Panthers start season with unknowns

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It's not ideal to have question marks among multiple starters less than a week before the opener, but that's what the Carolina Panthers are dealing with heading into Sunday's game against the Seattle Seahawks. Let's break it down:

Strong safety: A calf injury to starter Mike Mitchell in practice last week and concussion to backup Haruki Nakamura (waived injured) forced the team to sign free agent veteran Quintin Mikell on Monday.

Mitchell sat out of Monday's practice and will be re-evaluated on Wednesday, so Mikell potentially could start after being unemployed since the St. Louis Rams released him in March.

The good news is Mikell has spent the past two seasons with the Rams, so he played the Seahawks four times as an NFC West opponent. Mitchell sounded optimistic he would be ready to go by Wednesday, saying he's the starter "until somebody tells me I'm not.'' Long-term, this could be a good thing because Mikell is an improvement over Nakamura.

"The league is about competition, so the more competition they add at every spot the better we're going to be, the deeper we're going to be,'' Mitchell said. "Maybe I was so far ahead of the competition they had to bring somebody else in.

"I'm not taking it in a negative way at all."

Left guard: Good news here as Amini Silatolu (hamstring) returned to practice on Monday. He looked so good that coach Ron Rivera backed down from last week's expectation that the second-year player wouldn't be ready for the Seahawks.

"I don't feel that way anymore, especially after seeing him today,'' Rivera said.

Rivera said Amini will start if he doesn't show signs on Wednesday that the hamstring is bothering him and gets through the rest of the week without backsliding. If he can't go, then Travelle Wharton and Chris Scott will play the position by committee.

Left cornerback: Veteran Drayton Florence's release left either Josh Thomas or Josh Norman as the starter. Rivera wouldn't say which he'll go with on Monday even though Thomas took a majority of the first-team snaps.

"They're both good, solid young football players and they need to get on the field,'' Rivera said in addressing why Florence was released after working most of the preseason with the first team.

In all likelihood you'll see both Norman and Thomas on the field at different times. Rivera said the team needs a rangy back like Norman to cover many of the tall receivers they'll face in the NFC South. Norman showed his ability in the preseason with a league-high four interceptions.

Rivera also said the Panthers need more compact, physical corners like Thomas. So it could come down to matchups.

Running back: More good news as fullback Mike Tolbert (hamstring) returned to practice and took the full load. Rivera remains optimistic he'll be ready by Sunday.

He'll need him with DeAngelo Williams the only experienced back left after Jonathan Stewart was placed on the physically unable to perform list last week.

Extra point: Rivera said the staff considered adding a quarterback to the practice squad to run the scout team after Jimmy Clausen was released. That didn't happen, so backup Derek Anderson will get the scout team snaps.