Recapping this road trip: The Charlotte edition

Mmmmmmmm. Price’s Chicken Coop (Twitpic)

We’re whipping around the country for a few weeks, hitting a whole mess of training camps. Football has started, and man has it ever! We’ll try to do these trip recaps after each stop, but they’ll be a little shorter than usual… because we’re in-and-out of places.

So… I’m in New York City this morning, which means I’ve left Charlotte. How was the visit to the Panthers? Here is my hit from Total Access yesterday.

Some highlights…

— It wasn’t really a training camp day yesterday, and that was the point. Training camp actually starts on Friday in Wofford College for the Panthers. Yesterday’s session was for injured players, quarterbacks, and younger players. A great chance for Cam Newton to throw with the youngsters, get acclimated, and allow the coaches to begin the evaluation process. As coach Ron Rivera told me, “We had an opportunity to bring our rookies in, get them reaclimated to the stuff they learned in mini-camps. We had a chance to bring in the veteran quarterbacks and give them an opportunity to get throwing and get used to things. And then we also got guys who ended the season on Injured Reserve, give them an opportunity to get their feet wet, give us a chance to gauge them and see where their rehab can go.” Kinda think all teams should do this.

— I was only in Charlotte for less than 24 hours (meaning I missed the national youth soccer tournament held in town… sorry guys!). But I did manage to grab a fantastic lunch selection. On the advice of former Panthers beat reporter and current Pro Football Talk analyst Darin Gantt, the crew went out and brought back chicken from Price’s Chicken Coop. Just awesome. That’s what’s pictured. I thought Babe’s in Texas was good, this might be better. Just buttery goodness-style fried chicken and delicious tater tots. And hey, the fried apple pie was a nice touch.

— Because yesterday’s session was also for injured dudes, I was able to talk to star linebacker Jon Beason. He hurt his Achilles last year, and eased himself back into mini-camp. But there he was yesterday, looking like his old self. Beason also looked massive, by the way. I thought his arm was going to crush my arm. It’s like a big sledgehammer. Anyway, he’s feeling good. “I’m healthy, man,” Beason told me. “Coming back from the Achilles, it felt great. I expect to fully participate down in Spartanburg for training camp, and everything is looking forward.” He took it easy in mini-camp, noting that “You don’t win Super Bowls in May, necessarily. So, for me, it was kinda be limited and be ready for training camp.” Now, he is.

— Good local flavor over the past two days from old buddy Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer and friends. Columnist Tom Sorensen has this take on the trade of OT Jeff Otah, while Person detailed Ryan Kalil’s awesome proclamatory ad in the paper guaranteeing a Super Bowl. Then there was this reaction story. In random news, Scott Fowler’s Olympics column was great, succeeding in getting me psyched for the games.

–Last year’s defense, well, wasn’t good. Ranked 27th in points, 28th in yards, it was hurting. Even with that dynamic offense, the team won just six games. Yet this year, thanks to improved overall health and a shiny new first-rounder in LB Luke Kuechly, they could be better. In fact, Rivera, “I think it’ll be better.” I’m  on board with this, provided Beason stays healthy. Think about how much that hurt last year to take him away.

— Finally, the Panthers pulled off two trades this week, sending Otah to the Jets and bringing in Raiders WR Louis Murphy. The team obviously felt Otah needed a new start, and they needed some cap relief. As for Murphy, he’s a talented guy, and you can’t go wrong with adding a weapon for Newton. What’s crazy is how long it took for this trade to happen. Months. In fact, it first began to surface before the draft, I’m told, and then the teams had to keep coming back to it until it happened right before camp. And no, one trade wouldn’t have happened without the other.

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