As the season draws ever closer, there are still a few obvious holes that are up for grabs during Training Camp.
For me, these are the three biggest: Left End, Backup Quarterback, and Cornerback.
Left Defensive End
As we all know, provided he plays, the right side of the Carolina D is set with Julius Peppers.
However, the left side has Tyler Brayton, Everette Brown, and Charles Johnson all competing for a spot.
Brayton is the " incumbent," and had a career year last year as he started all 16 games for the Panthers. The 6'6" end racked up 4.5 sacks and 40 tackles while splitting some of his time with Charles Johnson.
Last season at FSU, 6'2" Everette Brown was third in the nation in sacks, 13.5, and fourth in tackles for loss, 21.5, in 13 games started for the Seminoles. He is, by some scouts accounts, an almost pure pass rusher, and in Ron Meeks' defense, he may not be the best fit at this time (Meeks has already stated that this Carolina D is going to limit it's blitzing).
Johnson had a six sack, 20 tackle performance last season in somewhat-limited duty with the Panthers. For my money, he is the best choice opposite of Julius Peppers.
But, a rotation of all three of these guys, with Brown just coming out of college and Brayton being as good as he is, is probably the most likely scenario (Brown coming in in blitzing schemes and the rotation of Brayton and Johnson remaining the same).
This may seem like an odd position to call a "battle," but with Matt Moore still developing and Josh McCown getting close to the other side of the hill (yeah, I know that hes still 29, but that's a bad age to be rotting on the bench), this could prove to be a very interesting battle to watch through Training Camp.
Because both of these guys sat-out almost all of last year, I am going to use their 2007 statistics as a measure of their skills (when McCown was a starter for the Raiders and Moore appeared in nine games--starting three).
In nine games with Oakland in '07, McCown was 111-190 (58.4%) with 10 touchdowns against 11 INTs. In a display of speed, Josh attained 143 yards in 29 attempts (we all know how much Al Davis loves speed).
Also in nine games for Carolina in 2007, Matt Moore completed 56.8 percent of his passes (63-111). He also threw three touchdowns against five interceptions while leading the Panthers to a 2-1 record.
For me, I want consistency from my backup. Both of these guys exhibit good reading ability, and could both serve admirably, in my opinion, if something was to happen to Jake Delhomme.
Saying this, I like Matt Moore better for this role.
Although both will most likely be on the roster (you always like to have three QB's), the first guy should be Moore. His age (24) and upside (the Panthers have said they see him as a future starter) make him the perfect choice in the shadow of Delhomme.
Richard Marshall seems like a foregone conclusion here, but with the Panthers drafting two guys who can play this position, you have to consider the possibilities.
The other two guys are: Sherrod Martin, CB/S from Troy, and Captain Munnerlyn, CB out of SCAR.
Marshall has been a staple of the Carolina D since he was drafted in 2006. He has played in 16 games every year, and had his best season in 2007.
That year, Marshall started six games and recorded the following stats: one sack, three interceptions (107 return yards with one TD), and 79 tackles.
Martin had an injury-plagued tenure with Troy. From torn labrums in both shoulders to broken bones in his hand, this 25-year-old-rookie-to-be has seen it all.
Even with these problems, this 6'1" Safety/Corner hybrid possesses athleticism and speed that some would kill for.
In 13 games last season, Martin had 90 tackles and four interceptions while playing safety at Troy. Despite the age, he is a very good prospect for the NFL.
Captain Munnerlyn is an explosive cover-corner who had 44 tackles, two sacks, and a forced fumble in 12 games started at South Carolina.
He is 5'9" tall with excellent return abilities (he ran back the longest return, 84 yards, at South Carolina since 1997) and plays, according to South Carolina's website, "bigger than his size."
Of these three, Marshall is the most likely candidate to take this position. He's been productive in the past and looks set to continue his development.
However, both Martin and Munnerlyn possesses the ability to take CB is Marshall cannot fulfill his duties (plus, Captain could be the replacement for Mark Jones in the return game).
Overall, the Panthers don't have many holes to be filled.
Coming off a 12-4 season, I don't think you would expect there to be many holes to fill.
But, these previously mentioned battles could prove to be very interesting as we head into the 2009 NFL season.