SPARTANBURG – A day after they signed defensive tackle Gerald McCoy in early June, the Panthers brought aboard another former Buccaneer. Few have talked about Javien Elliott since, but he sure had people talking Sunday.
For the first time this training camp, Elliott saw the bulk of first-team reps at nickel back, a position head coach Ron Rivera later called the "biggest" competition on the roster. And Elliott took advantage.
In 7-on-7s, he jumped in front of wideout Andre Levrone to make a leaping interception down the right sideline. A half-hour later, Elliott swatted away a Cam Newton out route intended for Jarius Wright.
"Javien did a very nice job," Rivera said afterward. "He's a proven nickel in this league. He's played nickel and has had some serious snaps. I think the more and more comfortable he gets with what we do and how we do it, I think you'll see his skillset show. Today was a good example of it."
Because he's new to the system, the 5-foot-11, 176-pound Elliott came into camp a bit behind Corn Elder and Cole Luke in the Panthers' smaller nickel package. But days like Sunday prove that Elliott is a sleeper to play a big role.
"I feel like I'm a playmaker and that's the quickest way to get on the field," said Elliott, who started five games for the Bucs last season. "But that's considered a circumstance, so it's not something I worry about. If it happens, it happens, but I'm coming out here every day to work.
"I felt like today was one of my best days at camp. But I can't get too high on it and be ready to come out here and work tomorrow."
–Sunday's did-not-practice list included:
- Running back Jordan Scarlett (Rivera said he "took a shot" during Fan Fest practice)
- Offensive lineman Tyler Larsen (undisclosed)
- Defensive end Efe Obada (personal day)
- Cornerback Kevon Seymour (hamstring)
- Safety Rashaan Gaulden (back)
- Safety Eric Reid (vet day)
–Linebacker Luke Kuechly participated in a team drill for the first time since he left Wednesday's practice early after getting caught in a "pile-up." But Kuechly, who Rivera confirmed wasn't put in the concussion protocol, still sat out the majority of team drills.
"It's an abundance of caution," Rivera said. "He's been great, but we as a group of coaches know that this time is not as dire to put a guy in and expose him to a situation. So we're just going to go out and we're going to work him on the stuff that's new that we're installing."
–Cornerback Donte Jackson has also seen limited team work since Wednesday. And like with Kuechly, Rivera chalked that up to being cautious with a guy who's a clear starter.
"We wanted to back off (Jackson) a little bit," Rivera said. "We're taking care of those guys."
–Center Matt Paradis and offensive lineman Daryl Williams participated in pass rush drills for the first time this camp. The Panthers have been bringing each along slowly.
Outside linebacker Bruce Irvin impressed on the first rep of those pass rush drills when he slipped past right tackle Taylor Moton.
"Speed!" shouted defensive coordinator Eric Washington. Yup, that's why the Panthers went out and got Irvin this offseason. Well, that and:
"There's a toughness that veteran guys that have had success bring," Rivera said when asked about Irvin. "I think part of it is confidence and the young guys can feel that."
–Outside linebacker Brian Burns also put down an impressive rep in pass rush drills, earning praise from Washington about his get off and angle. Burns has flashed his speed throughout camp, but he's obviously not allowed to touch the quarterbacks. It'll be fun to see if he can show off his first-round skills starting Thursday night in Chicago.
–The Panthers released their first unofficial depth chart just as practice was starting. The base 3-4 look is notable, but they're still using a good amount of four-man fronts.
–Sixth-round pick Dennis Daley, who played tackle at South Carolina, saw a bunch of snaps at right guard during Fan Fest. Sunday, he was at left guard. The Panthers covet versatility in their offensive linemen, and clearly, Daley is going through a crash course.
–With the newly signed Tre Boston still working his way back, Ross Cockrell again played with the first-teamers at safety. He had a couple of pass breakups – first on a Newton pass to DJ Moore in the end zone and then against tight end Greg Olsen in the seam. Afterward, Rivera revealed Cockrell's nickname is "pro" because, as Rivera explained: "He's very professional at his job and the things that he does and just an example of the way he carries himself."
–Boston made a nice "welcome back" play late in practice when he batted away a Will Grier throw intended for DeAndrew White in the corner of the end zone. But on the next rep, Grier hit a wide-open Jaydon Mickens for a touchdown.
–It's a rare day when we go through an entire "observations" without mentioning Curtis Samuel. His most notable play came when James Bradberry closed in quickly to break up a Newton pass intended for Samuel at the end of a 2-minute drill.
–The defense, which had a strong day, made another play when linebacker Jermaine Carter deflected a Newton attempt away from Moore in the back of the end zone. But the offense – and Moore – made perhaps the prettiest play of the day here:
After that, Elder jogged back to the huddle just shaking his head.
–Fans lined up for autographs sang happy birthday to Bradberry as he walked off the field. He turned 26 on Sunday.
–The NFL Network crew of Andrew Siciliano, Maurice Jones-Drew and Tiffany Blackmon spent pre- and post-practice grabbing guys for interviews. Of course, they had to ask Olsen about his "Madden" profile picture: