OnePantherPlace Camp Observations: On to Chicago

By John Ellis

SPARTANBURG – Another week of training camp at Wofford College is in the books as the Carolina Panthers turn their attention to Thursday’s preseason opener at Chicago.

Notable from head coach Ron Rivera’s press conference on Tuesday: quarterback Cam Newton and linebacker Luke Kuechly will not play against the Bears. Rivera, citing carefulness as the main reason for the decision, has made it known he is eager to get a look at a group of second-tier players.

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton will miss Thursday’s preseason opener at Chicago. (Photo by John Ellis)

You can add starting right tackle Taylor Moton to the list of players expected to miss this week’s game. Moton suffered what Rivera described as a contusion to his thigh and will be given the night off. This presents several possibilities along the line for the game at Chicago. Greg Little, who currently sits at #2 on the left tackle depth chart, could start there, while starting left tackle Daryl Williams may slide back to the right tackle spot, a role he has played before with success.

It’s also worth nothing, for any fans who may fall victim to a media-driven panic: Kuechly is not in the concussion protocol, and Newton has thrown plenty of passes with velocity the past three practices. It’s all precautionary, and wise, limiting risk for two proven veterans who have a firm grasp on their respective roles and systems.

As for the last couple of days in steamy Spartanburg—here’s our view:

Elliott Energized

Defensive back Javien Elliott, the former Buccaneer who notoriously picked off a wounded Newton last season in a game at Tampa, has shined this week at camp.

Elliott received a health dose of first-team reps at nickel on Monday, coming up big with several good plays in tight coverage. An impressive break on slot receiver Jarius Wright led to an athletic PBU on an out route, a hard one for a slot corner to defend.

His best play yet? No question: Elliott’s crafty read and react interception of Newton on Monday was a show-stealer.

The former division rival just might prove to be one general manager Marty Hurney’s more valuable finds in the second wave of free agency.

Corn Harvests a Big Play

Not to be outdone, defensive back Corn Elder—the early leader in the clubhouse for the starting nickel role—regained some much-needed momentum on Tuesday.

The second-year cornerback sat down in a zone and waited for Wright to make a break on his signature pivot route. Elder timed the play nicely, jumping the route for a somewhat generous interception on this questionable decision by Newton.

It wasn’t Newton’s best read, but there could have been some QB/WR communication issues at play. In any event, it was a positive development for Elder and new secondary coach Perry Fewell, whose DB’s are playing with tremendous physicality and effort. There have been multiple interceptions by the secondary over the past few practices.

Carter’s Chance to Shine

With the absence of Kuechly on Thursday, Jermaine Carter gets the nod at MLB. Carter, the second-year product from Maryland, has flashed with his increased workload.

On Sunday, Carter came up big with a PBU on the team’s best pass catcher, D.J. Moore.

Carter–who measures in at 6-0, 225—lacks the size you’d want from Kuechly inside against the run game, but he flashes with safety-like quickness and good instincts in coverage. The play against Moore was man coverage on one of the league’s toughest young receivers to blanket.

Carter appeared in all of Carolina’s 16 games in 2018, registering 13 tackles, one for a loss.

Allen Gets the Start

Kyle Allen gets the start at quarterback for Carolina this week. We like Allen as the #2 option.

Both he and rookie Will Grier have shown flashes at camp, but Allen still strikes me as the most capable of the two for this offense—at this moment.

While Allen has game experience as a starter (putting up a stellar first half against the Saints’ formidable starting defense last year), Grier still looks like an incomplete product at times. It’s improving, but early on, Grier tended to rush through his reads, abandoning the play prematurely and opting for a scramble.

This is commonplace, even among first-round rookie signal callers, so it’s no cause for panic. Allen looks to be just a shade more commanding of the offense, routes and reads thus far. Here’s a more detailed look at what we saw from  Allen in 2018. 

Your Daily Free Safety Digest

Ross Cockrell continues to get the first-team reps at free safety, while newly signed Tre Boston continues to ramp back up into the system. It’s too early to tell if Boston will take over the role full-time, as likely intended, but Cockrell isn’t giving up on his chance at redemption after breaking his leg last summer here in Spartanburg.

I will say this: Cockrell does look lost at times in coverage. He has the requisite size and quickness to excel, but I noticed Cockrell getting mixed-up on a post corner route to tight end Greg Olsen this week. A free safety can’t lose sight of those incoming routes. Boston hasn’t made any “splash” plays thus far, but he’s been solid, almost mistake-free in his run fits and coverages.

My money is still on Boston to be your week one starter along side strong safety Eric Reid, while Cockrell—who will likely make the team, regardless—may be moved back to corner, given his experience and the team’s lack of depth at LCB and RCB (nickel corner, again, appears to be: Elliott/Elder/Cole Luke).

Ian Thomas: A Quiet Weapon

Ian Thomas is lightning quick for a tight end. In year two now, Thomas put up solid production over the last half of 2018, and appears poised to be a more permanent fixture in offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s TE-friendly pass attack.

Turner has used 12 personnel extensively in his career (two tight ends, one back), and he began to roll it out again last year.

Olsen’s injury set this plan back a bit, but it’s a new year and I’m keeping a close eye on TE utilization.

88 and 80 together presents a multitude of matchup headaches for opposing safeties and linebackers who will, in large part, be keying in on HB/WR Christian McCaffrey pre-snap. Thomas has shined in the passing game this week.

Holyfield Ready to Rumble

Rookie running back Elijah Holyfield is emerging as the early camp favorite to land Carolina’s third (and likely final) seat in the HB room.

The former University of Georgia star and son of legendary boxer Evander Holyfield, hasn’t flinched in the NFL’s proverbial ring. Holyfield has good hands and runs solid crisp routes from the backfield, whereas fellow rookie Jordan Scarlett has struggled with several drops and is now sidelined with a soreness in his back.

Scarlett will not play this week, and this will give Holyfield a chance to shine in prime time. For a guy who stays late almost every day working on fundamentals and technique, the door is wide open.

 

 

Kickoff for Thursday’s preseason game against the Chicago Bears: 8 p.m. OnePantherPlace.com will provide a full recap, as well as live in-game observations: twitter.com/OnePantherPlace.