June 13, 2012

Five-point checklist for Panthers’ minicamp

The Carolina Panthers’ minicamp this week will look much like the team’s three weeks of organized team activities (OTAs) practices.

The Carolina Panthers’ minicamp this week will look much like the team’s three weeks of organized team activities (OTAs) practices.

Players will be in helmets and shorts, without full pads and live contact.

The only difference: These sessions are mandatory.

But given the near-100 percent turnout for OTAs and the fact the Panthers don’t have any players holding out in contract negotiations, coach Ron Rivera and his staff should have a seamless transition into the five minicamp practices.

The Panthers will practice twice Tuesday and Wednesday, before closing with a practice at 11:30 a.m. Thursday that is open to the public at Bank of America Stadium.

Five things to keep an eye on for fans able to take a long lunch break Thursday:

Chemistry with Cam

No, not locker room chemistry – although much was made of Cam Newton’s leadership role after he said recently he was a “bad teammate” during his record-breaking rookie season. The issue here is on-field chemistry as Newton seeks to get his timing down with a pair of new targets – wideout David Gettis, who blew out his ACL in training camp and sat out last season, and fullback Mike Tolbert, a free agent acquisition who has good hands and the ability to make the Panthers’ offense more versatile. Gettis has terrific straight-ahead speed when healthy and could give Newton a deep threat opposite Steve Smith.

Getting right at right tackle

Rivera sent a message to Jeff Otah before OTAs by telling the Observer the right tackle position was wide open. Otah did himself no favors by showing up heavy to OTAs and proceeding to tweak his twice-repaired knee, which has kept Otah out of the lineup for 31 of the past 35 games. An MRI revealed no structural damage to Otah’s knee. But his absence meant more playing time for Byron Bell, who started 12 games an undrafted rookie last season.

Kuechly gets more comfortable

Linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis had limited participation in OTAs, and likely won’t do much before training camp. Beason, who is coming off Achilles surgery, has been cleared to take part in team drills this week after doing only individual work in OTAs. Davis is attempting to become the first player to come back from three ACL surgeries on the same knee. Meanwhile, first-round pick Luke Kuechly continues to catch up with the speed of the NFL game. The NCAA’s career tackling leader has drawn praise from Beason for his athleticism and instincts.

Oh Captain, my Captain

Last year there was concern among Panthers’ fans about cornerback Chris Gamble, who rebounded from a disappointing season in 2010 to play shut-down coverage for most of last season. So now the No. 2 corner spot is causing angst among the fan base. Captain Munnerlyn held the spot last season and gave up more completions than any other corner. Munnerlyn worked with the first team throughout OTAs, and will look to hold off second-year corner Brandon Hogan and rookie Josh Norman.

Looking to make a splash

The Panthers have a number of intriguing, under-the-radar players who could get in the mix for a spot on the 53-man roster after showing flashes at OTAs. Rico Wallace, a 6-foot-3 wideout from Division III Shenandoah College in Virginia, is a fluid receiver with deceptive speed. Undrafted running back Tauren Poole was a 1,000-yard rusher for the Volunteers two years ago. Tight end Gary Barnidge was in the midst of a productive training camp last year before breaking his ankle. A strong showing by Barnidge this week could shut the door on a possible return by tight end Jeremy Shockey, a free agent who has yet to find a team.

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