The competitive juices were flowing between the offense and defense during Tuesday's OTA, with quarterback Cam Newton in his usual role as the leading voice for the offense and with cornerback Captain Munnerlyn raising his voice a bit above its normal level to pace the defense.
The two set the playful but prideful tone in the first team period, when tight end Eric Wallace made a nice grab down the right sideline that led Newton to scream in satisfaction. Undrafted rookie cornerback Cole Luke, however, hustled and was able to strip Wallace of the ball to the delight of the defense and particularly Munnerlyn, who shot back to Newton, "You're screaming a little too early."
Later, when the Panthers went into the two-minute drill for the first time this offseason, Newton celebrated when quarterback Garrett Gilbert hit wide receiver Damiere Byrd deep down the sideline behind two closing defenders. Munnerlyn argued for and won the ball being placed at the 1-yard line, as opposed to the touchdown the offense wanted. The defense twice held its ground, but on third down running back Jalen Simmons got through a nice hole for what was ruled a touchdown (a judgement call given there's no live contact in OTAs). Munnerlyn briefly tried to argue Simmons wouldn't have scored, but only half-heartedly.
While the second-team unit headed by Gilbert in this case quickly traversed the field in its two-minute chance – including a 19-yard strike to Russell Shepard – the first-team unit under the guidance of quarterback Derek Anderson also reached the end zone but more methodically. Newton playfully pleaded that wide receiver Devin Funchess not be ruled out of bounds on an almost touchdown from 20 yards out but still got the last laugh on a third-and-goal score from the 3 when running back Fozzy Whittaker broke open across the middle.
The defense bottled up a short catch and a rush attempt by Whittaker on the first two goal-to-go snaps, the run stop prompting defensive line coach Eric Washington to belt out, "That's the way to react." When the second team was on the field, rookie defensive end Daeshon Hall earned praised from Washington for batting a pass, but the learning curve still has its bumps. Later, Washington had to remind Hall about the importance of setting the edge.
It was an active and sometimes spectacular day for cornerbacks who got more snaps in team periods in the absence of starter James Bradberry. A day after fracturing his left wrist, Bradberry was anything but absent, taking part in installation periods and fielding throws on the side with his right hand, but he didn't take part in team periods.
In his stead, veteran Teddy Williams – who usually sees the large majority of his work on special teams – shined in the secondary. Early on, he broke up a pass intended for Wallace in the end zone and later fought with wide receiver Fozzy Whittaker to bat away a deep pass. In between, on the first snap in the two-minute drills, Williams broke beautifully and undercut a quick hitter to Funchess, picking off Anderson's pass in stride for a pick-six. Zack Sanchez, who spent much of his rookie season on the practice squad, relieved Williams after the pick and got lots of work.
It was also a busy day for Luke, an undrafted rookie out of Notre Dame. In addition to stripping Wallace, he also had a nice breakup of an Anderson pass bound for Byrd during 9-on-9. On the other hand, Luke couldn't stop a connection to rangy receiver Keyarris Garrett later in that period, and he was the closest defender on Shepard's 19-yard gainer in the two-minute drill.
The longest play of the day was a late-practice connection deep down the right sideline from Joe Webb to Charlotte 49ers undrafted rookie Austin Duke. Or was it? Players and coaches on either side offered their two cents, and while some internal footage may reveal the truth, there officially is not an OTA replay review system.