Inside Training Camp  

 

Carolina Panthers training camp: Cam Newton looking good

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The road to success in the NFL begins each year with the hard work and wide-open possibilities of training camp. As teams around the league gear up for the 2015 campaign, NFL Media reporters will be checking in from all 32 camps around the league. For our next stop, Gil Brandt visits the Carolina Panthers.

Where is NFL Media?

Since their inception in 1995, the Panthers have held camp at scenic Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina -- where owner Jerry Richardson played college ball in the 1950s. Lowe's recently became a major sponsor, and they've made the space very fan-friendly, adding patio furniture and landscaping to the observation area.

Observations

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1) The Panthers spent a lot of time working on the passing attack in Monday's practice. Cam Newton -- who didn't get off to a great start in Friday's preseason matchup with the Bills, completing just one of his first six attempts -- showed very good accuracy in the passing drills. Offensive coordinator Mike Shula put Newton and backups Derek Anderson -- as good a backup quarterback as anyone -- and Joe Webb -- an athletic guy with a big arm -- through about 15 minutes of footwork drills after practice.

2) Josh Norman made the news last week for scuffling with Newton in practice, but the cornerback is a speedy guy with some ball skills who should make some noise with his play coming off a season in which he notched 11 passes defensed and two picks. People credited veteran safety Roman Harper for helping Norman develop. Second-year pros Tre Boston (safety) and Bene' Benwikere (corner), meanwhile, are a year older and a year smarter. And veteran addition Charles Tillman will provide a boost at the other corner spot. I think these defensive backs have a chance to be pretty good.

3) A big question for the Panthers: Can they get a pass rush going? Can someone emerge as a complement to Charles Johnson, who dipped below double digits in sacks last season (with 8.5) for the first time since 2011? Second-year pro Kony Ealy played better toward the end of his rookie campaign, notching three of his four sacks in the final three games of the regular season. Two guys who looked good Monday: Rakim Cox, who notched a sack against Buffalo last week, and undrafted rookie free agent Arthur Miley, who appears to have some pass-rushing skills and could develop into something. The Panthers did post a respectable 40 sacks -- tied for 13th -- last season, but that was quite a dropoff from 2013, when, with former Panther Greg Hardy in the fold, they led the league with 60.

New additions

Michael Oher, LT: The Panthers do an excellent job teaching fundamentals. The seventh-year pro, coming off a disappointing season in Tennessee that led to him being waived in February, looked pretty good starting at left tackle against Bills pass-rushing dynamo Jerry Hughes last week.

Devin Funchess, WR: The rookie showed he can run routes and catch the ball. Between the 6-foot-4 Funchess and 6-5 second-year pro Kelvin Benjamin, the Panthers will field a very tall receiving corps. Funchess should be an asset in the red zone and benefit from the defensive attention that will be paid to Benjamin. (UPDATE: Benjamin was carted off the field at Wednesday's practice and will undergo an MRI on what coach Ron Rivera called a sprained knee.)

Charles Tillman, CB: He's not the fastest guy in the world, and he is one of the oldest guys on the roster at 34, but he knows how to play. Harper praised Tillman's knack for punching the ball out of the hands of offensive players.

Shaq Thompson, LB: Before I saw him play, I wondered if the first-round pick had been overdrafted, but after watching him in Panthers camp, I no longer feel that way. He's a sturdier player than I thought he'd be, and I think he'll do a pretty good job, what with his speed and coverage ability.

Overheard

I talked to head coach Ron Rivera, and he said that one of the things he's most happy with this camp is the cohesion that has come about with the offensive line. He's really pleased with the way the unit -- which a lot of people rightfully considered a weakness last year -- has come together.

Extra points

Every game, all season

» Thirty-two-year-old linebacker Thomas Davis is entering his 10th NFL season, but he was moving around like a 25-year-old. He's an amazing guy.

» The Panthers have a group of very hard-working players but a very relaxed, loose camp atmosphere. Everyone I talked to, from the coaches to Newton to linebacker Luke Kuechly, was upbeat and excited. People here think Newton could put up the best season of his career in 2015.

» In terms of signing autographs for fans, the Panthers players are probably among the most accessible I've seen this camp season, staying longer and doing more. Norman, for example, was still signing away about 25 minutes or so after practice ended Monday.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.

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