SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Carolina Panthers training camp:
Cam Newton looked sharper from the get-go during Saturday night's "Back to Football" practice at Gibbs Stadium. He didn't bumble his first handoff =, as he did the night before, and he completed a 70-yard touchdown to Kealoha Pilares on his first pass. Yeah, there were moments when the timing was off and he had a few drops, but for the most part he appeared much more under control -- although he had a pass intercepted and returned for a touchdown late. It helped Newton and backup Derek Anderson that the defensive backs had what coach Ron Rivera called "dirty eyes,'' looking inside and getting beaten deep a few times.
Carolina's running back position, which was deep during offseason workouts, keeps getting thinner. First, Jonathan Stewart pulled a hamstring a week-and-a-half ago and will miss 2-4 weeks. On the first play of Friday night's workout, rookie Tyler Gaffney suffered a knee injury that ended his season. That leaves DeAngelo Williams, Mike Tolbert and Kenjon Barner as the healthy backs as the team heads into Sunday's first practice (3:10 p.m.) in pads. The Panthers will replace Gaffney with another back just for depth. They need it. Williams is 31 and the team doesn't need to overload him with carries in camp. It could be good for Barner, who didn't get a lot of looks last season.
Marvin McNutt was one of the young wide receivers the Panthers said they wanted to get a good look at after cutting Steve Smith. From what McNutt has shown in training camp and through offseason conditioning, he has to be worried about a roster spot, particularly with the staff raving about Brenton Bersin and Pilares making an impression. McNutt dropped a couple of passes before making a nice grab late in the two-hour workout.
Tight end Ed Dickson says he didn't intentionally flatten safety Thomas DeCoud in Friday night's practice. Dickson claimed he was just protecting himself when he sent DeCoud to the ground after a catch. But one thing is clear: Dickson will be a factor in the passing game. He'll be sure to take some catches from Greg Olsen, the only tight end to catch a pass last season and Carolina's leading receiver in 2013.
Running back Barner, wide receiver Corey Brown and cornerback Antoine Cason were fielding punts. Barner and Cason are locks to make the team, Cason as a starter and Barner a backup. For Brown, this could be a passage to the 53-man roster, as he's not likely to be among the top five wide receivers.