Panthers Camp Report: Day 7

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Carolina Panthers training camp:
  • Give coach Ron Rivera credit for making the right call on the weather. He postponed the 9:25 a.m. practice until 1 p.m. after studying the weather flow and seeing a window in the heavy rains that have dropped several inches on the area the past couple of days. The forecast was spot on, but Rivera (wearing a jacket) was concerned with the unusually cool temperatures -- low 70s instead of low 90s -- as the team prepares for the opener in Tampa Bay where the heat and humidity are sure to be through the roof.
  • Third-string quarterback Joe Webb ran the read option with the first team during team drills, throwing a touchdown pass to Brenton Bersin. Webb was signed as a free agent from Minnesota to emulate starting quarterback Cam Newton, who is coming off left ankle surgery. The Panthers like what Webb brings to the offense in that he takes carries off Newton in practice, gets the offensive line used to working with a mobile quarterback and is insurance should Newton reinjure the ankle. Carolina kept only two quarterbacks last season, but Rivera says three are a distinct possibility this year. It makes sense on many levels. Webb hasn't looked bad, either.
  • With Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy practicing in shorts, second-round draft pick Kony Ealy got a little more work. He made an impression early, blasting past the right tackle and getting in backup quarterback Derek Anderson's face so fast that he threw an errant pass that rookie corner Bene' Benwikere intercepted on the sideline. He had a few moments in one-on-one drills as well. That's the kind of pressure the Panthers expected when they drafted Ealy out of Missouri. Now he just needs to impress against a starting tackle.
  • Speaking of Benwikere -- now known as "Big Play Bene' (pronounce Ben-Ay)" -- he had two interceptions and at least three passes broken up. "He's one of those young guys that catches your eye. It was a good day for him." The rookie out of San Jose State was drafted to compete with Charles Godfrey for the nickel back vacated by Captain Munnerlyn, who signed with Minnesota. He's not ready to be an every-down corner despite his flashes, but he's certainly out-performed Godfrey thus far as a nickel and every-down backup.
  • The Panthers are lining tight end Ed Dickson outside like a wide receiver a lot in a two tight-end formation. At 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds, he's yet another big target for Newton. With Dickson, starting tight end Greg Olsen, wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and Jerricho Cotchery on the field the average height of the receivers is just under 6-4. With a quarterback who has a tendency to throw high at times that could come in handy. Regardless, judging by the number of formations Dickson is a part of, he will be a large part of this offense.
  • The Panthers practice at 9:25 a.m. Saturday. There's a 40 percent chance of thunderstorms, but Rivera seemed optimistic it would be dry.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- It’s an uphill battle for undrafted rookies to crack a NFL roster. But New Orleans Saints safety Pierre Warren seems to have a good grasp on his main objectives.

[+] EnlargePierre Warren
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsPierre Warren, who has impressed coach Sean Payton, will need to maintain focus on special teams in order to make the Saints' roster.
Within a span of two or three minutes Friday, Warren mentioned three of the talking points that coaches probably love to hear: He knows special teams are his top priority. He knows he needs to keep studying the playbook. And he knows he needs to come out and prove himself every day, despite the fact he’s been making a ton of big plays early in training camp.

“Every day my back’s against the wall. I gotta make a play. I feel like I’ve got to do something to stand out from everybody else,” said the former Jacksonville State standout, who has certainly been accomplishing that goal so far.

The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder has consistently turned heads, with a diving interception the other day, a forced fumble last week and a series of impressive pass break-ups -- the latest in the end zone on Friday.

“He has pretty good football instincts,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “For a lot of these guys, for their ability to pick things up and then take it to the field, especially with where we are at now in our first week of camp, it really helps them. The guys that struggle sometimes are the guys that aren’t 100 percent sure of what to do. I think that has helped him.”

But Warren has also obviously been listening to coaches like Payton, who tells young players all the time that special teams is their path to the 53-man roster.

“It’s been good, but I still have to start with special teams first, because we are stacked at safety,” Warren said. “That’s the main goal.”

Warren said he played special teams during his first two seasons at Jacksonville State. And he’s trying to crack all of the special teams units in New Orleans. He’s been working as a wing on punt coverage and a front-line blocker on kickoffs, among other duties.

Warren led the Gamecocks last year with five interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and ranked second on the team with 76 tackles. He then decided to turn pro before his senior season, even though he knew there was a possibility he wouldn’t be drafted.

When asked why, Warren simply said, “I just felt like it was time.”

Warren said he chose the Saints because they were the first team to call after the draft and he knew they liked to suit up a lot of safeties.

“I figured there was a possibility I wouldn’t get drafted because I was coming from a D-1 AA (school) and I left early as well,” Warren said. “But I was just praying for an opportunity, and it happened.”
Mark Ingram, Nate AllenHoward Smith/USA TODAY SportsNew Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram is looking to build on a strong finish to last season.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Mark Ingram's expectations have not diminished one bit heading into his fourth season with the New Orleans Saints.

“The sky’s the limit, man. I want to be the best back to ever play the freakin’ game of football,” Ingram said.

However, the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner also insisted that he’s perfectly content to be flying under the radar for a change.

Ingram said it doesn’t bother him that there now seems to be more buzz around second-year running back Khiry Robinson.

“I don’t mind at all. I mean, I like flying under the radar,” Ingram said. “And Khi’s a good player, a special, young player. He has a lot of talent, a lot of ability, so he deserves the buzz he’s getting. ...

“I don’t get too anxious or get anxiety about the future. I just try to handle it one day at a time. You know, whatever my role may be to help us win the game, that’s what I’m gonna do to the best of my ability. If you take it one day at a time, eventually your major goals will fall into place.”

At this point, it’s pretty much impossible to project what kind of season Ingram will have. So far, the former first-round draft pick hasn’t lived up to lofty expectations because of a series of injuries and inconsistent performance. And he’s still jockeying for snaps with Robinson and Pierre Thomas.

At the same time, Ingram’s arrow is pointing up this summer after another strong finish in 2013, followed by a fully healthy offseason.

It’s actually possible that Ingram has come full circle from being overrated to being underrated.

From a fantasy (or just a curiosity) perspective, I'm expecting a pretty even workload between the Saints' top three running backs, with Thomas playing more of the nickel/third-down role now that Darren Sproles has been traded away. But it's always possible that the Saints could stick with the hot hand as the season goes along.

The thing I’m most curious to see with Ingram is whether he’ll keep getting opportunities to play a more versatile role -- sometimes lining up in three-receiver sets and getting to catch passes or run out of the shotgun.

That’s how Ingram was used in the Saints’ playoff win over the Philadelphia Eagles last year when Thomas was out with an injury. And Ingram delivered with 97 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, plus three receptions for 17 yards.

Ingram also ran 10 times for 49 yards and a two-point conversion in the playoff loss at Seattle -- although he lost a costly fumble in the second quarter after a great play by Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, who delivered a headfirst hit to Ingram’s forearm and the ball.

“I was versatile in college and just want to transfer that to the NFL,” Ingram said. “I want to be an every-down back, not just to be a short-yardage or base back. I want to be able to run out of the gun, run in nickel, catch screen passes, pick up pass protection. I just want to do everything I can to contribute from a football player -- not just a running back.

“I just want to do everything I can to be the best player I can be to help us win games and win a championship. That’s my No. 1 goal.”

One thing about Ingram that should never be questioned is his attitude and his work ethic.

As I wrote last year following the Philly performance, Ingram deserved to have that breakthrough success, because he had continued to keep such a positive attitude throughout a tough three years.

If anything, Ingram admits that his biggest problem might have been trying to do too much when he got opportunities to succeed.

“I think sometimes I press, because sometimes I don’t have as many opportunities,” Ingram said. “So sometimes I get in and I press and try to make a big play, when I should just go with the flow of the game and just make my read and take 3 yards or take 2 yards.

“So just being patient and being confident and just going through my reads and just sticking to 'em. ... The big plays will come. You’ve got to be patient.”

Ingram's high hopes for this season carry over to all of the Saints' running backs. As I wrote earlier this week, there seems to be more confidence and optimism in the run game than in years' past after they finished strong in that department last season.

" Us three jelling together, I don't think many teams have as a deep a running back corps as we do and as good as a running corps as we do," Ingram said. "I'd put our running corps up with anyone in the league. So I think just the fact that we're all working hard and we push each other to be better, that's what's going to help us have a lot of success this season."
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Carolina Panthers wide receiver Brenton Bersin can be easily found on most days by looking for the long, blond locks flowing from the back of his helmet.

He's even easier to find these days on the field.

With first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin rehabbing a bruised left knee suffered on Sunday, Bersin is lining up with starters Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant when the team goes to three-receiver sets.

[+] EnlargeBrenton Bersin
AP Photo/Chris KeaneBrenton Bersin is making the most of his chances in training camp with the Panthers.
He caught the first pass from quarterback Cam Newton out of that formation during Friday's practice, delayed from morning to afternoon because of rain.

Bersin currently is ahead of free agent acquisition Tiquan Underwood and several young receivers, including Tavarres King, Marvin McNutt and Keolaha Pilares. The Panthers said they wanted to get a good look at those three when they released all-time leading receiver Steve Smith.

This is the pinnacle of a journey that began with Bersin being cut early in the 2012 camp after being signed as an undrafted free agent and making the practice squad last season.

Pay attention here: Bersin is a serious threat to make the team.

This makes him one of the more intriguing stories in camp simply because of his past. He grew up in Charlotte as a neighbor of Panthers owner Jerry Richardson. He then went to Wofford College, where as a junior, his nine touchdown catches tied the school record Richardson set in 1958.

If he makes the 53-man roster, he'll be the first Wofford player to do so since Richardson played for the world champion Baltimore Colts in 1959.

For the moment, Bersin is the big man on the Wofford campus -- for the second time in his career.

“It's all surreal," Bersin said. “I've probably stayed in every single dorm on campus, from school and then camp here with the Panthers."

There's nothing surreal about what Bersin is doing on the field. At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, he's a big target for Newton. Having come from the run-oriented triple-option offense at Wofford, he's also one of the team's better blockers at wide receiver.

That's key for a team that wants to base its offense around a power running game. That's why the Panthers are giving him a look with the first team with Benjamin out.

"He's done a nice job for us," coach Ron Rivera said. "He's one of those guys we're interested to see how he plays when he plays against the other team's No. 1.

"He might be able to help us. He's going to get opportunities. He's earning these opportunities with the things he's done. We'll see how he progresses. The preseason games will be really big for his opportunity."

Confidence is the biggest difference between Bersin now and when he first tried out for the Panthers. But there's a reason the Panthers have kept him around for three years.

"Hey, y'all are taking note of Bersin right now, but we've known what he's been able to do the last couple of years," outside linebacker Thomas Davis said. "He's been the guy that has come out and competed hard. He's made plays for a long time.

"If he continues the way he's doing, he's going to get opportunities. I'm looking forward to Bersin doing great things."

Safety Thomas DeCoud called Bersin a "really good diamond in the rough."

Bersin isn't taking anything for granted. As close as he is from realizing his dream of making an NFL roster, he understands the importance each practice.

“The NFL is a cutthroat business,” Bersin said. “You can't go out there and make any mental mistakes and you only have a limited number of reps, so you have to go out and perform every day."

And stand out, which he's done.
After drafting mega-sized receiver Mike Evans and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht suggested a new team nickname.

"We're the Dunkaneers," Licht said.

[+] EnlargeMike Evans
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaAt 6-foot-5, rookie Mike Evans is one of several tall receivers on the Tampa Bay roster.
Evans, Seferian-Jenkins and veteran wideout Vincent Jackson each are at least 6-foot-5, giving the Bucs a group of receivers who resemble an NBA roster. Seferian-Jenkins actually played college basketball for one season.

The Bucs certainly need big-time help: In 2013, they ranked last in passing offense (176 yards per game) and 23rd in red-zone efficiency. Based on his history, new quarterback Josh McCown will enjoy having tall targets.

Playing for Chicago last year, McCown connected with Brandon Marshall (6-4), Alshon Jeffery (6-4) or Martellus Bennett (6-6) on nine of his 13 touchdown passes, including five in the red zone.

If nothing else, it will be difficult for McCown to overthrow the Bucs' big three. Evans made that clear with one particular catch during June minicamp, fully extending to make a one-handed grab worthy of a highlight reel.

"You take a player that high in the draft," new head coach Lovie Smith said of Evans, the seventh overall pick, "you expect to see some spectacular plays."

The highlight show has continued early in training camp with Evans, Seferian-Jenkins and Jackson all making nice catches. If the Bucs get those big-time plays in the regular season, their fans can expect to see a significant improvement over last season's four-win disappointment.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Defensive end Cameron Jordan had a breakout season in 2013, making his first trip to the Pro Bowl, racking up 12.5 sacks and being widely recognized for his role in the New Orleans Saints' defensive revival.

But, Jordan said, "It wasn't good enough."

"It's one thing to have a good year like I did last year. But it has to be better. Everything that the team does has to be better because clearly it wasn't enough to get to the Super Bowl," said Jordan, who insisted Thursday that he was more driven than ever this offseason, increasing his daily workouts.

"I just feel like I want it more," Jordan said. "I'm bitter."

Jordan, 25, has always stood out as arguably the most playful personality on the Saints' roster. So it was interesting to see him talk so openly and seriously about his passion for the game during a lengthy conversation with the media on Thursday -- as The Times-Picayune's Katherine Terrell did a good job of pointing out.

Jordan said that playful energy carries over onto the field, as well.

He joked that "monster" line-mates such as Akiem Hicks and Brodrick Bunkley are far more serious and intense on the field, and they do a lot of grunting -- a strategy that certainly helps them get the job done, too.

But Jordan said he's out there having fun every time he gets a chance to hit the quarterback, experiencing "pure bliss" because he loves playing football so much.

Jordan said he's working to become as fast as Junior Galette and as powerful as Hicks. In the meantime, he relies on his boundless energy.

"At some point in the game, you're gonna succumb," Jordan explained. "You're going to know that I'm going to be better than you. At some point in the game, you're going to be tired and you're going to look over and I'm still going to have energy. That's the point.

"Somewhere in there I'm wearing you down until you have nothing left. And I want that."
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Ryan Kalil isn't what you'd call a natural leader, at least when it comes to standing in front of a group and giving rah-rah speeches. He prefers to lead more by example, to do his thing behind the scenes.

But when left tackle Jordan Gross retired after the 2013 season, the Carolina Panthers needed somebody to replace the vocal leadership he had given for much of the past 11 years.

Kalil stepped forward.

[+] EnlargeRyan Kalil
AP Photo/Damian Strohmeyer"[Ryan Kalil] will lead us,'' coach Ron Rivera said. "He's a solid football player and he is one of the best in the league at center."
Not only that, he did it the Monday after the Panthers lost to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC divisional playoff game in Charlotte.

It wasn't a boisterous speech. It didn't have a snappy anecdote as the "Highland'' speech given by Gross before the fifth game at Minnesota to propel a 1-3 team on a streak to win eight straight and 11 of its next 12 games.

But it showed Kalil was ready to use some of that inner drive that made him a four-time Pro Bowler to lead an offensive line in need of a new leader.

"Probably the biggest thing when you lose a voice in Jordan Gross that you've had for many years, you have to establish that very quickly,'' coach Ron Rivera said on Thursday. "So [Kalil's] established himself from the get-go.

"The Monday after the loss he was up there talking to the guys about coming back ready to roll.''

Gross led not only with his words in team settings, but individually. Few knew the heartbeat of every position better because Gross took the time to get to know every player. If there was a feud or controversy brewing, he would head it off before it got out of hand.

Quarterback Cam Newton credits Gross for calming what he called the inner beast inside wide receiver Steve Smith.

Kalil won't have to deal with Smith, who was released during the offseason and is now playing in Baltimore. But he'll aim to lead much like Gross did because they share many of the same attributes. They're both easy to talk to and totally unselfish.

"He'll lead us,'' Rivera said. "He's a solid football player and he is one of the best in the league at center.''

There's no doubt about the latter. Kalil is a regular at the Pro Bowl and at 29 is reaching his prime. Third-round draft pick Trai Turner said Kalil has been a tremendous help as he goes straight from college to starting at right guard.

Kalil is a big reason there's not such a panic about the restructured offensive line. As he reminded during organized team activities (OTAs), the line has been questioned since he arrived at Carolina as a second-round draft pick out of Southern California in 2007.

In a way, Kalil has been leading all of his career. He just hasn't been outspoken.

"For us, the biggest thing is to not try to start from where we left off last year,'' Kalil said. "It’s going to be a kind of refocus and figure out where we need to improve . That’s a hard thing to try to put aside because we did these great things, because it doesn’t really matter and it doesn’t necessarily translate into the next season.

"Every year is a different team regardless of what you did the year before. So for us, it's going to be starting back at square one and seeing what we have.''

He even sounds like a leader.

Falcons Camp Report: Day 6

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
FLOWERY BRANCH, GA. -- A daily review of the hot topics from Atlanta Falcons' training camp:
  • The Matt Ryan-to-Julio Jones connection wasn't working at first, but the two eventually connected on a long ball down the left sideline where Jones caught the ball in stride over the shoulder. It drew the biggest reaction from the fans, who have anxiously awaited for Jones -- the star receiver -- to do his thing coming off foot surgery. He gained 10 pounds of muscle coming into training camp but still appears to have the same blazing speed. "I still feel like I can beat one-on-one matchups," Jones said. Cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford did a good job keeping up with Jones throughout practice.
  • The Falcons again practiced in pads, which meant for some hard hits. Safety William Moore delivered a few punishing blows, as expected, while rookie linebackers Prince Shembo and Marquis Spruill put some nice pops on a couple running backs. "Guys had the day off yesterday, so we wanted to have some physical play out there," coach Mike Smith said. "There was goal line and short yardage in our install, so that kind of worked out really good for us to go out and bang. I thought it was competitive. One session was won by the offense. One session was won by the defense. And that's what you really want at this point in time."
  • Smith said linebacker Pat Angerer, who complained of headaches after Tuesday's practice, is going through the concussion protocol. It remains unclear when Angerer will be back in action. The Falcons continue to look at veteran linebackers. Also, rookie safety Dez Southward suffered a knee injury and will be sidelined for a week. Sean Baker ran with the second team defense at safety alongside Kemal Ishmael with Southward out.
  • Smith said he had a conversation with defensive tackle Peria Jerry after lunch, and Jerry said he was going to retire. Smith did not share details of the conversation but wished Jerry well. ... Smith said that "Friday Night Lights" will include a halftime show, then the Falcons will "go out there and play real football." So expect some hard hitting under the lights. ... Defensive end Tyson Jackson showed some veteran leadership by pulling rookie Ra'Shede Hageman aside to help tutor him on some pass rush technique. ... Outside linbacker Jonathan Massaquoi picked off a tipped pass to end practice. ... 6-foot linebacker Paul Worrilow played some nice defense in the end zone on 6-foot-8 tight end Levine Toilolo to knock the ball away.
  • Next up: KIA Motors "Friday Night Lights" at Archer High School in Lawrenceville, Georiga, today from 6:45 p.m. ET to 9:10.
TAMPA, Fla. -- If you're looking for an under-the-radar player with a chance to make Tampa Bay's roster, you might want to consider wide receiver Tommy Streeter. But look quickly because Streeter might not be an unknown for much longer.

Streeter already is catching the eyes of his teammates and coaches.

"We kind of have a running joke, 'Man, that dude is catching the ball right and left, over and over,'" quarterback Josh McCown said after Thursday's practice. "It's like one of the better camps I've been around for a receiver. He's just got so many dang catches. And he's just doing his job. He's just a humble, hard-working guy that comes out here every day and gets after it. He catches the ball when it's thrown to him and that's all you can ask for as a player."

[+] EnlargeTampa Bay's Tommy Streeter
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsTampa Bay quarterback Josh McCown said Tommy Streeter's performance this summer is "one of the better camps I've been around for a receiver."
Streeter's talent flashed again in Thursday's practice when he made a nice catch when matched up against veteran safety Major Wright.

"He's another guy with good size, good height, good speed and he's been catching the football," coach Lovie Smith said. "You talk to him and he doesn't want a whole lot of complements, he's just 'Hey, I'm just trying to do my job, trying to get better very day,' saying all the right things, just making plays. That's all you have to do as a player. You don't have to worry about, am I going to make the roster, am I going to get enough plays. If you get one play, you do something, you'll continue to get more. We've noticed him. When we initially came to camp he's wasn't one of the guys we were talking a lot about. But he's been pretty steady every day."

Streeter seems to be putting himself in line for a roster spot in a receiving corps in which the only sure things are starters Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans.

A sixth-round draft pick by Baltimore in 2012, Streeter has been unable to make an impact in the NFL so far. But he's not a stranger to the big stage. Streeter played at the University of Miami.

"No, I'm not afraid," Streeter said. "I've been doing this since age 7. I don't see any difference at any level. It all comes down to, at this level, how much goes into the preparation before the dance."

Streeter has been preparing for the dance by paying close attention to Jackson. That's a wise choice because Streeter is the same size (6-foot-5) as Jackson.

"I talk to him every day," Streeter said. "I ask him different questions on how do you run this route based on different leverages and techniques. Basically, what little tricks and crafty moves he has that he uses to get open. I try to incorporate that in my game as well."

Streeter said he already has learned a lot from Jackson.

"His ability to drop his weight and get in and out of his cuts," Streeter said. "He comes downhill and he's aggressive to the ball. That's something I always continuously try to improve on. At the University of Miami, I was always the deep ball guy. When you come here in this offense there's a lot of route running involved. That's something I continuously work on and something I always try to get better at."

Streeter may not have the NFL pedigree, but he came out of one of the nation's top high school programs. That's Miami Northwestern.

"They used to call us the University of Northwestern," Streeter said.

Streeter's high school team also featured two other Buccaneers, linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Anthony Gaitor. Streeter wore the same jersey (No. 5) as previously worn by Kenbrell Thompkins, who now is with the New England Patriots, and later worn by Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

"My coach, when he gave it to me, he was like 'Son, I'm going to give you No. 5. You might have to do a little history to understand the importance of this number and the guys who wore it before you and what they did,'" Streeter said. "I was kind of nervous, like 'Does the No. 5 jersey glow or something? Is everybody watching me?' But nonetheless, I thrived in that environment."

If Streeter can continue doing what he has been doing in practice, he might be able to thrive with the Buccaneers.

Saints Camp Report: Day 6

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New Orleans Saints training camp:
  • The intensity cranked up Thursday as a few fights nearly broke out during practice. The biggest skirmish was between running back Khiry Robinson and linebacker Curtis Lofton that actually had to be broken up by quarterback Drew Brees. The two briefly wrestled and went to the ground, with Lofton getting a hold of Robinson's hair before Brees stepped in. Some offensive and defensive linemen also got into a few shoving matches, including one with defensive end Cameron Jordan and offensive tackle Tavon Rooks. “He was wearing a white jersey … and got in the way,” Jordan deadpanned. “Today we just decided to set that tone early on. Even in walk-through it got a little rowdy with the defensive line going through bags. It was just one of those days that (players) should have their mind right, and if they didn't have their mind right, they got their mind right.”
  • Cornerback Patrick Robinson continued his outstanding performance in camp. He made a diving interception against Brees when he cut in front of intended receiver Andy Tanner -- believed to be Brees' first pick in team drills so far in training camp. Robinson also had an aggressive pass break-up in team drills. My two biggest question marks this year were Robinson's health and his confidence level. Both look great, and his athleticism has never been questioned. So he indeed has a shot to push veteran Champ Bailey for the No. 2 cornerback job.
  • Stop me if you've heard this before, but receivers Brandin Cooks and Nick Toon also looked great during practice. Both have looked terrific throughout camp. Cooks made a series of nice catches -- including a diving snag of an overthrown ball by quarterback Logan Kilgore at the end of practice. Toon's highlight was a deep catch from Brees behind Bailey and safety Kenny Vaccaro. Although Toon did have one drop Thursday (a rare miscue this camp), coach Sean Payton singled him out after practice unsolicited, saying he's having a “fantastic camp.”
  • The same three guys remained out with injuries (Ben Grubbs, Kenny Stills and John Jenkins). Payton still declined to get into any specifics on Grubbs' injury but said he should be back within a day or two. “We are just resting him. He's working through a few things.” Bailey was not in attendance during the Saints' afternoon walk-through, but it's unclear if that was injury-related. He didn't appear to get hurt during practice. No update was available since Payton only talks after the morning practice.
  • The Saints have another normal schedule Friday, with an 8:50 a.m. ET practice followed by a 4:30 p.m. walk-through. They will hold a scrimmage Saturday at 8:50 a.m. before taking a day off on Sunday.

Buccaneers Camp Report: Day 6

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
TAMPA, Fla. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp:
  • There might not be a player on the roster who has been more maligned than defensive end Da'Quan Bowers. A second-round pick in 2011, Bowers has contributed very little in his first three seasons. But it sounds like Bowers is making the most of a fresh start with a new coaching staff. Coach Lovie Smith continues to sing Bowers' praises. Smith isn't saying Bowers is going to suddenly turn into a superstar. But he is saying Bowers can be a valuable role player as a guy who can play defensive end and defensive tackle. "As a general rule, we'll normally carry three inside guy and three outside guys (on the game-day roster)," Smith said. "That's six. You'd like that seventh guy to be able to do both. That's what you have in a player like Da'Quan. He's big enough to rush inside on third downs and a good anchor outside on first down. It gives us some flexibility."
  • The Bucs worked the 2-minute drill for the first time this camp Thursday. "That's always fun," Smith said. "About half the games come down to what you do at the end of the game in a 2-minute situation, that last drive determining the outcome of the game. It's important that we convert on the offensive side and on the defensive side play smart ball. There's no better time to take the ball away. We did some good things on both sides of the ball."
  • Smith had the line of the day when asked if Thursday's practice didn't seem as intense as Wednesday's. "Sometimes it's not your wedding night," Smith said. "It's just a normal day that you go through. It was business at hand today. There wasn't as much false chatter. But, still, we got good work. Some days, you just have to keep grinding one play at a time and that was the case today. We'll pick it back up tomorrow."
  • The Bucs continue to be banged up at cornerback. Mike Jenkins was added to the injury list Thursday. Jenkins sat out practice with a leg injury. Fellow cornerbacks Alterraun Verner and Rashaan Melvin have missed the last several days.
  • Rookie Robert Herron got some work with the first team as a slot receiver. But Herron had a drop, which isn't going to help his chances of significant playing time.
  • The Bucs will hold their first -- and only -- camp practice at Raymond James Stadium on Friday. The practice will start at 7:30 p.m and is open to the public at no charge. "I'm looking forward to tomorrow night," Smith said. "It's one thing to practice on the practice field. When you go to the stadium, it's a different feel. Our players are excited about getting the feel for Raymond James Stadium. For a lot of them, it will be the first time going out there."

Panthers Camp Report: Day 6

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Carolina Panthers training camp:
  • Cam Newton overthrows a pass off the outreached fingertips of wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery. Newton throws a pass high and wide to tight end Greg Olsen. Newton throws high again. Yes, the franchise quarterback struggled early on this rainy Thursday morning. It had nothing to do with his left ankle, on which he underwent surgery in March. Asked if the weather had anything to do with it, coach Ron Rivera emphatically and sternly said, "No.'' But the struggles were noticeable, enough that the Panthers ran a couple of segments again. "He was perfect," Rivera said of Newton the second time around. "Once he got into his rhythm, he practiced very well down the stretch." Newton was especially impressive on his final two-minute drills -- or 1:30, as the Panthers like to go with -- finishing a drive with a touchdown pass over the middle to Cotchery. Newton also was more active in talking to his wide receivers and tight ends about what they were doing as it related to him.
  • With first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin (bruised left knee) out another day, former Wofford standout Brenton Bersin opened as the first-string slot receiver when the Panthers opened in team drills. Normally, Jason Avant or Cotchery line up there with Benjamin on the field. Bersin's presence shows just how far he has come from an undrafted free agent cut early in 2012 to making the practice squad a year ago. Rivera said Bersin could help the team and he wants to see how he does against the first-team defense. Tavarres King also had a good day of practice. Three straight, according to Rivera, as the Panthers look to rebuild at receiver. Meanwhile, Benjamin's rehab is coming along nicely from his knee injury. There's still no timetable for his return, only that he will be re-evaluated before Friday's practice. He is not expected to miss next week's preseason opener against Buffalo.
  • With left tackle Jordan Gross retired, the Panthers are looking for more leadership out of center Ryan Kalil. Rivera has been impressed with the way the four-time Pro Bowl selection has been more vocal in camp. Kalil admits he doesn't like speaking to groups as much as Gross did, but there's no doubt his leadership up front will be key to how this rebuilt line performs.
  • The Panthers practiced kickoff returns for the first time in camp. Wide receiver Tiquan Underwood and fullback Mike Tolbert were the first pair deep. The speedy Underwood was signed as a free agent wide receiver, but he hasn't done anything particularly noteworthy there. His best way to secure a roster spot might be as a return specialist. Tolbert's primary role on kickoffs is supposed to be as a blocker, but a couple of times, the 2013 Pro Bowl selection lined up as the primary returner. Rivera quickly reminded the player known as "Fat Guy" -- among other things -- that he should return kicks only in "emergency" situations.
  • Outside linebacker Thomas Davis looked like he was searching for a contact early in practice as he and several trainers scoured the field. He actually lost a diamond earring. He stayed afterward looking for it, but no luck. Davis wasn't as much concerned with the earring as he was having to file an insurance claim on it. Maybe it will show up later, as his lost wedding ring once did.
  • The Panthers practice at 9:25 a.m. again on Friday. The forecast is for more rain.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. – If anyone is having more fun at training camp than the New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees and Sean Payton, it’s hard to tell.

Brees tweeted out a picture Thursday of what he described as Payton’s “payback” -- a Rogaine logo on Brees’ jersey in place of the usual Chevron sponsorship logo on each practice jersey.

It was a shot at Brees’ receding hairline (the one part of Brees’ body that admittedly doesn’t make him feel like a 25-year-old). It was also redemption for the Chevron patch that was sewn onto Payton’s T-shirt before the first practice.

That competitive spirit is also on display after every practice when the quarterbacks get together for various inventive passing challenges. They have become must-see viewing, especially now that Brees has begun narrating them for the team’s website.

Payton and the offensive coaches occasionally join in – like he did for this recent competition inspired by the former television show, “American Gladiators.”

Others have involved throwing deep balls from a nearby balcony or replicating a skeet-shooting trip they took when they first arrived in West Virginia.

“It’s a group effort,” Brees said when asked how they come up with the challenges. “But we try to incorporate something that happened in practice that day. For example, we had a quarterback competition out there that involved throwing on the run. We missed a couple of throws on the run [in that day’s practice], so obviously it’s something we’ve got to work on. But we can have fun with it too, so we made a competition out of it, set up some bags and throw at them. There’s going to be a winner and three losers.”
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. – The guy generating the most buzz at New Orleans Saints camp this summer has been rookie receiver Brandin Cooks – and rightfully so.

But a player who quietly seems to be drawing the same level of excitement within the Saints’ organization is second-year left tackle Terron Armstead.

The supremely athletic big man has looked outstanding at times, especially during run-blocking drills on Thursday. And from talking with folks, I think the expectation is that he could not only be solid in his first full season as a starter – but ultimately develop into a really special player.

[+] EnlargeTerron Armstead
Michael Shroyer/USA TODAY SportsDrew Brees said that the confidence of Terron Armstead, center, is ideal for a left tackle.
Coach Sean Payton agreed with that assessment, though he didn’t get carried away.

“Yeah. We’re not ready to put him in Canton yet. But he’s very athletic, and I would agree. He’s got a lot of the traits that you would look for at that position,” said Payton, who was impressed with how quickly Armstead matured after being thrown into the starting lineup in Week 16 last season.

“I think in a short period of time, Carolina [in Week 16], and then on to the next week, you saw a rookie player begin to emerge,” Payton said. “And by the time we were into the postseason, you began to see a player that was playing with confidence. And now clearly you’re seeing that. Now he knows what to do. He’s very athletic. And to his credit, he has made the adjustment and done a great job of competing. So that’s been a good sign.”

Armstead (6-foot-5, 304 pounds) admits he is most natural as a run-blocker after making the transition from Arkansas-Pine Bluff to the NFL last year as a third-round draft choice. And that has been evident on several plays.

But he has also looked pretty good in one-on-one pass-rush drills, even though another dynamic athlete, Junior Galette, has been giving him all he can handle.

And I’ll credit colleague Gus Kattengell for pointing out Armstead’s role in one of the biggest highlight plays of camp – Cooks’ screen-pass touchdown earlier in the week. On replay, you can see that Armstead helped clear Cooks’ path with a dominant seal block against safety Rafael Bush.

“You love everything you see. Not only just his talent, but you see it in his eyes,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “You see guys that when there is a big challenge ahead of them, you sense some fear, you sense some nerves. What I see with him is intensity and confidence, and that is what you love to see in a left tackle, ready for any type of challenge.”

Other players have noted Armstead’s confidence level, as well, including recently signed veteran center Jonathan Goodwin, who said, “You come in here and see his demeanor, he doesn’t look like a second-year player.”

And I feel like I’ve seen a much more confident version of Armstead in media interviews, dating back to the beginning of the offseason.

But when I asked Armstead about that Thursday, he said “comfort level” might be a better term than confidence.

“I’ve always had confidence. I wanted to start right away in Week 1 last year,” Armstead said, even though he admits he probably wasn’t ready.

“It’s definitely night and day [from the start of last year’s training camp],” said Armstead, who added that the game quickly started to slow down for him with each passing start he made at the end of last season.

“The terminology from Drew my first snap, I could’ve swore he was speaking Chinese or Spanish or something,” Armstead cracked.

Armstead’s athletic ability has always been “off the charts,” as Goodwin put it. He ran the fastest 40-yard dash time by an offensive lineman in the history of the NFL scouting combine (4.71 seconds) and registered a vertical leap of 34.5 inches.

But Armstead is hardly relying on that.

Right tackle Zach Strief said Armstead’s work ethic is impressive. He watches a ton of film and picks the brains of veterans. Armstead even reached out to former Saints Hall of Famer Willie Roaf (a Pine Bluff native) to talk shop and pick up some pointers this summer.

“He’s still very young,” Strief said. “But all the things you’d say that you want to see him do, he’s doing them.”

Buccaneers Camp Report: Day 5

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
TAMPA, Fla. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp:
  • The defense dominated the first few days of camp, but Wednesday was the best showing by the offense so far. There were two players in particular that stood out. Quarterback Josh McCown and wide receiver Vincent Jackson showed they’ve developed some chemistry. They hooked up on a pass play of about 50 yards and connected for back-to-back touchdowns in red-zone drills. “They have to have good chemistry," coach Lovie Smith said. “Vincent’s our No. 1 receiver. We’re banking on him making a lot of plays. The chemistry or whatever you want to call it between he and Josh has to be good. Vince is a playmaker. You get down there, you have to get the ball into your playmaker’s hands. We did that today on more than one occasion, which is great." McCown had his best practice by far. I only saw him make one bad throw, and that was intercepted in the end zone by strong safety Mark Barron.
  • Wednesday was the most physical practice of camp so far. There were at least four minor altercations. “We don’t want a lot of fights," Smith said. “In a game, they throw you out of the game and that’s not good. Getting ready for the season, we want it to be as game like as possible. If you do feel you have to mix it up with a guy, fight him the way you would fight your brother. No cheap shots or anything like that."
  • There’s been some concern among fans about whether or not Mason Foster can handle the increased amount of pass coverage the Bucs are going to ask out of their middle linebacker in the Cover Two defense. Foster dropped some weight in the offseason to increase his quickness and has made a good early impression on Smith. “He’s growing into the position," Smith said. “He couldn’t have a better tutor than (linebackers coach and former Bucs middle linebacker) Hardy Nickerson."
  • Starter Doug Martin has looked very good at running back, but he’s not the only one. Third-round draft pick Charles Sims has made some nice cuts in the last few practices and also has shown he can catch the ball out of the backfield. I think Sims might have a shot to be the top backup to Martin. “He’s a scholarship player, looking at it in college terms," Smith said. “He’s not a walk-on. He got his scholarship for a reason."
  • There hasn’t been much talk about the fullback position. For the record, Jorvorskie Lane has been running with the first team.
  • The Bucs signed cornerback Kip Edwards to fill the roster spot that was created when guard Carl Nicks departed from the team. The team officially released Nicks on Wednesday.
  • Cornerback Alterraun Verner missed another day of practice with a hamstring injury, but Smith said Verner is getting closer to being able to return.