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Panthers Minicamp Observations: Day 1

  • Julius Peppers has been with his new old team every step of the way, but Tuesday he stepped onto the practice field for the first time in a while.

"It's good having him out here," head coach Ron Rivera said after the Panthers' first day of mandatory veteran minicamp. "Having him out on the practice field is just a culmination how we went through OTAs with him."

Since the first week of OTAs, Peppers has been working mainly inside Bank of America Stadium, attending meetings and working out.

"But," Rivera added, "it's good seeing him around and out here on the field."

  • Another welcome sight was 17-year old Foster Hale of Indian Trail, N.C., who fulfilled his Make-A-Wish hope of being Greg Olsen for the day. Hale, wearing No. 88 on the back of his shirt, caught a pass when the receivers and quarterbacks worked on route running and timing amongst themselves. After Hale was just a spectator the second time through, Olsen made sure he got another rep.

"Ten-yard out! Ten-yard out!" Olsen yelled out to quarterback Garrett Gilbert, who gave Hale an "Attaboy" after Hale made the catch. Offensive coordinator Mike Shula shot Hale a smile.

  • The team's projected starting wide receivers set the tone early. Shula called on the other receivers to watch how Kelvin Benjamin ran a particular route, then Benjamin made a catch over the middle on the first pass play of team periods. Later in that session, Devin Funchess snared a ball over the middle.

"Funchess is having a great minicamp," safety Mike Adams commented.

  • The catch of the day went to second-year receiver Keyarris Garrett, who one-handed a ball down the right sideline with cornerback Teddy Williams right on his hip. The throw of the day came courtesy of quarterback Derek Anderson, who threaded one – also along the right sideline – to tight end Chris Manhertz just over linebacker Luke Kuechly.
  • On defense, rookie linebacker Ben Boulware forced the lone turnover of the day, with a quick and nifty strip of tight end Wyatt Houston across the middle. Safety Travell Dixon made the recovery. Monday, Boulware united with his college teammates to visit the White House in honor of Clemson's national title.

"It was a really cool moment. But winning the national championship, I think that trumps that a little bit - no pun intended," Boulware said. "I'd like to go back with this team. We have a very talented team with great leadership."

  • Rookie cornerback Corn Elder took part in team drills for the first time since rookie minicamp, having taken it easy with an undisclosed injury. Elder had arguably the best pass breakup of the day when he stayed stride-for-stride with speedster Damiere Byrd deep down the sideline and batted the ball away. Soon after though, receiver Mose Frazier beat Elder. Such is life for a rookie.

Byrd still managed a strong day. He hauled in back-to-back passes from Joe Webb at one point, showcasing his vertical speed on one and his quickness on the next one with a nice cut across the middle.

"With that kind of speed, if he can hit a seam at the right time he can make a big play," Rivera said of Byrd. "He's earned the opportunity to compete for a job this year."

  • It wasn't a good hands day for running back Jonathan Stewart, but his perseverance paid off. After he dropped a second pass early, he got an earful from linebacker Thomas Davis, who barked, "You left your hands in the building, Stew!"

Stewart spent the subsequent special teams period catching ball after ball on the sideline from running backs coach Jim Skipper and pro scouting assistant Jonathan Fields. Lo and behold, Stewart dropped his next opportunity as well but then secured one soon after.

"Good job, Stew," Shula said.

  • Both kickers enjoyed a good opening day at minicamp, with incumbent Graham Gano and rookie Harrison Butker connecting on 40-plus yarders against a "rush." They wrapped up their day on the side, with both banging through 55-yarders before calling it a day.

View photos from Tuesday's mandatory minicamp practice session.

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