Before Wednesday’s practice, Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera wanted to temper the potential hysteria from quarterback Cam Newton being tardy to practice.
The reigning NFL Coach of the Year pulled a handful of media members aside on the practice field and said Newton would be late to the field but that he was inside the stadium rehabbing his ankle.
Newton didn’t ever make it to the two-hour practice, one week after he threw on a limited basis, but Rivera promised the team had not scaled back Newton’s rehab process.
“No. Now’s a different phase,” Rivera said after Wednesday’s organized team activities session. “The further along he gets, the more he gets to do. So we’re at a point now where (team trainer) Ryan (Vermillion) wanted to keep him in and do some more of those things that they need to do.”
Newton worked on the underwater treadmill Wednesday and didn’t finish in time to join the team. He’s just more than two months separated from ankle surgery that tightened ligaments in his left ankle after he could still feel the effects following Carolina’s January playoff loss.
Last week, Newton showed up to practice in a red No. 1 jersey, though he got a ride on the cart and walked to the field with a slight limp. He threw on the sideline to equipment managers, and after practice he threw to four teammates from a stationary position.
The timetable for his return remains the start of training camp in late July.
Newton missed last Thursday’s OTAs because he was in Atlanta for his foundation’s 7-on-7 tournament. He’ll be in Los Angeles on Friday for a live segment on SportsCenter, where the winner of the Madden ’15 cover will be announced. Newton is a finalist along with Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman.
Newton is expected to address local media next week at OTAs.
Last 2 draft picks sign: Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and offensive guard Trai Turner have signed their rookie deals, meaning all six of the Panthers’ picks in May’s NFL draft are under contract.
Both deals were for four years, and though terms were not disclosed, the rookie pay scale means Benjamin’s four-year deal is worth about $7.6 million.
With the new collective bargaining agreement, rookie contracts are routine and there are rarely the holdouts seen with the old CBA pre-2011.
The Panthers selected Benjamin with the 28th overall pick. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound receiver gives the Panthers and quarterback Cam Newton one of the largest targets in the NFC South.
Turner, the team’s third-round pick at No. 92 overall, played with the first team at right guard Wednesday, when Chris Scott sat out with an illness. The Panthers like the maturity Turner, 20, shows, and they’re working him at guard and at backup center.
Sixth-round running back Tyler Gaffney was the first Carolina draft pick to sign in mid-May before going back to Stanford. Fourth-round safety Tre Boston and fifth-round cornerback Bene’ Benwikere followed on May 20, and second-round defensive end Kony Ealy inked his $3.55 million deal last Thursday.
Boston sidelined: The Panthers will be without Boston until at least training camp.
Boston, a former North Carolina safety, had sports hernia surgery recently and has not participated in OTAs. Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the hope is to have him back by the start of training camp.
“After one of our (rookie minicamp) practices, he came in and he was complaining about it, and we knew he had a history of it,” Rivera said. “He went to the doctors, and this might be the best time to do it. If we do it now, he’ll be ready for training camp.”
Rivera said players can either manage the pain and play with it or have surgery right away. The Panthers opted for Boston to miss OTAs and veteran minicamp in mid-June so he could be ready by late July.
The Panthers view Boston as a hard-hitting safety, and the coaching staff is impressed with his football IQ.
Boston isn’t the only fourth-round pick sidelined for the Panthers. Offensive guard Edmund Kugbila, the 2013 fourth-rounder for Carolina, was on the exercise bike and with the trainers again Wednesday. He may not return until training camp, either.
• Byron Bell and Nate Chandler continued to flip offensive tackle positions, with Bell getting the first nod at left tackle. They struggled to pick up corner blitzes at times as defensive coordinator Sean McDermott goes deeper into his playbook during workouts.
• Along with Kugbila, guard Chris Scott and tackle Andrew McDonald were on the exercise bikes. Scott overheated at last Wednesday’s practice, and Rivera said Scott had a recent illness that kept him sidelined this week.
• Underwood doesn’t have the initial quickness of Ted Ginn Jr., but once he gets going, he’s just as tough to catch.
• Josh Norman picked off a Matt Blanchard pass after a high snap during red-zone drills. Norman ran it back for a pick-six one week after missing OTAs for a dentist appointment.
• The running backs are getting a good rotation, but DeAngelo Williams is impressing coaches with his explosiveness and burst when he gets touches.
• Luke Kuechly had a nice pass breakup in the corner of the end zone on a 20-plus-yard pass from Derek Anderson. Kuechly has been working on his pass coverage abilities this off-season.
• Second-year safety Robert Lester hasn’t made much of an impact during OTAs, while other defensive backs have. He faced a similar issue last year at training camp after starting hot in rookie camp.
• Linebacker Ben Jacobs and safety Anderson Russell are two under-the-radar guys to watch after two solid weeks of OTAs.
• Second-year running back Kenjon Barner hauled in a touchdown from Anderson on a wheel route in red zone drills. He beat linebacker Thomas Davis in coverage, and Barner received several congratulations from the Panthers’ running back group after the score.
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