With OTAs and training camp around the corner, the Carolina Panthers are making the necessary preparations to put the best team possible on the football field. After drafting the future of the team and signing a plethora of free agents—veteran and rookie alike—the Panthers will evaluate their personnel and determine who will help the team win in 2013.
While some positions are locked up, there are others that will be up for grabs this summer and going into the preseason. The secondary offers the most intriguing storylines when camp opens up because there is a lot of competition at safety and cornerback.
So who will make the cut and land a spot on the final 53-man roster?
The following slideshow will breakdown each position and predict starters and their backups when Week 1 opens in September.
Starter: Cam Newton
Backups: Derek Anderson
Third String/Inactive Roster: Colby Cameron
Cam Newton is the starter, and while his on-field time will be limited in the preseason, watch him closely as the Panthers will want to keep him in the pocket and make plays with his arm rather than his legs.
It's a given he will have to scramble at times, but he isn't going to want to risk an injury by running for a first down or touchdown in a meaningless preseason game.
Many of you probably have noticed that Jimmy Clausen is not listed here. Carolina signed Colby Cameron for a reason, and he could very well have a better camp than Clausen. The clock is running out out on Clausen's tenure with the Panthers as he never developed into the player many thought he would be when he was drafted in the second round of the 2010 draft.
There won't be much of a position battle here as Newton has the starter spot locked up, but Clausen and Cameron should be challenging each other once camp opens. Clausen has the experience, but if Cameron has a better showing, especially in game situations, don't be surprised if Clausen is shown the door.
Starter: Jonathan Stewart
Backups: Kenjon Barner and Armond Smith
Starter: Mike Tolbert
There is fair chance the Carolina Panthers part ways with DeAngelo Williams either by trading him or releasing him outright. The selection of Kenjon Barner in the sixth round of last month's draft may have paved the way for the end of Double Trouble.
Barner should still be an asset on special teams, and if Williams is indeed let go, he could see some extended playing time as Stewart's backup. In fact, with Williams gone, Barner could be competing with Armond Smith for the second-string running back spot.
This is just pure speculation and only a prediction, though. There is nothing definite about Williams' immediate future, but it should be a safe assessment that this will be his final year with the Panthers.
Starters: Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Domenik Hixon
Backups: Ted Ginn, Jr., David Gettis, Joe Adams, Kealoha Pilares
Starter: Greg Olsen
Backup: Ben Hartsock
The receivers will not see much change, but Armanti Edwards could find himself on the bubble in camp. The same could be said about Pilares, and the two of them could be fighting for the last wide receiver spot later this summer.
A lot was made about the Panthers not adding to the receiving corps in the draft, but Dave Gettleman felt the additions of Ginn and Hixon were adequate enough.
David Gettis should be a player to keep an eye on, as the young man will be entering his third season in the league and trying to stay healthy for the duration of the year. Gettis did well in his rookie year by catching 37 passes for 508 yards. He was able to do this despite Carolina playing four different quarterbacks in 2010.
Cam Newton will still have the reliable Greg Olsen to haul in those short-yardage passes, and it should be interesting to see who earns the backup role at tight end. Hartsock could be the early favorite, but don't count out undrafted free agent Taylor Cook and recently signed Brandon Williams.
Starters: Ryan Kalil (C), Amini Silatolu (LG), Geoff Hangartner (RG), Byron Bell (LT) and Jordan Gross (RT)
Backups: Jeff Byers (C), Edmund Kugbila (LG), Garry Williams (RG), Bruce Campbell (RT) and Thomas Austin (LT)
This particular unit of the offseason could see a lot of different players lining up in the trenches if the starters cannot stay healthy. Carolina needs to make sure that both Kalil and Gross are in peak condition as age is catching up to them.
Hangartner gets the early nod as starting right guard, but Kugbila could challenge for the position. He's played all over the line, so he gives Carolina plenty of options up front.
We just talked to Kugbila on conf. call. Said he can play either side of the line, also has played tackle. #swingguy
— Joe Person (@josephperson) April 27, 2013
Bell is the other starter who could be challenged in camp, but he should make the final roster cut. If he continues to struggle, don't be surprised if he is replaced by Campbell or Austin.
There are plenty of scenarios that can take place here, but for now this is the assumed group of linemen who should make it out of the preseason and be on the roster when the season officially opens.
Starters: Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short/Dwan Edwards (rotation)
Backups: Sione Fua and Colin Cole
Starters: Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy
Backups: Frank Alexander and Thomas Keiser
What was last year's weakness is this year's strength. Rookies Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short should help usher in a new era of Carolina football on defense, and with Dwan Edwards rotating in and out of the mix, the line will be very potent on every down.
Frank Kearse could be cut as the Panthers have adequate depth at defensive tackle, aided by the rotation of Short and Edwards. That being said, Fua and Cole should be the backups at nose tackle to Lotulelei, and don't forget that Greg Hardy can move to the inside, too.
Speaking of Hardy, the Panthers shouldn't see much change at defensive end as they will have two of the best edge-rushers in the league on the field. Johnson and Hardy will see plenty of snaps each game with Alexander probably getting some game time on third down or pass-rushing situations. Thomas Keiser has proven solid in relief as well but shouldn't see too much playing time unless the Panthers are up by a huge margin.
Starters: Luke Kuechly (Mike), Jon Beason (Will) & Thomas Davis (Sam)
Backups: Chase Blackburn, Jordan Senn & A.J. Klein
If the defensive line is the heart of the Carolina defense, then the linebacking corps is its backbone. Led by last year's AP Defensive Rookie of the Year Luke Kuechly and the veteran leadership of Jon Beason and Thomas Davis, the Panthers will have plenty of mentors to lead this team in 2013.
Kuechly should be able to improve on last year's stats as the upgrade up front will allow him to move around more freely. Beason will be hoping for a healthy year as he has missed a lot of games the past two years due to injuries. Having a teammate like Davis who knows what he is going through is beneficial, though, and should serve as a rock to lean on as he attempts to come back at full strength.
For Panthers fans, it would be a great way to see Beason end his time in Carolina if indeed this is his final year with the team.
Jordan Senn is the lone familiar face who should be returning to the team, and while he will serve mainly on special teams, he will be joined by Chase Blackburn and rookie A.J. Klein as the backup linebackers. Both additions will keep the defense strong as a whole and should provide solid play in the event of injuries or a blowout.
Starters: Charles Godfrey and Robert Lester
Backups: Mike Mitchell and Colin Jones
Starters: Captain Munnerlyn and Josh Norman
Backups: Josh Thomas, Drayton Florence and D.J. Moore
This part of the team will most likely see a lot of movement as an early prediction has Robert Lester beating out Haruki Nakamura at safety. If there was ever an indication of how bad the play of Nakamura was last season, then being beat out by an undrafted free agent should be very telling.
It may be premature to make such a prognostication, but if Nakamura doesn't produce in the preseason and Lester plays lights out, a change will be in the air.
Mike Mitchell and Colin Jones will serve as backups but could turn the safety battle into a three- or four-man race. Safety was such a liability last season that it is the only position really up for grabs, though an argument could be made for cornerback.
However, Munnerly and Norman should be maintaining their holds on the starting spots, but Florence could challenge one of them. That wouldn't be a bad thing as starting Florence could allow Munnerlyn to return to the nickel-slot position.
Either way you look at it, the secondary will be in flux this summer, and it could very well see the biggest overhaul of any unit on the team.
Kicker: Graham Gano
Punter: Brad Nortman
Long Snapper: J.J. Jansen
Kick Returners: Ted Ginn Jr. and Kenjon Barner
Punt Returner: Joe Adams
Yes, there will be two punters and two kickers headed into camp. According to the Charlotte Observer's Joe Person, it is nothing out of the ordinary.
Gettleman said he'll take 2 kickers and punters to camp. Standard procedure. If nothing else, saves the legs of Gano and Nortman.
— Joe Person (@josephperson) April 27, 2013
Expect both Gano and Nortman to be on the 53-man roster. Unless either of them struggle in the preseason, there is no reason to believe the Panthers will replace them.
Ted Ginn, Jr. and Kenjon Barner may not factor too much in the offense but could be the centerpieces of the return game. Carolina needs a boost in the worst kind of way on special teams and could use a couple of playmakers fielding kicks. Ginn and Barner make an interesting duo as well—a seasoned veteran and a talented rookie.
Joe Adams could rebound from a disappointing rookie season if he can get over his fumble issues and gain valuable yards on punt returns. If he struggles again, Barner or Ginn could be called upon to replace him.
From an early perspective, the Carolina Panthers have a lot of potential to be great in 2013. They could be a dark-horse playoff team. However, they are still young in many facets and will be prone to mistakes. The combination of talented youth and experienced veterans has its share of ups and downs for Carolina.
It is still too early to project who will make the final 53-man roster but these players listed here are the most likely candidates. Nothing is given in the NFL, and as head coach Ron Rivera has stated before, there are no guarantees when it comes to a player's position on the team or depth chart.
Whether there are cuts, trades or free-agent signings, the complexion of the team is subject to change on any given day. Whoever earns a spot on the final roster will have to continue to play hard and do their part to help Carolina win.
Rivera's job will most likely be in the balance.