CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Carolina Panthers on Friday begin a two-day minicamp for 54 players -- five draft picks, 10 undrafted rookie, 35 players invited for a tryout and four players from last season’s practice squad.
The 54 players will practice twice each day in addition to film and classroom work.
Here are four things to look for:
Which draft pick will have biggest "wow" factor? Last year it was wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, hands down. It happened on the second day. Benjamin went high into the air with two defenders draped all over him and made a one-handed catch. He was so impressive that general manager Dave Gettleman bent over and grabbed his knees, then grabbed his heart. Will second-round draft pick Devin Funchess, like Benjamin a 6-foot-5 wide receiver, make that kind of impression? Or will it be first-round draft pick Shaq Thompson, a linebacker out of Washington who was considered by many the most versatile player in the draft because he can play linebacker, safety and even running back? Or will it be fifth-round draft pick Cameron Artis-Payne, who could be the steal of this draft if he produces in the NFL the way he did in junior college and at Auburn? Maybe it’ll be fifth-round draft pick David Mayo, a linebacker who was labeled a tackling machine at Texas State. Or perhaps it will be Damiere Byrd, a speedy little wide receiver out of South Carolina who was one of 10 undrafted free agents signed. Personally, I can’t wait to see Artis-Payne, who led the SEC in rushing last season.
Undrafted potential? Wide receiver Corey "Philly" Brown, linebacker Adarius Glanton and guard Andrew Norwell emerged as major contributors last season after being overlooked in the 2014 draft. Norwell finished as the starting left tackle. Those three, along with cornerback Carrington Byndom, running back Darrin Reaves and wide receiver Marcus Lucas, remain on the roster. There are several potential contributors among the 10 signed after this year’s draft, beginning with Clemson cornerback Garry Peters. Pro Football Focus had his rating as the highest of any cornerback in the draft, but for some reason he wasn’t taken. He has the size (6-foot, 191) the Panthers seek, and he gave up only 233 yards in coverage all of last season. Also keep an eye on Ohio State defensive end Steve Miller and Florida defensive tackle Darious Cummings.
Invitees who will emerge? Two years ago, the Panthers signed nine of 36 players who were invited to try out during the rookie camp. Backup center Brian Folkerts, wide receiver Brenton Bersin and linebacker Ben Jacobs remain on the roster. Bersin actually started one game in 2014. Last year, the Panthers signed offensive tackle David Foucault after the Canadian player was invited to try out. He started one game. Carolina also signed defensive tackle Micanor Regis, who remains on the roster. Who will advance his career this weekend? Will it be former South Carolina offensive tackle Kyle Nunn, the East Carolina long snapper went to the combine uninvited and passed out beer koozies with his name, position, height and weight on it to let people know who he was? Stay tuned. There always seems to be a good story.
Who will throw the ball? This is interesting because Cam Newton, Derek Anderson and Joe Webb aren’t eligible to participate, but the team has to have somebody play quarterback. Last year it was Iowa’s James Vandenberg and McNeese State’s Cody Stroud. Neither had a realistic shot at being signed. That likely will be the case this weekend for Colorado State-Pueblo’s Chris Bonner and Upper Iowa’s Cole Jaeschke, both tryout invitees. Bonner led the ThunderWolves to a 13-0 record and the Division II national championship. Jaeschke threw for 3,350 yards, including 606 in one game, last season.