Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE
Brad Nortman (8) and Justin Medlock (6).
The Carolina Panthers' special teams were among the worst in the NFL in 2011.
Improving all facets of the kicking, coverage and return units was one of the team's top priorities this offseason.
Carolina added standout coverage players Kenny Onatolu, Haruki Nakamura, Mike Tolbert and Colin Jones to the roster, and the Panthers also made changes at punter, kicker and punt-return specialist in a concerted effort to improve their special teams.
Here is a look at the specialists:
Punter, Brad Nortman (R): B
The Panthers made Brad Nortman the first punter drafted in team history when they selected him in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL draft.
Nortman beat out veteran Nick Harris by averaging 47.2 yards per punt during the preseason.
Nortman also will be the holder on field goals and extra points.
Kicker, Justin Medlock: B+
A former fifth-round draft pick by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2007, Medlock beat out Olindo Mare for the ' kicking duties after playing in Canada for the Toronto Argonauts and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats the past three seasons.
Medlock has a strong leg and represents a fresh start. The unpopular Mare missed a pair of pressure-filled fourth-quarter field goals after replacing original Panther John Kasay last season.
Punt Returner, Joe Adams (R): A-
Luke Kuechly may be the best rookie football player on the Panthers' roster, but Joe Adams has a chance to be the most exciting.
Adams, who led the NCAA with four punts returned for touchdowns in 2011, has a chance to follow in Patrick Peterson's footsteps as a rookie Pro Bowl punt returner if he can duplicate his performance from last year.
Regardless, Adams is a significant upgrade over Carolina's previous punt returner, Armanti Edwards, who was the NFL's worst in 2011.
Kick Returner, Kealoha Pilares: B
Pilares finished the 2011 regular season ranked fifth in the NFC with a 25.7 yards average per return, including a franchise-record 101-yard return for a touchdown against the Detroit Lions.
However, his 20.9-yard average during the 2012 preseason was the lowest among the five players who returned at least one kickoff.
Pilares needs to prove that he can consistently return the ball beyond the 25-yard line on returnable kicks, or he could eventually lose his spot to Joe Adams or practice-squad player Armond Smith.
Long Snapper, J.J. Jansen: A
What can you say about a long snapper except that the less you notice him, the better he is doing his job?
This will be Jansen's fourth season as the Panthers' long snapper, and as long as he remains healthy and continues to deliver the ball to Nortman on time, he will be a Panther for many years to come.