Carolina Panthers 2017
Training Camp Highlights
“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.” — Muhammad Ali
I live in Hendersonville, NC. It is about 2 hours west of Charlotte. I am fortunate to live less than 45 minutes from Gibbs Stadium on the campus of Wofford University and I was lucky enough to check out the kickoff party for the Panthers last night. It was full of all the pomp and circumstance you would imagine. The Panther cheerleaders, the large drum used for the “Keep Pounding” cheer, and of course the biggest showman of all Cam Newton. I must admit some negative bias, not a big fan of too much “Look at Me”, maybe it’s my age. After all the Dabs and dancing was done they did manage to get some work in.
One of my main goals was to get a look at Christian McCaffrey, the Panthers 1st round draft pick. I wanted to see if all the hype I heard for like a year about this kid was accurate. The first thing that caught my eye was how he carried himself on the field. He was a ball of energy. As soon as he walked on the field he was running patters by himself. He was seldom standing still. He would stop long enough to speak to a coach or a teammate, then right back to moving. He was serious and his effort was clear to see. He did show a little confusion in the 7 on 7 drills when Cam had to physically direct him into the correct alignment. The one drill that really made me say wow was a foot drill with bags. The speed that his feet moved was crazy. He looked as if he was dancing and all the other backs looked like they were doing a foot drill. His cuts are crazy fast. Although it was a non-tackle practice they ran a handoff to him that was meant for an inside run. He made a jump cut that I am sure no lineman on any team would have secured him. He comes into the league with a level of professionalism that most rookies do not have. He has been raised to be a Pro and it shows. The work that his Father, Ed McCaffrey has put in with him was on full display, and he didn’t Dab once. Write this down, his TD celebration will be a spike at most more likely a toss of the ball to the Ref and a few high fives. He is the real deal, now if Carolina can get the ball to him look for a great career.
The other major item on my agenda was to watch Newton throw. For a while I thought I might not see that. The team had been on the field for like 20 minutes before he came out of the locker room. When he did finally come to the field he circled the field glad handing like a Southern politician and in between he danced and tried to pump up the crowd. The few passes he did throw were softball dump offs with little to no zip. I am sure he was holding back and most likely had the blessing of the coaching staff to take it easy. He did air out a about a 30-yard corner route late in the 7 on 7 drills. It looks to me that he is still nursing that shoulder but I suspect he will be fine. If you are counting on him running this year I wouldn’t hold my breath. In previous years when I have watched him at camp you will see at least one or 2 designed runs. Not this year. The types of plays Carolina was practicing makes it clear they are very serious about using their new shiny toys. They will work hard to get Cam to take less shots by throwing short.
The talk of Kelvin Benjamin coming to camp over weight might have been somewhat real. He is a large man, but from my vantage point I sure couldn’t say he was WAY over weight. I wish I had that kind of body. Let the talk continue to drive down his value and you should be able to get a solid #2 WR at a very good value.
Some other observations I noticed. Rookie Curtis Samuel was working out a lot with special teams. Look for him to be heavily used in punt returns. Luke Keckley was a full participant, and is clearly the most popular player on the roster, getting a much louder and exuberant cheer from the fans, then Newton. After suffering through much of last season with Concussions it was good to see him. He will be much needed in their LB corp. If the Panther expect to contend in the South they will have to shore up the secondary from last season.
The Panthers are in, arguably, the most competitive division in the league. With the teams, so even with talent the least thing can let you finish last. The Panthers will look to regain the form that allowed them to reel off 15 wins on the way to the Super Bowl in 2015. To repeat this, they will have to change the nature of their offense. They will look to protect Newton by utilizing the short passes and shoring up their secondary. Anything is possible in the South, so don’t count them out. —– KEEP POUNDING
Duane (Pop) Gillespie