Panthers begin OTAs with Kuechly, Peppers on mend, no backup QB

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers begin Phase 1 of voluntary offseason workouts today with several key players limited while recovering from injuries.

Among those are linebacker Luke Kuechly (shoulder), Julius Peppers (shoulder) and wide receiver Curtis Samuel (ankle).

The first phase consists of two weeks of activities limited to strength and conditioning and physical rehabilitation.

Phase 2 with three on-field sessions will be held May 22-24, May 29-31 and June 4-7. OTAs conclude with a mandatory three-day minicamp from June 12-14.

Here are five things to keep an eye on:

Rehab: Kuechly and Peppers will be limited throughout OTAs recovering from shoulder surgery. Samuel continues to rehab from surgery to repair ligament and bone damage in his angle. Wide receiver Damiere Byrd also is rehabbing a lower leg injury that ended his season early. Others likely will be limited as well, but these are the most significant. The rehab for Kuechly and Peppers is no big deal. They don’t need the practice time. The goal for them is to be ready for training camp, and even that’s not essential. Samuel is the biggest question. He’s been cleared to run in straight lines, but how fast he comes back will play a role in the Panthers' personnel plans at slot receiver.

Getting acclimated: This is an important time for free agent signings to get to know their teammates and get acclimated into the culture coach Ron Rivera and his staff believe to be important to success. If you’ve forgotten, the Panthers added wide receiver Torrey Smith in a trade with Philadelphia. They also signed safety Da’Norris Searcy, cornerback Ross Cockrell, wide receiver Jarius Wright and defensive tackle Dontari Poe. Also keep an eye on Poe’s weight. The 6-foot-3, 346-pounder had $500,000 in weight incentives built into his contract.

Newton and Norv: Quarterback Cam Newton won’t begin working directly with new offensive coordinator Norv Turner until Phase 2. The good news is Newton is healthy, something he couldn’t say last season as he entered OTAs coming off shoulder surgery. So the 2015 NFL MVP can get started now on conditioning so he’s at full strength for on-field workouts. Remember, the Panthers still don’t have a backup quarterback.

Backup quarterback: The Panthers have had conversations with Derek Anderson, who has been Newton’s backup since 2011, so he still could be re-signed. The only backup quarterback currently on the roster is Garrett Gilbert, more of a project. It’s not a big deal at the moment, and won’t be early in on-field workouts because Newton needs as much time throwing to his new receivers as possible. It wouldn’t surprise if Anderson is re-signed by then. The Panthers also are looking seriously at drafting a quarterback in the later rounds to develop as a possible replacement for Newton down the road.

Coaching shuffle: There was quite a bit of turnover in the offseason, so when Phase 2 begins, this will be valuable get-to-know-you time. As mentioned, Turner is the new offensive coordinator, replacing Mike Shula. Turner's son Scott is the new quarterbacks coach. Eric Washington was promoted from defensive line coach to defensive coordinator after Steve Wilks was named the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. Former Michigan head coach Brady Hoke was hired to replace Washington. Steve Russ was hired to coach the linebackers, replacing Al Holcomb, who went to Arizona as the defensive coordinator. That’s a lot of turnover for a staff that has been fairly stable since Rivera arrived in 2011.