Which Carolina Panthers Are Having the Worst Training Camps?
Carolina looked sloppy in its preseason opening loss, 26-13, against the Houston Texans on Saturday night and the play of several Panthers starters, backups and bubble players looked uninspired and under prepared.
The Panthers have until Friday's exhibition against the Miami Dolphins to correct their mistakes on offense, defense and special teams, and several players who either did not play or did not play well against the Texans will be in the spotlight in the second preseason game.
Here is a look at five Panthers players who need to improve upon their training camp performances before the regular season begins.
Brandon Hogan came into training camp expecting to compete with Captain Munnerlyn and rookie Josh Norman for a starting cornerback spot, but he has been out of practice with a leg injury since the first week of camp.
Hogan spent most of his rookie season last year on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list after tearing his ACL against Rutgers in his final collegiate game and he needs to get preseason reps if he is going to have a chance to win the position.
Munnerlyn again struggled in pass coverage in the Panthers' opening preseason game against the Houston Texans' first-team offense after getting the start, and he has been playing the nickel position in practice this week with Norman getting more first-team reps at corner.
Norman may have separated himself from the competition with four interceptions at practice on Tuesday following the Texans game and he will have a chance to put his progress on display Friday night against the Miami Dolphins.
Fourth-year cornerback Darius Butler has also had a strong camp and he is trying to make a case for spot in the defensive secondary's rotation as a nickel cornerback.
Hogan is not in serious jeopardy of missing the cut, but his chances at earning a starting position on opening day are getting worse every day he is unable to practice.
Running back Josh Vaughan began each of the past two seasons on the Panthers' practice squad and this was supposed to be the year he finally made the team.
Carolina has a loaded backfield with DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert, and they are expected to get most of the playing time. But the emergence of undrafted rookie free-agent running back Tauren Poole may have complicated things a bit.
Poole, who gained 26 yards and scored a touchdown on four carries in his preseason debut against the Houston Texans, could potentially play the role previously occupied by Mike Goodson as a change of pace back and occasional kickoff return man.
Vaughan's main contribution to the Panthers is on special teams where he finished third on the team with nine tackles in seven games last year, but Poole could take his roster spot if he plays well on special teams and continues to run as well as he did on Saturday.
Jimmy Clausen is not making a case for himself to have a future with the Panthers or any other NFL team with his performance in training camp or the Panthers' first preseason game against the Houston Texans.
Clausen completed three of six passes for just 24 yards on Saturday night and he was sacked four times in less than one half of play in the preseason opener.
Granted, Cam Newton was sacked once and Derek Anderson was taken down twice in the backfield by the Texans pass rush, but Clausen seems to lack that oh-so-important internal clock that tells him to get rid of the football.
Clausen may have been overrated as a college quarterback at Notre Dame and, simply put, the NFL game is too fast for him.
Most NFL quarterbacks are overwhelmed by the speed of the game in their first couple of seasons, but the game should have slowed down enough for him by his third season to show whether or not he has what it takes to play in this league.
Clausen needs to move ahead of Derek Anderson, who played relatively well on Saturday and looks like a solid backup quarterback, in order to justify keeping him on the final roster and I do not see that happening.
It is not that Charles Johnson is playing poorly so far in training camp.
It is that he is not playing spectacularly.
Johnson, a defensive end, is the highest paid player on the Panthers' defense and when you have that status and you are following in the footsteps of future Hall of Famer Julius Peppers, expectations are high.
The Charlotte Observer's Ron Green, Jr. tweeted this Ron Rivera quote on Johnson last week:
Ron Rivera on DE Charles Johnson: Charles Johnson is very consistent right now but we need him to take it to another level.— RonGreenJr (@RonGreenJr) August 2, 2012
The Carolina Panthers defense ranked 24th against the pass in 2011 and it had as much to do with their middling pass rush as it had to do with the secondary.
Antwan Applewhite and Thomas Keiser each had a sack in Carolina's first preseason game against the Houston Texans, but Johnson and fellow starting DE Greg Hardy failed to put any pressure on Matt Schaub or even notch a tackle on Saturday night.
The Carolina pass rush has to improve if the Panthers are going to be better defensively in 2012 than they were a season ago, and as the team's supposed best pass rusher, it all starts with No. 95.
Sherrod Martin was in the right place at the right time when he recovered Luke Kuechly's forced fumble against Houston Texans running back Arian Foster.
He was not in the right place, though, when the Panthers started their first preseason game with Haruki Nakamura playing Martin's free safety position.
Nakamura became a Carolina Panther this offseason to help out of special teams and to have a shot at Martin's starting positon.
According to the AP's Steve Reed, Martin is working behind Nakamura in practice just as he did against the Texans.
FS Haruki Nakamura, who started Saturday night, still working ahead of Sherrod Martin.
— Steve Reed (@SteveReed_AP) August 13, 2012
Martin was among the NFL's worst tackling safeties in 2011 and he has not helped his case for the starting job so far in training camp, though he still has three more preseason games to earn his position with the defensive starters.
Jimmy Grappone is a Featured Columnist covering the NFL and the Carolina Panthers for Bleacher Report since 2008.
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