The Carolina Panthers wrapped up organized team activities last Thursday, and head coach Ron Rivera is excited about the direction his team is heading.
"I'm seeing some things that give me reason to be happy and excited about what we can be as a football team," Rivera told Panthers.com. "We got through all the installations that we planned, and we went through some situational football. We seemed to pick things up well."
Of course, the Panthers' fate this season will start and end with quarterback Cam Newton, who Rivera individually praised following the conclusion of OTAs.
"The nice thing that you see is the progression of our quarterback," he said. "I think Cam has done a really nice job. His rapport with the rest of the team has been really good."
After two years operating Rob Chudzinski's attacking-style offense, Newton hopes to continue improving under the tutelage of first-year offensive coordinator Mike Shula – who was promoted from quarterbacks coach this offseason.
Rookies show promise
Rivera has been impressed with his rookies from day one, and his feelings have not changed following OTAs.
The third-year Panthers head coach says defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short – the team's first and second round draft draft picks, respectively – have capitalized on the opportunity to practice with the veterans and learn about the physical and mental aspects of playing their position in the NFL.
Greg Hardy was a rare participant in OTAs. He missed several sessions last week, and was the only player not present at last Thursday's 10th and final practice.
According to Rivera, the fourth-year defensive end was taking "personal time."
Hardy, who broke out for 11 sacks during a monster 2012 season, is pursuing a contract extension. However, a league source told the Charlotte Observer that his OTA absences are unrelated to money.
Beason, Gross, Kalil recovering nicely
Elsewhere, Rivera is encouraged with the recovery of three hobbled veterans – linebacker Jon Beason, left tackle Jordan Gross and center Ryan Kalil – who all suffered significant injuries last season.
Beason is recovering from knee/shoulder surgery, Gross is recuperating from an ankle operation and Kalil is one the mend from a Lisfranc fracture.
Munnerlyn, Stewart, Bryant limited
While Beason, Gross and Kalil are moving ahead of schedule, another threesome – cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, running back Jonathan Stewart and wideout Lamont Bryant – is not.
According to the Panthers official website, Munnerlyn (strained abdominal), Stewart (ankle) and Bryant (hamstring) were present at OTAs, but extremely limited.