The Carolina Panthers have a few positional battles brewing coming into training camp for the 2009 season. Hopefully this competition between fellow teammates will help to develop some of the younger players into leaders.
Let's get started. The positions up for grabs are Defensive end, Kick/Punt Returner, and Slot Wide Receiver.
The is going to be an interesting battle throughout training camp and the preseason. It mostly depends on what Julius Peppers is going to do. If he signs his tenure, which I think he will after he skips a few practices without punishment, then the Right Defensive End spot is secure.
However, if he doesn't sign and chooses to sit out a year rather than play, then there are two open defensive end spots up for grabs. The battle for these two spots is going to be between Everette Brown, Tyler Brayton, and Charles Johnson.
Everette Brown, a standout at Florida State and projected first round pick, wants to prove to all those teams that passed on him that they missed out on a gem. He is coming to the Panthers with a huge chip on his shoulder and that is a good thing. His athletic ability and natural talent should help him to win the battle for the starting job.
Brayton and Johnson are no push-overs however. Brayton is a wiry veteran who doesn't normally get many sacks but he is a good run stopper. He is also good at getting into the backfield and disrupting the pocket forcing the quarterback to move around or rollout.
Johnson is a very good young player out of Georgia who is like a hybrid between Peppers and Brayton. He isn't as good as getting to the quarterback at Peppers but he has shown glimpses of what he is capable of throughout the past couple of years.
The coaches know what they are going to get with Brayton and Johnson. It is going to be interesting to see Brown try to prove himself to the coaches throughout camp.
With the return of Ryne Robinson and Jason Carter and the drafting of Mike Goodson there are three new faces competing for the title of Kick/Punt returner. Mark Jones is gone and although he was steady he never really could break one, due to his lack of straight line speed, for a touchdown.
Robinson, Goodson, and Carter sure can. While Panther fans have seen Robinson, they have yet to see what Goodson and Carter can do. Robinson struggled during the 2007 season when he was the given the sole responsibility of returning punts and kickoffs averaging a little over eight yards per punt return.
With each punt, fans worried what was going to happen, was he going to pitter-pat backwards or fumble the ball. It was never a safe bet that there would be a positive outcome with Ryne back there.
Due to injury Ryne was forced to sit out the entire 2008 season. Hopefully, he has learned a few things during his time out and he is ready to try and gain the trust of the fans back.
Mike Goodson is coming in and hoping to take the job of Kickoff and Punt Returner. Returning is the only way that Goodson is going to see any playing time during his first season and he knows this so I'm sure that he will be going full tilt during special teams practice.
He was an explosive back at Texas A&M, but was slowed by an injury this past season. Hopefully he will be able to regain his 2006 form where he averaged 6.7 yards per carry.
Jason Carter is a very good bet to win this position He showed off his talent during training camp and the preseason. He is itching to get back on the field to prove that he still has what it takes to make the team after being on the brink of making it last season.
Slot Wide Receiver
Dwayne Jarrett, Kenneth Moore, Jason Carter, Ryne Robinson, or Mike Goodson? I don't even think diehard Panthers fans know who is going to step up and be the slot WR this year.
While Dwayne Jarrett has shown us glimpses of his days back at USC, he has yet to live up to the hype.
There is no doubt that he is a big presence and good at going up and getting the ball, but his speed and route-running are questionable. Nobody really knows much about Kenneth Moore including me but he was a solid wide receiver for Wake Forest during his college days. Jason Carter is the sleeper in this battle.
He was very impressive during last years training camp and preseason but he unfortunately injured his knee during a punt return return against Washington in the preseason.
He caught everything in his sight during training camp and was the dark horse for the slot wide receiver spot even with the addition of DJ Hackett (who never panned out).
Ryne Robinson probably won't be in the running for this positional battle because he is undersized with shaky hands. He will probably be forced to focus on being a return man.
Mike Goodson lined up as a slot WR in college on occasion so he could also be a potential fit for this position. His explosiveness and running back skills would help him after he caught the ball in the open field.
He doesn't have many route-running skills however and, due to his lack of knowledge of the playbook, probably won't see the field as the slot WR anytime soon.
To sum it all up, there aren't any major gaps in the Panthers depth chart. As evidenced by their 12-4 season last year. Although the schedule is going to be much more difficult the experience of winning last year should pay off and lead to a successful 2009 season.