When the Panthers travel to Buffalo on Friday for their first exhibition, they’ll face a player who made training camp easier last year on kicker Graham Gano and punter Brad Nortman.
The Panthers had Jordan Gay on their camp roster last summer to keep some of the wear and tear off Gano and Nortman. When Carolina waived him in the first round of cuts, Gay found work as the Bills’ kickoff specialist.
The third specialist this year lasted only until Aug. 5, when the Panthers cut former Michigan punter Matt Wile to make roster space to sign a defensive tackle after Star Lotulelei’s foot injury.
Both Gano and Nortman said coaches have been careful with their reps to keep their legs fresh for the season. Rather than have Gano or Nortman kick during a special teams drill, coaches some days use the JUGS machine to launch balls at the returners.
Gano compared it to a pitcher in baseball on a pitch count.
“They can’t pitch every single day. You’ve got to take care of your arm. So they have their off days. They keep their arm fresh,” Gano said Wednesday. “So it’s the same with us. We’re going to be at our best when our legs are fresh.”
Nortman knows from experience the negative effects of kicking too much. He wore out midway as a rookie in 2012 under the heavy workload of former special teams coordinator Brian Murphy, who was fired during the season.
“The coach at the time thought more volume was better than less volume,” said Nortman, who felt like he’d lost the power in his right leg during the season’s final two months. “You just know that come November or December, if you over-kick now you’re just going to be totally in the tank at that point.”
Both Nortman and Gano are healthy heading into the final week of camp.
Gano battled a lower back issue throughout 2014 after getting injured while training. He said he was smarter with his workouts this past offseason, and credited special teams coaches Bruce DeHaven and Russ Purnell for a implementing a good mix of kicking, weightlifting and other drills.
Rivera to take a good look at deep receiver corps
Panthers coach Ron Rivera looks forward to watching the receiving competition begin to shake out Friday at Buffalo, although the candidates for those last couple of wide receiver spots likely won’t get much time with quarterback Cam Newton.
Rivera plans to use Newton and the other starters for the first quarter Friday before sending in the second- and third-teamers. That’s typical for a first exhibition.
“We’ll take (Newton) into the first quarter and we’ll evaluate it and go from there,” Rivera said Wednesday.
Several players will be sidelined Friday, including defensive end Charles Johnson (left calf), defensive tackle Star Lotulelei (right foot) and offensive lineman Amini Silatolu (right calf). Rivera said he and the training staff will discuss the status of defensive tackle Kawann Short, who’s missed all but two training camp practices with back spasms.
Rivera raved about the increased competition at receiver before camp started, and the first 10 practices at Wofford did nothing to change his mind.
“We’ve got five or six or seven guys right now that are battling,” Rivera said. “We really haven’t projected anybody as clear-cut, top five or six. But we’ve got a group of guys that are showing every day. They flash constantly.”
Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess and Ted Ginn Jr. appear to be shoo-ins to make the team. But there’s a crowd fighting for the final few spots, a group that includes Jerricho Cotchery, Corey Brown, Brenton Bersin, Mike Brown, Jarrett Boykin and Damiere Byrd.
Panthers TE Ed Dickson: Chip Kelly isn’t a racist
Tight end Ed Dickson says Chip Kelly, his former coach at Oregon, might not care for players with inflated egos, but he’s not a racist.
Kelly, the Philadelphia Eagles’ third-year coach, has come under attack by a couple of ex-players who were traded away. Bills running back LeSean McCoy said Kelly got rid of “all the good black players,” while Steelers cornerback Brandon Boykin recently claimed Kelly is “uncomfortable around grown men of our culture.”
Dickson, who played at Oregon from 2005-2009, didn’t see any signs of racism.
“I know the guy and personally I don’t think he’s racist and everything like that,” said Dickson, who is black. “I think he’s very powerful and he knows his stuff. And he doesn’t like egos. I think that’s getting him in trouble a little bit. I think he’ll work it out within the team and I think the Eagles will be a very good team if they can all buy into the system.”
Kelly was the Ducks’ offensive coordinator for two years when Dickson was at Oregon before becoming head coach before Dickson’s final season.
▪ Outside linebacker A.J. Klein is best known as a run-stopper, but he’s shown off his coverage skills a couple of times in camp. Klein intercepted a tipped pass during team drills Wednesday, a couple of days after separating Ed Dickson from the ball with a big hit on the No. 2 tight end.
▪ It was not Cam Newton’s sharpest day throwing the football. Early in team drills, cornerback Bené Benwikere knocked down a Newton pass near the line of scrimmage. Newton then airmailed receivers on his next two passes.
▪ Newton has not been the wearing the flak jacket that became part of his practice and game attire last year after he cracked his ribs during the third exhibition. Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he expects Newton to wear the protective vest during games, beginning Friday at Buffalo.
▪ Funniest line of the day came from left tackle Michael Oher, directed at former Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross, who’s now the team’s sideline reporter. As Oher approached the slimmed-down Gross after practice, he asked: “Do you play for the Hornets?”
▪ Rivera said wide receiver Stephen Hill had successful knee surgery last week, after the former Jets’ second-round pick tore ligaments during the second practice at Wofford.
▪ Former Patriots defensive tackle Kyle Love should get plenty of work Friday with Star Lotulelei (foot) out and Kawann Short (back) questionable. Love moves pretty well for a guy who’s 6-1 and 315 pounds.
▪ The Panthers are off Thursday before traveling to Buffalo later in the day. Their next practice in Spartanburg will be at 3:10 p.m. Monday. They have four sessions remaining at Wofford, including two joint practices with the Dolphins to close camp.
Getting to know ...
Wide receiver Mike Brown
NFL experience: Third year.
The scoop: The shorter receiver has shown good route-running abilities so far in camp as well as good hands despite a drop on Wednesday. He spent his career in Jacksonville before signing with the Panthers in the offseason. He has 39 catches for 534 yards in his career, good for an average of 13.7 yards per reception. But Brown, so far, hasn’t done much to separate himself from the pack. A few good showings in extended time in exhibitions would go a long way for him securing at least a practice squad spot on this team.
3 questions with ...
Offensive tackle Mike Remmers
Q. So you’re wearing a Duck Dynasty shirt. Is that a show you regularly watch?
A. I absolutely love duck hunting and I do a lot of it in the offseason. I definitely watch some Duck Dynasty. Their old show was Duck Commander and that was actual duck hunting. It was less show and more hunting. I really liked that show. But I feel like Duck Dynasty has a really good message each episode.
Q. When’s the last time you went duck hunting and how’d you do?
A. Whenever the last day of the season was, and we did pretty well. We usually do pretty well in Oregon. My dad has a duck-hunting farm and it’s one that’s designed strictly for duck hunting. It’s been in my family for a while.
Q. Does he rent it out to folks and people come out there or what?
A: He’s got a tight group of friends that go out there often. That’s kind of a safety thing not having random strangers out there. But we have a really good group of guys out there.