Panthers' Ryan Kalil: A lot to like in final training camp

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Carolina Panthers center Ryan Kalil didn't intend for training camp to be the start of a farewell tour.

If he had his druthers, the five-time Pro Bowler would have walked away from his final camp at Wofford College and his final NFL season without fanfare, then announced his retirement and vanished into the sunset.

"Cause I'm not a make-it-about-me guy," Kalil said.

But news leaked out in January that Kalil planned to call it quits after this season, which he hopes will result in another run at the Super Bowl that the Panthers fell short of winning in 2015.

"I thought I was asked off the record if this was the last one," Kalil said with a laugh. "I did not make an announcement about it. ... I'm not that kind of guy. I think it's selfish to be that way."

Kalil also believes it's selfish to reminisce about his final training camp as the Panthers return to Charlotte, North Carolina, on Monday to make final preparations for the regular season.

"After it's said and done, I can reminisce and look back on it," Kalil said. "But I've got work to do. I've got to stay in it. It doesn't mean anything if I don't give my teammates everything I have."

The Panthers also have a lot of work to do before the Sept. 9 opener against Dallas (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox).

"I like the things we're doing," Kalil said. "But we need more reps. We need more and more reps."

However, the Panthers accomplished a lot the past three and a half weeks at Wofford. Here's a glimpse of what we know about the team now:

Norv's offense is 'Boogie approved'

The biggest question coming into camp was how well quarterback Cam Newton would adjust to Norv Turner's offense. Newton answered that early in camp, calling it "Boogie approved." (Newton's nickname is Ace Boogie.)

Newton then showed in the preseason opener how well he's adapted, completing 6 of 9 pass attempts for 84 yards at Buffalo. He's starting to grasp the theory that you take what the defense gives you by getting the ball into the hands of your playmakers, such as running back Christian McCaffrey, first-round draft pick D.J. Moore, second-year player Curtis Samuel and old reliable tight end Greg Olsen.

Turner's goal of getting Newton, who has a career completion percentage of 58.5, into the 65 to 70 percent range seems realistic after camp.

"I've seen Cam grow every single season," Kalil said. "Having Scotty [quarterbacks coach Scott Turner], having Norv working with him every day, for one, he's been very excited about having some different perspective.

"Two, he's been working on his craft. He's got incredible work ethic. Just happy he's on my team."

Cam's backup

For the first time since Newton's first camp in 2011, he doesn't have Derek Anderson as his backup. The Panthers moved on from the veteran quarterback, hoping Garrett Gilbert or Taylor Heinicke will prove worthy of leading the team to victories should something happen to the franchise quarterback.

Though they threw more than their share of interceptions during camp, both looked good against the Bills. The next step is showing they can perform on a consistent basis.

Real deal

A rookie has been either a starter or key contributor for the Panthers every year under coach Ron Rivera, from Newton in 2011 to McCaffrey in 2017.

The player to keep an eye on in 2018 is second-round pick Donte Jackson.

The former LSU cornerback has been everything the Panthers hoped he would be, showing the quickness, speed and swagger that was much needed in the secondary. The swagger came out multiple times, from Jackson telling other defensive backs that McCaffrey might outrun them but not him, to returning a Newton interception 100 yards on Sunday with the ball held like a waiter delivering room service as he approached the opposite end zone.

Rivera said he hasn't felt this good about the cornerback spot in the past two years, now that Jackson is playing opposite James Bradberry, who started as a rookie in 2016.

Turner said before the recent FanFest practice at Bank of America Stadium that Jackson "is going to be special."

Said starting wide receiver Devin Funchess: "He's fast, he's quick. He brings a different aspect to the game what he can do. ... He's just athletic. I've been telling him all the time since OTAs, I've never seen somebody that quick."

With nickelback Captain Munnerlyn playing at a high level after a disappointing 2017 season, the secondary could be an asset instead of a liability.

Injuries and depth

Hurney insisted he improved the depth on the offensive line during the offseason, and injuries are putting that to the test.

Losing right tackle Daryl Williams (torn MCL, dislocated patella) and left guard Amini Silatolu (torn meniscus) were the biggest blows during training camp. Taylor Moton, who was competing with Silatolu to replace All-Pro Andrew Norwell, has been solid at right tackle. Rivera called him a "mauler."

Silatolu should be back at some point in the next month, and Greg Van Roten has filled in adequately.

The good news is both injuries came early enough that it has given the Panthers time to adjust. They can't afford another setback, but at this point, the line appears stable.

Biggest surprise

Rivera insists there haven't been any real surprises, but with a solid camp, players such as Jackson have reinforced the play they showed during offseason workouts.

Moore has shown the same run-after-the-catch capability he had at Maryland. Tight end Ian Thomas, selected in the fourth round out of Indiana, has been as smooth running routes and making catches as advertised.

"I find it hard to believe any of [the other drafted tight ends] are much better than Ian," Olsen said. "Ian has all the traits to be a true NFL tight end. He's strong enough, he can bend, he can engage at the line of scrimmage. He's smooth. He's faster than you think he is. He catches the ball well. So I think Ian has a chance to have all the traits to be a complete guy."

Samuel, whose 2017 season ended prematurely with a severe ankle injury and who began camp on the physically unable to perform list, would be the biggest surprise if a pick had to be made.

Samuel was overlooked with the arrival of Moore, but he has shown the past two weeks that he can be the contributor this season as a slot receiver and occasional running back that the Panthers believed he would be a year ago.

"I love how hard he worked in the offseason to get himself back," Rivera said. "That was as impressive as it gets. The way he's attacked getting back on the field ... every opportunity he's taken advantage of it. He just makes things happen when he's on the field, so that's been impressive to watch."

Camp MVP

Outside linebacker Shaq Thompson is the MVP for the defense. He's made spectacular play after spectacular play, including an interception to end a recent practice that drew comparisons from Rivera to former Chicago linebacker Wilber Marshall.

Thompson is going to be key this season, particularly the first four games when Thomas Davis is serving a four-game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

Offensively, the choice isn't as easy. The pick here is McCaffrey, who has looked better in his second season but without the big headlines for his flashy moves.

Rivera and Turner say 25-to-30 touches a game are realistic for the former Stanford star. If that happens and McCaffrey is effective, he'll be in line for most all-purpose yards in the NFL.

Last camp at Wofford?

New Panthers owner David Tepper has indicated he would like to build a new state-of-the-art practice facility, perhaps near the North Carolina-South Carolina border. That has increased speculation that holding training camp in Spartanburg, as has been the case since the team began playing in 1995, will end.

There's only one year left on the contract with Wofford College, so if this wasn't the last year of camp here, then next year almost surely will be even though the school and community want it to return.

Wofford was the home of former owner Jerry Richardson, and Tepper has no ties there.

But Kalil, who has been coming to Wofford every year since he was selected in the second round of the 2007 draft, sees the benefit of getting away.

"Yeah," he said. "It's good to get to get out of Charlotte and have a place where you can just focus on football."