Camp-O-Rama

Sorry about today’s title.  How many headlines can be made about summer school and mini camps, anyway?  Not many.

The Carolina Panthers continue working on the field and working in the classrooms.  Here’s a review of what has happened in the last twenty-four hours or so.

There’s a lot of stuff after the jump.

Dwayne Jarrett still has some work to do.  He says that his rookie season was a learning experience.

“It’s a whole learning transition thing,” Jarrett said of his rookie season, most of which he experienced at the ripe old age of 20. “The whole thing, just becoming a pro, learning the program, learning the new atmosphere… it’s all a learning experience. I went through the trials and tribulations last year and this year I’m looking for things to go good.”

Coming out of USC as a second-round draft pick, Jarrett didn’t comprehend just how good everyone was at the next level.

“A lot of guys coming in don’t realize the adjustment it is from college to the NFL,” he said. “It’s definitely a learning experience. Some people get it faster than others. And it takes times for some people, including myself, to learn. But as long as you get it and get over that hurdle, things will work out for you.”

If Jarrett hasn’t adjusted to this “learning transition thing” he can’t figure too heavily in the team’s offensive plans for ’08.  But recent comments from John Fox would lead us to believe that they are still high on this kid.  I really hope they aren’t just trying to pump him up so the second-round pick doesn’t look like it was wasted.

Steve Smith, for one, isn’t so impressed.

When asked if he’s seen a change in Jarrett’s approach to the game, Smith dodged the question and bypassed lavishing praise on the kid by simply saying, “We’re all here to play football. That’s what we’re here to do.”

Jarrett has a lot to prove to everybody around him but he’d better start proving to himself that he can make it at this level before he receives a not-so-kind comparison to another USC wide receiver – Mike Williams.  He says he has his priorities straight.

“You go through (life) and things happen,” Jarrett said. “As long as you keep your head up and keep God in your prayers and not get too down on yourself… That is what I’ve been doing. I’ve had the great support of my teammates and my family. It is a thing in the past, and now I’m looking forward to this coming season.

“You always have pressure. Something like that adds on to the pressure that you already have. I’m a strong person and I’m competitive and something like that is not going to hold me down.”

“This is a new season and going into minicamp, I had a good camp. And in the OTAs I’m doing real good. I’m trying to keep that positive vibe going,” Jarrett said. “That’s all I can do right now. I can’t look in past.”

Meanwhile, Steve Smith is happy about something else – the team’s new offense for the coming season.  In fact, he sounds excited about it.

“I think we finally made an upgrade compared to the years prior,” Smith said after the offseason workout. “As those guys had left we really hadn’t replenished. We have finally, and I can honestly see a big difference.”

The Panthers hope the tweaking will eliminate the constant double teams Smith faced the last two years, and jump-start an anemic, unbalanced offense that ranked 29th in the NFL last season.

“It’s very exciting,” said Smith, who led the NFL in catches, yards receiving and touchdowns in 2005, only to see his numbers decline the past two years. “It’ll add a little extra to it as obviously Jake is coming in, feeling good and looking great. It seems like he has a stronger arm and he’s not showing any weakness as far as with that major surgery. With those two acquisitions (at receiver) and obviously some of the big guys on the offensive line…”

Smith went on to say that Jeff Otah, the rookie right tackle, has been “outstanding” in the mini camps so far.  Man, I gotta tell ya, I’m starting to get excited about the possibilites for next season after that!

Wide receiver seems to be the position of interest for reporters attending these camps.  There has been one story after another about this group.  Just this week, D.J. Hackett was out of practice with a knee problem.  He’s back on the field and being asked about it.

“It feels good,” the Carolina Panthers’ wide receiver said Wednesday, grinning as loosely as the black knee brace hanging from his left knee. “I just had some swelling in my knee, so I just took it easy. It swells up, but it’s nothing that’s hurt, nothing injured.”

The question was natural, after he missed the previous two days of work. Even coach John Fox made light of it, saying: “Like I told you, he had a little owie and he came back.”

We can all be thankful if it was just a little “owie” but our concern is the lack of playing time Hackett has had during his career thanks to injuries.  Much of that is just a perception according to Hackett.

“Yeah, I wasn’t hurt,” Hackett said with a laugh. “But then that stigma gets put on you. I had an injury in training camp, but had been playing the whole season. Then all of a sudden you’re hurt. What do you say, no? What are you going to do?”

Fox has been pretty candid about it even going much farther than his normal “it is what it is” routine.

“It just depends on if it’s something that’s chronic or reoccurring or the medicine of it shows it’s going to be reoccurring,” Fox said of the questions they asked during the free agency courtship. “But there’s guys that get hurt. Football’s a rough game.

“Sometimes a guy has a bad luck streak, sometimes a guy never gets hurt again, sometimes it’s more of the same. So it’s predicting the future, and I haven’t mastered that.”

D.J., we’re with you, buddy.  Go out there and show those Seahawks personnel people what you can do!

From the “We Knew it Was Coming” Department – a story on the very deep group of linebackers in camp for the Panthers.

If the Panthers lined up to play today, Landon Johnson, the team’s highest-paid free agent pickup this off-season, and Dan Connor, the team’s highly-touted third-round draft pick from Penn State, wouldn’t even crack the starting lineup. As of this moment, those jobs belong to Jon Beason, Thomas Davis and Na’il Diggs.

OUCH!  All that money thrown at Landon Johnson and he can’t crack the lineup!  I can forgive a third-round rookie for not making it there just yet but it would be a sign of one of three things if Johnson doesn’t start – 1) The group of Diggs, Thomas and Beason are really that good, 2) Johnson might not be everything we thought he might be when he signed that contract, or 3) Johnson is still learning the new defense.  Time will tell which is the case.  Place your bets on number 3.

Marty Hurney has been raving, however, about the team’s new-found depth at linebacker.  Don’t forget that Adam Seward is also in the mix.

Although Connor is currently splitting time with Seward as the second team middle linebacker, that will be one battle to keep an eye on going forward.

“He’s a very aware guy,” coach John Fox said of Connor. “He’s picking things up quickly. I’ve been impressed with him in the short look we’ve had.”

Johnson said he isn’t worried about starting right now.

His goal is to accumulate as much information as possible moving forward and help out where he can.

“I’m trying to learn multiple positions,” Johnson said. “Knowledge is power. The more you know, the more effective you are as a player. If I know multiple positions then I will know the defense better.

“Every defense has its own philosophy. It’s a little different here as far as run fits and pass drops. The technique and terminology are the biggest difference. But I’m getting a handle on it.”

These are battles to watch closely during training camp.  May the best three men win!

More as it becomes available.

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Tags: Carolina Panthers Dan Connor Dwayne Jarrett Jeff Otah Landon Johnson Mini Camp Steve Smith Summer School

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