During the month of August, the Carolina Panthers will have to determine which players they feel will best help them win in 2013. Much of their decision making will be determined by the individual position battles and who stands out.
This is part of the job that many coaches consider to be the hardest for them. They see a lot of potential in many of their players, but they are unable to retain them due to roster limitations.
Many fans have an idea of which players will make the team, and there is typically a debate regarding others when it comes to second- and third-string players. Here is the projected final 53-man roster for the 2013 Carolina Panthers.
Colby Cameron (R)
There is no surprise here. Cam Newton will enter his third season as the starter with Derek Anderson backing him up once again. There will be a lot of focus on Newton, as he is expected to prove he has matured as a player and can be clutch in the close games.
Unless Newton gets hurt or the Panthers are up by a lot, Anderson should be spending much of the season on the sidelines. He is a capable backup and has a good handle on the offense.
This year will mark the end of Jimmy Clausen's tenure with the Panthers. He is bested by Colby Cameron, and the coaching staff wants to give him a chance to progress as the No. 2 quarterback in the event Anderson leaves the team.
Kenjon Barner (R)
DeAngelo Williams should be the starter, and depending on the return of Jonathan Stewart, he could get the bulk of the carries early in the season. Kenjon Barner should replace Stewart as the No. 2 back until he recovers from his ankle surgeries, but it's unlikely he will get as many touches as Stewart would if he were healthy.
Armond Smith will serve as a backup at running back and special teams, being used in limited action throughout the season. He could spend a lot of the year on the inactive roster and only suit up if there is a shortage of running backs or returners.
Mike Tolbert will resume his duties as a red zone and goal line threat in the offense this season. He is a strong, durable player who can be a threat running or catching the ball. Regardless of how he gets possession, he is a threat to pick up big chunks of yards and score at any given time.
Behind him on the depth chart should be Richie Brockel. Brockel will be used sparingly as he usually is, which probably explains why the "fumblerooskie" worked so well against Houston in 2011. In addition to playing fullback, he can line up at tight end.
Ted Ginn, Jr.
There are a few surprises here, as Joe Adams and Armanti Edwards beat out the likes of David Gettis and Kealoha Pilares for the last two receiver spots. Both will be instrumental in the return game. Adams will be fielding punts, and Edwards will be teaming up with Ted Ginn, Jr. on kick returns.
Not surprising is the presence of Steve Smith as the team's all-time receiver. He should have another great year—one that will be highlighted by a trip to the Pro Bowl. Brandon LaFell and Domenik Hixon will take turns lining up with Smith in the offense and each could have a breakout season.
Ginn will have more of a presence in the return game, but he will make a few contributions to the offense, too. He'll be more involved in the offense in Carolina than he was in San Francisco.
Greg Olsen had a great season last year and should look to duplicate that success in 2013. The biggest hope is that he can add three or more touchdowns to his career average of five to make the team more dangerous in the red zone.
Backing him up will be Ben Hartsock, who isn't much of a receiver, but he can provide decent pass and run blocking when lined up on the outside. He will most likely be on the field when the Panthers employ a two tight end set.
Ryan Kalil - C
Jeff Byers - C
Geoff Hangartner - OG
Amini Silatolu - OG
Edmund Kugbila (R) - OG
Garry Williams - OG
Jordan Gross - OT
Byron Bell - OT
Thomas Austin - OT
The success of the Carolina offense will be determined by the strength and health of their offensive line. Ryan Kalil, Geoff Hangartner, Amini Silatolu, Jordan Gross and Byron Bell should return as starters. One change that was made to this year's line was releasing Bruce Campbell.
The Panthers will use Edmund Kugbila as a backup guard and tackle which makes having Campbell on the roster unnecessary.
Jeff Byers, Garry Williams and Thomas Austin will serve as second string as well.
Star Lotulelei (R)
Kawann Short (R)
The Carolina defense will look to change their identity by having two rookies on the defensive line and hopefully transforming themselves into a potent run-stuffing unit in the process. Star Lotulelei, the Panthers first-round selection in last April's draft, will lead the way.
Dwan Edwards and Kawann Short will rotate to put together a strong interior pass rush and by doing so, will allow the Carolina defense to stay somewhat rested.
Colin Cole and Sione Fua will carry out second-string duties and may see the field more during the later stages of the game.
While the Panthers have a strong rotation among their defensive tackles, the defensive ends will enjoy a similar luxury. Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy will start on the outside with Frank Alexander spelling them every couple of plays.
Mario Addison is a suitable backup and will fill in to give any of the guys above him on the depth chart a rest. He may not be as flashy as his teammates, but he can get the job done.
Another asset the Carolina defense has is the ability of Hardy to line up at defensive tackle giving the unit a strong line.
There is no doubt who the starting linebackers will be for this team. Luke Kuechly, Jon Beason and Thomas Davis could be the best linebacker unit in the league in 2013. The biggest concern for the starting outside linebackers is staying healthy.
Beason and Davis have been dealing with injuries the majority of the past three years, and the coaching staff is hoping to see all of them play in at least 14-15 games together, if not the full season.
However, there is talent behind them, as Chase Blackburn and A.J. Klein are exceptional players. Jordan Senn brings a leadership quality despite being a backup, and he is an essential special teams player.
Robert Lester (R)
There is a possibility that Haruki Nakamura starts at safety alongside Charles Godfrey. However, if he slips in his playing ability, don't be surprised to see Robert Lester take over as starter.
The secondary is very questionable heading into the season, and if these guys can't find a way of shutting down receivers or opposing quarterbacks, it will be a long season in Carolina.
The cornerback situation is no better. Captain Munnerlyn returns on a one-year deal that should see him starting and Josh Norman lining up on the other side of the field. Last year, they did a decent job of holding receivers in check, but they are far from being considered shutdown cornerbacks.
Backing them up will be a mixture of youth and experience.
Josh Thomas has shown potential in his first season with Carolina, and D.J. Moore and Drayton Florence both provide the veteran presence needed for a successful unit.
If this unit steps up in 2013, it could make addressing the secondary a lot more more simpler.
Graham Gano - PK
Brad Nortman - P
J.J. Jansen - LS
There shouldn't be any shockers here.
Graham Gano will resume kicking duties for the Panthers, and Brad Nortman will handle the punts. Both will have some competition going into camp, but they should easily win their respective position battle.
J.J. Jansen will once again handle long snapper duties.
Robert Lester - S
Armanti Edwards - WR
Colby Cameron - QB
Armond Smith - RB
Mike Mitchell - S
While some of the players listed here aren't big surprises, they all had to play hard until the final minute in order to secure a roster spot on the team.
Robert Lester carries his spring performance into training camp and makes the team. It is unknown if he will be a starter, since Haruki Nakamura is returning as well. The other defensive player to be among the last ones in is Mike Mitchell. Safety is a competitive battle this year, and Mitchell was the other one who impressed at the position.
Armanti Edwards' improvement during the spring was no fluke. He does enough to make the roster as a return specialist and part-time receiver. Colby Cameron makes the most of his playing time and is able to beat out the veteran Jimmy Clausen. Unfortunately, he will be spending the season on the inactive roster. The last offensive player to make the team is Armond Smith. He has a decent preseason both running the ball and returning kicks. At the most, he will serve as a backup to both positions.
These are the guys who are projected to be the Carolina Panthers final cuts. Tauren Poole loses out to Armond Smith for the final running back slot. After a hard fought position battle at offensive tackle, Bruce Campbell is let go by the team. The final casualty on offense will be Jimmy Clausen who cannot match up with the rookie Colby Cameron and is released following the final preseason game.
On the defensive side of the ball, Melvin White does his best to make the team but, he comes up short as the coaching staff is comfortable with the veterans at cornerback instead of the rookie. Doug Hogue is the surprise cut as he just doesn't fit in with the defensive scheme.