Carolina Panthers: Carolina Panthers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Anderson Russell.

Or is it Russell Anderson?

Even Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera has trouble keeping it straight.

[+] EnlargeAnderson Russell
Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY SportsAnderson Russell is working hard this preseason to make the Carolina Panthers' 53-man roster as a strong safety.
"Constantly," Rivera said after a late Tuesday afternoon practice. "I've got to remember A comes before R in the alphabet, so it's Anderson Russell."

The name may be confusing, but it's not so tough finding the strong safety with two first names on the field these days. He started Sunday night's 28-16 preseason win against Kansas City for the injured Roman Harper and was back working with the first team on Tuesday as Carolina prepares for a Friday night game at New England.

He's literally come out of nowhere to move ahead of Robert Lester on the unofficial depth chart.

The Panthers expect Harper (turf toe) to return soon. He missed most of training camp in Spartanburg, South Carolina, with the injury and hasn't practiced the past week and a half in Charlotte. He's doubtful for New England, which means he could get little to no playing time before the regular-season opener at Tampa Bay.

Rivera doesn't seem worried. Harper is a two-time Pro Bowl selection with eight years of experience with the New Orleans Saints before coming to Carolina in March. He went through all the offseason workouts and a June minicamp, so he knows the defense.

As Rivera reminded, the Panthers didn't sign the player -- Quintin Mikell -- that started at strong safety in last season's opener until the week before the game.

"I see Roman Harper in the same vein," Rivera said. "This is a very veteran guy that knows a lot of football. He's going to be OK."

Meanwhile, Russell has an opportunity he doesn't want to waste. If you haven't heard of him, you're not alone. And there's really not much to tell.

He was signed by the Washington Redskins as an undrafted rookie in 2010. He appeared in two games before suffering a season-ending ACL injury and was released before the 2011 season.

He was with the Miami Dolphins from September 2011 through November 2012. Carolina signed him and then released him before the end of the season.

He re-signed with Carolina in time for the 2013 training camp, but was released before the season. He started his third stint with the team in February.

The Panthers like him because he can play safety and nickel corner.

Russell simply is thankful for another opportunity.

"It's been a grind," he said. "It's been something I've worked on each and every day to do my job and try to show the coaches they can count on me. It's a thing day after day you have to build that trust with them."

That people have trouble with his name doesn't bother him.

"That's been happening my whole entire life, elementary school on up," he said. "You can't do anything but laugh."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- That the Carolina Panthers traded running back Kenjon Barner to the Philadelphia Eagles for a conditional seventh-round draft pick in 2015 shouldn't come as a surprise.

Barner's spot on the roster was shaky at best after the performances of Fozzy Whittaker and Darrin Reaves in the first two preseason games.

Whittaker, who originally signed with the Arizona Cardinals as an undrafted rookie in 2012, rushed for 71 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries in Sunday night's 28-16 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. He also caught one pass for 22 yards.

Reaves, an undrafted rookie, rushed for 19 yards and a touchdown in the exhibition opener against Buffalo.

With the top three backs set in DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert, only one or two spots were open at that position.

Whittaker and Reaves showed a tough, physical running style that the Panthers look for in their ball control offense. Barner didn't. He had 1 yard on eight carries in the opener and 18 yards on seven carries in the second game.

A sixth-round pick out of Oregon, where he played for current Eagles coach Chip Kelly, in 2013, he also struggled in pass protection.

Barner was competing as a kickoff and punt returner as well. But the Panthers want to give undrafted rookie wide receiver Philly Brown a hard look as the punt returner and there are others equally capable of returning kickoffs.

Getting a seventh-round pick was a bargain since Barner likely wouldn't have made the 53-man roster.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton will make his head coach much happier if he throws the ball away instead of scramble in Friday night's exhibition game at New England.

Newton scrambled three times in Sunday night's 28-16 victory against Kansas City, the first time he's faced an opponent since undergoing surgery on his left ankle in March.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsThe Panthers want to see less scrambling from Cam Newton, who underwent ankle surgery in March.
On at least two scrambles coach Ron Rivera screamed from the sideline "a few words I probably shouldn't have" for the franchise quarterback to go down.

"But that's him, that's who he is," Rivera said after Tuesday's practice. "He wants to compete and he wants to make something happen. It's his natural instincts. Throwing the ball away goes against everything that is ingrained in him in terms of being a competitor."

That aside, Rivera said there's nothing at the moment to keep Newton from playing at least the first half against the Patriots.

"No, unless we're absolutely awful and they're killing us," Rivera said. "I don't expect that to happen. I expect us to go out and be competitive with those guys and do our jobs.

"As the game goes and progresses, we'll decide how much longer we want to keep him in."

Newton started 1-for-5 passing for 5 yards against Kansas City, then completed three of his final four attempts for 60 yards to help Carolina to a 14-6 halftime lead.

"Truthfully, he was in for one more drive than I really wanted him to be," Rivera said. "But he was feeling good. The trainers felt confident about the ankle. The offensive line was playing well and he'd just come off the touchdown drive.

"I figured, 'What the heck, we'll give him one more.' Then when I told him he was done we got into an argument because he wanted to do the two-minute drill. I said, 'No, enough is enough.'"

Rivera's plan against the Chiefs was to treat it like the third preseason game when coaches normally play their starters for three quarters. His reasoning was the team has a short week to prepare for New England, and the bodies may not have recovered enough for maximum effort.

He and the staff haven't come up with a game plan for New England yet. But because Newton needs more repetitions in game situations to improve the timing with an entire new group of wide receivers, that will be a factor.

"We've increased his practice reps so he gets those reps," Rivera said. "We'll see how it is. But you can't simulate game speed."

Newton has done at least one thing to make Rivera happy. He showed for both sessions of treatments on Monday as he has throughout the rehabilitation process even though there were no ill effects from the game.

"I'm pretty fired up that he's doing the things he needs to do." Rivera said.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera reached deep into his limited French dialect to name Byron Bell as his starting left tackle.

"He's done such a good job, I'm going to say it's a fait accompli," Rivera said after Tuesday's rain-interrupted practice. "He and I will sit down and have a conversation about it. I'm going to talk to the coaches to make sure we're all set, we're all confident, we're all comfortable.

"[But] he's done a really nice job."

If you're not as versed in French as Rivera, "fait accompli" means an it's an accomplished fact.

That Bell won the job clears up one of the biggest questions entering training camp as the Panthers looked to replace the retired Jordan Gross. Bell, who started at right tackle the past three seasons after being signed in 2011 as an undrafted rookie out of New Mexico, won the job over Nate Chandler.

"He's done some stuff on the left side that he didn't do on the right side that have been impressive," Rivera said of Bell, reminding he is a natural left-hander. "His punch is a little better, his first step is a lot better. He's working off his left side.

"Having seen that, I have confidence he can do the job for us."

Chandler will start at right tackle unless the knee injury that kept him out of Tuesday's practice keeps flaring up as it occasionally has the past couple of weeks.

"Nate has done a great job, too," Rivera said. "Look at what our lines have done in the [preseason] games. We give up a sack or two here, but the thing that has been more than anything else is we've missed some protections rather than guys have been flat-out beaten.

"That's a positive."

The Panthers also have developed decent depth with veteran Garry Williams able to back up at both tackle and guard spots. Chris Scott, whose conditioning was an issue during offseason workouts, also has done well.

Scott replaced rookie Trai Turner (groin) with the first team at right guard on Tuesday. Rivera said it was too early to tell if Turner would be ready for Friday night's preseason game at New England.

"We've got a good group of guys right now," Rivera said. "Knock on wood, we've got some decent depth."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Most of the focus was on the throw when Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton overshot Kelvin Benjamin deep down the left sideline during Sunday's preseason win against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Overlooked was how wide open the rookie wide receiver was.

So I asked: Are you faster than most people think?

"Oh, I know I'm faster than they think," Benjamin said with a smile. "They just don't know it."

[+] EnlargeKelvin Benjamin
AP Photo/Chris KeanePanthers rookie Kelvin Benjamin isn't shy when it comes to bragging about his speed on the field.
One of the knocks on Benjamin in May's NFL draft was he lacked elite speed. His official time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine was 4.61, which was slower than the time of the top four outside linebackers in Indianapolis.

Because he's 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, Benjamin doesn't look like he's moving fast. But when he makes a good move as he did against the Chiefs' cornerback, he's deceptively fast.

He's far from the fastest Carolina wide receiver, though. The one thing the top three -- Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant -- lack is elite speed.

And the Panthers have a need for speed.

That's why they are giving Philly Brown, an undrafted rookie out of Ohio State, a shot to make the team as a receiver/punt returner. When you talk about raw speed, this 5-11, 180-pound dynamo has it.

His official 40 time at the combine wasn't impressive. It was listed as 4.51 seconds, which he disputes. He believes he's closer to the unofficial time of 4.37, and insists he's in the record book at Ohio State with a 4.3.

That might unofficially make him the fastest Carolina receiver -- or player. Wide receiver Tiquan Underwood was clocked at 4.31 in the 40 coming out of Rutgers, but you have to believe he's lost a step or two since 2009.

To be fair, since I asked Benjamin about his speed, I asked Brown if he was Carolina's fastest player.

"Absolutely," he said.

He smiled, too. Players apparently smile a lot when talking about their speed.

You're probably more familiar with Benjamin since Carolina made him the 28th selection of the draft. You're probably not as familiar with Brown.

Here are a few things you should know. Only his mother calls him Corey. Everyone else calls him Philly, the name given to him as a freshman at Ohio State by then-coach Jim Tressel because he had two other Corey Browns on the roster. Since he was from Philadelphia, it stuck.

He led the Big Ten in punt-return average (12.3 yards) as a junior, a number Carolina coach Ron Rivera mentioned before giving Brown a chance to return punts against the Chiefs.

He's also versatile.

"I'm a guy that can punt return, kick return, play offense and do whatever else you want me to do," Brown said. "I can hold up the gunner and I can play the gunner. I think they like that I'm versatile, and I'm willing to do it. Wherever they put me, I'm just going."

But what Brown brings to the table more than anything is speed. The Panthers need speed, particularly at the wide receiver spot despite Benjamin being so sneaky fast.

"Those guys are great receivers, they do all the other things that I'm trying to learn how to do," Brown said. "They know how to control their speed, get in and out of breaks. But obviously, any team can use speed.

"Speed kills at any level."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Most of football fans probably missed Fozzy Whittaker's big moment on Sunday night.

Most of those who attended the Carolina Panthers' 28-16 exhibition win over Kansas City left soon after halftime. Afterall, auarterback Cam Newton and his highly-publicized left ankle had completed his preseason debut unscathed and the injury-plagued Jonathan Stewart had reached the end zone for the first time since 2012.

Many watching on television probably had turned to the local news or had gone to sleep.

[+] EnlargeCarolina's Fozzy Whittaker
AP Photo/Mike McCarnFozzy Whittaker had 13 carries for 71 yards and a touchdown as well as a 22-yard reception against the Chiefs.
Newton didn't miss Whittaker's moment, though.

When Whittaker hauled in a third-and-8 pass from third-string quarterback Joe Webb and took it 22 yard for a first down in front of the Carolina bench, Newton bounced along the sideline with a smile so big you'd have thought he made the play.

"To see him out there competing and running as hard as he did, man, it's just a show of a person showing resilience, being very optimistic about his opportunity," Newton said.

Newton's excitement stemmed from Whittaker standing up during a meeting among offensive players earlier that day.

"He said, 'Well, I don't know how long I'm going to be here, but with the opportunity I'm going get, I'm going to show unbelievable effort,' " Newton recalled. "He's not a hypocrite. He did an unbelievable job with showing what he can bring to the table as a running back."

Indeed. Whittaker had the kind of preseason game NFL hopefuls dream about. He led the team in rushing with 71 yards on 13 carries, including a 1-yard touchdown run with 18 seconds left in the third quarter that put Carolina comfortably ahead.

But no play he made stood out more than the 22-yard catch and run that exemplified the effort coaches are looking for in camp.

Whittaker (5-10, 205) literally has gone from an afterthought to a candidate to make the final 53-man roster and get out of the temporary locker room that has been set up for long-shots in the player's lounge.

If he's as physical as a blocker as he is as a runner, he could move ahead of 2013 sixth-round pick Kenjon Barner, who has struggled as a runner and in pass protection.

If you're wondering where Whittaker came from, let me tell you. He attended Texas and was signed to the Arizona Cardinals practice squad as an undrafted rookie in 2012. He was released in March of 2013 and claimed off waivers by San Diego, which released him in September.

He then was claimed by Cleveland, which released him in May of 2014.The Panthers picked him up on July 27 after rookie running back Tyler Gaffney suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Whittaker's real first name is Foswhitt. It's a compromise because his dad, Foster, wanted a junior and his mom didn't. So they took the Fos from Foster and fused it with Whitt from Whittaker.

Foswhitt morphed into Fozzy.

That sometimes turns into jokes. Whittaker can't tell you how many times he's been pictured with Fozzie Bear of The Muppets. He's also been called "The Fonze" in reference to the Henry Winkler character on "Happy Days."

"I don't feel like anybody is being disrespectful in that kind of instance," Whittaker said earlier in camp. "They're just having fun."

Newton had fun watching Whittaker on Sunday night. Whittaker had fun getting a chance to prove he deserves a roster spot.

And he'll do anything to get it.

"I want to show that I'm versatile," he said. "I don't just want to be featured offensively. I want to play on all the special teams. I want to be a guy they can depend on all aspects."

"To help the team win is the No. 1 goal for me, wherever it is on the field."

Whittaker helped the Panthers win on Sunday night, but most of America missed it.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Versatility is one of the attributes that makes Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton so valuable. It's the reason so much focus was placed on his surgically repaired left ankle during the offseason.

The ankle is fine.

Newton showed that by scrambling -- maybe a few more times than he or coach Ron Rivera wanted him to -- during Sunday night's 28-16 preseason victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsCam Newton tested his ankle against the Chiefs and made it through the game unscathed.
The confidence that makes Newton's physical attributes more valuable is fine, too.

When asked if the return of a healthy Jonathan Stewart to the ground game might make it less necessary for him to use his legs this season, the fourth-year quarterback went into a humorous dissertation about all of his job qualifications.

"Man, I am trying to win football games,'' said Newton, who has rushed for more yards (2,032) and touchdowns (28) than any NFL quarterback the past three seasons.

"If that is saying, 'Cam, do quarterback sneak every play; Cam, hand the ball off; [Cam], run 20 yards down field like a chicken with his head cut off'; Cam, drop back and throw the ball out of bounds; Cam, go block; Cam, go get somebody water; Cam, ask questions like a reporter; Cam, film the game' ... whatever is asked of me to do, I'm trying to do whatever it takes to win the football game.''

Newton didn't say it, but he's tired of being asked about his ankle and how much he will run this season. He answered that emphatically during the first half of his first live action since his March surgery, spinning and scrambling like he has done his entire career.

He didn't force the issue to the point he tried to run for a first down. He admittedly scrambled too much on one play.

But that was a positive because he walked away without pain.

"Just regaining confidence I had in my ankle,'' Newton said. "I know I had surgery. Everyone knows I had surgery. It’s a constant buildup. I haven’t pressed the throttle all the way down to the floor until today, trying to see how much I can do.

"It was kind of like a shock at first. But after I didn't feel pain .... It's one thing where you’ve got to tell your mind that you’re not hurt.''

It's another to test it and realize you're going to be able to do all the things you did before. Now Newton can focus on regaining the consistency that helped elevate him to a status just under the elite quarterbacks last season.

"Right now, I'm at a point where it can't be flashes no more,'' he said. "It has to be an every-down mentality to move the ball forward.''

That means not missing rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin when he's wide open down the left sideline as Newton did on the third of his five series. Newton called that and his slow start "unacceptable.''

The slow start, at least, shouldn't have come as a surprise. Newton had been held back like a kid not allowed to participate in recess since the surgery. He was anxious -- maybe too anxious.

When he's anxious, he often overthrows receivers.

That he was working with a rebuilt offensive line and a new group of receivers added to the anxiousness.

"He just came to me [before the game] and said, 'I'm a little revved up,' '' Benjamin said. "We were expecting him to be revved up.''

But Newton settled down. After starting 1-for-5 passing for 5 yards, he completed three of his next four passes for 60 yards. He didn't throw an interception, although one telegraphed pass should have been.

And he didn't reinjure the ankle.

"Once he settled in and started to move you saw him gain confidence and he made plays,'' Rivera said.

Rivera thought of pulling Newton after the fourth series. He admittedly was nervous watching Newton spinning out of trouble.

"We’re always concerned about him because that’s who he is,'' Rivera said. "He wants to win and will do what he can to win and will worry about it later.''

And that's ultimately what makes Newton so valuable.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith likes being a bully. He admitted in a recent interview that he may be a better fit for his new team, citing a quote from the Baltimore Ravens defensive meeting room.

"Play like a Raven, Baltimore Ravens, we build bullies," Carolina's all-time leading receiver told

Carolina coach Ron Rivera doesn't want to build bullies.

Rivera says one reason the Panthers lost last season's NFC divisional playoff game 23-10 to San Francisco was because they lost their composure, drawing three personal foul penalties for basically bullying the 49ers.

[+] EnlargeRon Rivera
Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images"If we're going to be a playoff team, we've got to do those things the right way and we've got to be able to handle it," coach Ron Rivera said.
He's trying to make sure it doesn't happen again.

So on Sunday night when Rivera saw first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin flip the ball at Kansas City's Chris Owens and subsequently draw a 15-yard penalty for head-butting the cornerback on the sideline, he stepped in for a lengthy lecture with the player that has replaced Smith as the No. 1 receiver.

"What we want guys to understand is that we have to maintain our composure on the football field," Rivera said. "That’s why we lost in the playoffs. It started with me. I made the mistake of getting caught up in that emotion. We have to learn how to control that."

Rivera was more proactive when Carolina cornerback Josh Norman got into a jawing match with wide receiver Dwayne Bowe in the second quarter of the 28-16 victory. The fourth-year Carolina coach immediately pulled Norman from the game even though he hadn't drawn a penalty.

Linebacker Thomas Davis helped drive home Rivera's message. As Bowe and Norman got into each other's faces, he got between them and pushed Norman away.

"If we’re going to be a playoff team, we’ve got to do those things the right way and we’ve got to be able to handle it," Rivera said. "When we see it, we pull guys to the side and try to get that corrected. We’re not going to play that way. We’re going to play smart football."

Rivera seemed more upset with Norman than he was with Benjamin because Norman has been around longer and should know better.

Benjamin is a rookie playing in his second preseason game. He hasn't had a history, at least in practice, of bullying defensive backs.

Rivera doesn't want it to become a habit as it was with Smith, who was released in March in part because some of his bullying -- with the opposition and teammates -- was a distraction to the team.

"I told Kelvin that this is going to happen, a guy is going to try to get inside your head and get you to play outside of your game," Rivera said. "I told him that when they start doing that it’s because they know you can do some good things. You’ll learn how to handle it and learn how to be graceful about it and keep going forward."

Benjamin admitted he made a mistake and let Owens bate him into losing his cool by "talking, just being a defensive player."

But Rivera also understand there's a time when a player has to "stand up for yourself"' if another player is trying to intimidate you.

"There’s a point where you have to draw a line and a guy has to understand that if you do this and continue to do this, then I’m going to draw a line in the sand," he said. "I told [Benjamin] that if you want to go get back at somebody, just go make a play."

Benjamin made a couple of nice plays, catching a 24-yard pass from starting quarterback Cam Newton over the middle to start Carolina's second scoring drive and a 17-yarder over the middle from backup Derek Anderson.

Both were in traffic. Both showed he can make the physical catch.

His 15-yard penalty took Carolina out of field goal range late in the half.

"That's something I've got to learn from," he said.

Norman made some nice, physical plays as well as he fights to remain among the top three cornerbacks. Although he seemingly didn't see anything wrong with the jawing that got him yanked -- "What do you want us to be out there, little puppets?" -- he understands the importance of control.

Rivera wants control. He wants his team to play smart.

He doesn't want to build bullies.
Examining the Carolina Panthers' roster:

Joe Webb was signed to simulate the things Cam Newton did while the franchise quarterback recovered from offseason ankle surgery. Newton has been turned loose to run the read option in practice and his ankle looked strong as he scrambled three times in Sunday night's win against Kansas City, which makes Webb expendable.


The top three are a given and Barner is a candidate to return kicks, in addition to his running back duties. The concern with Barner is blocking, at which he's struggled. Darrin Reaves was looking good before he suffered a setback with a minor knee injury. He might have pushed Barner for a job. Undrafted rookie Fozzy Whittaker may be making a late push.


Brenton Bersi may have nailed down a spot with his two clutch catches, one for a touchdown, against the Chiefs. The battle for the final spot is tightening with undrafted rookies Philly Brown and Marcus Lucas starting to make plays. The Panthers love the speed of Tiquan Underwood, but he continues to show a tendency to drop passes. I previously had Kealoha Pilares in the top six because he was the leading kickoff retuner, but the desire to get a closer look at Brown moved him temporarily into that spot.


Normally, I would say four players here, but the Panthers plan to run a lot of two-tight-end sets and Brockel also doubles as a fullback. Williams was a wild card early, but has shown he deserves a spot. McNeil sprained his right knee against Buffalo and hasn't practiced since, so that could change the picture here. He was brought in primarily as a blocker. He'd be the bubble guy now.


The left tackle job is Bell's. The rest of the front line also appears set, barring injury. The key here is flexibility. Williams and Chandler can play tackle or guard. Turner can play guard and backup center. Folkerts can play center and guard. A player to keep an eye on is undrafted rookie David Foucault, who has been working with the second team at left tackle. He could slip into the mix if the Panthers don't keep McNeil at tight end.


DE Frank Alexander should be on here. He has had a great preseason, earning coach Ron Rivera's vote as the MVP of camp in Spartanburg, South Carolina. But he will be suspended for the first four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy. He will return to the 53-man roster in October.


Again, flexibility is key. Blackburn, who missed Sunday's game with a back injury, can step in and replace Kuechly if he ever had to come off the field. Many of these players will be on special teams. D.J. Smith could figure into the mix.


Safety-turned-cornerback Godfrey appears the choice at nickel. The Panthers restructured his contract to keep him on the roster and really love his leadership. If he improves, there will be some tough cuts. Norman is showing his usual preseason flare. Josh Thomas could be odd man out.


The turf toe that has kept Harper out of the first two preseason games and most of practice will become a concern if he doesn't return soon. The good thing about having Godfrey at cornerback is he could move back to safety in case of an emergency. It doesn't appear that fourth-round pick Tre Boston, who has been hampered by injuries, will figure into the mix. But Anderson Russell, who started for Harper against Kansas City, may be a factor.


These positions are set, barring an injury.

Observation Deck: Carolina Panthers

August, 17, 2014
Aug 17

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers for most of the first quarter of Sunday night's 28-16 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs looked like the team many predict will take a big fall in 2014.

And then they didn't.

With quarterback Cam Newton finally getting into a rhythm in his first preseason game since undergoing left ankle surgery in March, the Panthers went into halftime with a 14-6 lead after both teams played their first string.

Newton didn't do anything spectacular and missed rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin wide open early down the left sideline. But the ankle held up as he scrambled three times, and he completed three of his final four pass attempts for 60 yards.

Overall, it was a positive first step. Here are some other thoughts on the Panthers’ second preseason game of the year:
  • A few more thoughts on Newton, who finished 4-of-9 for 65 yards. It had to be a confidence-builder for him and the coaching staff that he spun out of trouble under a heavy rush before going down. If this was a regular-season game, he might have turned one or two into positive yards. The ankle looks good to go.
  • As much as Newton's return was anticipated, the return of running back Jonathan Stewart also spoke volumes. Stewart has been hampered by ankle injuries the past two seasons, and he entered training camp with a hamstring injury. But he looked stronger and more fluid than ever in rushing for touchdowns of 2 and 3 yards, his first time in the end zone since late in the 2012 season. His presence as an inside threat brings back visions of 2009, when he and DeAngelo Williams became known as "Double Trouble.''
  • Benjamin made two tough catches over the middle, one from Newton and one from backup Derek Anderson, to further he is a legitimate No. 1 receiver. He also made a rookie mistake, head-butting the defender late in the first half after making a spectacular catch out of bounds. That earned him a good talking to from coach Ron Rivera.
  • The defense started off slow for the second straight week, with the secondary looking shaky at best. But the Chiefs were held to two field goals, and the Panthers tightened things up in the second quarter. Cornerbacks Antoine Cason, Melvin White and Josh Norman made big plays.
  • The offensive line still has some question marks. Newton was sacked twice and Anderson once in the first half. Right tackle Nate Chandler struggled some early and was replaced by veteran Garry Williams for a series. Williams gave up a sack. Left tackle Byron Bell, however, held his own.
  • Kenjon Barner looked good on a 32-yard kickoff return, which might seal the fate of wide receiver Keahola Pilares, who did not play. Barner still is scary in pass blocking, allowing the defender to get past him almost untouched to sack Anderson.
  • Brenton Bersin's touchdown catch in the third quarter and an earlier catch in which he went low against good coverage might have solidified his spot as the fourth or fifth receiver.

Newton: Slow start unacceptable

August, 17, 2014
Aug 17
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Trailing the Kansas City Chiefs 3-0 late in the first quarter, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin wide open down the left sideline.

He overthrew him.

That play aside, Newton's first preseason game after undergoing left ankle surgery in March had to be deemed a success.

The ankle looked strong as Newton was pressured to scramble three times and sacked twice. He engineered two second-quarter touchdowns drives, completing three of his final four pass attempts for 60 yards after starting 1-of-5 for 5 yards.

But for Newton, it was the ragged start and the missed pass to the 6-foot-5 Benjamin that stood out.

"We had a slow start, which is unacceptable,'' Newton said at the half with Carolina leading 14-6. "We have to stay on schedule and not waste opportunities like the shot to Benji [Benjamin]. Kansas City is a good football team and we didn't match their intensity early, but it was good to put a few drives together and score some points."

The Panthers have been cautious with Newton in his rehabilitation. He was held out of the preseason opener against Buffalo. Coach Ron Rivera said he would pull the former Heisman Trophy winner after the first quarter if he was under a heavy pass rush.

Despite pressure which forced Newton to spin out of trouble a couple of times and throw the ball away another, Rivera stuck with him.

"It felt good to get out there and get some time in the huddle,'' Newton said. "We have to go back to work and get better.''

But this was a good start.

W2W4: Carolina Panthers

August, 17, 2014
Aug 17
The Carolina Panthers (0-1) face the Kansas City Chiefs (1-0) on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET at Bank of America Stadium.

Here are three things to watch for during the game:
  • Quarterback watch: Cam Newton will get his first test of the preseason after sitting out the opener. He will play at least the first quarter and into the second if the offensive line is giving him adequate protection. He is showing no ill effects from offseason surgery on his left ankle and was turned loose to run the read-option a week ago in practice. He won't run the read-option against the Chiefs. He will do as little running as possible as the Panthers want to remain cautious. The key is to take the chemistry Newton has shown with his new receivers in practice into the game -- particularly with first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin. Their college teams aside, Newton and Benjamin have developed a close bond off the field, and they're anxious to establish that in games. Benjamin is a big target at 6-foot-5, and Newton has had no hesitation giving him chances to make catches in practice.
  • Double trouble: Starting running back DeAngelo Williams was given the night off for the preseason opener, and backup Jonathan Stewart was nursing a hamstring injury. Both will play Sunday, the first time they have both been this healthy at the same time in a few seasons. Because they give Carolina a nice change of pace with their running styles, Williams more the outside threat and Stewart the power runner, it will be interesting to see how they work behind basically a new offensive line. The Panthers want to establish the ball control offense that was a big part of last season's success. These two will be key to that.
  • Got a nickel: Safety-turned-cornerback Charles Godfrey was exposed big time in the preseason opener, surrendering a 32-yard catch on Buffalo's first possession. He and cornerback Antoine Cason say there was a breakdown in communication and that it has been fixed. Godfrey is key to the defense playing at the level it did a season ago when it ranked second in the league. If he can make the transition from safety to nickelback and effectively shut down the opponent's big receiver in the slot -- not to mention bring the heat on blitzes -- there shouldn't be a drop-off. In practice he is still showing inconsistency in coverage, and he hasn't done well on one-on-one drills rushing the passer.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The first round of cuts are more than a week away and Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has yet to play in his first preseason game, so questions remain. I'm here to answer them for you. Let's get straight to my Saturday mailbag: @DNewtonESPN: Can't he test his left ankle in his first preseason game Sunday night against the Kansas City Chiefs before we talk either? Guess not. I think I get where you're going with this, and as Newton would say, "I'm not going there." Listen, Newton is all about winning. Going 6-10 and 7-9 in his first two seasons left a taste in his mouth he never wants to experience again. He understands you get more attention with victories than you do with losses. I'm not suggesting he wouldn't be thrilled by an MVP trophy, but given the choice I can say without doubt he would want to get to the Super Bowl and win. I'll go so far as to say he'd rather get to the Super Bowl and lose than get the MVP. Does that mean he doesn't have a big ego as you might have been hinting at in the question? Not at all. Few who play the game at a high level don't have a big ego. But losing humbles you, and Newton doesn't care to be humbled again. The best indication of that is he's not making a big deal about a new contract. He would rather the team spend money and effort to surround him with players that can help him win instead of breaking the bank and losing.

@DNewtonESPN: Well, they're off to a solid start with 2014 first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin. From what I've seen in training camp and his first preseason touchdown, he is going to be special. As the Panthers said when they drafted him, you can't coach 6-5, 240. Free-agent acquisitions Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant are 31, to they're stopgaps as the Nos. 2 and 3 receivers. But they're good stopgaps, particularly surrounded by Benjamin with tight ends Greg Olsen and Ed Dickson. What Carolina needs is a speed guy, somebody to stretch the field and run those quick underneath routes. They were hoping Tiquan Underwood would fill that role. He hasn't been consistent enough. Undrafted rookie wideout Philly Brown has shown potential, but he's a year or two away from being dependable. That guy could be a target for next year's draft or free agency.

@DNewtonESPN: I really don't see one as there were last year when the team signed safety Quintin Mikell and guard Travelle Wharton late in camp, and those were forced by injuries. The only position would be a punt returner/fifth-or-sixth receiver. Everything else appears set.

@DNewtonESPN: Certainly, but that is not the plan. Carolina likes the speed Charles Godfrey brings to the nickel corner spot, and the potential he has blitzing out of that. Now that could change if the turf toe that has kept strong safety Roman Harper out of practice for most of the preseason threatens to sideline him for regular-season games. Even then, the Panthers have a young player in Robert Lester they like.

@DNewtonESPN: I'm not convinced wide receiver Kealoha Pilares will make the roster simply as a kickoff returner. If he doesn't step it up as a receiver, I suspect he won't. That's why Philly Brown will get a good audition against Kansas City on punt and kickoff returns. He's shown flashes as a receiver. The Panthers need somebody with his speed who can stretch the field. They can spend time grooming him there if he proves worthy of returning kicks.

@DNewtonESPN: Sunday night's game will tell us a lot. As I mentioned above, Philly Brown is a player the team wants to check out. If he doesn't prove worthy, you very well could see that position filled by somebody on another team's roster. 
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- If you need more proof that the Carolina Panthers have found a true No. 1 receiver in rookie Kelvin Benjamin, recent practices are a good indication.

The Panthers are putting the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Benjamin in more situations that No. 1 receivers expect on game day in terms of the coverage he will receive.

"We've done some things defensively to put him in situations where he's being jammed, where he's being pressed, he's being doubled, he's being rolled to,'' coach Ron Rivera said on Friday. "He's going to have to get used to it.''

Benjamin showed what he can do against single coverage in last week's preseason opener against Buffalo. He caught a 29-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Derek Anderson in which he stumbled on the heel of the defender, gathered himself and made a spectacular diving catch in the end zone as he rolled to the ground.

Now that opponents are seeing what the Carolina coaches are seeing in practice, Benjamin is sure to attract more attention. That's why the Panthers are throwing more at him in practice.

"He's done pretty well,'' Rivera said. "It's probably a little different from what he experienced in college. But still, in this game, it really is a matter of how you handle it and he's done well.''

The Panthers selected Benjamin with the hope that he could replace Steve Smith as the team's top receiver. Smith, 35, was released in March and subsequently signed with Baltimore.

Some questioned whether Benjamin ran good enough routes or had enough big-time experience as a college junior to step right into the No. 1 role. Wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl recently told that Benjamin was more than capable.

"It's obvious,'' he said.

Benjamin has accepted the challenge. He expects more press and double-team coverage in Sunday night's exhibition game against Kansas City, when he'll work with starting quarterback Cam Newton for the first time.

Newton and Benjamin have developed a bond off the field and in practice they hope carries over to big catches in games. If teams try to take him away, Benjamin isn't worried.

"Oh, yeah,'' he said. "If that happens, I just need my others receivers to step it up, and I'll clear it out for them.''

That's what Benjamin brings to this offense. If defenses focus on him, that opens the field not only for the other wide receivers but for tight ends Greg Olsen and Ed Dickson.

"Listen, I will never complain about having wide receivers [who] can get down the field and keep those safeties wide,'' said Olsen, who led the team in catches last season. "The tighter those safeties get, my day gets harder and harder. There's a lot of guys sometimes in the middle of the field.''

And if teams double down on Olsen, that opens man coverage for Benjamin.

"It's going to be interesting when we're all out there together,'' Olsen said. "It's hard to predict what other teams are going to want to do.''

So the Panthers are preparing him for everything.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that made its way to the Carolina Panthers' practice field on Friday has a deeper meaning for coach Ron Rivera than most.

Rivera will get doused on Saturday in memory of ex-University of California teammate/roommate Paul Najarian after being challenged by nine-time Pro Bowl safety John Lynch.

Najarian lost a long battle with ALS on June 23 at the age 52. He visited Rivera in December 2012 at a point when the then-second-year Carolina coach was going through a tough time professionally.

In an email to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Rivera wrote: “He always had something encouraging to say to me my first two seasons as a head coach. He implored upon me to stick to my beliefs and never waver. I found strength in his words. But, when he told me he had ALS, I found even more strength. Here was my friend who was battling ALS, and he was imploring upon me to stay strong. That meant a lot.''

Rivera went from 6-10 and 7-9 during his first two seasons to 12-4 and the NFL Coach of the Year in 2013.

“Upon seeing him for the first time with ALS I was stunned,'' Rivera continued in his email. "I was even more taken by the fact that he had lost his voice. Paul had this big gregarious voice and laugh. It was gone, but not his spirit. He could only communicate by writing or trying to make hand gestures. I understood him for the most part and the one thing that stood out to me about him was he was worried about me.

“Paul and I were more than teammates. He and I were roommates our senior year. Over the years we stayed in touch throughout my playing and coaching careers. Paul was more than a teammate, roommate and friend, he was a Golden Bear. He was our brother. He is loved and missed.”

For those who have missed this campaign that has taken the country by storm, the ALS has more than quadrupled its donations in 2014 thanks to athletes and celebrities who have agreed to be doused with a bucket of ice water and make donations.

Carolina running backs Mike Tolbert, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart were the first to partake on Friday, followed by tight end Greg Olsen, backup quarterback Derek Anderson, linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, and mascot Sir Purr.

Rivera will be doused Saturday on camera for Fox Sports, which is televising Sunday night's exhibition game between Carolina and Kansas City at Bank of America Stadium.

Lynch is a color commentator for Fox.

"It's got some personal meaning to me,'' Rivera said. "So I'm honored John Lynch called me out on it and I'm going to most certainly call a couple of people out as well.''