SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Carolina Panthers training camp from Wofford College:
For the second straight day coach Ron Rivera extended practice, only this time was because he liked what he was seeing. He called it the best practice of camp, and he's liked most of the others. The biggest difference today was the energy. It began on a high note when left tackle candidate Byron Bell opened with what he calls his "hopping" dance -- something he learned in his college fraternity at New Mexico -- that fired everyone up. It included one moment in which quarterback Cam Newton hit the ground after bumping into a teammate and then having most of the offense rush to pick him up. OK, so Rivera believes Newton pulled off a "flop." But it showed the camaraderie and chemistry this team is starting to build. And the energy was there, even if it could be attributed to cooler weather (low 80s) and that Wednesday is a day off.
Speaking of Bell, this was the first day he's stood out over Nate Chandler at left tackle enough to say he's the leading candidate to replace the retired Jordan Gross. Still too close to call, but I'm starting to lean towards Bell.
The Panthers are counting on second-round draft pick Kony Ealy, a defensive end out of Missouri, to strengthen the league's best pass rush. They are counting on him to add more flexibility to the line with his ability to play end and tackle. So far he's been relatively quiet, not doing anything to make himself stand out. On the plus side, he's not done anything to draw heavy criticism.
The Panthers may have made a tactical error in waiving sixth-round pick Tyler Gaffney, out for the year with a knee injury. They figured he would clear waivers, allowing them to put the former Stanford running back on injured reserve without carrying his salary on the current 90-man or late 53-man roster before going to IR. They got outsmarted when New England claimed Gaffney on Monday afternoon. Rivera was surprised by New England's move -- and disappointed. The Panthers really liked Gaffney and no team wants to give away draft picks like that. Gaffney could have been a potential replacement for DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart when their contracts expired in a couple of years.
Undrafted rookie wide receiver Marcus Lucas (Missouri) had one of those days when he seemed to catch everything in his direction. With the next two to three receiver spots open after Kelvin Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant, it's not unthinkable that Lucas could slip into the mix. Marvin McNutt and Tavarres King have had moments, but have not been consistent. Tiquan Underwood has the coolest hair in camp, but he hasn't consistently stood out. With Brenton Bersin playing well and Lucas shining in spots, you could see a few surprises on the final roster. Either that or the Panthers will watch the waiver wire for receivers cut by other teams.