Carolina Panthers: brenton bersin

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The NFL is a full week into free agency, so let’s see how the Carolina Panthers have spent their money.

Counting the 14 players who were signed, re-signed or had their contracts extended, the Panthers have spent $20,044,166 of their 2015 salary cap.

To put that in perspective, they spent $13.1 million in 2014 cap space by franchising defensive end Greg Hardy. The 2013 Pro Bowl selection played only one game because of his domestic violence case.

The Panthers have spent more than $20 million in signing bonuses, with $12 million of that going to Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen when he signed a three-year extension.

But in extending Olsen they dropped his cap hit from $7.8 million to $6.3 million in 2015.

Eight of the contracts were for two or three years, so management won’t have to worry about those deals until at least 2017. Only four of the players came from other teams, so that shows the importance the Panthers placed on continuity.

Here is a complete look at the breakdown:

  • TE Greg Olsen: Extended, 3 years at $22.5 million with a $12 million signing bonus.

2015 cap hit: $6,300,000

  • OT Michael Oher: Signed a 2-year deal at $7 million with a $2.5 million signing bonus.

2015 cap hit: $2,421,875

  • WR Ted Ginn Jr.: Signed a 2-year deal at $4.2 million with a $1.7 million signing bonus.

2015 cap hit: $1,850,000

  • DT Dwan Edwards: Re-signed, 2-year deal at $4 million with a $1 million signing bonus.

2015 cap hit: $1,750,000

  • TE Ed Dickson:Re-signed, 3-year deal at $6.8 million with a $2 million signing bonus.

2015 cap hit: $1,516,666

  • S Kurt Coleman: Signed a 2-year deal at $2.8 million with $600,000 signing bonus.

2015 cap hit: $1,290,625.

  • CB Teddy Williams: Signed a 2-year deal at $2.3 million with a $220,000.

2015 cap hit: $680,000

  • DT Colin Cole: Re-signed, 1-year deal at $1,050,000 with an $80,000 signing bonus

2015 cap hit: $665,000

  • QB Joe Webb: Re-signed, 1-year deal at $825,000 with an $80,000 signing bonus.

2015 cap hit: $665,000

  • OL Chris Scott: Re-signed ,1-year deal at $825,000 with an $80,000 signing bonus.

2015 cap hit: $665,000

  • RB Fozzy Whittaker: Re-signed , 2-year deal at $1,360,000 with a $50,000 signing bonus.

2015 cap hit: $635,000

  • LB Ben Jacobs: Re-signed, 1-year deal at $585,000.

2015 Dhit: $585,000

2015 cap hit: $510,000

2015 cap hit: $510,000

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- For those in a panic because the Carolina Panthers have been relatively quiet since free agency began late Tuesday afternoon, general manager Dave Gettleman never said he would spend big money on big names.

He simply said the Panthers no longer had to shop at the "Dollar Store" because of an improved salary cap situation. He said the team would be able to move up in class a little bit.

It has in terms of contracts.

After dealing with many one-year deals with low signing bonuses the past two seasons to clear up a disastrous salary cap situation, the Panthers have signed five players to multi-year deals that include a combined $7.25 million in signing bonuses.

They also locked up Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen through 2018, signing him to a three-year extension worth $22.5 million with a $12 million signing bonus.

The Panthers haven’t been as cheap as they were forced to be in Gettlemen’s first two seasons. They’ve just chosen to spend much of their money on re-signing key players.

Gettleman still is content with pursuing free agents that for the most part are young with potential, such as former Green Bay wide receiver Jarrett Boykin, who was in for a visit on Wednesday. He believes in building through the draft and filling in gaps with free agency.

Building in free agency seldom works, anyway. Just look at Tampa Bay. The Bucs already have cut defensive end Michael Johnson and offensive tackle Anthony Johnson, both big free agent signings a year ago.

If the market settles down and Gettleman can get a veteran for a reasonable price to fill a specific need, that still could happen.

Regardless, the Panthers still are spending at a higher rate than they did a year ago. The biggest deal Carolina offered during the 2014 free agency was a two-year, $5 million contract to wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery that included a $2.25 million signing bonus.

Most of Carolina’s salary cap room went to franchising defensive end Greg Hardy for $13.1 million. That didn’t work out well as Hardy played one game after being arrested on domestic violence charges in May.

Now he’s on the market.

Gettleman has a plan. It doesn’t include the "Dollar Store," and as he added it won’t include "Tiffany’s." He’s spending his money judiciously, saving enough to sign quarterback Cam Newton to a long-term deal and perhaps sooner-than-later the same for middle linebacker Luke Kuechly.

But he is spending. Here’s a look at what he’s done so far in free agency:
  • OT Michael Oher: Two-year deal worth $7 million with a $2.5 million signing bonus.
  • WR Ted Ginn Jr.: Two-year deal worth $4.2 million with a $1.7 million signing bonus.
  • TE Ed Dickson: Re-signed for three years at $6.8 million with a $2 million bonus.
  • DT Dwan Edwards: Re-signed for two years at $4 million with a $1 million signing bonus.
  • RB Fozzy Whittaker: Signed the exclusive rights free agent for two years at $1.36 million with a $50,000 signing bonus.
  • DT Colin Cole: Re-signed for one year at $1,050,000 with an $80,000 signing bonus. Cap number only $665,000.
  • QB Joe Webb: Re-signed for one year at $825,000 with an $80,000 signing bonus.

The Panthers also re-signed to one-year deals exclusive rights free agents Brenton Bersin (WR), Ben Jacobs (LB) and Brian Folkerts (OL), and restricted free agent Chris Scott (OL).

No big names.

But Gettleman never said he would spend on big names.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers were busy Monday shoring up the wide receiver position for 2015, but they're probably not done.

Carolina agreed to terms with free agent Ted Ginn Jr. and signed exclusive rights free agent Brenton Bersin to a one-year deal.

Bersin
Ginn
Ginn
But neither is considered an elite No. 2 receiver to play opposite Kelvin Benjamin, last year's No. 1 pick.

Look for the Panthers to add another wide receiver with elite speed in the NFL draft and/or free agency in their effort to give quarterback Cam Newton more weapons.

It's a continuation of a rebuilding process that began after the Panthers parted last offseason with their top four wide receivers from the 2013 season.

Here's a look at Carolina's wide receivers as of Monday morning:
  • Kelvin Benjamin: The No. 28 pick in the 2014 draft, he led Carolina wide receivers in receptions this past season with 73 for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns. A solid possession receiver who can make outstanding catches.
  • Jerricho Cotchery: Signed a two-year deal in free agency last season and currently is the highest-paid (pending what Ginn got) wide receiver on the roster with a $1.95 million 2015 cap number. Fills the role of a No. 3 or 4 receiver, but nothing more.
  • Ted Ginn Jr.: Returning to Carolina after struggling last season with the Arizona Cardinals, who released him to save $2.5 million under the salary cap. He had 36 catches for 556 yards and five touchdowns with Carolina in 2013, his best since season 2008 with Miami. A deep threat that may be more valuable as a kick returner.
  • Philly Brown: An undrafted rookie who emerged late last season as a deep threat. He caught 21 passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns. He's still not a proven commodity.
  • Brenton Bersin: A sure-handed receiver who caught 13 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown last season. Not much more than a role player at this point.
  • Stephen Hill: A second-round pick by the Jets in 2012, he was signed to Carolina's practice squad last season after being released by New York. Had 45 catches for 594 yards and four touchdowns in two seasons with New York. An intriguing project.
  • Mike Brown: Signed to a future contract in January after spending three years with Jacksonville.
  • De'Andre Presley: Spent the first nine games last season on the physically unable to perform list with a stress fracture in his leg. Played in four games, but had no catches.
  • Marcus Lucas: Spent the 2014 season on the practice squad.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers on Monday signed four players scheduled to become exclusive rights free agents.

Running back Fozzy Whittaker signed a two-year deal. Wide receiver Brenton Bersin, offensive lineman Brian Folkerts and linebacker Ben Jacobs each signed one-year deals.

Whittaker rushed for 145 yards and one touchdown on 32 attempts this past season. He currently would fall in at No. 2 on the depth chart behind Jonathan Stewart.

Bersin played in 15 games this past season, catching 13 passes for 151 yards and one touchdown. He also returned 14 punts for 86 yards and seven kickoffs for 167 yards.

He will be replaced in the return game by wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr., who reached an agreement with the Panthers on Monday, according to league sources.

Folkerts is a reserve center and guard. Jacobs led Carolina with nine special teams tackles this past season.
Brenton Bersin and Brian FolkertsMelissa Melvin-Rodriguez/Carolina PanthersBrenton Bersin (left) and Brian Folkerts donated their long hair to a charity that provides wigs for children.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Wesley Thornburg lost all of her hair two years ago when she underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments after a relapse of acute lymphoid leukemia.

Thanks to a friend with a collection of wigs, she had options while her hair grew out.

Thanks to Carolina Panthers wide receiver Brenton Bersin and offensive lineman Brian Folkerts, other children will have the same options.

Bersin hadn’t had a haircut since August 2012, when one of his buddies in college shaved his head. Folkerts hadn’t had one since his junior year in college four years ago, when one of his friends gave him a buzz cut.

But both were more than willing to get one on Wednesday to benefit Wigs for Kids, an organization that provides free hair replacement systems for children who have lost their hair due to medical-related issues.

[+] EnlargeBrian Folkerts
Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez/Carolina PanthersOffensive lineman Brian Folkerts with his honorary stylist, 9-year-old Jeramiah Karriker.
The ceremonial cuts, where “clipping is allowed," took place in the Panthers' locker room at Bank of America Stadium. Thornburg, 18, was the honorary stylist for Bersin and Jeramiah Karriker, 9, was for Folkerts.

Thornburg said it best what their donations will mean to other kids by relating what a wig meant to her.

“When you’re a teenager, hair is a pretty big thing for a girl," she said.

Carrie Keuten, the events coordinator at Charlotte’s Levine Children’s Hospital where Thornburg and Karriker have been patients, said hair donations such as these are “extremely vital."

“First of all, I know both these kids and they’ve been through a lot ... a lot in their young years," she said. “I’ve seen them with hair, I’ve seen them without hair and now I’ve seen them with hair again. For their self- confidence, for their self-esteem, to see a radiant smile ... we all feel complete with our hair.

“They’re beautiful with or without it. But [hair] can define them in personal ways that none of us can actually experience unless we’ve actually been in their shoes.’"

Folkerts and Bersin had their hair styled after the initial cuts. Folkerts went for the 2015 look of New England wide receiver Julian Edelman. Bersin went for the “Sunshine" look, otherwise known as the character Ronnie Bass in the movie “Remember The Titans."

Both thought about getting their hair cut this past summer. Both are glad they waited for a more worthwhile event.

Folkerts said he might have gotten his hair cut even sooner but felt he had to keep it growing after former tackle Jordan Gross nicknamed him “Caveman."

The beard, however, he’s keeping.

“I’m going to have to grow the beard out to balance it out," he said with a laugh.

Bersin admitted he was “stressed" about getting the cut, particularly when people began laughing after the initial clips. But after seeing the final product he – as well as his girlfriend – approved.

“Maybe a little girl can have hair now," Bersin said. “And I can grow it out and get it cut [for this] again."
An analysis of how the Carolina Panthers distributed playing time among wide receivers during the 2014 season.

Analysis: That first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin led the way in snap counts at 78.8 percent says the Panthers were successful in replacing all-time leading wide receiver Steve Smith, who was released during the offseason. Smith was on the field only 74.8 percent of the time in 2013. While Benjamin had growing pains in terms of blocking and dropped passes, he caught 84 passes during the regular season and postseason combined for 1,118 yard and 11 touchdowns. Where the Panthers were hurting was quality depth. After Jerricho Cotchery, there really wasn’t any until late in the season when undrafted rookie Philly Brown emerged to add a deep threat to the lineup. Offseason acquisition Jason Avant, third in snap counts among receivers, is telling. Avant was released in mid-November. Finding a solid No. 2 receiver with speed will be a priority during free agency and/or the draft. Cotchery, as he was at Pittsburgh before coming to Carolina, remains a No. 3.

 
And finally on my list of top moments that defined the Carolina Panthers in 2014 is one that basically ended the season with a play that typified the year.
    [+] EnlargeKam Chancellor
    AP Photo/John FroschauerKam Chancellor's pick-six underscored the Panthers' red-zone woes and essentially ended their season.
  • No 1: The pick-six
  • Date and place: Jan. 10, 2015, NFC divisional playoff game at CenturyLink Field, Seattle
  • The moment: The Panthers faced second-and-4 from the Seattle Seahawks' 13-yard line with just over six minutes remaining when quarterback Cam Newton dropped back to pass. His primary target, wide receiver Brenton Bersin, slipped on the left side. Newton attempted to hit tight end Ed Dickson on the right side. Seattle safety Kam Chancellor intercepted and returned it 90 yards for a touchdown to give Seattle a 31-10 lead.
  • Why it was so significant: This was significant on so many levels. Had the Panthers scored to pull within 24-17 they still would have had a chance to extend a season that appeared over at 3-8-1. That they didn’t magnified the struggles in the red zone that haunted the offense -- 26th in the NFL in scoring touchdowns -- all season. It magnified the gap between Cam Newton and an elite quarterback like Seattle's Russell Wilson, who played almost flawlessly to get the Seahawks to the NFC championship for the second straight year. It reminded of the many mistakes that made the 2014 season such a struggle, whether it was on offense, defense or special teams. It showed just how far Carolina had come, and just how far it had to go.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Did you know two former members of the Carolina Panthers have a chance to win a Super Bowl ring with the New England Patriots on Sunday?

Wide receiver Brandon LaFell spent his first four NFL seasons with the Panthers before signing with New England during the offseason. He had a career-high 74 catches for 953 yards and seven touchdowns this season.

Rookie running back Tyler Gaffney is on injured reserve. New England claimed him off waivers in August after the sixth-round pick out of Stanford suffered a season-ending knee injury in training camp.

Carolina was hoping Gaffney would clear waivers so it could place him on injured reserve and have him for 2015.

On to my Saturday mailbag:


@DNewtonESPN: Greg Olsen would like to get something done before the season, and it makes sense to do it. He's a key cog to this offense, one of the best all-around tight ends in the NFL. He should get a substantial raise from the $7.8 million he's set to count against the cap in 2015, although as we've seen with general manager Dave Gettleman he won't get silly with a new deal. Signing quarterback Cam Newton to a long-term deal has to be the team's priority, but getting Olsen locked up doesn't fall far behind that. I doubt we'll see anything done with Olsen until after Carolina wraps up free agency and has a better understanding of where it is under the salary cap. But I don't look for this to drag into the season. By the way, send your second question in again next week. Trying to keep it to one question per person.


@DNewtonESPN: I won't go so far as to say they secured a starting spot, but they secured the right to compete for the starting spot and be the front-runners for those positions heading into offseason workouts. But as Gettleman has reminded so often, you don't get better by maintaining the status quo.


@DNewtonESPN: For those who aren't familiar, he's talking about special teams coach Richard Rodgers. To be fair, the Panthers were among the top 15 teams in the league in special teams in 2013. It would be easy to blame one person for the drop off in 2014, but you have to consider what led to this. Ted Ginn Jr., a top returner, was lost in free agency to Arizona. About half a dozen other key special teams players were injured throughout the season. Now the question was directed specifically at developing a returner. The Panthers did fail in that department. Undrafted rookie wide receiver Philly Brown was an adventure early in the season before being sidelined with an injury. Brenton Bersin spent most of his time fair catching. Finding a dynamic player to fill this role is a priority during the offseason. I'm not convinced the Panthers need to find a new special teams coach.


@DNewtonESPN: I know it's cliche, but much depends on what happens in free agency and in all likelihood it'll be the best player available. If the Panthers get a tackle or wide receiver in free agency, then it's doubtful they would use a first-round pick on that position. Realistically, the odds of getting a tackle that could step into the starting lineup on the left side would be a reach at No. 25. If a speed wide receiver or a cornerback is there, I wouldn't be surprised to see Carolina go in that direction.


@DNewtonESPN: You know Gettleman and pass-rushers. He won't pass up on a good one, and judging by what Preston Smith did in the Senior Bowl and last season at Mississippi State, he'll be on the radar. That he can play end and tackle is particularly significant because the Panthers like that in their defensive linemen. But to say the Panthers would take Smith in the first round would be a leap. It's still too early and you never know what other player will be available at No. 25.




CHARLOTTE, N.C. – When will wide receiver Stephen Hill be called up from the Carolina Panthers practice squad?

That has been one of the more asked questions in Charlotte since the Panthers signed the second-round pick in September after he was released by the New York Jets following a two-year stint.

Hill
Well, it could be for Saturday’s NFC divisional playoff game at Seattle.

The Panthers are looking for more speed with undrafted rookie Philly Brown unable to practice on Tuesday and Wednesday because of a shoulder injury suffered in Saturday’s playoff victory over Arizona.

Coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday the team “potentially could" pull up a player from the practice squad. When asked if that player would be Hill, he said yes.

Hill is fast. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds at the 2012 NFL combine.

That doesn’t mean he’ll be called up. The Panthers also are looking at third-string quarterback Joe Webb, who has moved back to wide receiver this week.

Webb showed his speed running down Atlanta kick returner Devin Hester in the regular-season finale.

The Panthers also are looking at Brenton Bersin for Brown’s role, although Bersin doesn’t have elite speed. They also could try to find way to get first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin deep.

But Hill is intriguing. He has 45 NFL catches for four touchdowns. There were times during his tenure that he showed flashes, but his reputation for dropping passes also made headlines.

Will Hill finally be called up?

Stay tuned.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Brenton Bersin doesn't have time to worry about his muffed punt that the Carolina Panthers overcame in Saturday's 27-16 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

His role may be expanding for Saturday's NFC divisional playoff game against the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.

Bersin
The only Wofford College player on an NFL roster is the first man up to replace wide receiver Philly Brown if the undrafted rookie is unable to play because of a shoulder injury suffered against the Cardinals.

Brown did not participate in Tuesday's practice, and is listed as day to day.

Bersin doesn't have Brown's speed that has helped open up the Carolina offense with deep passes and reverses, but he has good hands and knows the position.

Brown
And his teammates and coaching staff haven't lost confidence in him after his mistake on the punt return allowed Arizona to score and stay close at a time the Panthers (8-8-1) were in complete control.

Coach Ron Rivera said Bersin still will return punts.

"Yeah, you've got to move past it," Bersin said. "Obviously, it wasn't a smart play. The punter wasn't hitting the ball very well in that weather. So I tried to come up and catch it. I was going to try to jump on it, try to save some yardage once it started rolling.

"But if it's going to hit the ground, I've got to get out of the way. I learned my lesson, and hopefully I can build on that."

Bersin didn't have a catch against Seattle in a 13-9 loss in Charlotte on Oct. 26. He has only 13 for 151 yards and one touchdown on the season.

But he's overcome great odds getting to the NFL after spending two years on the practice squad before finally making the 53-man roster this season.

"I know every position," Bersin said. "I can play X, F, Z, whatever they need me to. I don't have the speed [Philly] has, but I'll do what they need me to do."

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Tuesday's decision to cut Jason Avant wasn't some knee-jerk reaction to the veteran wide receiver suggesting the Carolina Panthers could have been more aggressive with the play calling in the final minutes of Sunday's 19-17 loss.

It was a reaction to opponents for weeks playing man-to-man defense without fear of receivers getting separation.

It was a reaction to get more speed on the field with undrafted rookie free agent Philly Brown -- as well as Brenton Bersin and De'Andre Presley.

And this wasn't something that became evident on Sunday when Brown got deep for a 47-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

This has been building since the Pittsburgh game in Week 3. With Jerricho Cotchery sidelined with a hamstring injury, Brown caught seven passes for 66 yards.

Avant had two catches for 12 yards in that game.

Brown followed that up with two catches for 35 yards in a Week 4 loss at Baltimore despite being on the field for only 12 plays. Avant had two catches for 24 yards and was on the field for 41 plays.

The Panthers may have cut Avant sooner, but Brown suffered a concussion during a Week 7 loss at Green Bay and wasn't able to play in the next three games.

His touchdown against Atlanta was a signal the former Ohio State star was ready to contribute again.

[+] EnlargeJason Avant
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneNine-year veteran receiver Jason Avant failed to create separation in his 11 games as a Panther.
That Avant didn't have a catch in 34 plays and Brown had a big one in 16 likely sealed it.

"When you have veteran guys who play a lot in front of younger guys that have potential, sometimes you stunt their growth," coach Ron Rivera said Tuesday after letting players go for a bye-week break.

Brown not only can play wide receiver, he can return kicks. While still an adventure at times, that's more than Avant offered.

So was it a mistake signing the 31-year-old Avant as a free agent out of Philadelphia? Not at the time. The Panthers needed to add veteran leaders after releasing all-time leading receiver Steve Smith and losing their next three wide receivers in free agency.

They went with Avant and Cotchery.

Did they realize neither was a speedster? Yes. They were counting on somebody to emerge out of free-agent signee Tiquan Underwood, Tavarres King and Marvin McNutt.

None panned out.

Brown emerged late as that guy, but because he spent so much time behind the others throughout offseason workouts and training camp he wasn't ready to step into a significant role when the season began.

The Panthers believe he is now. They believe his speed brings to the offense what Ted Ginn Jr., who signed with Arizona during the offseason, did last season.

Brown gives the receiving corps more flexibility than Avant, who had only 21 catches for 201 yards in 11 games.

They need him to be dynamic, a word Rivera has used often to describe him, if they're going to make a run at Atlanta (4-6) and New Orleans (4-6) for the NFC South title.

"Probably one of the things that was really illustrated in the Philadelphia game was as much man coverage as we got," Rivera said. "And then going into [the Atlanta] game and seeing how much man coverage you get, that's tough. It changes what you're trying to do because of what they're doing.

"So now Sunday, watching the game and watching them trying to play man coverage and watching Philly run by or get open, now all of a sudden it's, 'Hey guys, this is what we've got to start doing.'"
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Wide receiver Philly Brown has been cleared to return from a concussion, but that doesn’t mean he will return to his job as the lead punt and kickoff returner for the Carolina Panthers in Monday night’s game at Philadelphia.

Coach Ron Rivera said Friday that Brown’s status as a returner depends on whether he’s prepared to be a part of the offensive game plan as well.

Because Brown wasn’t cleared to practice full until Friday, others have spent the week returning kicks.

Rivera said Brenton Bersin, who has returned kicks in Brown’s absence, has done a “nice job." Bersin had a 49-yard kickoff return against Seattle and a 31-yarder against New Orleans.

From an injury standpoint, the Panthers are as healthy as they have been all season. The only two players expected to miss Monday’s game are nickel cornerback Bene' Benwikere (ankle) and guard Trai Turner (knee).

Left tackle Byron Bell (knee) and left guard Amini Silatolu (calf) have practiced all week and are set to start. Both missed last Thursday’s 28-10 loss to New Orleans.

“Byron has looked good," Rivera said. “He really has. I’m excited about that."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Kelvin Benjamin continues to progress through the concussion protocol, leaving the Carolina Panthers hopeful the rookie wide receiver will play in Sunday’s game at Green Bay.

 Benjamin did not participate in Thursday’s practice, but was back on the field after being a no-show on Wednesday.

The 28th pick of the draft suffered the concussion on a second-quarter hit from Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict. He passed a sideline concussion test and finished the game, but complained of a headache when he arrived at the stadium on Monday.

“He continues in the protocol,’’ coach Ron Rivera said. “He did very well with the independent [doctor on Wednesday], and then today he did the next step with our guys and seemed to be doing very well.

“We’ll see how he’s doing tomorrow. Hopefully, he passes. If he does, great.’’

Several players expressed optimism that Benjamin, whose 31 receptions leads Carolina wide receivers, would play. If not, Brenton Bersin and Philly Brown would replace him in the rotation.

“It would be considerable, in light of who he is for us,’’ Rivera said of what it would mean to lose Benjamin for a game. “I will say I really do believe the other guys have stepped up and played well.

“With the quarterback [Cam Newton] back playing the way he’s capable and being healthy, relatively healthy, I feel good about what we can do offensively.’’

Running back Jonathan Stewart practiced full for the second straight day after missing the past three games with a knee injury. Rivera remains optimistic that Stewart will start against Green Bay.

With Fozzy Whittaker (quad) and Darrin Reaves (calf) missing Thursday’s practice, Rivera said the rotation on Sunday would be Stewart, Chris Ogbonnaya and whoever is healthy.

“Looked very good and still very confident in him,’’ Rivera said of Stewart. “He had a really nice practice. He took an increased amount of reps, so we’re feeling pretty confident now.’’

Rivera remained in a “we’ll see’’ mode on cornerback Josh Norman, who missed the Cincinnati game with a concussion and has practiced on a limited basis this week.

Linebacker Chase Blackburn, who missed his second straight practice, said the knee he injured on Sunday is improving. Rivera expressed concern on Wednesday that Blackburn may miss a few games.

Left guard Amini Silatolu (calif) and nickel cornerback Bene’ Benwikere (ankle) are not expected to play.

Panthers continue to seek help at WR

September, 1, 2014
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers continue to explore options at wide receiver, working out Stephen Hill and Kadron Boone on Monday.

Coach Ron Rivera said neither were expected to be signed on Monday, but didn't rule out that happening in the future.

Hill, a second-round pick by the New York Jets in 2012, was released on Saturday. The former Georgia Tech star has 45 career catches for 594 yards and four touchdowns.

Boone was released by the Eagles after being signed as an undrafted rookie out of LSU.

The Panthers kept five receivers -- Kelvin Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant, Brenton Bersin and Philly Brown -- on their 53-man roster after losing their top four from last season.

Brown made the roster as a receiver/kick returner, but his tendency to drop the ball has to be concerning despite the confidence the staff has shown in him.

Rivera said Carolina will continue to look at all positions where the team might get an upgrade.

"You gotta look at guys and see how they fit you and see if there is potential there," he said. "We have a ready list, guys we want to sign in case we get into an emergency situation."
Starting quarterback Cam Newton is recovering from fractured ribs after recovering from offseason ankle surgery. Defensive end Charles Johnson played in only one preseason game because of a nagging hamstring injury and end Greg Hardy missed the last game with a shoulder contusion.

Linebacker Luke Kuechly, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, has a small cast on his right hand to protect a hyperextended thumb.

New strong safety Roman Harper missed the first three preseason games with turf toe and only was in for a few plays in the finale.

Not a pretty picture for the Carolina Panthers.

But coach Ron Rivera isn't concerned, insisting all of these key players will be ready for the opener at Tampa Bay a week from today.

"That's the nature of the game," Rivera said. "This could happen in the regular season and we'd have to adapt. It's basically the next man up."

Rivera seems confident, but are you?

Let's get to your questions and a few bold predictions for a Sunday mailbag:

@DNewtonESPN: The major concern begins and ends with the offensive line. This group was way too inconsistent during the preseason and remains an unknown heading into the opener against a very good Tampa Bay defense. The lack of a sustained drive -- without the help of penalties -- with all the starters in four preseason games is my biggest cause for concern. There's no question the athletic ability is there with left tackle Byron Bell and right tackle Nate Chandler, but they still have much to prove under fire.

@DNewtonESPN: Look, strong safety Quintin Mikell wasn't signed until the week before the 2013 season and Mike Mitchell didn't become a major contributor at free safety until Charles Godfrey suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 2. Experience-wise, this group starts with an edge. With the pressure the front seven puts on the quarterback, they don't have to be spectacular. They just have to play smart. Again, my biggest worry would be the offensive line.

@DNewtonESPN: Philly Brown definitely has a chance to make a big impact as the top returner and the fourth or fifth wide receiver, although his drops at both are a concern. There's not another undrafted rookie I would put in the impactful category. But running back Fozzy Whittaker and wide receiver Brenton Bersin both came into the league as undrafted players and both will play roles this season, particularly Bersin. The former Wofford star doesn't have blazing speed, but he has good hands and he legitimately earned a roster spot as arguably the fourth-best receiver.

@DNewtonESPN: He'll definitely be the No. 1 target, but you set the bar high. Jerry Rice, arguably the best receiver in NFL history, only had 49 catches for 927 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie. Randy Moss only had 69 catches as a rookie, albeit he had an amazing 17 touchdowns and 1,313 yards. Moss also had Cris Carter and Jake Reed to take the heat off him. Calvin Johnson only had 48 catches for 756 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie. I'd say the Panthers would be happy to get 50 to 60 catches for 8-10 touchdowns and close to 1,000 yards out of Benjamin.

@DNewtonESPN: Jonathan Stewart has only topped 18 catches once and he never had more than 47, that in 2011. So 50 is a tall order. But if he stays healthy, he will be a big part of the receiving game.

@DNewtonESPN: I hope you didn't bet the mortgage on that.

@DNewtonESPN: No indication of that. Rivera was emphatic that if Newton plays, he will run the entire offense, including the read option.  

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