CHARLOTTE - After Cam Newton threw for the first time this offseason Tuesday at the Panthers’ first practice of minicamp, head coach Ron Rivera wondered aloud whether Newton might be able to do more Wednesday.
Newton did take another step on Day Two, stepping into throws to some moving target a day after debuting against strictly stationary targets. He threw about a half-dozen passes to running backs swinging out of the backfield, and he capped the period with a throw down the sideline that flew 20-plus yards in the air and connected with fullback Alex Armah.
Newton also threw to moving targets on some half-speed snaps in an installation period, and later he worked on his footwork while going up and down the sideline firing short passes to rehabbing receiver Torrey Smith.
“Can we go in the bubble?” Newton joked as sprinkles fell from the sky with him and Smith working adjacent to the construction site for the bubble, which already features a playing surface but no roof.
Newton was fired up as he and Smith began their game of catch, having just run across the practice field at the end of a team period to celebrate when receiver Andre Levrone skied to grab a Kyle Allen pass for a 4-yard touchdown over cornerback Josh Thornton. That was a highlight for the offense on a day when the defense made more plays.
Newton again didn’t participate in team periods, and while he hit some backs out of the backfield, he didn’t do the same when receivers ran routes against air. As was the case Tuesday, receivers were stationary for those throws.
No one took their eyes off Newton for long, but it wasn’t as Cam-centric a practice Wednesday, with Rivera not fielding a single question about Newton in his post-practice presser.
On this day, there were plenty of other players and plays to talk about.
-The defense set the tone by keeping the three quarterbacks (Allen, Will Grier and Taylor Heinicke) quiet during the first team period, though it was good to see tight end Greg Olsen in on the action after he sat out offense-versus-defense periods for most of OTAs. On defense, linebacker Shaq Thompson participated in team drills for the second consecutive day after sitting them out throughout OTAs.
-The offense did awaken with what would go down as its most productive series of plays, with each quarterback getting a chance in the red zone. All three took advantage, with Allen hitting running back Cameron Artis-Payne for a couple of short touchdowns, Grier connecting twice with Levrone for touchdowns; and Heinicke hitting running back Reggie Bonnafon and tight end Marcus Baugh for scores. It was the first 11-on-11 action since rookie minicamp for Baugh, a recently signed former AAF player who has survived some roster turnover at tight end.
-Next up, the defense dominated the two-minute drill early on to such an extent that it was hard to identify it as a two-minute drill because of the number of incomplete passes. Cornerback Donte Jackson’s standout day got going when he dislodged what looked to be a completion from Grier to Curtis Samuel. Christian McCaffrey followed with a nice catch he tipped to himself (and McCaffrey was fired up later when he made a leaping catch to break up the defensive party), but then Grier had to throw the ball away on third and fourth down.
-It was a similar story for Allen, who on back-to-back plays was victimized by a pass break-up at the hands of cornerback Kevon Seymour and then an interception over the middle by safety Quin Blanding. Heinicke did get the offense moving a bit, but only after a PBU for recently signed cornerback Javien Elliott, who recorded an interception Monday. A 30-yard strike to Levrone got the ball moving, then Levrone finished off the march much to Newton’s enjoyment. The Virginia product who spent his rookie year on the Ravens’ and Jaguars’ practice squad had a productive day after having been relatively quiet following a strong start to OTAs.
-After a special teams period, Jackson made the play of the day and one that speaks to the second-year cornerback’s continued development. He hung close in coverage to receiver DJ Moore – no small feat in itself – and then tipped an Allen loft for Moore into the waiting arms of safety Colin Jones. Members of the offense claimed Jackson went through Moore's back to make the play, but the officials held onto their flags.
Rivera cited the play as an example of Jackson learning to be “strategic” with his speed and quickness.
“Early on (in his career) you’d see him sluff off a little bit and then try to burst in and make a play; that can put you in peril,” Rivera said. “If you put yourself in the right position, you give yourself a strategic opportunity to make a play. We’re seeing a little bit more of that right now. I’m happy about that.”
View photos from Wednesday's practice session.