- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Carolina Panthers training camp from Wofford College:
Breaking news: Rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin didn't catch a pass in team drills for the first time in training camp -- aside from the days he was out nursing a bruised left knee. He didn't drop one, either. Benjamin hasn't dropped a pass in any of the team drills. The 28th pick of the draft just wasn't targeted on Wednesday as defensive coordinator Sean McDermott mixed up his schemes a bit to focus on the 6-foot-5 receiver. Many times Benjamin was pressed, and other times he was part of a zone coverage that left him blanketed. The good news: When Benjamin was covered, others were open.
It raised a red flag among reporters when quarterback Cam Newton didn't take snaps during the first few sessions of team drills. That he spent that time working with trainers and coaches apart from the pack while backup Derek Anderson took snaps with the first team appeared to suggest he would not play in Friday's exhibition opener against Buffalo. That still might be the case, as the Panthers are being cautious with Newton in his comeback from March ankle surgery. But as coach Ron Rivera noted, Newton was doing exactly what had been scripted for him days in advance. When Newton finally got into team drills, he completed his first six pass attempts and finished 8-for-10. The two incompletions were spikes because of a misread by the quarterback or his receivers. Newton's plan for Friday will be determined on Thursday. If he plays, it won't be for more than two series, and most of those plays will be runs. Rivera doesn't want Newton reacting to potential pressure from the Bills' pass rush and instinctively putting stress on the ankle when it isn't necessary.
It was a big day for undrafted rookie wide receiver Philly Brown. He got open deep on safety Robert Lester for a long touchdown catch from Newton and made at least two other nice catches. Once he went up and over safety Tom Nelson for a sideline catch. He actually landed awkwardly on Nelson. Brown is one of a handful of receivers fighting for the last spot or two, depending on whether the Panthers keep five or six receivers. As Rivera noted, Brown has been "hot and cold'' as far as consistency. He'll likely need to impress as a punt returner as well to make the final roster.
Wide receiver Kealoha Pilares, for now, has solidified himself as the top kickoff returner. That might be his best chance of making the team because he hasn't stood out as a receiver. He also plays on coverage teams.
Rivera said defensive end Charles Johnson will not play Friday if he doesn't practice Thursday. Johnson has missed the last three practices with a hamstring injury. ... Running back Kenjon Barner (leg) returned after missing four practices and looked good. ... Wide receiver Tavarres King (leg) returned after missing two practices and made a nice, one-handed catch. He is the fourth of five receivers at this point.
Thursday's practice is scheduled for 9:25 a.m.