Carolina Panthers

Panthers’ Rivera on rookie camp: ‘I really liked what we did.’ Here’s what we saw.

The Carolina Panthers held their annual rookie minicamp at Bank of America Stadium on Friday and Saturday, welcoming 33 participants.

These included their seven draft picks — defensive end/linebacker Brian Burns, tackle Greg Little, quarterback Will Grier, defensive end/linebacker Christian Miller, running back Jordan Scarlett, tackle Dennis Daley and receiver Terry Godwin — four undrafted free agents, four Alliance of American football players, 12 invited participants and a handful of players already on the team’s roster.

Here are 10 things we learned from the three on-field practice sessions, and corresponding player interviews:

1. Burns and Miller: The buddy series of the summer?

The two hybrid defensive players were paired up in drills all weekend, moving between playing outside linebacker in a three-man front to hand-in-the-dirt defensive end in a four-man front. They worked at times with linebackers coach Steve Russ, and other times with defensive line coach Sam Mills III and defensive coordinator Eric Washington.

That echoes what their roles will be this fall, when both will be expected to contribute at both positions with the Panthers striving to become more multiple on defense.

Off the field, Miller said he and Burns have been sticking together in meetings and downtime, leaning on each other as resources as well as new teammates.

2. The most important thing

Head coach Ron Rivera wanted to see the newcomers show up in shape and ready to play, but most important was whether they carried over the knowledge from the first day into the second.

“Retention was really good,” said Rivera, after the weekend’s final session. “I really liked what we did on both sides of the ball.”

Rivera added that the staff will really see what players retained from the weekend on Monday and Tuesday, when the rookies join the veterans in the weight room and meeting rooms for the first time.

3. Run, Brian, run

The Panthers desperately wanted to add some speed and pass rushing skill to their defensive ends this spring, and so far, it looks like they’ve done that with Burns.

Burns showed a plethora of pass-rush moves and consistent speed during drills and in light matchup work through the weekend, cruising through offensive linemen a couple of times, seemingly at will.

Where Burns will run into tougher matchups is against Little — the two squared off multiple times and will continue to do so through the summer.

4. Air Stribling

There aren’t usually many highlights to choose from during rookie minicamp, especially not with the Panthers doing lighter field work than usual without use of many of their practice facilities.

But Michigan cornerback Channing Stribling, a Butler high school alumnus and rookie camp tryout invitee, picked off fellow Charlotte-area native Will Grier near the end of camp, stretching high into the air to do so.

5. I choose you, QB2

Quarterbacks Will Grier and Kyle Allen both flashed at different times throughout the weekend. Grier’s strongest throw of the day came on Saturday, when he unfurled a deep ball to receiver Andre Levrone (it was dropped). But he also had a few overthrows. Allen showed consistency both days and seemed to have good chemistry with Godwin.

6. Involved, engaged coaching

Mills III was promoted this spring to defensive line coach, and showed this weekend that his style is very hands-on. He demonstrated drills on hit sleds and tackle dummies while also jogging with players and issuing instructions as they went through their own reps.

Russ was also all over the field as usual, yelling ‘violence, men, violence,” hitting the sled and donning chest pads and long-armed “pencil” pads to allow his linebackers to hit him in drills.

Rivera moved between offense and defense often, taking some extra time to watch the matchups between first and second-round picks Burns and Little.

7. No gloves, no problem

As receivers, running backs, tight ends and defensive backs all struggled to corral passes during a rainy Friday practice, Godwin consistently made both routine and difficult catches — all without gloves.

He said it’s a practice habit he learned at Georgia, where receivers practice without gloves on rainy days to make catching the ball more difficult. It worked. He was the standout receiver in rookie camp and is worth watching as he looks to crack a deep rotation of Panthers wideouts.

8. The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence

Just because few people outside the Panthers organization see Cam Newton mentoring the team’s younger quarterbacks doesn’t mean he isn’t prone to do so. Allen said Newton was engaged in the film room with both him and Taylor Heinicke last season, actively assisting both players during their respective starts in weeks 16 and 17.

Newton didn’t always have to mentor players in his position group, Rivera told The Observer on Friday, but he called any belief that he can’t do so with Allen, Heinicke and Grier “an unfair assessment.”

9. Facilities a work in progress

If anyone needed a reminder of why team owner David Tepper is building a temporary indoor practice facility while the Panthers await their permanent facility (apparently in Rock Hill), look no further than Friday’s practice during a rainstorm, which was comparable to the one that sent the team to the Charlotte Convention Center for practice last season.

Ten yards or so away from the team’s lone practice field sat a large dirt lot and the foundation for the inflated indoor facility they plan to use during the 2019 season. There’s still a lot of work before the project is complete, but Tepper said he expects a final product by summer’s end. After Friday’s soaking-wet introduction, it wouldn’t be too surprising if he grabs a hardhat and personally helps the process along.

10. It means more

Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said last month that the team actively sought players from Power 5 conferences (SEC, Pac-12, ACC, Big Ten and Big 12, for reference) — which is why all seven of their draft picks played in either the SEC, ACC or Big 12. It seems they took a similar approach to their rookie camp roster.

Of the 33 participants, only nine played for a non-Power 5 program. Eleven former SEC players were in attendance, alongside six from the ACC, four from the Big Ten, two from the Pac 12 and one from the Big 12.

Jourdan has covered the Carolina Panthers as a beat writer since 2016, and froze during Pennsylvania winters as an award-winning Penn State football beat writer before that. A 2014 graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, she’s on a never-ending quest for trick plays and the stories that give football fans goosebumps.
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Marcel Louis-Jacques covers the Carolina Panthers for the Charlotte Observer, keeping you on top of Panthers news both on the field and behind the scenes. He is a 2014 graduate of Arizona State University and grew up in Sacramento, California.