Observations from Panthers OTA
May, 29, 2014
By David Newton | ESPN.com
A few observations from Wednesday, the first and only time this week the media will see the Carolina Panthers on the field during the third phase of offseason workouts:
- Quarterback Cam Newton stayed after practice to throw with first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin. That Newton was there in a jersey at all was surprising since the surgery on his left ankle was supposed to keep him off the field until training camp. Newton throwing to the 6-foot-5 Benjamin in particular was impressive because it shows he understands the importance of developing chemistry with the former Florida State standout as he prepares for his first season without Steve Smith and his other top three receivers from last season.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Bob LeveroneThe Panthers are looking to Kelvin Benjamin to help replenish their depleted receiving corps.
- Benjamin and cornerback James Dockery got into a mild scuffle. We were used to seeing that a lot with Smith, the team's all-time leading receiver. Nobody expected it from Benjamin, who is way more soft-spoken than Smith. But it showed some fire on both sides of the ball and was an example of what competition, something the Panthers hope breeds performance, will do for a team.
- Former safety Charles Godfrey, making the transition to cornerback, participated in individual drills. Godfrey continues to rehabilitate from a torn Achilles that ended his 2013 season in the second game. He didn't take part in team drills, but you could see why Carolina wanted him around the way he encouraged teammates as they came off the field. That he's doing that after taking more than a $4 million pay cut was impressive. He's a leader, and the team needs leaders like Godfrey to have a chance to repeat last year's 12-4 record. If they're lucky, they'll get a starting cornerback out of a player who played that position in college. He has all the physical tools to be a Richard Sherman type corner. He just needs time on the field.
- Rookie cornerback Bene Benwikere played nickel back. The coaching staff said he could step right into the competition with Godfrey for that spot. He looked up to the challenge with one interception and almost a second. When I asked coach Ron Rivera if there were any surprises so far, he couldn't get the name of the fifth-round pick from San Jose State out of his mouth fast enough.
- Byron Bell and Nate Chandler flip-flopped between left tackle. Bell is considered the front-runner to replace the retired Jordan Gross at a key position, but don't rule out Chandler. Rivera said the position is up for grabs and reminded that Chandler had nine quality starts at guard last season when nobody expected him to be a factor.
- Undrafted rookie wide receiver Philly Brown went deep for a score. The former Ohio State star may be small at 5-foot-11, but he's super fast. He's No. 16 on your program, and a player to watch out for as a sleeper in the wide receiver battle.
- Jerricho Cotchery already sounds like the veteran leader the Panthers hoped he would be when they signed him from Pittsburgh after letting Smith go. The 31-year-old looked far from washed up, making several nice catches in traffic. He's going to be a plus for this unit.
- Guard Amini Silatolu worked with the trainer on the sideline as he continues to rehabilitate his left knee. The Panthers need him to return at full strength at left guard to help solidify this line.
- Right guard Chris Scott left the field during team drills after becoming overheated. It was a reminder of how hot it will be in Spartanburg, South Carolina during training camp.
- The absence of cornerback Josh Norman. No worries. He had a dental appointment.
- Defensive end Greg Hardy seemed to not let his May 13 arrest on domestic violence charges affect his play. Regardless of the result of Hardy's criminal charges, the Panthers will need the player who has 26 sacks the past two seasons to sustain or improve the league's second-ranked defense.