5 Things We've Learned so Far from Carolina Panthers OTAs

Knox Bardeen@knoxbardeenNFC South Lead WriterMay 29, 2012

5 Things We've Learned so Far from Carolina Panthers OTAs

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    The Carolina Panthers got rolling with Organized Team Activities (OTAs) on May 22 and will hit the field for 10 optional practices over the next three weeks.

    Remember, not only is this the first OTAs for the rookies, but it's also the first time the second-year players are experiencing this because of last year's lockout. There is a lot of work to be done.

    First and foremost, the Panthers need to stay healthy. This team was decimated by injuries last year, and it wouldn't be good to start the 2012 season off this early with more.

    After that, there are position battles to get started, the development of rookies to watch and the questions about Cam Newton's sophomore season to ponder.

    After the sessions last week, here are five things we've learned from Carolina Panthers OTAs.

The WR Position Battle Is Completely Wide Open

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    The Carolina Panthers need someone to step up and give quarterback Cam Newton a solid No. 2 option at wide receiver opposite of Steve Smith.

    The Panthers play a lot of three- and four-receiver sets, so the team really would like at least two receivers to arrive on the scene.

    Brandon LaFell, David Gettis, Armanti Edwards, Darvin Adams and Seyi Ajirotutu are all going to compete for the No. 2 spot, with the runner-up looking at lots of time on the field in the slot. But many think LaFell is the frontrunner.

    In his two seasons with Carolina, the former 2010 third-round pick has 74 receptions for 1,081 yards and four touchdowns. In a perfect world, those two-year combined stats would look similar to what LaFell puts up in 2012, but he's not off to the greatest start, according to Jeff Hawkins.

    "Coach Ron Rivera said he's looking to LaFell to relieve pressure on Steve Smith. During Thursday's OTA, LaFell dropped three of four during a passing drill."

    This could have just been a bad few minutes of practice for LaFell. And the Panthers really need that to be the case.

    If LaFell can't step up, look for Gettis to be the next man in line.

Amini Silatolu Looks to Be Carolina's Starting LG

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    Amini Silatolu was an All-American offensive guard for the FCS Midwestern State Mustangs last year.

    If the first week of OTAs are any indication, Silatolu is making the transition from FCS to the NFL quite nicely.

    According to Steve Reed, Silatolu was taking first-team reps at left guard between Jordan Gross and Ryan Kalil.

    This isn't a huge surprise, but it does go a long way in showing just how strong head coach Ron Rivera feels about Silatolu's skills to get him running with the first team very early.

Cam Newton Is Growing, Both Figuratively and Physically

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    Not only have reports stated that quarterback Cam Newton looks physically bigger and in better shape this summer, but much notice has been taken by head coach Ron Rivera about how Newton is holding himself on the field and in the locker room.

    "He's working, continuing to encourage his teammates to work hard and pushing himself," said Rivera on the Panthers' team website.

    "Really the one thing about Cam is that he doesn't just say it, he does it. So, I'm pretty excited about what we're getting from Cam as far as his overall development as a football player and a leader on this team."

    Newton had an amazing rookie season in 2011, with 4,051 yards passing, 21 touchdown passes with 14 rushing scores. But there is definitely room for improvement, and the fact that Newton's progressing and taking his role as a team leader very seriously is great news for this franchise.

Jeff Otah Will Have to Earn His Spot Back

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    Carolina placed right tackle Jeff Otah on Injured Reserve last season and would really like to see him back in the starting lineup if healthy.

    But head coach Ron Rivera isn't going to hand anything to Otah.

    According to Steve Reed, Otah was working with the second team behind Byron Bell at OTAs last Thursday.

    Otah and Bell are the favorites in the position battle at right tackle, but Bruce Campbell, Garry Williams and Lee Ziemba will also be involved.

    There's not much doubt that a healthy Otah would be the best bet for Carolina. But, with Otah's history of injury, he's going to have to prove a lot to this coaching staff before he's anointed as a starter.

Captain Munnerlyn Has the Early Lead at CB

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    Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn was a punching bag last year.

    No corner in the NFL that played more than 300 snaps last year allowed more receptions, on average, than Munnerlyn.

    According to Pro Football Focus, 73.8 percent of the passes that were thrown Munnerlyn's way were caught by the receiver.

    That's an area that needs to be improved upon by Munnerlyn.

    If he can't find a way to shut down receivers, it'll open the door for three other options in Brandon Hogan, Darius Butler and Josh Norman.

    According to Joe Person, Hogan took most of the second-team reps behind Munnerlyn.

    This may be just an early nod to last year's starter, or it may be the pecking order. Expect Hogan to get lots of looks as well as the rookie Norman.

    But right now, it's Munnerlyn's job to lose, and he doesn't have a solid grasp on the position.