NFC South: Charles Godfrey

BALTIMORE -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Carolina Panthers' 38-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens:
  • Smith
    There was not a lot of reaction from the Panthers to former Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith saying he's "35 years old and I ran around those boys like they were schoolyard kids." As cornerback Josh Norman and safety Charles Godfrey said, "Steve is going to be Steve."
  • More Norman on Smith, who as he had been all week remained a topic of conversation after catching seven passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns: "I'm tired of hearing about it. He did what he did and we did what we did."
  • Quarterback Cam Newton admitted he has to do a better job of getting rid of the ball instead of taking a sack like the one that took Carolina out of field goal range on its first drive. He also tried to take a positive approach, saying, "We're OK. We'll be OK." It kind of sounded like wishful thinking.
  • Fullback/tight end Richie Brockel walked to the bus with a walking boot on his right foot. "We'll know more tomorrow," he said.
  • Linebacker Thomas Davis (hamstring) said he was a few yards away on a running drill from showing the burst trainers were looking for to allow him to play. He vowed to be back next week for Chicago.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Josh Norman chose his words carefully as he talked about a happenstance meeting in the spring with former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith.

The cornerback knows more than anybody on the current Carolina roster what it's like to disrespect Smith, and he didn't want to say anything that would fire up the 35-year-old more than he'll already be for Sunday's 1 p.m. game at Baltimore.

Smith
Norman
“We were always competitive,'' Norman said of Smith, Carolina's all-time receiver who was released in March. "He never wanted to back down from anything, and I was the same way. We always had our head-to-head match, and I respected him because he is one of our greatest.

"He probably will end up in the Hall of Fame, the first Hall of Famer for the Carolina Panthers. You’ve got to respect that.”

Norman wasn't quite so respectful during his 2012 rookie season when asked about the first time he lined up in practice against Smith.

"He'd get frustrated," Norman said at the time. "He'd throw his hands in the air. He'd have a couple words..."

When it was suggested Norman beat Smith, he said, "Absolutely, man. ... All the other guys are like, 'Ah, man, he's shifty.' Whatever! Let's go. I'm all for a challenge."

As veteran safety/cornerback Charles Godfrey said, the one thing you don't want to do against Smith is disrespect him. That apparently did it for Norman.

So when Smith held his annual kids camp that June, he responded.

"For a young guy, he's coming out and he's playing well,'' Smith told reporters. "But as far as how much swagger and he loves to compete, I look at it like all the other veterans -- May and June you just kind of cruise a little bit just to get through.

"Once late July, August comes, he's going to learn very quickly this isn't Coastal Carolina. I look forward to camp.''

Norman didn't go into detail on what he and Smith talked about, other than agreeing Smith was bitter about his release. His interpretation of the conversation was "we had a little twist of words.''

"He had his markdown. I had my big markdown,'' Norman said. "We always go head to head in practice. Now I'm getting the opportunity to go against him on the other side. It's going to be -- oh, man -- a joy.''

Not many cornerbacks call it a joy to face Smith, who gets about as fired up after a 2-yard catch as he does an 80-yard touchdown. Much of the time you can see the spit flying out of his mouth, as Carolina wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery reminded.

How much Norman faces Smith, who leads the Ravens with 18 catches for 290 yards, is yet to be determined. He's the third cornerback after Melvin White and Antoine Cason. He got only 11 plays at cornerback in Sunday's 37-19 loss to Pittsburgh.

But when he's on the field, Norman made it clear he won't back down from Smith or let the receiver's mind games get into his head. If he has a chance for a legal hit -- a "football play'' as he called it -- he'll take it.

“He’s going to be the same Steve Smith -- ragin’ Cajun, same guy, going out there and playing with emotion and playing with everything he’s got,” Norman said. “And I wouldn’t want it no other way.”
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Josh Norman chose his words carefully as he talked about a happenstance meeting in the spring with former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith.

The cornerback knows more than anybody on the current Carolina roster what it's like to disrespect Smith, and he didn't want to say anything that would fire up the 35-year-old more than he'll already be for Sunday's 1 p.m. game at Baltimore.

Smith
Norman
“We were always competitive,'' Norman said of Smith, Carolina's all-time receiver who was released in March. "He never wanted to back down from anything, and I was the same way. We always had our head-to-head match, and I respected him because he is one of our greatest.

"He probably will end up in the Hall of Fame, the first Hall of Famer for the Carolina Panthers. You’ve got to respect that.”

Norman wasn't quite so respectful during his 2012 rookie season when asked about the first time he lined up in practice against Smith.

"He'd get frustrated," Norman said at the time. "He'd throw his hands in the air. He'd have a couple words..."

When it was suggested Norman beat Smith, he said, "Absolutely, man. ... All the other guys are like, 'Ah, man, he's shifty.' Whatever! Let's go. I'm all for a challenge."

As veteran safety/cornerback Charles Godfrey said, the one thing you don't want to do against Smith is disrespect him. That apparently did it for Norman.

So when Smith held his annual kids camp that June, he responded.

"For a young guy, he's coming out and he's playing well,'' Smith told reporters. "But as far as how much swagger and he loves to compete, I look at it like all the other veterans -- May and June you just kind of cruise a little bit just to get through.

"Once late July, August comes, he's going to learn very quickly this isn't Coastal Carolina. I look forward to camp.''

Norman didn't go into detail on what he and Smith talked about, other than agreeing Smith was bitter about his release. His interpretation of the conversation was "we had a little twist of words.''

"He had his markdown. I had my big markdown,'' Norman said. "We always go head to head in practice. Now I'm getting the opportunity to go against him on the other side. It's going to be -- oh, man -- a joy.''

Not many cornerbacks call it a joy to face Smith, who gets about as fired up after a 2-yard catch as he does an 80-yard touchdown. Much of the time you can see the spit flying out of his mouth, as Carolina wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery reminded.

How much Norman faces Smith, who leads the Ravens with 18 catches for 290 yards, is yet to be determined. He's the third cornerback after Melvin White and Antoine Cason. He got only 11 plays at cornerback in Sunday's 37-19 loss to Pittsburgh.

But when he's on the field, Norman made it clear he won't back down from Smith or let the receiver's mind games get into his head. If he has a chance for a legal hit -- a "football play'' as he called it -- he'll take it.

“He’s going to be the same Steve Smith -- ragin’ Cajun, same guy, going out there and playing with emotion and playing with everything he’s got,” Norman said. “And I wouldn’t want it no other way.”

Panthers not that focused on Smith

September, 24, 2014
Sep 24
8:00
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Welcome to Steve Smith Week.

You're going to read and hear a lot about the Baltimore Ravens wide receiver over the next few days as he prepares for Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers.

Smith said shortly after being released by the Panthers in March it would be "blood and guts" when he faced the team that drafted him in 2001. After his 80-yard touchdown in the opener he screamed into a television camera, "Hey, if you [expletive] think I can't play, you're going to find out in Week 4, [expletive]."

On Sunday, after Baltimore improved to 2-1 with a victory over Cleveland, Smith tweeted a picture of a roaring lion with the words "TRY AND STOP ME" written across it.



On Tuesday, Smith made note about his new Twitter followers from Charlotte news media.



Ravens coach John Harbaugh told reporters in Baltimore on Monday that his advice to Smith would be to "Shock the world. Surprise everybody. Don't even say a word the whole game -- go into a shell."

Harbaugh also admitted Smith likely wouldn't take his advice.

That's one of the things the fans -- and media -- liked about Smith during his 13 years in Charlotte. He always spoke his mind.

Smith's words following a 12-7 loss to Seattle in last season's opener served as inspiration to a team that hadn't been to the playoffs since 2008.

"I think we're going to see them again deep in January," he said.

He was close. Carolina won the NFC South with a 12-4 record, but fell one win short of facing the Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game.

Fiery. Feisty. Moody. Productive.

Smith is as advertised.

At 35, he has given the Ravens a much-needed lift in terms of experience and production at wide receiver. He leads the team in receptions with 18 for 290 yards and a touchdown.

Whether you agree with me that the Panthers are better overall at receiver than they were a year ago, there's no arguing that Smith still can play at a high level.

Judging by his anger toward management after being released, he'll try to take it to another level against the team he hopes to retire for when he's finished playing.

One Carolina player recently suggested that the media back off the comments that infuriate Smith, reminding us that we don't have to cover the Panthers' all-time leading receiver.

But as focused as Smith may be on Carolina, the Panthers are focused on avoiding another embarrassment like the 37-19 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday night.

"Steve's playing very well for them, but this is going to be the Carolina Panthers versus the Baltimore Ravens," Carolina coach Ron Rivera said Monday.

Ditto, said defensive coordinator Sean McDermott.

"I haven't watched any tape of Steve Smith yet," McDermott said.

The Panthers (2-1) don't need to watch film on Smith. They know what he can do after watching him amass 836 catches for 12,197 yards and 67 touchdowns for them.

They've seen him at his best, making plays such as the 69-yard touchdown catch to end a double-overtime playoff thriller at St. Louis during Carolina's 2003 run to the Super Bowl.

They've seen him at his worst, breaking teammate Ken Lucas' nose during a 2008 training camp fight.

"Steve is Steve," said cornerback/safety Charles Godfrey, who went head-to-head with Smith in practice the past six years. "Steve's a great player. He's done a lot of good things for this team. We understand Steve. Steve will be fired up for the game.

"But it's a game for us, and we'll be fired up, too."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- You'd be wrong to think the Carolina Panthers' decision to move Charles Godfrey from safety to cornerback during the offseason was a failure because the seventh-year player didn't earn a starting job.

He may be more valuable now.

Godfrey
A look at the snap count from Sunday's 20-14 victory over Tampa Bay shows Godfrey played 40 snaps, most at strong safety. Only seven defensive players were on the field for more.

Linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, as well as cornerbacks Melvin White and Antoine Cason, played all 56 defensive snaps.

Godfrey's snap count was a bit higher than anticipated because the Panthers jumped to an early lead, forcing the Buccaneers into more passing situations. The plan was for Godfrey to play strong safety in nickel packages with Roman Harper, who missed most of the preseason with turf toe after coming to Carolina from New Orleans, in the base package.

Harper was on the field for only 19 snaps, but he had an interception in the third quarter that helped set up Carolina's second touchdown that made it 17-0.

Coach Ron Rivera said he may continue to use Godfrey and Harper that way in Sunday's home opener against Detroit and Matthew Stafford, who threw for 346 yards and two touchdowns in Monday night's 35-14 victory over the New York Giants.

Rivera said Harper also would continue to play some at corner and nickelback, although the team really liked how rookie Bene' Benwikere performed. Benwikere also played 40 snaps.

Rivera said the experience Godfrey, whose 2013 season ended in Week 2 with an Achilles injury while playing safety, got working at cornerback has made him a better safety.

"Some of his coverage techniques were really good," Rivera said.

Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott also liked what he got out of Godfrey, who agreed to restructure his contract to reduce the team's salary cap by more than $4 million during the offseason.

"The thing you love about Charles is he's a team player," McDermott said. "He works extremely hard, and [Sunday] was proof of that. Just a big-time component of our defense."

The Panthers also want to find a way to get cornerback Josh Norman on the field. Norman was in for 10 plays against Tampa Bay, all on special teams.

Rivera said he's already talked to the coaches about using Norman, a big (6-0), physical corner that might match up well at times with Detroit's Calvin Johnson (6-5, 236).

"Josh Norman deserves an opportunity to play," Rivera said. "Josh will do whatever he can to help the team, and he told us that. In all honesty, as we looked at that, he needs to play and that will be addressed."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There's no question Cam Newton will start in the Carolina Panthers' Sept. 7 opener at Tampa Bay, but uncertainty lingers over who will protect him.

Royster
Scott
Chandler
Most of Carolina's 22 starters are set, but Thursday night's exhibition finale will have a big impact on who protects the ailing quarterback (fractured ribs) on the right side of the line.

Rookie right guard Trai Turner (groin) is out for the second straight game, and Chris Scott has played well enough to be considered the Week 1 starter.

Scott started eight games last season, all but one at right guard, before a knee injury forced him to miss time. His biggest issue since returning for offseason workouts has been conditioning. He's got that under control and has impressed the coaches.

"Chris has worked himself into position and we'll see how it goes," coach Ron Rivera said.

Nate Chandler began training camp in a heated battle with Byron Bell for the left tackle job. When Bell secured that spot after the Aug. 17 preseason win over Kansas City, Chandler settled in at right tackle.

However, Chandler's lingering knee injury and inconsistency as a pass blocker have opened the door for veteran Garry Williams. Chandler will start against Pittsburgh, but as Rivera reminded this is a big game for him to prove he's earned the job.

Other positions up for grab are strong side linebacker and nickel back. Veteran Chase Blackburn is the returning starter on the strong side, and he missed last week's game with a back injury. He's been pushed by A.J. Klein.

Charles Godfrey entered training camp as the leading candidate to be the nickel back, but rookie Bene' Benwikere has played well enough that both will play there at times until one earns it outright.

"There are three to six positions up for grabs," said Rivera, without being specific.

Rivera said the starters will play through the first quarter against Pittsburgh. Defensive end Charles Johnson (hamstring) will not make the trip, but end Greg Hardy (shoulder) will suit up and be evaluated before game time.

Both are expected to be ready for the opener.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Charles Godfrey's value went up when Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton fractured his ribs.

Even though Newton is expected to start in the Sept. 7 opener at Tampa Bay, the Panthers appear set on keeping three quarterbacks on their final 53-man roster.

Godfrey
That means somebody at another position has to go. In this case, that means a defensive back, which is why Godfrey was back working at strong safety on Tuesday after spending all of the preseason at cornerback.

Because Godfrey can play cornerback, nickel and both safety positions, Carolina can juggle the defensive back numbers to keep one less player -- most likely a safety.

"When you've got a guy that can play all three positions, you might as well keep him up on everything," Godfrey said. "You never know what will happen."

Godfrey was a starting safety for his first six years with the Panthers before suffering a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 2 against Buffalo last September.

Because of his high salary-cap figure and the uncertainty of his return to full strength, the Panthers moved him to cornerback and renegotiated his contract to save more than $4 million in cap space.

But with the Panthers planning to keep Newton, Derek Anderson and Joe Webb at quarterback and the injuries at strong safety -- starter Roman Harper just returned from turf toe, backup Robert Lester is out with an ankle injury and rookie Tre Boston has been slowed by a sports hernia -- it was time to reintroduce Godfrey to safety.

He will take reps there in Thursday night's exhibition finale at Pittsburgh as well.

"That adds value to who Charles is," coach Ron Rivera said. "He can play corner, he can play nickel. Because of the slow progression of Tre, knowing that [Godfrey] is one of our guys that makes the 53, what are we going to do if we get that situation? That's why we did what we did.

"That's out of necessity. If we were to keep five safeties and those guys aren't up, that only gives us three. Knowing that Charles has that ability, we wanted to get a couple reps with him this week just to make sure on that."

Godfrey will continue to work at corner, primarily as a nickel with the top three every down corners spots belonging to Antoine Cason, Melvin White and Josh Norman.

Rivera made it clear the move to safety was not permanent.

"We've put a lot on his plate, but he seems to be handling it very nicely," he said.

Godfrey said the return to safety wasn't difficult and he likes the challenge of playing different positions.

"Like I said before we went to camp, I can play pretty much any position right there," he said. "Just keeps me polished up on things. I did a great job at corner. I'm still corner, still nickel. Just keeping me polished up on safety."
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. 
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- There has to be some irony that the two Carolina Panthers with arguably the most to prove in Friday's preseason opener have to do it against the Buffalo Bills.

I'm talking about Charles Godfrey and Byron Bell.

Godfrey's 2013 season ended as the team's starting free safety with a torn Achilles in the third quarter of a 24-23 Week 2 loss at Buffalo. He ultimately had his contract restructured, dropping his base salary from $5 million to $750,000, and was moved to cornerback during the offseason.

[+] EnlargeCharles Godfrey
Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY SportsCharles Godfrey's season ended against Buffalo last September.
He's spent most of training camp learning a position he hasn't played since his college days at Iowa seven years ago. It appears, at best, he will be the starting nickelback.

Bell was playing right tackle in the same game. Quarterback Cam Newton was sacked six times. Mario Williams got 4 1/2 of those, most of them against Bell.

Bell was criticized unmercifully by the media and fans for his performance. It's something he's had to work through as he attempts to replace the retired Jordan Gross as the starting left tackle.

Coach Ron Rivera says much of Bell's criticism was unjust. He offered a reminder that Kansas City's Derrick Thomas had his league single-game record seven sacks in 1990 against a Seattle Seahawks tackle that spent 13 years in the league.

"Show me somebody who hasn't been beat," Rivera said. "It's all a part of the game. Good things happen, bad things happen. We move on from there."

Rivera also said what Bell has accomplished since making the roster as an undrafted rookie out of New Mexico in 2011 has been underappreciated.

"He played as a rookie and played against some very, very good players," Rivera said. "And he's done well against some very, very good players and he's struggled against some very, very good players. That's all part of his development. How he learns and how he grows from it will dictate how good he will be."

Godfrey admittedly has grown from his experience. He's starting to get back some of the instincts it takes to be a cornerback.

Both Godfrey and Bell are playing with chips on their shoulders, although it's more noticeable on Bell.

"I hope so," Rivera said. "I think he's got something to prove and I think he knows he's got something to prove. He's been talking a lot to different people, just trying to help himself and get himself right and in the right frame of mind and go out there and do what he can do."

Ironically, it begins Friday night against Buffalo.

Panthers Camp Report: Day 10

August, 5, 2014
Aug 5
7:30
PM ET
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Carolina Panthers training camp from Wofford College:
  • You've read this before, but I keep repeating it because it keeps happening. Rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin had another big day, catching two touchdown passes on the left side. Both were high, and both required the 6-foot-5 receiver to adjust his body in midair. I haven't seen Benjamin drop a pass in team drills, and nobody else I've spoken with has, either. He wasn't perfect on Tuesday, though. On what was supposed to be an alley-oop pass near the goal line he apparently didn't run the route correctly, forcing Cam Newton to look for another receiver. It resulted in an incompletion. Newton and wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl immediately spoke to Benjamin about it, demonstrating the kind of communication and chemistry that has been strong.
  • Speaking of Newton, long-time NFL talent evaluator Gil Brandt said Newton threw the ball Tuesday "as well as I've ever seen him." So for all those that predicted the three-plus months Newton missed while rehabilitating left ankle surgery would impact his timing in training camp, forget it. Newton has had moments where he's been off, but every quarterback does. For the most part he's been sharp.
  • Byron Bell literally got a leg up on the competition for the left tackle job because his primary competition, Nate Chandler, was out with a minor knee issue. Coach Ron Rivera said Chandler should be back on Wednesday, but it's starting to look like Bell will win the job. With Chandler out, Garry Williams stepped in at right tackle and did a nice job. Other key players among the 12 who missed practice with injuries were defensive end Charles Johnson (hamstring), running backs Jonathan Stewart (hamstring) and Kenjon Barner (back), and free safety Roman Harper (toe). Stewart hasn't practiced since camp started and will be evaluated again on Wednesday, but Rivera said he ran well on Tuesday. The team is being cautious with Harper so he doesn't develop turf toe. Defensive end Greg Hardy (shoulder) returned to practice after missing the last two.
  • Charles Godfrey opened as the starting nickel back over rookie Bene' Benwikere and was immediately beaten on a corner route by Benjamin. He later came back and made a good read on a pass over the middle, but dropped what should have been an interception. It appears if Godfrey is to help this team it will be at the nickel and not as an every down corner.
  • I asked Rivera to name a few players who have practiced well but not gotten the recognition that some of the high-profile players have. He started with undrafted wide receiver Marcus Lucas out of Missouri. He also mentioned backup center Brian Folkerts, referring to his nickname of "Caveman Center" with a story I'll share at a later date. He also likes what backup defensive end Mario Addison and backup safety Colin Jones have done.
  • The Panthers practice Wednesday at 9:25 a.m.

Panthers Camp Report: Day 9

August, 3, 2014
Aug 3
3:30
PM ET
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Carolina Panthers training camp from Wofford College:
  • When coach Ron Rivera said Sunday's practice was a "big-time tone down'' he wasn't joking. After six days in pads, players were given a break with shorts and shells. The tempo wasn't nearly as fast after one of the more physical practices of camp on Saturday. At one point offensive line assistant Ray Brown began cracking jokes when his group moved from the sun to the shade for a drill. "Modern day NFL! Y'all get water,'' he said sarcastically. The players will get another break with an off day Monday before reporting back to Wofford College on Monday night. It will give the coaches a chance to break down tape and evaluate.
  • General manager Dave Gettleman stopped in his tracks and shook his head when he saw 14 players working with trainers on stationary bicycles and other conditioning devices during practice. He wasn't really surprised after remembering Saturday's practice, which focused on short yardage and goal-line plays, was so physical, and many of the players were sidelined with soreness. Among those who didn't practice were defensive ends Charles Johnson (hamstring) and Greg Hardy (shoulder contusion). Both are expected to play in Friday night's exhibition opener against Buffalo.
  • Among those who missed practice was Charles Godfrey, who is making the transition from safety to corner. While Godfrey watched, Josh Norman and Josh Thomas continued to work their way back into the rotation after missing much of the first week of camp with injuries. Thomas sent wide receiver Toney Clemons over his shoulder with a sideline hit, and Norman made a nice aggressive play on a deep pass to Tiquan Underwood, who needs to make those plays to make the final roster. As I've said before, the toughest cuts on this team are going to come at corner, where a returning veteran or two might not make it. At this point, I wouldn't say Godfrey is a lock, although coaches want to give him every opportunity because of his leadership.
  • First-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin not only is the favorite target of quarterback Cam Newton, he's a fan favorite. They cheer when he gets a drink of water. On Sunday, they cheered when he caught a pass three yards out of bounds. Granted, it once again showed his athletic ability the way he went high to get it, but in the eyes of those sitting on the grassy hill, the former Florida State wide receiver can do no wrong.
  • The Panthers return to practice at 3:10 p.m. on Tuesday, but don't be surprised if it's moved to the morning. Rivera did that when the Panthers returned from their first day off.

Panthers Camp Report: Day 4

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
5:20
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SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Carolina Panthers training camp from Wofford College:
  • The scariest moment of camp for the Panthers came Monday morning when rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin complained of soreness in his left knee after bumping it on the knee of a teammate the day before. He was sent to Charlotte, North Carolina, for an MRI, which revealed a bone bruise but no structural damage. Benjamin will miss only a few days, possibly a week, recovering, which is good news for quarterback Cam Newton. They've developed a lot of chemistry and it's obvious Newton looks for the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Benjamin early and often in practice. Without Benjamin, 31-year-old Jerricho Cotchery stepped up to the No. 1 spot and everyone else adjusted forward. Nothing against Cotchery, but he doesn't have the speed or the size to make the catches Benjamin does. The sooner Benjamin gets back the better because he'll need all the reps he can get before his first season.
  • Coach Ron Rivera liked the tempo of Monday morning's practice so much that he extended a no-huddle drill by three series. The energy definitely was better than on Sunday. Players began practice by yelling "energy'' and "fresh legs'' in individual huddles. They seemed to run faster between drills. It was slightly cooler in the morning than it had been the previous afternoon when the temperature was in the lows 90s and there was a breeze, so that may have had something to do with it. Rivera also noted the media had more energy, but that had more to do with being able to stand under the shade trees on the far side of the field. Coach declined our request for chairs.
  • Charles Godfrey's transition from safety to cornerback has been slow. He continues to have what Rivera calls "dirty eyes,'' peaking into the backfield and getting beat deep on plays. At this point it's hard to see him beating out Antoine Cason or Melvin White for one of the every-down corner jobs. But it's early, and Rivera likes the speed and physicality Godfrey has shown.
  • With backup cornerbacks Josh Thomas and Josh Norman nursing minor injuries, undrafted rookie Carrington Byndom is getting a few more snaps. He's made the most of it, intercepting a pass in each of the past two practices. In case you aren't familiar with Byndom, he is 6-foot and 180 pounds. He didn't have an interception last season at Texas, but was second on the team in solo tackles. He's a long shot to make the team, but so was White last season and he wound up the starter.
  • Breaking: Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, finally has cable television at his home in Charlotte. As for his POY trophy, it remains somewhere at his parent's home in Cincinnati. And he doesn't have cable at training camp. He doesn't even have a TV. He is all about football and sleep, leaning heavy on football.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers begin a three-day minicamp on Tuesday, their final tune-up before reporting for training camp on July 24.

Here are five things to keep an eye on:

  • Cam Newton -- The fourth-year quarterback and coach Ron Rivera left open the possibility last week that Newton will be cleared medically to fully participate. Don't count on it. There is no real reason for Newton to risk a setback with the left ankle that required surgery in March for just three days of practice. Experts say it typically takes four months for the ankle to be completely recovered, which would end the rehabilitation in mid-July. Newton may be feeling good enough to throw and dance -- as we've seen him at some off-the-field functions -- but as he reminded, he'll step on a rock walking to the stadium and be reminded there's still healing to be done. My guess is you'll see him out there throwing some with his new receivers, but not in full team drills. It's not worth it at this point.
  • [+] EnlargeNate Chandler and Byron Bell
    Bob Leverone/AP PhotoCarolina Panthers offensive tackle Nate Chandler (left) holds a blocking pad as teammate Byron Bell extends his arms during drills on June 11.
    Left tackle -- I easily could have said the entire offensive line here since there is a complete overhaul other than center, where Pro Bowler Ryan Kalil is set. But finding a replacement for retired left tackle Jordan Gross is the most critical since that player is responsible for protecting Newton's blind side. Byron Bell and Nate Chandler split the role during organized team activities, and this will be a rehash of what they've learned. The real battle won't start until training camp when they put the pads on. Most believe Bell, moving from starting right tackle, has the inside track on the position. He was the first to work at left tackle during OTAs. But Chandler was working out at tackle before injuries last season forced him to move to right guard, where he started the final eight regular-season games. A former defensive tackle, he has solid footwork and the size (6-4, 310) to play the position. He just doesn't have experience. Working against defensive end Greg Hardy, who led the team in sacks last season with 15, will tell a lot. If you can hold your own against Hardy, then you can hold your own against most in the NFL. It's the same trial by fire Gross got with former Panther Julius Peppers across from him.
  • Wide receiver pairings -- Free agents Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin were paired a lot in OTAs when the Panthers went to three-receiver sets. The next grouping I noticed a lot included Tiquan Underwood, Tavarres King and Brenton Bersin. Trimming the wide receivers corps to six will be the toughest of any position. Outside the top combination, the rest are trying to earn a spot and prove worthy. You'll see a lot of King, Marvin McNutt, Toney Clemons, Kealoha Pilares and Philly Brown as the Panthers try to replace their top four receivers from last season. Cotchery and Avant provide experience, and Benjamin provides a big target (6-5, 240) that will be tough to keep off the field. Underwood is the most likely to round out the top four. But one of the reasons the Panthers let all-time leading receiver Steve Smith go was to give the young receivers a chance to prove themselves that they otherwise wouldn't have with Smith taking most of the repetitions. This is their chance.
  • Rookies -- Four rookies have a legitimate shot to make major contributions this season, with two possibly starting. As mentioned above, you can pencil Benjamin into the top three at wide receiver. He'll especially be a big target inside the red zone. Second-round pick Kony Ealy, a defensive end out of Missouri, won't get to show how his pass-rushing abilities translate into the NFL for real until he gets in pads. He won't start, but the Panthers hope he's a regular in the rotation at end, as well as tackle. Third-round pick Trai Turner spent much of OTAs as the starting right guard with veteran Chris Scott dealing with conditioning and -- as Rivera said last week -- health issues. If he can hold his own against Carolina's big tackles, he has a chance to be a steal. The fourth rookie to make a big impression thus far is fifth-round pick Bene Benwikere, a cornerback out of San Jose State. He already may be the front-runner for the nickel spot, but his real competition won't be there until training camp when Charles Godfrey is expected to return fully from an Achilles injury that ended his season in the second game last season. Godfrey is making the transition from safety back to corner, where he started most of his college year.
  • Secondary -- You could just say cornerback here. The safeties appear to be set with veteran free-agent acquisitions Roman Harper and Thomas DeCoud. Finding a replacement for cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who signed with Minnesota, and possibly upgrade on the other side where undrafted rookie Melvin White started most of last season, will be key. Free agent Antoine Cason has experience in this system from his days at San Diego, where the defensive coordinator was Rivera. But Cason couldn't make the starting lineup at Arizona last season, so he still has a lot to prove. Josh Norman has made some spectacular plays in practice, just as he did the past two seasons in practice and preseason games, but he's yet to translate that into games on a regular basis. Rookie Benwikere has impressed in OTAs at the nickel spot, so don't rule him out. But like the offensive line and other areas in question, this won't be completely ironed out until training camp when Godfrey (as mentioned above) gets into the mix. Regardless, the Panthers are ahead of last season at this point at least in terms of experience.
  • Bonus watch: The heat. With temperatures expected in the mid-90s and high humidity, Rivera moved practices from midday-early afternoon to 10:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m. ET. It was a smart move to avoid heat-related injuries in June. It'll be plenty hot at camp in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- NFL teams attempting to reach the top level or stay there must have players willing to sacrifice, whether it's on the field or in the pocketbook.

Nobody epitomizes both better for the Carolina Panthers than Charles Godfrey.

In this world of me, me, me, Godfrey has been about team, team, team since Carolina selected him in the third round of the 2008 draft. When they asked him to move from cornerback, where he played for most of his college career at Iowa, he did.

When they recently asked him to take a $4.25 million salary cut from the five-year, $27.5 million deal he got in 2011 after excelling at free and strong safety, he did. When they asked him to move from safety to cornerback as he continued to rehabilitate the Achilles injury that ended his 2013 season after two games, he did.

Godfrey's response?

He's blessed to be able to play two positions.

[+] EnlargeCharles Godfrey
AP Photo/Perry KnottsThe Panthers' Charles Godfrey recently took a $4.25 million salary cut.
When asked about putting the team first, he responded, "It's always been like that for me. ... I came here with the mentality that I want to win and I see that change helping us do that, so it's no problem for me.''

This is why linebacker Luke Kuechly, the NFL defensive player of the year, talked with great enthusiasm about having the 28-year-old Godfrey back even before it was announced his deal had been restructured.

"A guy that has been very constant, is going to work hard, he knows what's going on and I just generally enjoy being around Charles,'' Kuechly said.

Godfrey's presence as a leader has been obvious during offseason workouts. Unable to participate in team drills until minicamp, he was the first defensive back congratulating others when they made a good play or the first offering advice when things went bad.

He's taken the high road and never looked back.

That doesn't mean it's been easy. When I asked if it was tough accepting the pay cut and position change, he responded politely, "No, and yes.''

"I'm not going to sit here and say it's not about the money, because I have people I have to take care of at home,'' said Godfrey, whose base salary dropped from $5 million to $750,000 in 2014. "I understand their point as far as me coming back from an injury. That's part of the deal.

"At the same time, I'm still here. I'm still a team player. I still want to put our defense in the best position and be the best out there.''

Sacrifice.

Team.

If he fully recovers as expected, Godfrey will make the Panthers better defensively and help the team sustain the success it had a year ago in winning the NFC South with a 12-4 record. He or rookie Bene Benwikere will make a solid replacement for Captain Munnerlyn, who signed with Minnesota in free agency, at nickel back.

Godfrey also will be given every opportunity to compete for one of the starting corner jobs, likely the position held by undrafted rookie Melvin White last season.

At 5-11 and 210 pounds, Godfrey could be a physical corner in the mold of Seattle's Richard Sherman who helps take the defense from No. 2 to 1.

"I really like what we are getting,'' coach Ron Rivera said. "We have a luxury in terms of moving him to corner, and if it works out it could be a very good thing for him.''

The Panthers have that luxury because they signed in free agency veterans Roman Harper and Thomas DeCoud to play safety. They had no choice not knowing whether Godfrey would fully recover and knowing how important safety is to this defense.

That Godfrey appears on target to be 100 percent by training camp is a bonus.

"We're pulling for him, we really are,'' Rivera said.

That's because coaches understand the importance of having players that sacrifice.
It's Memorial Day weekend and most of the sports world will be focused on the Indianapolis 500 and NBA playoffs, but that doesn't mean you don't have questions about the Carolina Panthers.

The team has a long weekend off before returning Tuesday to begin Phase III of offseason workouts. It will be the first time rookies and returning veterans have been on the field together.

But that's a few days off. Let's get to the questions:

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