Just like any other team, the Carolina Panthers will have players who surprise the fans with their strong performances. The identity of those players is the subject of many arguments on discussion boards across the web. Distinguishing emerging NFL talent is difficult to do.
Young players who are buried on the depth chart will obviously have a harder time standing out, while inexperienced players in the secondary and on the interior of the defensive line will see plenty of playing time.
The Panthers enter training camp this season at a crossroads. Head coach Ron Rivera needs to lead the franchise to a quick start in order to receive confidence from the new front office.
The emergence of some unproven talent would add a spark to Carolina's first month, which is something the Panthers have desperately needed over the past two seasons.
Which players will take the next step and surprise the coaching staff during training camp? Leave your list in the comments section.
When the Carolina Panthers drafted A.J. Klein in the fifth round of this year's draft, it caught Panther nation off guard due to the quality linebackers already on the roster. After spending their first-round pick on inside linebacker Luke Kuechly in the 2012 draft, there was not a glaring need at middle linebacker.
Based upon the situation, new GM David Gettleman must have valued Klein too highly to pass up on him with the 148th overall selection. During his senior season in college, Klein racked up 1,117 tackles and was named to the Coaches' All-Big 12 Team.
During his time at Iowa State, Klein proved to be a smart linebacker with good instincts.
On the negative side, Klein can be a liability in man-to-man coverage and in pursuit from the back side of the play. Based upon those limitations, Klein projects to be limited to playing inside linebacker in the NFL.
Chase Blackburn is slated to be Kuechly's backup, which will only give Klein more time to translate to the speed of the NFL game. For that reason, not much is expected of Klein once training camp commences.
Due to his college experience and high football IQ, Klein will exceed expectations and emerge as a bright spot in camp.
Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell are locked in as the Carolina Panthers' top two wide receivers, with Domenik Hixon and Ted Ginn Jr. likely duking it out to earn the nod at slot receiver. After them, it will be a competition between David Gettis, Armanti Edwards and Joe Adams.
With those three options, I'm compelled to predict Gettis to stand out from that group if he's healthy.
That's a major leap, though. Gettis has not hauled in a reception since 2010 due to injuries. But if you manage to look past the injury concerns, there are positives to Gettis as a wideout.
First, at 6'3" and 220 pounds, Gettis has a comparable frame to numerous productive wide receivers. Plus, the Baylor product has been in the league long enough to become accustomed to the grind of the profession, even if he has failed to see the field much.
Robert Lester went undrafted despite being part of two national championship-winning teams while at the University of Alabama. The concern surrounding Lester is his speed. There are serious questions regarding his ability to cover NFL receivers.
There have been reports that Lester impressed the coaching staff during minicamp, which means that he should enter training camp with some momentum.
Whether or not Lester has the opportunity to compete for the starting free safety job may depend on the Panthers' ability to sign veteran safety Quintin Mikell. According to Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer, Ron Rivera said the following in regards to the Panthers' interest in Mikell and his own thoughts on him as a player:
Without getting into details, I think there’s a little curiosity and that’s about as much as I can say about that. He can play. He’s a good football player. We’ll see how things go. It’s still early. We’ve got a couple weeks left to go.
At this point, Geoff Hangartner is set to start the season at right guard for the Carolina Panthers. That is subject to change, though, as fourth-round pick Edmund Kugbila has the physical tools to induce a camp battle for the position.
Although injuries forced him to miss most of minicamp, Ron Rivera thinks Kugbila will be ready to compete at the start of training camp. If the 6'4" guard is healthy for the start of organized activities, then he will certainly push Hangartner.
Due to Hangartner's age (he's 31), the coaching staff may be more likely to give the 22-year-old Kugbila some game action.
Kugbila played his college football at Valdosta State, which means he may face a tougher rookie transition to the NFL than other incoming offensive linemen.
Whether or not Kugbila sees significant playing time during his rookie season will be based on several factors, with his health being the first hurdle.
Joe Adams makes this list due to his potential as a returner. The speedster made waves returning punts during his time at Arkansas. He was so explosive that the Carolina Panthers decided to invest a fourth-round pick in him during the 2012 NFL draft.
Unfortunately for both sides, Adams had an extremely disappointing rookie season mostly due to some early-season fumbles. The errors made by Adams rightfully caused the coaching staff to lose faith in him, which essentially ended his first professional campaign.
Although Ron Rivera returns as head coach, Adams should enter training camp with a blank slate. It's hard to harshly criticize Adams for his early blunders; he was adjusting to the blinding speed of the NFL game.
With a year under his belt, Adams will have an opportunity to emerge as a game-changing punt returner.
Whether or not he does so is another story, but the opportunity will certainly be presented to him once training camp begins.