Energy high at Fan Fest

CHARLOTTE - After thrilling the crowd with a couple of big plays in the two-minute drill, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton tried another hurry-up technique once the practice portion of Fan Fest wrapped up Saturday at Bank of America Stadium.

With the threat of severe weather forcing team officials to ask autograph-seeking fans to retreat - and Panthers players as well - Newton still managed to run over to each corner of the stadium to sign for a minute before team personnel corralled him.

"I'm very passionate when it comes to fans because I once was in their seats, in their shoes," Newton said. "I know I can't sign an autograph for everybody, but I just want them to see that I care."

Many fans might not have headed head home with a Newton autograph to show off, but they had plenty worth talking about on the ride home.

Newton hooked up with a couple of receivers for long touchdowns; wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Greg Olsen came up with circus catches on Jimmy Clausen tosses; and DeAngelo Williams and Co. ran the football with authority.

The Panthers, last in the NFL in many major offensive categories a season ago, looked nothing like bottom feeders for the 15,389 fans in attendance.

"I was thrilled. I really was," first-year head coach Ron Rivera said. "Our players responded to the energy that was out there that our fans brought. Just before we went on the field, I talked to the guys about establishing that this is our house, this is our territory. When you come here, you're going to know you played here.

"I was really excited about the way they (the fans) responded to our guys and the way our guys responded to them. That really got me fired up, and I know it helped our guys."

Clausen, who started 10 games as a rookie last season, directed the team nearly 70 yards for a touchdown in his first chance at the two-minute offense. Smith slid for a pass and tipped it to himself to get the offense on the cusp of the red zone – spinning the ball after the catch. Then Olsen tipped a ball to himself above two defenders in the back of the end zone for an 11-yard score as the clock went to zero.

Newton, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, followed with his first chance in the two-minute drill. He didn't need nearly that long, hitting tight end Gary Barnidge in stride on his second snap for a 70-yard touchdown.

The defense stepped up in the next series of team periods, with second-year defensive end Eric Norwood and rookie defensive tackle Sione Fua gathering back-to-back sacks, but Newton capped the practice with a long bomb to wide receiver David Clowney that got the crowd riled up again.

"Both quarterbacks are doing good," Smith said. "The quarterbacks are doing what has not been allowed in a long time. The philosophy in years past has been to not screw it up, but now it's put your foot on the gas pedal and go hard. I like that."

The encouraging showing put a capper on the first week of training camp, which will resume Monday at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C.

The Panthers' journey is still in the early stages - both because of where they're coming from and because of how little time they've had with the new staff and with each other. But they sure seem to be headed in the right direction.

"We've got a ways to go in terms of grasping what we want to do with our schemes offensively, defensively and special teams. That's a work in progress, but I liked the work we did today," Rivera said. "We showed some progress, we made some progress.

"Right now, we're in the throes of developing a team in terms of guys making plays. I was yelling on the field that playmakers make plays, and that's what's exciting about it. We have some guys right now that are stepping up."


ROSTER UPDATE: Wide receiver Legedu Naanee made his first appearance in a Panthers uniform Saturday and made a good first impression, soaring to snag a touchdown pass from Newton in seven-on-seven drills.

Naanee, who signed as an unrestricted free agent from the San Diego Chargers, wasn't the only new face. Cornerback Chevis Jackson, claimed off waivers from the Denver Broncos, also saw his fist action.

Jackson, a third-round draft pick out of Louisiana State in 2008, spent his first two seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, where he recorded 64 tackles, one sack, one interception and seven passes defensed.

The Falcons waived him in the final roster cutdown last season, and he bounced from Jacksonville to New England to Denver prior to being waived in training camp by the Broncos two days ago.

To make room on the 90-man roster, the Panthers waived Brandon Smith, an undrafted rookie free agent out of Arizona State.


MONDAY SCHEDULE: After the Panthers return to practice Monday at 6 p.m., fans are invited to stay on the hill and watch the movie "Rio." The movie is slated to begin around 8:45 p.m., and popcorn, candy and drinks will be available for purchase.

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