Carolina Panthers: Position Battles

Cheven BoddieContributor IMay 14, 2009

CHARLOTTE,NC- MAY 1: Fourth round draft pick Tony Fiametta #41 of the Carolina Panthers jogs off the field after minicamp practice at the team's practice facility on May 1, 2009 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

If you believe the best way to get positive results on the gridiron is to have talented players compete for playing time, then head on down to Spartanburg, SC and grab a seat on the lawn overlooking the Carolina Panthers' training camp.

Defensive Line

One of the most intriguing position battles could be on the defensive line, and that's operating on the reality that as of right now Julius Peppers is not a member of this football team.

Peppers has not signed the Panthers' franchise tender nor has he shown up to mandatory minicamp. Everett Brown, whom the Panthers traded their 2010 first-round pick to acquire, could find himself in a battle with Charles Johnson and Tyler Brayton for the starting defensive end position.

Brown was projected as a top-10 pick by many draft experts prior to the draft after a phenomenal junior season at Florida State in which he posted 13.5 sacks.

Brown ended up falling to the second round, but the Panthers felt he was a first-round talent and extremely fortunate to select him at No 42.

Johnson is now entering his third year in the league and the game looks as if it’s slowing down for the former Georgia Bulldog. Johnson was able to break into the rotation last year and looked good in limited playing time, posting 25 tackles and six sacks playing behind Brayton.

Brayton was signed as a free agent last year from the Oakland Raiders and thus far in his career he had been considered another Raider first-round bust. Panthers head coach John Fox and his coaching staff like Brayton’s versatility and his ability to play inside and out. He’s a very crafty player and makes up for his lack of talent with effort and technique.

Brayton posted a career-high 4.5 sacks last year. That stat alone is pretty revealing, because one of his biggest weaknesses is rushing the passer. Before last year his career high was 2.5 sacks.

The edge in this battle goes to Johnson and Brown, considering their pass rush ability is what the Panthers need most from their defensive ends right now.

Wide Receiver

Position battles on offense aren’t as glamorous, but they could prove to be a huge factor for the Panthers going forward as veterans like Muhsin Muhammad get closer to the end of his career.

The Panthers will be looking at Dwayne Jarrett, a former second-round pick, as Muhammad’s heir apparent.

Jarrett should get more opportunities this year as the third wide receiver because of the release of D.J. Hackett. Jarrett is determined not to fall in the category of another USC wide receiver bust (see: Kerry Colbert and Mike Williams).

This isn’t much of a battle, as Muhammad’s 60 catches for over 900 yards last year has him cemented as the starter alongside Steve Smith.

Kick Returner

Ryne Robinson and rookie running back Mike Goodson will duke it out for the team's kick returner role.

Robinson was pretty average, with 23 yards on kick returns and 8.7 yards on punt returns prior to ending his season early with an injury.

Goodson is an electric talent. He was even a Heisman hopeful before falling out of grace with the coaches at Texas A&M.

Goodson has also been told he will get the opportunity to play some wide receiver by the coaching staff, but his versatility doesn’t stop there: Goodson can serve as a kick returner, punt returner, slot receiver, and the third running back.

Versatility is something Fox values, which is why Nick Goings was able to hang around as long as he did. Unless Robison has really improved since last year, the edge in this battle goes to Goodson.


Fullback Brad Hoover is a hometown favorite in Charlotte and all Panther fans are familiar with the “Hooov” chant when the former Western Carolina running back touches the football.

Hoover has 10 years of mileage on his body, all as a Panther. He’s a valuable run blocker, especially considering how much the Panthers run the ball, but with the ball in his hands he’s extremely ineffective.

The Panthers drafted fullback Toney Fiammetta out of Syracuse, who was rated the No. 1 fullback on many draft boards. Fox and his staff considered this a steal because they got him in the fourth round.

Fiammetta is also a better athlete than Hoover, but knowing blocking assignments from the fullback position is vital in this offense, so the edge goes to Hoover.

Backup Quarterback

The last position battle might not turn any heads, but should quarterback Jake Delhomme go down with an injury, this could be the most important one.

Two years ago, Matt Moore impressed coaches and fans in his three starts at the end of the season, but he was unable to find that magic during the preseason last year.

Moore posted a 94.8 quarterback rating against Tampa Bay, which had the No. 2 defense at the time. He looked to be next in line to Delhomme before poor preseason play and a leg injury which sidelined him six weeks.

Veteran quarterback Josh McCown has had some strong performances, most notably against the Panthers when he was with the Arizona Cardinals.

McCown threw for more than 300 yards and rushed for more than 50 against the Panthers four years ago. Still, he has thrown more interceptions (40) over the course of his career than he has touchdowns (35).

McCown has 30 more starts than Moore, and the Panthers continually express their admiration of McCown’s abilities. Therefore, the edge in this battle will be McCown’s to lose.

One last thing to keep an eye on with all of these position battles will be how Fox handles them.

Fox has been known to stay loyal to his veterans, even when it was a detriment to the team. Most fans were left scratching their heads when Fox continued giving DeShaun Foster the bulk of the carries over then-rookie DeAngelo Williams, who was clearly more productive.


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