In their first practice since returning from Charlotte, a rare late afternoon affair at Wofford College welcomed the intriguing 2019 Carolina Panthers back to the upstate for another week of training camp.
There were some interesting moments, good and bad, from a steamy Sunday session in Spartanburg. We have a trio of observations–and a few quick hits–to share with you from today’s practice.
Moore. Yes, Moore please. I’ll take Moore.
DJ Moore is sensational. Spoiler Alert, right?
Moore is demonstrating tremendous growth in his second season in Carolina, mastering more of the route tree while learning how to use some veteran savvy to create a little more separation downfield.
Last year, the Maryland product led all NFL wideouts with a stout 7.9 yards after catch average. This, in large part, was born out of his explosiveness as a runner on short routes (shallow cross, swing passes, tunnel screens). What we’re seeing this camp is a more traditional rotation of route assignments from #12.
His signature route here at Wofford has been the intermediate out (7-12 yards) usually against man coverage, as seen in the highlight below:
Moore is creating more separation on these routes with nuanced, subtle hand placement on opposing corners, not extending his arms, but keeping them closer to his body while using his rock of a frame to nudge his man off a tad. It’s something Michael Irvin did with notorious success: the art of creating space without drawing the foul.
As for his hands, Moore is becoming somewhat of a vacuum cleaner on these incoming passes. I have yet to see him drop one catchable pass. I’ve also seen him lay out to snag several high balls from Newton.
He’s the centerpiece of the intermediate passing game now, and his mechanics are in step with this role.
Palardy. The hefty left leg.
One of former Panthers GM Dave Gettleman’s gems was finding punter Michael Palardy after 2016 offseason acquisition Andy Lee ran into a bad patch of misfires and injuries.
It’s a joy to watch Palardy at work. Bill Belichick will attest to this: a left-footed punter is a rare find. It’s one reason why the game’s most successful head coach of all time employs lefty punters–almost exclusively. Such a punter presents challenges to returners, as the spin and angles of the ball vary a bit from the more standard, familiar flight of the right-footed boot.
It doesn’t hurt that Palardy can bang out 65-yard rockets upon request. His directional game is solid as always, and the hang time has been strong in camp. This is not only relevant in games, but in practice, as the added challenge of facing that hefty left leg helps the return specialists to learn the art of fielding a wide variety of kicks from one of the league’s best punters.
Burns left. Burns right. Burns rushes. Burns covers.
Rookie first-round selection Brian Burns is all over the field in camp.
Left side EDGE. Right side EDGE. Stack position at LB. Dropping into intermediate coverage and into the flat against flare routes.
Let’s not forget his role as a special teams contributor. He has the same type of opportunity to shine in a coverage teams role as former Panthers LB Thomas Davis did in 2005 as a rookie. Davis made a tremendous impact on punt teams, including a key fumble recovery from a Jason Baker punt before halftime of the 2005 Wildcard Round rout against the Giants.
Make no mistake—Brian Burns will make an impact in 2019. He’s not getting lost in traffic against the run. His first step is legendary at this point, as he has turned heads by turning rookie LT Greg Little into a turnstile at times.
• Chris Hogan is still working with the punt returners, but had limited reps today. Godwin is still my favorite to land the job, but we will see how he fares in live action.
• Jaydon Mickens is listed as the first team PR on the team’s newly released “unofficial” depth chart. Do yourself a favor: ignore that depth chart. It’s fun to have new info, I know. It means next to nothing at this point.
• On Mickens: he has ability, and experience—returning a pair of long scores in 2017 while in Jacksonville. He has also muffed two punts and dropped a handful of catchable balls, including a wide-open gaffe on a beautiful Will Allen 9 route last week.
• Efe Obada had the day off, so we saw more of Brian Cox, Jr. in the 5-technique defensive end spot on the team’s 3-4 base package. Cox didn’t stand out, and doesn’t strike me as a good fit in that role. He struggled off the blocks, rarely facing a double team. Ends in a 34 need to hold ground and command their turf. So far, I’m not seeing it. Plenty of games to show it this preseason, however.
• Donte Jackson had a precautionary day off, so Corn Elder manned his spot at RCB. He played well, locking up with Moore on several routes and getting in on a great PBU with free safety Ross Cockrell. This allowed newcomer Javien Elliott to shine at nickel today. Elliott was money on the jam and made a spectacular play on an interception.