The Carolina Panthers will open training camp with 90 players on their active roster. Before the season starts, they will need to trim it down to 53. Many positions will be featuring open competitions and others will allow players to compete for a backup role on the depth chart.
A lot of the focus will center around the secondary battles, as there is a lot of uncertainty at safety and cornerback. There should be plenty of competition at special teams, too. The return game needs a much needed boost and recent history has proven the kicking specialists haven't been too spectacular.
Which positions will determine the final roster?
The following slideshow will highlight each position, the players' roles there and the odds of making the final roster cut.
Colby Cameron (R)
The quarterback position has its starter. Cam Newton will enter his third season with high expectations but will need to prove to everyone he has matured as a player. The talent is there, and if he can grow as a leader on the field, he will be very successful in 2013.
Backing him up will be Derek Anderson. Anderson enters his third season as the Panthers backup quarterback and has done well when called upon. There is no doubt about his roster spot, and he looks to have about a 90 percent chance of remaining as the No. 2 signal-caller.
The only competition of interest at quarterback will be between Jimmy Clausen and undrafted free agent Colby Cameron. Clausen will enter the final year of his contract and could very well be playing in his final year in Carolina. Cameron led the high-scoring Louisiana Tech offense and could prove to be a challenge for Clausen. Unfortunately, whoever wins the battle for third-string quarterback will most likely be on the inactive roster during much of the season.
Kenjon Barner (R)
If the Carolina Panthers are to be successful on offense this season, they will need a strong showing from their running game. They have proven running backs in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. As of now, it appears that Williams will be the starter, with Stewart spelling him during each series. Barring an unexpected trade, both are certain to make the final roster.
Carolina will most likely give its three young running backs more looks than the veterans during camp and the preseason. All of them have high ceilings and could play roles in the team's long-term plans.
Armond Smith, Tauren Poole and Kenjon Barner will be showing what they can do in the offense. However, watch for an additional battle between Smith and Barner on special teams. Both players can return kicks, and while they may not be a part of the offense, they could contribute in the return game. Regardless, the third running back position will most likely be an inactive one, where the winner will only appear on game day in the event of an injury.
There is a 60 percent chance Smith makes the final roster, with a 40 percent chance for Poole. Barner is the only rookie here and barring any setbacks will have about an 85 percent chance of making the team.
Michael Zordich (R)
The undisputed starter for the Panthers at fullback is Mike Tolbert. He will see most of his action pounding through opposing defenses with the ball when Carolina gets inside the red zone. It wouldn't be surprising for him to get the call on 3rd-and-short situations.
Behind Tolbert will be Richie Brockel and Mike Zordich. However, only one of these guys will be making the final roster. Brockel has the benefit of being familiar with the offense and the personnel around him. While he has mostly been a quiet player at fullback, Brockel is best remembered for his role in executing the “fumble-rooskie” a couple of seasons ago against Houston.
Zordich will have to impress early in camp if he has plans to stick around. He will need to be able to block and catch passes out of the backfield if he is to make this competition close. In the end, Brockel has about an 85 percent chance of returning, while Zordich projects around 35 percent.
Ted Ginn, Jr.
Steve Smith will be making this team without fail. He is the centerpiece of the passing game and Cam Newton's favorite target. The only odds regarding him should be in relation to reaching a 1,000 yards receiving this year. Another player certain of making the 53-man roster is Brandon LaFell. He hasn't impressed fans over the past couple of years but, statistically, he is getting better. He should be the No. 2 receiver; however, he could be challenged by another veteran.
Domenik Hixon was brought in via free agency and has the potential to earn a starting job in the offense. Like LaFell, he should make the team, and while he may not start, he could be vital in certain situations.
The real question mark comes from the guys who have yet to prove themselves.
Armanti Edwards, Joe Adams, Kealoha Pilares and David Gettis all have promise but have yet to meet expectations. Edwards is a bubble player but could benefit from a strong showing at minicamp and OTAs. With the exception of Adams, all of these guys have about a 50-50 chance at securing a roster spot. Adams had his woes in the return game and could be given a shot at redeeming himself. That being said, he has about a 70 percent chance at making the team.
There are a few young guys who will be trying to make a name for themselves in camp this year. Brenton Bersin, Dale Moss, Lamont Bryant, Taulib Ikharo and James Shaw have yet to establish themselves in the NFL, but they could help themselves tremendously in camp and in preseason games. It is very unlikely any of these guys get out of camp on the final roster, and their chances of doing so are 20 percent at best.
Carolina has a reliable receiving tight end in Greg Olsen, and the trade the Panthers made for him prior to the 2011 season seems to working out well for both sides. Carolina has another weapon in its offensive arsenal, and Olsen enjoyed career highs in receptions and receiving yards last year.
There are three guys behind him who will be competing for the backup role at tight end. Whoever emerges as the winner of this position battle will need to prove himself at both pass and run blocking and be able to catch a pass if need be. The former will most likely be the most important, especially if the Panthers want to feature a strong running game. With that in mind, it wouldn't be surprising to see them employ more two-tight end sets.
Ben Hartsock, Nelson Rosario and Brandon Williams will be competing against one another for the backup job. Hartsock has experience at the NFL level and that should give him about a 75 percent chance at returning to that role in 2013.
Rosario and Williams project out at 40 percent, though Rosario has been in camp with Carolina before and could have a slight advantage.
Edmund Kugbila (R)
Tori Mobley (R)
The men tasked with protecting Cam Newton and blocking for the running backs up the middle feature a blend of experience and youth. Ryan Kalil will be returning from injury to resume his starting duties at center, while the guards will be anchored by Geoff Hangartner and Amini Silatolu.
Rookie Edmund Kugbila and Garry Williams should each prove to be solid backup options. However, after them it's a crapshoot.
Jeff Byers should go uncontested as the backup center, but that is no excuse for him to get complacent. The other guards trying to land on the roster are Tori Mobley, Hayworth Hicks and Justin Wells. Carolina will need great blocking in the trenches and these three will have to stand out more than the guy against whom they are competing. For now, it seems the odds for these guys to make the final cut are around 45 percent.
The Panthers need solid protection from the tackle position. Protecting Cam Newton's blindside and helping the running backs move to the outside will be imperative to an effective offense.
Carolina has consistency in Jordan Gross at left tackle and a bit of inconsistency in Byron Bell. However, both will enter camp as projected starters, though Bell could lose his job if he has a lapse in judgment or performance.
Much like the guards on the offensive line's interior, there isn't much competition behind the starters, as Bruce Campbell, Thomas Austin and Patrick Brown will be competing for a backup job and perhaps to even unseat Bell as starter.
Campbell and Austin have about a 75 percent chance at making the team, with Brown projected at 60 percent.
Star Lotulelei (R)
Kawann Short (R)
Casey Walker (R)
Linden Gaydosh (R)
Carolina made the obvious choice with its first draft pick this past spring by selecting Star Lotulelei. He was a star player at Utah and is arguably the best defensive player from this year's draft. The Panthers followed up Lotulelei's selection by making a big statement. They used their second choice on another defensive tackle, this one in the form of Kawann Short from Purdue.
Essentially, the Panthers are determined to make the defensive interior just as potent as the edge.
While Short was a second-round pick and a possible starter, Carolina has another capable starter in Dwan Edwards. His return allows the Panthers to rotate what could possibly be the best set of defensive tackles in the league.
After that, there is a mixture of veteran depth and young talent eager to earn a spot with the team.
Sione Fua, Frank Kearse, Colin Cole, Nate Chandler, Casey Walker and Linden Gaydosh will make up the focal point of the position battle at defensive tackle. Fua and Kearse have an inside track with their familiarity with the defense and stand to be 80 percent locks for a spot on the final roster.
Cole, Chandler, Walker and Gaydosh merit a lot of interest and could surprise a lot of people. Cole and Chandler each look to have a better chance at earning a backup role than Walker and Gaydosh with a 75-25 percent split.
Wes Horton (R)
Craig Roh (R)
The pass rush from the edge at defensive end could very well be Carolina's biggest strength this season. Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy are the undisputed starters at the position. Behind them will be the talented Frank Alexander, who will see plenty of game time this year. There is no doubt about these guys making the team.
Backing them up offers a variety of question marks.
Mario Addison, Wes Horton, Craig Roh and Louis Nzegwu will be competing against one another for what could very well be one spot. While it is easy to assume there is a 25 percent chance for these guys to make the team, that is not simply the case.
Addison is a three-year veteran and recorded a sack and forced a fumble in limited action last year. Immediately, he stands out as the favorite among this group. Roh and Horton are both rookies and Nzegwu has one year of experience at the pro level.
With that in mind, Addison is a 65 percent favorite to return, with the others checking in at a 35 percent chance at making the team.
A.J. Klein (R)
Luke Kuechly, Jon Beason and Thomas Davis have each established themselves as valuable assets on defense. If everyone stays healthy, this will be a dominant and very strong linebacker unit in the league. Anyone doubting these guys as starters needs to be committed.
The key to the linebacker unit's success will rest on the backups' contributions on the field. They will be led by Chase Blackburn, who was signed via free agency. Behind him will be A.J. Klein, who was drafted this past April. These two are the only backups with a 95-100 percent chance at making the roster for Week 1 and barring something unexpected will make the team without a problem.
The rest of the unit is comprised of Jason Williams, Ben Jacobs, Ryan Rau, Jordan Senn and Doug Houge.
With Blackburn and Klein each capable of lining up at middle linebacker, Jacobs and Rau will have their work cut out for them. There is a low chance either of them makes the final roster, each factoring in at around 20 percent.
Williams, Senn and Hogue figure to be in the 75 percent range and higher. Senn is a good special teams player and figures to be returning, so he could be predicted as having a 90 percent chance at making the 53-man roster.
Robert Lester (R)
This is the area of the team where only one person has a 100 percent chance at not only making the team but starting as well. That man is Charles Godfrey. He is a six-year veteran of the team and probably the only solid safety on the roster. After Godfrey, everything becomes a crapshoot.
Last year's starter, Haruki Nakamura, could return to the other starter position but will be met with some stiff competition from undrafted rookie Robert Lester. Lester has impressed in rookie camp and in OTAs this year. That being said, he has a 75 percent chance at making the roster.
The other safeties consist of Mike Mitchell, Colin Jones, D.J. Campbell, Nick Hixson and Anderson Russell. As stated earlier, it's a crapshoot and any of these guys have a chance at not only making the final roster but competing for a starting job.
Mitchell, Jones and Campbell are the favorites among the rest and each has a great chance of being a part of the Panthers in 2013. Hixson and Anderson are the long shots with a 35 percent chance at making the final roster.
Melvin White (R)
An argument could be made that cornerback is just as big of a question mark as safety. The only players who are certain to make the roster are Captain Munnerlyn and Josh Norman. Both were starters last year, with Munnerlyn moving over from nickel to the outside after Chris Gamble was lost to injury.
The other corners on the team are Drayton Florence, James Dockery, D.J. Moore, Josh Thomas and Melvin White.
Florence offers a veteran presence and could be a good addition as an every-down player on defense. He has about a 90 percent chance at making the final roster. Moore could be more valuable at the nickel corner position instead of the outside but should make the roster regardless of where he plays.
Dockery, Thomas and White will push the others, and each figures to have a 70 percent chance at making the team's final roster.
Morgan Lineberry (R)
Jordan Gay (R)
Ted Ginn, Jr.
Kenjon Barner (R)
The kicking game belongs to Graham Gano and the job is his to lose. Morgan Lineberry, an undrafted rookie free agent, will get a chance to compete for the job but will need to make a strong case for himself early in camp.
The same could be said about punter Brad Nortman. He should hold down the punting duties, but Jordan Gay will be given an opportunity to win the job. Like Lineberry, he will need to impress early. Both of these guys have a less than 10 percent chance at making the team.
The return game is a wide-open race.
Ted Ginn, Jr. signed with the Panthers after a stint with the San Francisco 49ers. While he should be a lock to return kicks in Week 1, he has been making an argument to be a big contributor on the offense as well. There really isn't any doubt that he will make the team, because Carolina is in need of an effective return man.
Kenjon Barner will most likely be used exclusively as a return specialist before he sees action with the offense. However, he will need to stand out among the competition.
Joe Adams, Armanti Edwards and Kealoha Pilares will all be competing for return duties too. Adams had a case of the fumbles last year and lost his job. Edwards will need to have a great camp and preseason as he could be on his way out. Pilares is a wild card and has shown flashes. However, the Panthers need consistency more than flashes.