Panthers’ Newton gets cheers at Fan Fest

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Cam Newton got a chance to show off for the fans a little at the Carolina Panthers Fan Fest on Saturday.

However, coach Ron Rivera said there was a bigger message for the Panthers during the annual fan appreciation day.

“The fans showed us they have expectations,” Rivera said after Saturday’s two-hour practice. “That gave us a little bit of energy to our players. The enthusiasm, the effort we got in return was good.”

Newton, Carolina’s second-year quarterback, was the star of the show, drawing the biggest cheers from the estimated 22,000 fans.

His biggest came on a short-yardage drill, with Newton dropping back to pass, then tucking the ball and running untouched into the end zone. He then tossed the ball to a fan.

But the Panthers’ defense also showed off a little, with three players — rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly, rookie safety D.J. Campbell and free-agent cornerback Nate Ness — getting interceptions.

Kuechly, Carolina’s first-round pick in the draft, made an over-the-shoulder interception of Newton’s pass to Brandon LaFell. That came after Kuechly spent some time in the locker room treating a bloody nose he sustained earlier in the scrimmage.

“I was trying to get Stew (Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart),” Kuechly said. “He has one of those back flaps (protective back padding). It popped up when I hit him, went right through the face mask and popped me in the nose.

“This day was awesome. It’s great when the fans come out there — it makes practice a little more energetic.”

With the first week of training camp behind them, Rivera said that he’s been pleased with the progress Carolina has made. However, he added that the Panthers have room for improvement.

“We’ve taken a step, but we’re not anywhere near where we want to be,” Rivera said. “We’ve got a long way to go. This is a team that’s good, but we don’t want to be good — we want to be great.”

NOTES: Both All-Pro wide receiver Steve Smith and cornerback Chris Gamble were on the sideline during Saturday’s practice. Rivera said Gamble was held out as a precaution after he complained of a sore groin muscle Friday, while Smith was on a scheduled day off. … The competition for Carolina’s kicker spot remained close, with veteran Olindo Mare hitting 1 of 3 attempts and free agent Justin Medlock going 2 for 3. Mare hit a 50-yard field goal, but had a 41-yarder blocked and missed another 50-yarder. Medlock, who played in the Canadian Football League last year, made a 41- and 50-yarder, and bounced another 50-yarder off the left post. “The competition continues,” Rivera said. “There’s a long way to go, but we are going to get better at that position.” … The Panthers will take Sunday off, then return to Spartanburg, S.C., to resume training camp Monday. Their first preseason game is scheduled for Saturday night against the Houston Texans at home.