Carolina Panthers Training Camp: Week 3 Progress Report
It's hard to believe that training camp began 18 days ago, but the excitement around the start of the season has made the time pass seemingly in an instant.
With the preseason opener out of the way, the Carolina Panthers are getting back up to speed, and with every passing day, an image of how the final depth chart will look is becoming ever clearer.
But which players are coming into focus and which are falling into the background? Read on to find out whose stock is up and whose stock is down as we head into the 15th practice of training camp.
Stock Down: Matt Blanchard, Quarterback
Quarterback Matt Blanchard pretty quickly erased his already small chance of making the final roster with a terrible performance on Friday night against Buffalo.
Blanchard completed just one of seven passes and turned the ball over twice—one fumble, one interception. He simply looked lost out there and it's possible that he just wasn't comfortable with his receivers, but fourth-stringer Joe Webb certainly didn't mind them.
The Panthers likely weren't going to keep three quarterbacks on the roster anyway (behind Cam Newton and Derek Anderson), but Blanchard may also have blown his shot of making the practice squad.
Stock Up: Tavarres King, Wide Receiver
Tavarres King's impressive play as of late is great news for a receiving corps that is a big question mark outside of Kelvin Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant.
Out of the receivers fighting for roster spots, King is one of the most complete players, but he's only recently shown the ability to consistently put his skills on display come game time and practice time.
In the preseason opener, King caught four passes for a game-leading 50 yards and didn't let a pass intended for him hit the ground.
ESPN's David Newton went as far as to say that King has risen all the way to fourth on the Panthers depth chart at receiver following another excellent day at practice on Sunday.
King has the athleticism to make an impact as a No. 4 receiver, and if he can stay healthy all season and catch a pass or two each game, he'll be an upgrade over last year's No. 4, Domenik Hixon.
Stock Down: Kenjon Barner, Running Back
The Panthers were hoping that with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart sitting out, second-year running back Kenjon Barner would use the extra reps to prove that he can eventually be the replacement to his two more highly paid teammates.
However, Barner showed little development of his patience and vision and was less impressive than rookie Darrin Reaves, who relieved Barner in the second half.
Because of his quickness and explosiveness, Barner seems like he could be an excellent spell to the bruising Mike Tolbert, but if he can't get through the line of scrimmage, he can't get to where he's most effective—the open field.
That aspect of his game doesn't play to the run-blocking strength of this offensive line, which is on the interior.
If Barner cannot hold on to his duties as a kick and punt returner, his roster spot could be on the line.
Stock Up: Brandon Williams, Tight End
On Friday night, Brandon Williams showed what the team has been waiting to see since they signed him in 2013: the ability to provide a deep-threat receiver who can also block well enough to make it on the field in the team's two-tight end sets.
Williams' 31-yard touchdown reception was a great display of his deceiving speed and his 6'4", 250-pound frame's ability to box out defensive backs.
At this point, he's all but guaranteed himself a roster spot. What remains to be seen is how he'll fare when he plays against first-team defenses and with Newton at quarterback rather than Webb.
If he can put on a similar performance with the first team, look for offensive coordinator Mike Shula to increase his emphasis on two-tight end sets to get this potential mismatch onto the field more often.
Stock Down: Tiquan Underwood, Wide Receiver
Tiquan Underwood may be the fourth-highest paid receiver on the roster, but that doesn't guarantee him a roster spot—it actually might make him more expendable.
Roughly 15 percent of Underwood's two-year, $2.1 million deal is guaranteed, meaning the team could cut him and save nearly $500,000 this season and about $850,000 next season. This could make it tough to justify keeping him over younger and more versatile players with contracts about half that size.
The news that his fellow receiver King may have passed him on the depth chart could be a sign that the Panthers don't see him as worthy of the larger contract.
Against Buffalo, Underwood didn't have a reception, and his issues with drops likely have put him on the outside of the roster looking in.
Stock Up: Kawann Short, Defensive Tackle
Kawann Short was an absolute beast against Buffalo, clearly showing why many believe he's poised for a huge second year.
Coming out of college, it was though that Short would be the great interior pass-rushing presence next to the run-stuffing nose tackle Star Lotulelei. But when Lotulelei proved that he could also rush the passer adequately, the team decided they didn't need Short on the field as often and gave more snaps to Colin Cole, another big body to clog up the run game.
But it appears Short has further developed his strength and made the jump in understanding the game that we so often see following a player's rookie year. He knew where to position himself in the run game and when it was time to rush the passer, he was blowing up the pocket with regularity.
Short should begin seeing the field even more this season, which will allow us to see more of a defensive tackle tandem that could be around for years to come.
Stock Down: Charles Godfrey, Cornerback
Charles Godfrey's conversion back to cornerback has been a slow and ugly process this offseason. He's been getting beaten with regularity in practice throughout the summer and his struggles extended to Friday night, when when he was beat deep for a 31-yard pass by Bills receiver Chris Hogan.
It appears that rookie Bene Benwikere will get the starting job at nickel back, and this could make Godfrey expendable. The team could save nearly $5.4 million over the next three seasons by releasing Godfrey, although it would free up little immediate cap space—most of the savings would come in 2015 and 2016.
When you also consider the rising status of other backup cornerbacks, it might just be time for the Panthers to cut ties with one of the old regime's final remaining defensive backs and move on with a younger group.
Stock Up: Josh Norman, Cornerback
Speaking of younger cornerbacks, Josh Norman has once again been putting on a show in training camp and the preseason.
The negative side is that through three seasons, this success has never translated into the regular season.
In the preseason opener, Norman forced the lone turnover of the game for Buffalo and also accounted for half of the Panthers' passes defended.
On a couple occasions, he was caught slightly out of position and gave up first downs on intermediate routes, but these were on great throws while Norman was still playing tight coverage and was able to secure the tackle immediately after the catch.
With Godfrey's spot on the roster in question, Norman could be the beneficiary and sneak onto the roster once again with the hopes that his ball-hawking abilities will finally pay off in the regular season. If they don't, this will be his last season in Carolina.