CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Thoughts and observations from the Carolina Panthers training camp:
There were a lot of oohs and aahs from the estimated 36,000 that attended Fan Fest at Bank of America Stadium when quarterback Cam Newton threw to his new group of receivers. But to say Newton looked sharp in his first full practice since undergoing offseason ankle surgery would be an overstatement. His first pass during team drills was high and sailed through the hands of Tavarres King. One kid in the press box said Newton had overthrown 14 passes halfway through the two-hour workout. That was a bit of an exaggeration. Newton actually looked sharp on some of his sideline passes and overall didn't look bad, although he admitted he's not 100 percent. During his first team passing drill he went 4-for-5. Then there was (See below on pass to Kelvin Benjamin).
Byron Bell took the first snap at left tackle, which means he is the front-runner to replace retired Jordan Gross. But don't rule out Nate Chandler or possibly Garry Williams winning the job. Chandler in particular is one to keep an eye on. Left guard Amini Silatolu mentioned how impressive Chandler was during offseason workouts when asked who he felt most comfortable playing beside. The first time the team went to full team passing drills Chandler lined up at left. But until they put the pads on, it's way too early to predict.
Benjamin once again showed why the Panthers selected him with the 28th pick of the draft, catching about a 30-yard pass over the middle in traffic from backup quarterback Derek Anderson. He followed that with a 35-yard catch from Newton in which he was ahead of the defender by at least five yards. Newton, by the way, was spot on with the pass. But when asked what player impressed him the most, coach Ron Rivera said Brenton Bersin, an undrafted player out of Wofford entering his third training camp. I have to agree. The sideline pass Bersin caught in traffic and turned into a touchdown was the most impressive of the night.
As I wrote earlier in the day, don't rule out Charles Godfrey as an every down cornerback. The safety-turned-corner worked some with the first team in his first team drill work since suffering a season-ending Achilles injury in the second game last season.
Next stop, Spartanburg, South Carolina. Since 1995 the team has begun camp at Wofford College, but because an international soccer game is scheduled for Bank of America Stadium on Aug. 2, Fan Fest was moved up a week. Players report to Wofford on Saturday morning and hold the first practice there at 6:30 p.m. ET. The change in schedule really hasn't been a big inconvenience. Coaches and players went through the same routine in Charlotte as they would have in Spartanburg, and because the first two days of camp are without pads most of the equipment was shipped ahead of time.