I am on my way to Charlotte, where I’ll be covering the Carolina Panthers in minicamp on Tuesday and Wednesday.
But let’s do a quick preview now and take a look at some of the hot spots facing the Panthers in minicamp.
Legedu Naanee's heir apparent? You simply don’t replace a receiver like Naanee. You just quickly stick someone else in the starting lineup and hope he can help everyone forget about Naanee, who might have been the league’s worst starting receiver last season. Naanee somehow was chosen to start in 10 games last year and responded with 44 catches for 467 yards and one touchdown, but his numbers weren’t even as good as they sound. Naanee was pretty much a liability opposite Steve Smith. Brandon LaFell was the starter in the other six games and he’s the guy the coaches and front office would like to see in the starting lineup on opening day. But that’s not guaranteed. LaFell has to play better and more consistently than he did in his first two seasons. The guy has potential and this is a critical year for him. But LaFell isn’t guaranteed a starting job. He has to win it and that might not be easy. David Gettis showed strong promise as a rookie in 2010, but missed last season with an injury. If Gettis is healthy, he has a chance to beat out LaFell.
Cam’s cameo: Obviously, I saw all of Cam Newton's games during his remarkable rookie year, but I’ve only seen him practice a handful of times. That came on the first two days of Newton’s rookie training camp. The lockout had just ended and he was learning the playbook and getting to know his teammates. He looked good at times and like a rookie at others. After seeing him do some rare things in games, I expect to see even more of that on the practice field. Newton’s obviously a rare athlete. In some ways, he has a chance to be like Smith. The wide receiver is the only guy I ever have covered on a regular basis that doesn’t surprise me when he makes spectacular plays in games because I’ve seen him make some even more spectacular ones in practice.
The Tolbert Factor: The Panthers spent a good chunk of money when they signed Mike Tolbert in free agency. That stunned some people because Carolina already was loaded at running back with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. But the Panthers have said the plan is to use Tolbert at fullback, while also praising his versatility. I’m sure we will see Tolbert some at fullback. But I’ve got a hunch he’s going to be moving around a bit, lining up at tailback at times and catching some passes no matter where he lines up.