Rookie minicamp is over, OTAs next for NFL rookies
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Carolina Panthers wrapped their two-day rookie minicamp on Saturday.
While many of the rookies, drafted and undrafted, returned to their respective college campuses to prepare for graduation, others there on a tryout basis sought an opportunity with another NFL team.
One of those players is Johnson C. Smith receiver Avius Capers, whom Panthers coach Ron Rivera said was impressive during the weekend’s three practices. The 5-foot-9, 200-pound Charlotte native will try to land with the Baltimore Ravens.
Offensive lineman Daniel Blitch, a Clermont, Ga., native who played locally at UNC-Charlotte, will seek his next NFL opportunity with the Atlanta Falcons.
The Panthers announced Monday they signed Villanova defensive end Rakim Cox, offensive linemen Ronald Patrick of South Carolina and Central Florida’s Jordan McCray, former Stanford fullback Lee Ward and ex-Coastal Carolina tight end Jamie Childers to their 90-man training camp roster. To make room for all five players, Carolina waived former Florida defensive tackle Darious Cummings, an undrafted free agent who left two rookie minicamp practices early because of an unspecified illness.
Cox and Childers were two other players whom Rivera praised on Saturday, along with rookie free agent Brandon Wegher, a former Iowa running back who spent his final two collegiate seasons at NAIA Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa.
With over 50 players at the rookie camp, Rivera said it was a luxury to have four open roster spots and “have an opportunity to bring extra guys in.”
Rivera said former Georgia Tech cornerback Lou Young, a 2014 Panthers practice squad player, had a “big couple of days.”
“This was really good for us because it gave us a chance to see a lot of the guys,” Rivera said. Our draft picks did a nice job.”
Rivera would have liked to see more of first-round pick Shaq Thompson, but the former Washington linebacker tweaked his hamstring on Friday and “took mental reps” during Saturday’s practice.
“What I was able to see (Friday), I liked,” Rivera said. “I liked his quickness, his change of direction. He showed some really good skills early on.”
Thompson was disappointed with the injury, and was a bit fatigued from a pair of cross-country flights, but said Saturday he feels good. He added that traveling cross-country for rookie camp was a business trip, and he’ll be ready for training camp.
“I’m a tough guy, so I’m going to fight through it and get better,” Thompson said. “I’m going to go back to school, work out and get ready for the season.”
Thompson will miss most of Carolina’s organized team activities to finish school because Washington, like most Pac-12 schools, is on a quarter system and not a semester system. But the 6-foot, 228-pound Sacramento native will stay in contact with coaches and his new teammates. While the pace of an NFL practice is quicker than in college, Thompson said the biggest adjustment is understanding the terminology.
“I’ll get on track,” Thompson said Saturday. “I’ve just got to stay in the playbook and keep in contact to be on the same page.”
As for the other linebacker the Panthers drafted, Texas State’s David Mayo, Rivera liked what he saw from the Oregon native. Rivera said Mayo’s natural ability and instincts give him the versatility to either play middle linebacker or on the strong side.
“He did some really good things,” Rivera said of Mayo. “When I got a chance to watch his game tape, you saw a lot of good traits, but then when you put together the participation tape, it’s almost like a highlight reel,” Rivera said. “You see a lot of the natural instincts and feel. You saw him flow one way or another. You see him making checks and adjustments, and moving everybody around. He has a natural feel for a linebacker.
“You talk about position flexibility, and I don’t think we’re going to tab him as just a Mike linebacker.”
Another player to show some versatility was second-round pick Devin Funchess. The 6-4 former Michigan receiver lined up at every receiver spot during camp. He did leave Friday’s practice a few minutes early because of dehydration, but returned to full duty on Saturday.
Offensive lineman Daryl Williams, the team’s mammoth fourth-round pick from Oklahoma, is also expected to compete for a starting job.
The 6-6, 329-pound Williams said he plays “to the echo of the whistle” and said he already feels “blessed” to work with Panthers offensive line coach John Matsko and assistant line coach Ray Brown. Rivera liked what he saw from Williams, who “looked good with his movements for a big guy,” but Williams knows he has “a lot to learn” he’s going to earn a starting job.
“It’s time to work,” Williams said. “I’ve been waiting for this opportunity since Day One.”
The next time the rookies step on the field, they will be joined by veterans at OTAs, which are scheduled for May 27-29, June 1-3 and June 8-11, followed by a mandatory minicamp from June 16-18.