Jul 27, 2013; Spartanburg, SC USA; Carolina Panthers guard Amini Silatolu (66) walks to the practice field held at Wofford College. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Carolina Panthers Training Camp Notes

Jul 27, 2013; Spartanburg, SC USA; Carolina Panthers guard Amini Silatolu (66) walks to the practice field held at Wofford College. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

With day three of the Carolina Panthers training camp in the books, and their first day with pads on, some guys are looking good and others…not so much. Don’t read too much into anything this early.

Ted Ginn, Jr. was catching everything and has great speed

This is Teddy’s M.O. from practices his entire career. One day, he’ll look like the dominant WR the Miami Dolphins thought they were getting 7 years ago when they took him with the #9 overall pick in the draft that season. He’ll even put 2 or 3 incredible practices together. Then, he’ll inevitably come back to earth, as easy passes go bouncing off his hands.

The same exact thing happened when the ‘Fins traded him to San Francisco. The Niners were talking him up after a couple of incredibly flashy practices, but then he went back to his “old self,” lapses in concentration having him dropping passes or running poor routes or whatever the case was.

Remember, there’s a reason his only real contribution in the Super Bowl this past February was the 31-yard kickoff return (on a punt) from the safety the Ravens took on purpose at the very end of the game. Ginn just hasn’t shown the consistency necessary to be a threat at wide receiver week in and week out yet, so he has a lot to prove.

Sure, it’s possible he’s suddenly and inexplicably figured out how to put everything together after 6 seasons, but I’ll believe it when I see it in a game. No, I’m not “hating on Teddy;” I’m simply pointing out that this has been his pattern his entire NFL career and he has enough history to tell me not to get excited until he produces in real games. He IS dangerous in the return game but apparently lacks the game quickness or speed to get open reliably and be a deep threat like a Mike Wallace – as up and down as he can be at times, himself.

Offensive line practiced poorly

Again, the headline doesn’t tell the whole story. I’ve always said that, early on especially, defenses are GOING to be ahead of offenses because of the nature of the beast. Defenses read and react…offenses have to all be on the same page or let an unblocked defender bust the play.

Some say it’s because Carolina’s OL is rather pedestrian overall. Others say the Panthers’ defensive line is simply that good.

It’s too early to say for sure yet, but I think the latter is more truthful. Their DE rotation was incredibly productive in 2012, and the addition of the two big DT rookies helps seal the middle for a complete line.

Jul 29, 2012; Spartanburg, SC USA. Carolina Panthers offensive guard Amini Silatolu (61) walks to the field before the start of training camp held at Wofford College. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Second-year offensive guard Amini Silatolu has apparently slimmed down a little bit, appeared more athletic, and was fast on his pulling assignments and able to get outside in short order. Check the photo to the right from 2012 against the cover photo of him for this article from this year and you’ll see what I mean. It’s a bit subtle but the difference is visible if you compare the two images.

Reports are also that he had a very good day blocking against first-round pick Star Lotulelei. Star has a lot to learn as any rookie does, so I’m not worried about him. I’m more enthused about Silatolu’s apparent progress from his rookie season into his second season now.

The early signs are that he’s made the jump to where he’s acting and not second-guessing himself. We could be watching the blossoming of a near-future Pro Bowl guard, and that would be a huge bonus since center Ryan Kalil hasn’t had a great camp.

I’m not so concerned with Kalil. He’s a veteran Pro Bowl center himself and the strongest point and the offensive signal-caller in terms of blocking up on the line. He’s coming off a knee injury and is going to take some time to get his old form back…but that’s one of the many reasons for training camp and the preseason.

Wideouts dominated the secondary

On the surface, this would seem opposite of what I just said about defenses being ahead of offenses in the early going, but this is a bit different a situation. The defensive backs have seen a high turnover from 2012, losing #1 CB Chris Gamble due to salary cap issues and having added Drayton Florence, D.J. Moore, safety Mike Mitchell, and having young D.J. Campbell and Josh Norman in the mix. Norman is the heir-apparent for the #1 cornerback spot.

Just like the offensive line, the defensive backfield takes a little time to “gel” since they’re learning each other’s strengths, weaknesses, and individual styles of play. Remember, it’s early-going, so take all these “reports” with a grain of salt but keep a special eye on the younger guys. They’re the ones who need to step up and show off during training camp so that the coaches might know what they’re capable (or INcapable) of doing.

Meanwhile, all the new DBs are adjusting and the first preseason game or two will be a better indicator of what they’ll have as a group.

Watch SS Mike Mitchell and blitzes

Mitchell is my pick for the team’s “pleasant surprise” of 2013, and he’s apparently showing his ability to blitz already during camp. He was used in blitz packages quite a bit with the Raiders and in playing the 4-3, it’s good to have a safety that can get to the QB. His progress and integration into the defense merits special attention for the future of this secondary.

Newton showing smarts

From what little we’ve seen so far, Cam Newton’s accuracy and touch were largely there. Early in camp, most young QBs are going to have a poor pass here and there as they get back into the rhythm of the offense, but Newton showed great touch and timing especially on some sideline passes.

Brandon LaFell stating his case to start

I’ve always felt that LaFell has the ability to be that possession WR opposite Smitty, and LaFell and Ginn both have stood apart from the others thus far. Ginn is probably best as a slot WR, but who had the best practice he’s probably ever had?

WR Joe Adams!

Don’t even pencil him into the lineup just yet, because one or two great practices does NOT a productive WR make, but it IS encouraging. It’s no secret that WRs often don’t do much as a rookie but have their biggest jump between years one and two. If that’s the case, perhaps Adams is just beginning to hit his stride and with a year of an NFL conditioning and strength program under his belt, the wiry return man/slot receiver could become a valuable depth WR off the bench and someone for defenses to worry about in spread sets with 3 or more WRs.

With the additions of Dominic Hixon and Ted Ginn, Jr., Adams is going to struggle to keep his spot as the team’s end-of-bench WR. So far in camp, the 5th or 6th WR spot on the roster looks to be his for the taking, but I don’t see Adams, Pilares AND Armanti Edwards all making the 53-man roster.

David Gettis still disappoints

Gettis is still rounding his routes off, he dropped several catchable balls, and tweaked his back on a play where Josh Norman fell on him. He isn’t getting open much at all and, in fact, appears so far to be less of a player than he was as a rookie.

With Smitty, Ginn, Hixon, LaFell, and even Joe Adams practicing better than Gettis, and considering Gettis has played all of two games in the last two seasons, David Gettis could be the odd man out when the rosters get cut down to the final 53. Right now, it looks like at BEST he could wind up on the practice squad, but just how long is the organization going to hang on to a kid who has less than 600 yards receiving in 3 years? The team could possibly keep him over Kealoha Pilares even with the issues he’s had and not lose a guy with a high ceiling, but at some point with Gettis you have to either fish or cut bait.

Gettis’ future is certainly dangling precariously on a nylon fishing line while Gettleman, the fisherman, takes his knife out of his hip-holster.

Silatolu looked good – even handling veteran D’wan Edwards – and looked to be the most solid OL practicing with the “ones” (the first-teamers). Jordan Gross and Byron Bell have had little success blocking the skillful ends, but I’m not sure if that’s because the ends are so good or the tackles are so bad.

Byron Bell isn’t a strong pass-protector and entered camp with pretty much the entire world knowing that. I’d have expected a good bit more out of Jordan Gross, however, and unless he can step up as training camp progresses, I’m going to worry all year about the pass protection. It’s a good thing Cam is so mobile and strong a la Ben Roethlisberger because it looks like he’s going to need every escape-artist trick in the book and then some.

So….my impressions overall of training camp thus far?

The DEs are about as good a group as there is. Jury’s still out on the top 2 DT rookie picks, Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei but that’s natural for rookies. LG Amini Silatolu appears to be the most-improved OL and couldn’t have picked a better time to grow as the rest of the line looks shaky indeed. I’m not too worried about the line JUST yet with a new OC in Mike Shula installing his own scheme.

It’ll take time for all five guys on the OL to get on the same page and stay there, but the two biggest worries so far are the two biggest worries I had coming out of 2012…Geoff Hangartner and Byron Bell. We haven’t seen much of rookie Edmund Kugbila yet and I’m guessing that General Manager David Gettleman has his feelers out for another offensive lineman or two to be made available on the cheap. That right side of the OL is still the weak spot and so far looks to be for the entire season…and without much help from TE Greg Olson who is a top-10 receiving TE and a bottom-10 blocking one.

It will be interesting to follow the ups and downs and how things settle out. There are still a lot of question marks but the shining of Amini Silatolu thus far is a nice sight to build around.

Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye

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