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Panthers OTA observations: Day 1

  • The start of organized team activities represents the first opportunity for the offense to line up against the defense on the practice field. Wide receiver Curtis Samuel didn't take part in that portion of the Panthers' first OTA, but the strides he has made were obvious nonetheless.

"It's great to be out there running routes again and catching from the QBs once again," Samuel said. "It's really exciting to be out here after the injury this past season, exciting to be out here with the guys."

Samuel continues to recover from a significant ankle injury that ended his season in Week 10 of his rookie campaign. Head coach Ron Rivera said there's no reason to rush back the speedster, though Samuel looked like he belonged on the field while running individual routes with his teammates before getting additional work on the side.

"He's moving well, and we're continuing to increase his work load as we go through," Rivera said. "He just needs to continue doing what he's doing and doing what the trainers ask of him. He's going to be fine."

  • Fellow wide receiver Damiere Byrd, who also ended his season on IR after suffering a leg injury in Week 16, made several impressive catches in the first OTA. Both Byrd and Charlotte 49ers product Austin Duke showed a significant rapport with Garrett Gilbert, the "leader in the clubhouse" for backup quarterback who looked sharp Tuesday.
  • First-round wideout DJ Moore picked up where he left off at rookie minicamp, this time with Cam Newton delivering the dimes. Moore's quickness on a run play appeared just as relevant against defensive veterans as did it against the rookies.

Beyond Moore, it looked like the coaches were taking their time getting the rookie class up to speed. Second- and third-round picks Donte Jackson at cornerback and Rashaan Gaulden got snaps with the third team (Kevon Seymour paired with James Bradberry as the first-team corners). Rookie tight end Ian Thomas had a catch, and rookie linebacker Andre Smith recovered a fumble.

  • Linebacker Luke Kuechly had shoulder surgery this offseason, but he still was a part of the defensive huddle during team periods – kind of. Kuechly took the field whenever the defense did, but just to share some words of encouragement before heading to the sideline.

"Well, for the most part right now he's doing all the individual stuff and continuing his rehab," Rivera said. "Things have gone well."

Defensive end Julius Peppers, who also had offseason shoulder surgery, made an appearance at practice and provided moral support. Peppers wasn't in uniform.

  • The 10 OTAs that will run over the next three weeks are voluntary, but the Panthers had close to 100 percent participation. The only player not on the field Tuesday was offensive tackle Blaine Clausell, who was under the weather. Samuel, Kuechly and Peppers were joined on the side by wide receiver Fred Ross – who spent his rookie season on IR with an ankle injury – and recently signed running back Kenjon Barner.

"Kenjon is really getting himself back into shape more so than anything else having been on the sideline waiting for someone to sign him," Rivera said.

  • Newton got sharper as the practice progressed. Early in team drills, a Devin Funchess catch in traffic over the middle prompted Rivera to say, "Way to make him look good, one-seven." Newton took care of that himself at the start of the final 11-on-11 session, hooking up with Olsen, Moore, Funchess and Olsen again on four consecutive attempts.

The defense answered on the fifth and final play of the sequence, when defensive end Daeshon Hall dropped into coverage and deflected a pass that safety Da'Norris Searcy – running with Mike Adams on the first team – corralled for a near interception (the ball appeared to hit the ground).

  • The specialists worked by themselves Tuesday. In a lighter moment, punter/high school quarterback Michael Palardy one-upped kicker Graham Gano by unloading a pass that clanged off the crossbar from 30-plus yards out. Gano let his leg do the talking soon after, banging a 65-yard field goal straight down the middle off a tee.

View photos from the first week of organized team activities.

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