CHARLOTTE – The passing game operated briskly and efficiently Wednesday during the Panthers' second organized team activity of the 2014 offseason.
Just imagine the possibilities when quarterback Cam Newton returns to action.
As expected, Newton isn't fully participating in OTAs as he continues to recover from ankle surgery. Somewhat unexpectedly, he is already throwing on the side, and head coach Ron Rivera didn't dismiss the possibility that Newton could be further involved at minicamp in three weeks that will wrap up the offseason workout program.
"I don't know. … But I wouldn't put it past him," Rivera said. "He's been throwing the ball on the side the last few days, and he looks good.
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The Panthers won't rush back Newton, who may not fully return to action until training camp in late July. He's got a new group of receivers to mesh with, but he's been able to begin that process already even in light of his limitations.
"A big part of the chemistry is communication, and he's been doing that," veteran wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. "We're communicating how we're going to run routes and what he expects from us while we're running those routes.
"So when it's time for him to be back out here, we'll be on the same page when it comes to that."
WORTH WATCHING: With so many new faces competing for vital roles, Rivera is watching as many different parts of practice as possible, but one position in particular has his attention.
"If there is one position that I'm really curious about and interested in and will most certainly be watching, it's left tackle," Rivera said.
The spot belonged to Jordan Gross for the better part of the last decade but is "wide-open" according to Rivera following Gross' retirement. Byron Bell and Nate Chandler, who formed the right side of Carolina's offensive line throughout the second half of last season, both got reps at left tackle Wednesday, as did offseason additions Kevin Hughes and David Foucault. Veteran Garry Williams, who has starting experience at tackle and guard but is coming off a major knee injury, partially participated Wednesday but didn't take any offense-versus-defense snaps.
"I really like what we're getting out of Byron Bell and Nate Chandler, two guys that are competing and are trying to get opportunities," Rivera said. "I'd like to see one of them really establish themselves, but the hard part is that we're not in pads so we're not really able to strike people and see.
"We've got to kind of go on feel right now and really watch them athletically and make sure they're putting themselves in position where they can make blocks. The big thing right now is to make sure they're doing what they're supposed to be doing and are using the techniques they're supposed to use and are limiting their mistakes."
SECONDARY SPLASH: Rivera said he likes how the defense has responded to some wrinkles added by defensive coordinator Sean McDermott. Rivera has been pleased by the well-established front seven but also by a secondary trying to establish itself.
One early standout has been rookie cornerback Bene Benwikere, the Panthers' fifth-round draft pick who had an interception Wednesday.
"Bene has done a really nice job playing the nickel position for us," Rivera said. "I don't want to put any pressure on him, but I kind of liken him to Nate Vasher who (passing defense coordinator) Steve Wilks and I had up in Chicago.
"He seems to be a very heady football player with good ball skills and great anticipation. That's what you look for in a cornerback."
Benwikere has blended well with the veterans after showing well against younger players during the team's rookie minicamp earlier this month.
"I got a lot of knowledge and information transferred into me," Benwikere said. "The coaches did a real good job of breaking things down so that I could understand them real fast."
QUICK KICKS: Wednesday's voluntary workout included everyone on the 90-man roster except rookie running back Tyler Gaffney – who is finishing up classes at Stanford – and cornerback Josh Norman, who was excused for a dental appointment. "Josh did some real good work in Phase Two of workouts," Rivera said. "I'm excited about the competition." … Guard Chris Scott left the practice field early after the 90-degree weather got the best of him. "You're just trying to be smart and get him out of the heat a little bit," Rivera said. "It's early, so we want to be careful with our guys."