5 Carolina Panthers Who Should See Their Roles Expand in 2014
The Carolina Panthers lost a few good pieces in free agency but luckily have enough depth at some positions to make up for the losses. Not every position of need has the depth needed to completely make up for the loss, but there are certainly helpful players down the depth chart.
The Carolina secondary is a known weak point of the defense and got even weaker with the departure of Captain Munnerlyn. While the loss hurts, Carolina has an unheralded player who could be of more help than expected.
Melvin White, originally an undrafted free agent, showed some promise as a contributing defensive back during his rookie season last year and will be seeing more playing time now that Munnerlyn's gone.
White doesn't completely solve the issues in the secondary, but his natural ability as a defender will lead to him seeing more responsibilities in 2014. He's not the only one the Panthers will depend on more. There are several second-year players who will undoubtedly see more time on the field next season.
Kawann Short, DT
Kawann Short is one of two defensive tackles that Carolina selected in the 2013 NFL draft and proved himself as one of the best young defenders in this league. He tallied 30 tackles, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble in 2013, which were solid stats for a rookie in a rotational role.
Short is in a good position to take on a larger role in Sean McDermott's defense as Dwan Edwards is 32 years old and slowing down a bit, opening up the door for him to nab a starting spot opposite Star Lotulelei. The big man was shuffled in and out of the lineup last season but should find himself in a more solidified role come opening day.
Short is a young and talented player whose big frame allows him to be a force in the trenches and hold his own against almost any blocker.
Melvin White, DB
The Panthers' vaunted defense took a sizable hit when Captain Munnerlyn left for the Minnesota Vikings, but the unit does have someone who could end up as a solid replacement.
Melvin White was undrafted out of UL-Lafayette last season, but he did show some worth as a starting corner in this league. In his rookie season, he recorded 47 tackles and two interceptions, all in just 10 games—two stats that are sure to increase when he assumes a bigger role in the defense.
White's rookie campaign was a preview of the type of contributor he could be, and he'll have his chance to show what he's got next season when he takes over for Munnerlyn.
A.J. Klein, LB
A.J. Klein made a name for himself through his tackling and ferocity in the pile. He's an instinctive tackler and isn't afraid to stick his head down and plow through opposing ball-carriers. Klein first made noise while he was filling in for Chase Blackburn in 2013, and his showing in those small doses should be enough to garner him a bigger role this coming season.
Klein was especially key on special teams but truly shined at times when lining up next to the reigning defensive player of the year. In fact, head coach Ron Rivera went as far as to call him "Luke (Kuechly) 2.0."
Klein clearly has the grit and ability to be an effective linebacker in this league, and his increased role in the defense will help contribute to his growth.
Kenjon Barner, Kick Returner
With Ted Ginn Jr. bolting for the West Coast in free agency, the Panthers will need to find someone who can return kicks and add a home-run threat to their special teams. With Ginn Jr. gone, Kenjon Barner looks like the answer as a kick returner.
He's a speedy back with good hands and shifty feet, and he could potentially even line up as a slot receiver.
No. 25 won't be challenging DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart for carries anytime soon, but he could be an effective piece of the pie. At the very least, Barner is a quality kick returner who can immediately spruce up another otherwise mucky return man situation.
Byron Bell, OT
Byron Bell will heavily benefit from the retiring of Jordan Gross. While the Panthers do need to find another solid lineman in the draft, Bell has enough experience and talent to hold things down while they find their next franchise tackle.
He's played well since going undrafted in 2011 and will be a nice short-term solution at the tackle position.
Bell has proved himself as a worthy blocker in the running game but has struggled at times as a pass-blocker. That being said, Carolina seems to trust him enough to let him man the left tackle position. "Byron’s a natural left tackle. He played it all through college. So I think that might be something that’s to his benefit," said head coach Ron Rivera.
Bell has a solid reputation that will be put to the test once next season starts up, and he will have to step up in place of Gross.
*All stats courtesy of NFL.com*