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Strickly Panthers: Camp concludes

Posted May 13, 2012

CHARLOTTE - The Panthers wrapped up a successful rookie camp Sunday, but the work is far from over.

"It was a good three days for us," Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said. "Now that we've gotten a good look at these guys, we'll take the next couple of days and evaluate. If we think anybody will help us, we'll sign them."

If the Panthers decide to add any of the 32 tryout players to the roster out of the 56 players that competed over the weekend, it will come at the expense of someone else because the team already is at the 90-player limit.

Here are some storylines from the weekend, from draft picks and undrafted rookies making their NFL debuts to veterans trying to earn a spot on the roster.

KICKING IT UP A NOTCH: Brad Nortman, the Panthers' sixth-round pick, knows he'll have to beat out recently signed veteran Nick Harris if he wants to be the team's punter this season.

Harris, of course, didn't take part in the rookie camp, but Nortman still strived to put his best foot forward.

"It's a competitive league, and it's rare that you would go into any position where they would just give you the job," Nortman said. "It means more when you can earn it, and I'm excited to go out there and compete and try to earn it.

"But that will come in due time. For me, this weekend was just about coming in here, getting rid of the nerves, and trying to feel comfortable."

Nortman seemed to find a comfort zone, impressing the coaching staff with what he was able to do in his debut.

"I really liked what we saw out of Brad," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "He boomed the ball. I think his average hang time was anywhere between 4.8 and 5.2 (seconds)."


NO PROBLEMS AFOOT: While Nortman spent the camp showing off his foot, seventh-round pick D.J. Campbell tried to show that his foot was OK.

The safety rolled his ankle Friday, but he bounced back nicely.

"It's fine. I've been going full speed on it since I had the little accident," said Campbell, who tripped on his shoelace. "It hasn't bothered me at all. It's a little sore, but it hasn't stopped me from going full speed."

Campbell certainly wanted to show off his physical ability during the camp, but the weekend was as much about the mental aspects of the game.

"It was a good learning experience, getting used to different terminology and different speed," Campbell said. "Of course it's going to start off a little rocky because it's a new system, but I think I picked it up well."


HONEYMOON IS OVER: When guard Will Blackwell accepted the Panthers' invitation to be among 12 undrafted free agents taking part in rookie camp, he suddenly had a typo on his wedding invitations.

Blackwell was to get married this weekend, but he and his finance, Laura Cummings, changed the date and got married last weekend.
"It actually wasn't that stressful for me," Blackwell said. "I didn't have to do the planning – my wife and her mother did the bulk of it. She wanted me to be as clear-minded as possible when I came up here.

"We got engaged in October, and we set the date around then. We knew rookie camp was going to either be last weekend or this weekend, so we kind of took a shot in the dark and missed."

He didn't know it at the time, but the odds were against Blackwell. Just nine NFL teams held rookie camps last weekend, while 22 did so this weekend.

Now Blackwell is focused on beating the odds and eventually celebrating his first anniversary as a member of the Panthers.

"I want to show that I can play, that there's a spot for me," Blackwell said. "I can do it; it's just a matter of doing it. I'm just thankful for the opportunity and glad to be in Carolina."


EYE ON THE TIGER: Like all the other tryout players, running back James Davis wanted to catch the eye of the coaches this weekend.

Even before the camp, he'd already won over lots of local fans.

"I've got a lot of Clemson fans really supporting me," said Davis, the only running back in school history to lead the Tigers in rushing four consecutive seasons. "Somebody tweeted me and told me they can go to the Clemson game on Saturday and then come to the Panthers game on Sunday. It really doesn't get any better than that.

"This is definitely a big opportunity for me, and I want to take advantage of it."

Davis has spent time with four NFL teams since the Cleveland Browns picked him in the sixth round of the 2009 draft, but he's yet to stick with any team for a full year.

"I'm just trying to make this team just like everybody else," he said. "I'm trying to stand out, to be an eye-opener."