CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Final impressions of the Carolina Panthers’ two-day rookie minicamp:
First-round draft pick Shaq Thompson was a spectator for Saturday’s session after tweaking his hamstring on Friday. But the outside linebacker from the University of Washington believes he learned a lot. “Everything is about mental reps, and that’s what I got in," said Thompson, who won’t return until the Panthers hold a mandatory veterans minicamp camp on June 16. Coach Ron Rivera was disappointed he didn’t get to see more of Thompson on the field, “but what I did see on tape, I liked.’’
Of the 35 players who were invited for a tryout, the three that stood out the most for Rivera were defensive end Rakim Cox (6-4, 268) out of Villanova, tight end Jamie Childers (6-2, 207) out of Coastal Carolina and Johnson C. Smith wide receiver Avius Capers (5-9, 200). Don’t be surprised to see the Panthers sign all three no later than Monday.
Undrafted rookie wide receiver Damiere Byrd from the University of South Carolina impressed coaches with his speed. The Panthers want to add more speed, as they did last year with undrafted rookie Corey "Philly" Brown, and this kid has plenty of it. Byrd ran the 40-yard dash in 4.28 seconds on grass during South Carolina’s pro day. He claims he ran a 4.19 on artificial turf. The knock on Byrd in college was his hands. But he caught almost everything thrown in his direction here. He had a spectacular, one-handed catch on Friday and another nice over-the-middle deep reception on Saturday.
Running back Cameron Artis-Payne wants to be called Cam, something he wasn’t really allowed to be called at Auburn after following in the footsteps of Heisman Trophy quarterback Cameron Newton. Now he’s on the same roster as Newton, Carolina’s first pick in the 2011 draft. Rivera said if Artis-Payne is as productive moving forward as he was this weekend, “we’ll call him Cam.’’
Artis-Payne wasn’t the only running back who impressed Rivera. Brandon Wegher of Morningside College, a NAIA school in Sioux City, Iowa, also turned heads with his explosive bursts. “Brandon Wegher is going to be a nice diamond in the rough,’’ Rivera said.
Finally, second-round draft pick Devin Funchess is close to signing his contract. The wide receiver out of Michigan is the last of Carolina’s five draft picks to remain unsigned. Artis-Payne signed his on Friday. Funchess has a chance to be as special as first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin was a year ago because of his size (6-4) and ability to line up at all three receiver spots. He left the end of Friday’s practice with cramps, but practiced fully on Saturday.