Usually I blog on all things Dallas Cowboys but since I was in Spartanburg, SC Saturday afternoon and in attendance for the Carolina Panthers “Back to Football Kickoff Party” on the campus of Wofford University, I thought I would share my thoughts from the camp of the defending NFC South division champs.
Things started with a bang from the Panthers PurrCussion Drumline band. These cats were in midseason form and gave a nice performance that got the crowd ready for some football.
Also performing were the Carolina Panther cheerleaders aka Topcats who gracefully strut onto the Gibbs Stadium field like proud show horses in their high white boots and Panther blue pom poms shimmering in the sun like ocean water on a hot summer day. They flawlessly executed their dance as the sound of Nirvana’s “Entertain Us” echoed through out the stadium. I’m not sure which was hotter that day, the blistering Carolina sun or the Topcat cheerleaders.
And if the young Carolina wide receivers can catch footballs this season as well as the canine were catching Frisbees on the field before practice, Cam Newton will be a happy quarterback this season.
Let There Be Football
Finally the Panther players meandered in small clusters down the hill from the field house and onto the field for the start of practice. Predictably, Cam Newton was one of the last to make an entrance.
Any concerns about Cam’s ankle that he had surgery on in the off season, should have quickly been put to rest for fans as Cam WOBBLED in the sun filled endzone to the song “Wobble baby” by V.I.C.
Cam displayed as much familiarity with the Wobble as the Panthers offense and I’m making a safe assumption it wasn’t the big fella’s first time doing the Wobble. It was fun to watch and it added a celebration of “football is finally back” to the air.
Cam’s ankle didn’t appear quite 100% as he tentatively participated in drills that required running. His throwing however looked very strong and I didn’t see any issues with passing. Sure he made an occasional high throw but over all, he was very accurate in pass drills.
Cam’s best pass in team drills occurred on a play action pass where he dropped back and threw a 50 yard pass to WR Kealoha Pilares who was at least 10 yards behind the nearest defender. Cam enthusiastically pointed to the sky after completing that one. As far as the ankle goes, I think Cam is going to be ready to go when the season rolls around. His dance moves convinced me of that more than anything else.
TOP Pick Kelvin Benjamin:
I paid particular attention to the Panthers first draft pick FSU WR Kelvin Benjamin. His contributions will be needed without Steve Smith on the team. Locating the young rookie’s number 13 on the field proved to be easy because his 6-5, 240 pound man/child size really stands out among the group of WRs.
I came away more impressed with Benjamin than expected as he is clearly going to be a handful for corner backs to deal with in coverage, and at practice he displayed nice hands. Do the Panthers have a young Calvin Johnson in this big target for Cam? Panther fans may want to start coming up with a nickname as cool as “Megatron”. But “Big Ben” is already taken. How ’bout the “Kelvinator“?
A Look at the Lines:
It would certainly appear that the defensive line is going to be a strength of the Panthers team again in 2014. During team drills, the defensive line often were successful at breaking through and blowing up run plays before they got started. The Addition of rookie DE Kony Ealy will just make that pass rush even more effective.
On the other hand, Panther fans have reason to be concerned about the offensive line. The very critical Left tackle position is far from buttoned up and they didn’t do much to address it in the off season. Protecting Cam could become an issue during the season.
It’s early but I didn’t come away impressed with the Panthers secondary which was out of position often on this day. During team play rookie Texas CB Carrington Byndom made a really nice pass break up providing some optimism. We will see how it unfolds, but I’m not convinced the Panthers secondary is ready and may rely heavily on a good pass rush.
A great crowd came out to celebrate the return of NFL football and the Panther fans appear quite enthusiastic about their team in 2014.