Carolina Panthers: Questions That Still Must Be Answered This Preseason
Training camp is over and the Carolina Panthers are heading into the second week of the preseason with plenty of questions still left to be answered.
We've learned who the starters at receiver and cornerback will be and got a good look at who will be returning kicks for the Panthers this season, but there remains some uncertainties on both sides of the ball.
Some of these questions will be answered within the coming weeks, and some may linger deep into the regular season. Read on to find out which questions are most pressing and which could be drawn out until the end of August or beyond.
Who Will Start at Each Offensive Tackle Position?
The battle for the starting left tackle position has been the big discussion in Carolina throughout the offseason, but we still don't have a clear victor.
It was clear after Jordan Gross retired that either Nate Chandler or Byron Bell would be the eventual replacement, but neither has been impressive enough or unimpressive enough to create any definitive lead.
During training camp, both got snaps on the left side and each had their moments, but it was Bell that got the start at left tackle during the first preseason game against Buffalo. He largely held his own against 2013's best pass-rushing team, but Chandler also played well.
This week's preseason game will play a huge role in determining the starter. It's possible that both could get snaps on the left side with the first team, and Chandler will have to be perfect if he's to take the job at this point, as it seems to be Bell's job to lose.
Which Receivers Will Make the Roster?
Throughout camp, it's been tough to get a read on which receivers have earned themselves a roster spot because of the sheer quantity of receivers on the roster right now.
It appears pretty clear that Kelvin Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant will stand atop the depth chart, but beyond them, it becomes a mystery.
Brenton Bersin has been impressive all offseason and should have a roster spot locked up, as should Tavarres King, who was the team's leading receiver in the preseason opener.
Tiquan Underwood is one of the more experienced players on the roster, but that means he's also getting paid more than the others and could be expendable.
Kealoha Pilares and Philly Brown both can contribute in the return game, but running back Kenjon Barner is currently listed as the starter at both return positions.
Then there are a five more receivers who have all had their ups and downs during the offseason.
We're unlikely to know for sure who will make the cut until Aug. 26th, when the first round of roster downsizing is set to take place.
Can Brandon Williams Impact the First-Team Offense?
Brandon Williams reeled in three passes for 50 yards against Buffalo, including a 31-yard touchdown. This confirmed a lot of the hype that surrounded the young tight end this offseason, but it's yet to be seen if his athleticism and receiving ability can translate to the first-team offense.
At 6'4", Williams is the second-biggest target Newton has and the first threat at tight end beyond Greg Olsen since Jeremy Shockey was on the team in 2011.
If Williams can become a solid red-zone target, it will open up a lot opportunities for the Panthers to mix up their offensive sets and pass more often when nearing the goal line.
This will better allow the team to disguise their play calls by running them out of multiple sets and it will mean less of a beating near the end zone on quarterback Cam Newton, who's been the team's most efficient goal-line rusher over the past three seasons.
How Will the New Safeties Work Together?
We've yet to see how free-agent signees Roman Harper and Thomas DeCoud work together at full speed because Harper missed the first preseason game with a turf toe injury.
Playing the role of box safety, Harper will play a huge part in the run game and DeCoud will find himself playing center field, a position he's most comfortable in and one the Panthers haven't had the right player to fill in years.
Their contrasting skill sets could make them even more impactful on the defense this season, but it could also prove problematic if the two, who are learning a new defensive scheme, suffer through some mental errors and miscommunications early on.
Can Jonathan Stewart Stay Healthy?
Looking before this offseason, it's tough to remember the last time Jonathan Stewart appeared healthy during the team's summer activities, but after missing nearly all of training camp with a hamstring injury, it's starting to feel like we're experiencing déjà vu all over again.
Stewart is back now and should play in the preseason game this Sunday, but it's tough to imagine that he'll be at full speed just three weeks off of a hamstring pull.
If Stewart can get back to full strength, we know how many more personnel packages he allows the Panthers to run and he's certainly one of the most talented running backs in the NFL, but it's been tough to see that talent since 2011, the last time he played a full 16-game season.
If the 27-year-old continues to battle injury through the season, it may be time to cut ties with him and move on to developing the younger and more durable running backs on the roster.