CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Much of the focus when the Carolina Panthers begin a two-day rookie minicamp Friday will be on which draft pick will step forward as a possible replacement for Pro Bowl cornerback Josh Norman. General manager Dave Gettleman did use three of his five draft picks on corners.
But there are plenty of other storylines, too, as five draft picks, seven undrafted rookies and about 30 other invited players gather on the practice fields behind Bank of America Stadium.
Here are five areas I’ll be keeping an eye on:
Cornering the market: Finding a replacement for Norman is the top priority despite the other stories. That’s why all eyes will be on second-round pick James Bradberry of Samford, third-round pick Daryl Worley of West Virginia and fifth-round pick Zack Sanchez. Bradford and Worley best fit Gettleman’s model size at 6-foot-1. Sanchez (5-foot-11) may be better suited to be a nickelback in this system. It’ll be interesting to watch which one emerges from this camp with an edge, if one will at all. Bradberry in particular will be interesting to watch. He came from a small school and was somewhat of a surprise to go in the second round.
Cash and change: Duke safety/linebacker Jeremy Cash arguably was the biggest get among the undrafted free agents – among all teams. The Panthers like him because he can be a hybrid player in many of their third-down packages. But the goal is to beef up Cash (6-foot, 212) so he can play outside linebacker as Thomas Davis did when he made the transition from safety to linebacker after being selected in the first round of the 2005 draft.
Big Vern: We heard a lot about the athleticism of first-round pick Vernon Butler, a 6-foot-4, 323-pound defensive tackle out of Louisiana Tech that was the 30th overall selection. This will be the first time to see it in person. The spotlight will be on him until he’s united with veteran tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short later in offseason workouts. He should stand out because of his size, if nothing else.
For kicks: Punters don’t often get a lot attention this time of the year. But this really is one of the biggest question marks on the roster since Brad Nortman left in free agency for Jacksonville. The Panthers have invited former Florida State punter Cason Beatty and former LSU punter Jamie Keehn to this camp to see if one or both might add to the competition. Swayze Waters, the CFL special-teams player of the Year with the Toronto Argonauts, was signed earlier this year. Former Tennessee punter Michael Palardy was added after Nortman left. It’s not a sexy watch, but it’s worthwhile knowing how big Nortman was to field position.
Depth at receiver: Tulsa wide receiver Keyarris Garrett, like Cash, was considered a solid undrafted pickup. At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, he fits the mold that Gettleman likes (See 6-5 Kelvin Benjamin, 6-4 Devin Funchess, 6-4 Stephen Hill). Garrett has a rare combination of size and speed that gives him a chance to crack the top five at receiver. How well he develops as a route runner and blocker will play a big role in that. Getting a chance to work with receivers coach Ricky Proehl, one of the best teachers in the business, will be the first step.