Let's start today's observations with two images from the pre-practice stretching period.
First, there's this one of All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly chatting with first-year linebackers coach Steve Russ. It appears as though the two have developed an instant rapport, and that had to have been a primary objective for Russ once he took over for Al Holcomb, now the defensive coordinator for the Cardinals.
Next, there's this amazing shot of quarterback Cam Newton and linebacker Thomas Davis. There's always something going on with these two at practice, and what started off as an ordinary conversation developed into an extraordinary picture – captured by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez – of what looks like two brothers horsing around in the backyard.
Now on to the notes and observations:
- Unfortunately, there is an injury to report. Tight end Chris Manhertz pulled up during a team period with a foot injury and was carted off the practice field. Head coach Ron Rivera said Manhertz was getting an X-ray. "We'll keep our fingers crossed," Rivera said.
- Wide receiver Curtis Samuel did not practice, which isn't all that surprising as he works his way back from ankle surgery. Samuel received a heavy workload during Tuesday's practice. "Today was more of a rest day," Rivera said. "We don't want to go two days in a row with that intensity."
- Safety Mike Adams was an excused absence.
- Cornerback Lorenzo Doss recorded yet another interception during the final team period. At this point, we've lost count of how many he's had this spring. "For us as coaches, it gets our attention," Rivera said. "Who's that? Oh, it's Doss again." But Rivera isn't about to move Doss into the starting lineup after a productive spring. Allow him to explain: "He just seems to improve every day. But right now it's one of those things where there's no consequences, so you can play and kind of cut it loose. What will be interesting to see is if he can maintain that once the pads come on and the consequences increase – in terms of when you get burned you get burned and it's a big deal, and when you don't right now, it's like I said, there really aren't a lot of consequences, so you can gamble."
- Reserve safety Dezmen Southward also made a splash. Quarterback Garrett Gilbert tried to connect with wide receiver Damiere Byrd deep and Southward came across for the leaping interception. Moments later he jumped a route and dropped what could have been a pick-six.
- Let's keep it rolling with the defensive backs. Cornerback Ross Cockrell had secondary coach Jeff Imamura literally jumping for joy after sticking with his man in coverage throughout an extended play.
- The highlight of the red zone period was Newton's lip service to the defense ahead of a snap from inside the 10. "You know what this is?" Newton asked, "touchdown." Newton then took the snap and kept the ball on a zone-read before waltzing into the end zone. He was guaranteed to score thanks to the "no tackling at practice" rule, but as we all know, Newton has a pretty good success rate on those kind of running plays.
- A two-minute drill amounted to the offense facing third-and-goal following two incomplete passes from Newton to Devin Funchess. That's when Newton targeted running back Christian McCaffrey out of the backfield for six. Makes it look easy, doesn't he?
- The second-team offense, this time led by quarterback Taylor Heinicke, also scored in its two-minute drill. Tight end Jason Vander Laan was left wide open in the corner of the end zone.
- Wide receiver Torrey Smith had one of the day's best catches. Newton fired a laser over the middle and Smith went low to corral it while keeping his feet. Tight end Greg Olsen, an observer at the time, remarked to no one in particular: "What a good catch."
- The offense got the last word on this day. Wide receiver Austin Duke worked free of Doss in the end zone and Gilbert hit him for the score. Duke capped it with a Steve Smith-esque ball spin.