Panthers put together new puzzle pieces in minicamp

nfl-panthersmccaffreyThe Carolina Panthers didn’t have a chance to see the full operation in motion during the spring’s offseason, but there’s value in what they accomplished after a disturbing 2016 season that came on the heels of a Super Bowl appearance the season before.

Much of the objective was to return to the form that led to their success and re-established the areas that carried them so far in the 2015 season.

Some of the areas that can create a bounce-back are obvious, such as a healthy linebacker Luke Kuechly, who spent a good part of the past season in concussion protocol.

And there’s the need to see quarterback Cam Newton return to form. Plus, the possibilities for the offense could be almost endless with versatile running back Christian McCaffrey, a rookie who arrived for the final day of minicamp.

“It’s good to come out here,” McCaffrey said. “Real anxious … I’m glad to be here now. You miss some time, but that part is over now.”

Newton hasn’t been full-go because of offseason shoulder surgery, though he’s expected to be throwing by the end of June. McCaffrey was absent because Stanford didn’t conclude final exams until Wednesday, thus keeping the ex-Cardinal standout away, per NFL rules.

McCaffrey’s arrival came with considerable hype, if for no other reason that often storylines can be mundane at this time of the year.

“He understands the game. He knows the game, and I think that shows,” head coach Ron Rivera said. “I’m fairly confident that once we get to training camp, when we get going full blast, there’s going to be no falloff.”

After Thursday’s workout, even Newton jumped into the frenzy.

“We’ve all been waiting on Christian, even myself,” Newton said.

Not only did McCaffrey attend the final minicamp session, but so did team owner Jerry Richardson, who makes such rare appearances that they’re notable whenever he’s on hand. For at least a day, McCaffrey seemed to fit in.

“I’ve been studying (the playbook) so hard,” he said. “You’ve got a lot of vets helping me out.”

Much of the intrigue around McCaffrey is how his role will complement that of veteran running back Jonathan Stewart, who often has been the go-to running back the past few seasons.

If nothing else, McCaffrey’s limited role to this point limited some of the examples of how that might pan out, though training camp is bound to offer better insight on that.

While the defensive unit often had its way during minicamp, that’s probably appropriate in the big picture. The offense, however, can take solace in that its starting quarterback and prized draftee weren’t full participants and their additions should provide a significant lift.

Some of the defenders probably departed the minicamp with an extra dose of confidence. That, too, might be a step toward something better in a few months because that unit took some shots last season and rebuilding the swagger wouldn’t seem to hurt.

Photo courtesy of NFL

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