Rookie CB Josh Norman looks to compete for a starting job opposite Chris Gamble
The Carolina Panthers have concluded their rookie camp and will be preparing for training camp with the rest of the team this weekend. Just like any other team in the league, there will be position battles and this year offers some interesting competition.
Marty Hurney made a few acquisitions during the offseason in an effort to improve the team as a whole, most notably on defense. The following are the camp battles that could mean success or failure for the Panthers in 2012.
After spending time backing up Ed Reed in Baltimore, Haruki Nakamura could be starting at safety this year
The Panthers secondary was burned on several occasions last season and Chris Gamble lacked the support to keep the passing game in check. Veterans Sherrod Martin and Charles Godfrey will be fighting for starting positions with newcomers Haruki Nakamura and Reggie Smith.
Both Nakamura and Smith found themselves sitting behind established and effective starters from their previous teams, so they will be hungry to be starting in 2012.
The Panthers brass showed how serious they were about fixing the secondary woes by drafting D.J Campbell out of California, prompting the veterans to earn their spot in camp.
Oh Captain, my Captain! Munnerlyn may not have the tools to be an effective CB2
The secondary woes were not limited to the safety positions as the Panthers lacked a solid No. 2 cornerback. Chris Gamble played admirably, but the other side of the field was exploited by pass happy teams.
Captain Munnerlyn who had played the nickel corner position was thrust into the second cornerback spot and despite his best efforts could not be effective against the pass. Brandon Hogan, a rookie last year, was injured early on and was not much better in limited playing time.
Carolina addressed the need for a solid complement to Gamble by drafting Josh Norman in the fifth round. This could be looked at as a three-way battle but ultimately may be down to just Hogan and Norman. Munnerlyn could be returned to the nickel slot position and serve as a backup corner.
Terrell McClain needs to step up his game in order to win a spot on the defensive front
This position is crowded and will be interesting to see who gets the starting nod. Veteran Ron Edwards was to be the leadership on the line but went down with an injury in camp last season. This forced the Panthers to play rookies Sione Fua and Terrell McClain.
The baptism by fire approach did not go as well as Coach Rivera would have liked as Fua logged only nine tackles and McClain 19. Both ended up on the injured reserve themselves leaving the Panthers no choice but to bring in DTs Andre Neblett, Ogemdi Nwagbuo and Frank Kearse. There will be a lot riding on the line (no pun intended), and this battle could determine who stays on the roster and who will be given their release.
Note: Neblett could be a wild card for a backup position and possibly a starter. However, his recent suspension for violating the league's policy on performance enhancing substances could leave him on the outside looking in and needing to play like an animal in training camp to secure a roster spot.
Brandon LaFell would jump for joy if he locks up the #2 WR spot
Carolina has lacked a complement to Steve Smith since the departure (and later on retirement) of Mushin Muhammad. David Gettis showed promise in 2010 catching 37 balls for 508 yards despite a revolving door of quarterbacks.
Much was expected from him in 2011, but he went down with an injury. He is expected to compete with Brandon LaFell for the second wide receiver spot. LaFell showed flashes of being the possession wideout that has been lacking in Carolina since Muhammad left.
These two could be two and three on the depth chart, but look out for rookie Joe Adams to try earning a spot. There is no doubt he will be utilized in the slot position in addition to returning punts. If everyone stays healthy, this receiving corps could be one of the best in the league.