown great versatility both in his running between the tackles, his ability to create something out of nothing, and as a receiver out of the backfield. All those pieces in place, if he can show good blocking acumen the Panthers will feel very good about their backfield situation.
TE Beau Sandland - 7th round picks are not usually expected to make impacts in their first years if they make it at all. That being said, Beau Sandland appears to be ahead of the curve in his transition to the NFL. So far, he has proven to be Mr. Reliable when it comes to hauling in passes on a variety of routes with sure hands. There is no doubt he has one of the best position mentors in the league in Greg Olsen, it will be interesting to see if Beau can do enough to earn significant time with the ones.
Stock Falling - Offense
WR Keyarris Garrett - If you can't catch the football, you won't make the team. Keyarris has two drops that I know of so far in camp, and we know those weren't Cam Newton fastballs.
WR Damiere Byrd - Byrd, who after mini-camp had the inside track on pre-season MVP, is failing to make the splash plays he would be relied on for on deep routes. He let a touchdown pass slip through his hands. We already have a guy who can do that.
C Gino Gradkowski - Joining a new team can be tough on offensive linemen, particularly centers. The host of new terminology, along with unfamiliar players to the left and right of you is a lot to bear. I think Gino will be fine, but right now he is getting beat routinely.
OT David Foucalt - It is highly apparent to me, that this experiment is over. Foucalt is getting knocked to the ground by linebackers, and while Ben Jacobs is having a good camp so far... that is not good.
Stock Rising - Defense
CBs "The Three Amigos" James Bradberry, Daryl Worley, Zack Sanchez - I would say that the newly anointed trio has made a "plethora" of plays, and yes, I know what a plethora is. While it is the time of the defense to shine while the offense shakes off the rust, the encouraging signs from our young secondary are everywhere, which is far better than the alternative.
CB Lou Young - Not to be outdone by the rooks, Lou Young has made some strong plays in team drills, securing two PBUs to close out the team session yesterday.
LB Shaq Thompson - All due respect to Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly, but Shaq Thompson wants to ensure that his name is held in just as high a regard as those two. He is making the plays to prove it, with strong defense and coverage, a brilliant interception of Cam Newton, and a forced fumble on Mike Tolbert. The prospect of the Panthers having a third linebacker that is of the same quality as TD and LK has to be terrifying for the rest of the league.
DT Paul Soliai - Potentially just as terrifying as the prospect of a dominant Shaq Thompson in the LB core, is the addition of a mauling NT like Soliai to add to the interior line rotation. Soliai has been giving Andrew Norwell and Ryan Kalil all they can handle inside, and while the duo are doing a good job containing him, he is affecting plays in a significant way that will leave the rest of the line in likely one on one scenarios.
SS Kurt Coleman - While Kelvin Benjamin picked on him a bit... KB picks on everyone. Coleman, having been given a fresh contract extension has shown his eagerness to be a leader in this young secondary. He already has a pick in camp, and outside of his time pushing Benjamin's buttons, he's done a great job.
Stock Falling - Defense
CB Teddy Williams - I don't know of any particularly bad play, but reports are that he doesn't know how to act professionally in camp and tends to get a bit extra-curricular. For a guy who cost us yards last year for misconduct penalties, this has to stop.
Otherwise... DAT DEFENSE DOE!