SPARTANBURG -- The good news for the Panthers is that they signed their first-round pick Friday night. The bad news is they had two.
Running back Jonathan Stewart, the first of the pair of picks (13th overall), remained unsigned at press time and could miss the opening practice of camp this morning. Tackle Jeff Otah agreed Friday night, avoiding any more missed time.
The Panthers need both quickly, because they're expected to play big roles and because they were already behind their teammates in terms of preparation.
Stewart missed all of the spring workouts while recovering from toe surgery, and Otah was held out of all but the last week of OTAs (Organized Team Activities) because of a lingering ankle problem. Stewart came to Charlotte to work out as soon as his class at Oregon graduated (an agreement between the NCAA and NFL kept him away before), so he has some familiarity with what's going on.
Otah agreed to a five-year deal worth just over $14 million, with around $8.5 million guaranteed. Stewart's deal will fall between the 12th and 14th picks, Denver's Ryan Clady and Chicago's Chris Williams. Clady signed early Friday, and Williams was under contract Wednesday, providing the framework for Stewart.
Getting Otah in on time means their remade offensive line will be whole for the start of practice.
They're starting him at right tackle, though team officials have said they think he could play on the left side eventually. He's agile for a man his size (6-6, 330 pounds), but it's the size they're banking on. The mandate this year is to run the ball, and the hope is that pairing him with either 340-pound Toniu Fonoti or 325-pounder Keydrick Vincent will give them a chance to do so.
The current Panthers hadn't had a first-rounder miss camp because of contract negotiations before linebacker Jon Beason missed eight days last year. He admitted Friday trying to catch up was difficult, but since he led the team in tackles last year, it's hard to say it set him back too far.
"I remember last year, coming in late, they had 30 different defenses in," Beason said. "I had to stay late and try to get caught up at once. This year's like crawling before you walk, just like everybody else. ...
"It was tough. As a player, you just want to play. The business aspect of it is new for a rookie, you don't know about the contract stuff, and what your agent is telling you. So you just have to have confidence in them."
• NEW LEADERS: It didn't take long for Beason and Chris Harris to make an impact last year. Now they have a responsibility.
Quarterback Jake Delhomme said Friday that second-year linebacker Beason and safety Harris have clearly asserted themselves as the voices of the defense -- even though they weren't even here a year ago this week. Beason missed the first eight days of camp last year in a contract squabble, while Harris was a mid-camp trade acquisition to cover the sudden retirement of Mike Minter. They blossomed as players, and now the voice of the team said it's time for them to be heard.
"We have some young leaders who really stepped up last year," Delhomme said, identifying them. "Those two brought a certain energy to the defense, and I can't wait to see Beason and Harris play again this year."
Beason admitted last year was on-the-fly, from his late start to working on the weakside to taking over in the middle following Dan Morgan's injury. But he carries himself with an air of confidence anyway, and it's clear the defense is his show to run.
"I think I've earned the right to be a leader," Beason said. "I think the guys on the defense respect me. So I'm just going to live up to last year's expectations and this year's new expectations -- going deep in the playoffs."
• NONE FOR ME, THANKS: Even though the Panthers were never really interested, their name keeps getting dragged into the Brett Favre drama. Wide receiver Steve Smith said he understands how it happens, but had a clear answer for it.
"Jake's our guy," Smith said of Delhomme. "Jake's my guy. Anybody else, I'm not interested."
When he was asked about the ongoing drama, Delhomme said he's avoided consuming much media the last few weeks, but added: "You have to be living under a rock to not hear about it."
"Who knows what's going to happen there," he said of Favre's eventual destination. "I'm glad that's not going on in our camp. So far, we've been distraction free, and I think that's a big, big positive."
• REALITY CHECK: One of the pesky things about the journalism business is that you sometimes have to ask questions that make people uncomfortable, or hurt their feelings. But the truth has proven to be a higher calling.
That's why it was interesting last week when it was reported elsewhere that the Panthers are putting the team logo on the 25-yard lines this year "because" of a petition started by a fan in Alaska. That's not entirely true.
Devoted fan Joe Cooper started the petition in May with great fervor, beginning with team-related message boards before sending his message to the mainstream media. We blogged about it in May, skeptical that it would bring any change at all. In the end, it might not have.
A Panthers team spokesman said this week that discussions to change the paint scheme on the field began "sometime in February." Nobody wants to make fans mad -- or spoil anybody's good time -- but the reality is the nearly 2,000 who signed the petition might not have made the difference they thought. Cooper had some communication with stadium president Jon Richardson, but in the end, owner Jerry Richardson has always preferred the NFL logo at midfield, and that's why it'll be there this year, too.
• EXTRA POINTS: Coach John Fox said recently acquired tackle Charles Spencer passed his physical Friday and is cleared to begin practicing this morning. How much he works remains to be seen. Once considered Houston's left tackle of the future, Spencer has missed the last two years since suffering a left knee injury two games into his career. While the Texans were considering moving him to guard before growing impatient with his rehabilitation, the Panthers will play him at tackle. ...
Fox said the rest of the players also passed physicals, and everyone has been cleared to work this morning. ...
The Panthers still have to cut two players, but won't until the signings of Stewart and Otah become official. ...
Single-game tickets for the coming season go on sale today at 10 a.m. There are no sales at Bank of America Stadium. Fans can either call Ticketmaster at (704) 522-6500, go to a Ticketmaster location or log onto ticketmaster.com. There's a four-game limit, and only four tickets per game can be bought. They range from $51 to $90, plus service charges.