Panthers practice report: Captain Munnerlyn brings back some juice, sees difference in Cam Newton’s arm

SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Everyone from Cam Newton to Ron Rivera has conceded there’s been some energy missing from Panthers’ camp following the offseason departure of Thomas Davis, Newton’s trash-talk sparring partner at Wofford in previous summers.

Another former Panthers defender tried to bring some of the juice back.

Newly signed Bills defensive back Captain Munnerlyn never really faced Newton during Tuesday’s joint practice session, but that didn’t stop the diminutive corner from giving the Panthers quarterback an earful.

Munnerlyn was miffed after Newton hit Curtis Samuel on a long touchdown pass in 7-on-7s on a play Munnerlyn claims would have been blown dead in an actual game.

“We talked a little bit. I told him he had to get off the ball a little faster,” Munnerlyn said. “The fans went crazy when he hit Curtis for the deep ball, but he was sacked three (or) four times. So it didn’t count.”

Newton had something for Munnerlyn, too, joking with him about the No. 26 jersey that Munnerlyn was assigned in Buffalo. But Munnerlyn and Newton, who worked out together last summer at Wofford, kept the tone friendly, matching that atmosphere that prevailed between two teams with a ton of connections on the coaching staff and roster.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera and the Bills’ Sean McDermott, Rivera’s former defensive coordinator, each addressed the other’s team before the first of the two joint practices, imploring them to give great effort, but not to fight.

There was only one mini-skirmish that never really escalated into a fight, and both teams seemed to avoid any major injuries during the two-hour session on a hot, muggy morning.

Panthers rookie Brian Burns limped off the field and had ice on his ankle. Rivera didn’t have an update on the first-round pick, but the injury did not appear to be serious.

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Newton was mostly on the mark, although the majority of his completions were short or intermediate throws. He was picked off by corner Levi Wallace while running the two-minute offense, but then hit tight end Greg Olsen for a touchdown on the next play on what amounted to a do-over from the same spot.

Munnerlyn, who signed with Buffalo last weekend six months after being cut by Carolina, said it was good to see Newton slinging it again following offseason shoulder surgery. When Munnerlyn last saw Newton, he couldn’t throw the ball more than about 20 yards downfield.

“It’s like night and day. His arm looks a whole lot better. You can tell he’s been working,” Munnerlyn said. “To see him come back from that injury, it’s been tough. I know it’s been tough for him. But to see him come back like he’s doing, I’m expecting big things from him.”

Munnerlyn, who had two stints with the Panthers totaling seven years, said his familiarity with the Bills’ defensive system is helping ease his transition. That — and the fact that he’s joined Carolina’s Western New York campus.

“Oh man, it’s crazy. Even to see Brandon Beane as a GM. To see guys like Kurt (Coleman) and coach McDermott. We even got one of those (Panthers’ former) video guys. I was like, ‘Whoa, when did you get here?’” Munnerlyn said.

The Carolina-Buffalo ties run deep. In addition to Munnerlyn, Beane, who spent 19 years with the Panthers, and McDermott, other Bills with Panthers connections include Coleman, defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, safety Dean Marlowe, assistant coaches Ken Dorsey, Heath Farwell and Bobby Babich, player personnel director Dan Morgan and the aforementioned video director Jeff Mueller.

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“It definitely was a funny thing. I know everybody makes jokes about Buffalo being the Panthers of the North. It’s definitely different,” Munnerlyn said. “But coach and Beane are doing a good job of forming their team and getting guys ready to roll.”

Those relationships made it feel like old home week before practice, with players and coaches hugging, joking and catching up. The friendly vibe also was helped by the fact that the two teams don’t play each other this season.

After one team session ended, Bills quarterback Josh Allen said he and Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly talked about the play’s concept and how defenses might attack it.

A couple of other quick takeaways from Tuesday:

Bills impressed with the Panthers’ front seven

There’s been a lot of talk at this camp about the Panthers’ defensive front following the additions of Burns, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and veteran edge rusher Bruce Irvin. According to several Buffalo players, believe the hype.

Allen: “They’ve got some dudes up front. They know how to play the game of football. They’re very smart and obviously Luke kind of commands that defense really well. Just making sure they’re all situated on what their assignments are. And like I said, they’ve got some dudes up front that will go get after the ball.”

Fullback Patrick DiMarco: “Gerald McCoy is a monster in that three-technique. Just causes havoc. They’re going to be good up front. That whole front eight — they put eight guys in the box and try to funnel in and let Luke and Shaq run around and make plays. So it’s gonna be a tough front.”

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Lotulelei: “If that’s what they want to run, they’ve got the personnel for it. KK (Short) can do everything. I’m sure Gerald can do everything. And then they’ve got (Dontari) Poe. Poe’s grown up in the 3-4. They’ve got a bunch of studs up front.”

Offensive line coach with GOAT status?

Lotulelei, the Panthers’ first-round pick in 2013, also had love for the Panthers’ offensive line, several members of which he used to battle in practice. Lotulelei mentioned Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner, tackle Daryl Williams and free agent center Matt Paradis — but also had high praise for offensive line coach John Matsko.

“They’ve got some All-Pros up there — Trai and Daryl. They’ve got a vet in Paradis. We played him in the Super Bowl. He knows what it takes to get there, what it takes to be a champ,” he said.

“They’ve got some good guys up front. And then Matsko, I call him the GOAT. He gets people paid, man. So I think they’ll be fine.”

Matsko is well respected around the league, but seldom gets much publicity — in part because of his refusal to do interviews. That’s another plus as far as the quiet Lotulelei is concerned.

“I love him even more,” he said.

(Photo of Donte Jackson, Panthers defense: Matt Cashore / USA Today)

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