SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Perhaps no team was more anxious to begin training camp for the 2017 season than the Carolina Panthers.The miserable 2016 season became just the initial seed of what became significant upheaval across the offseason.It hit a climax with last week’s firing of general manager Dave Gettleman and the return of former GM Marty Hurney in an interim role.
So with the Panthers gathering for training camp at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., it’s a chance for a return to normal. The team began its on-field work with a night session Wednesday.”I think everything is in place,” head coach Ron Rivera said. “We have everybody here.”
That was one of the concerns with contract issues involving linebacker Thomas Davis and tight end Greg Olsen unresolved. But they reported anyway, in part, because Rivera said they are leaders intent on setting the right example.
“This part is about business. They’re professionals,” Rivera said. “There was no doubt in my mind (they’d be here). I really believe in those guys. Despite what has gone on, these guys are here and they’re professionals.”Davis has seen the chatter about the team making front-office moves so close to the start for training camp. To him, it shouldn’t matter. “You have to realize we are the ones who go out and play the games,” Davis said. “We will determine how our season goes.”
There has been enough upheaval within the organization in the past week or so that eliminating drama at the start of training camp is probably a good thing. “I didn’t want to add fuel to the fire,” Olsen said.
Otherwise, the fire could be burning stronger for the Panthers in this training camp as they strive to rekindle the good feelings they had two seasons ago.
Rivera said having quarterback Cam Newton back in action is going to be good for the team’s psyche after his injury-riddled 2016 season.
Newton’s role will be significant on an offense that’s undergoing some retooling along the offensive front plus in several other positions.First-round draft pick Christian McCaffrey adds versatility to the offense as a running back. Plus, there’s a crop of receivers that will undergo careful scrutiny during training camp.
The more time they can spend with Newton figures to benefit the Panthers.”I’m really excited to see how the guys mesh together (on offense),” Rivera said.
The football part is what interests the players and coaches the most. That’s why getting back out on the field after the stunning off-field news is probably best for this team.Rivera said he can focus on the issues that are important, and that’s grooming a team and witnessing improvement during these critical weeks leading to the season.”For the young guys, it’s going to be really about their development, he said. “What steps have they taken and what’s their retention.”
ROOKIE TO WATCH: RB Christian McCaffrey. The Panthers haven’t been shy about the desire to use McCaffrey in key roles right away. He wasn’t available for much of minicamp because of NFL rules in place that related to him coming out of Stanford, which has an academic calendar extending into June. Now it should be full-speed ahead for McCaffrey, with the specific roles he’ll be used in generating plenty of preseason speculation.
CAM IN CAMP: Quarterback Cam Newton arrived at camp noticeably trimmer than in the past. He weighed in at close to his listed weight of 245 pounds. What this means is difficult to know at this point.Head coach Ron Rivera said he was pleased with Newton’s arrival and said he sensed that the quarterback appears in good shape. The bigger question might be the condition of his throwing arm after offseason shoulder surgery. Rivera said Newton has been on target in his rehabilitation and should be ready to throw at the outset of camp. His durability might be the bigger question. “There’s a plan,” Rivera said of Newton’s workload dictated in part by the medical experts. “They’ll see how he is every day.” Newton threw during the opening practice, but they were short passes. It appears he’ll work his way up to longer throws.
CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS: Linebacker Thomas Davis says there’s no sense in making a big issue about his desire for a renegotiated contract. He’s where he wants to be and he said he’s confident things will work out. “Carolina is my home and it always will be,” Davis said. Davis, 34, has been a staple not only for the defense but for the franchise in recent years. He says he’s not interested in pondering the winding down of his playing career. “I feel like I have a lot of years left in me,” he said. “Maybe not a lot of years, but a few good years to play.” Davis said there should be no concerns about his motivation. “I’m chasing that ring,” he said. “That’s still the goal.”