The Carolina Panthers open training camp on July 31 at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Here’s a closer look at the Panthers camp, which wraps up on Aug. 20:
Top storyline: I’ve said this so many times that I say it in my sleep: left tackle. Specifically, did the Panthers make the right decision in putting the blind side (no pun intended) of quarterback Cam Newton in the hands of Michael Oher? Oher struggled the last two seasons at Tennessee and Baltimore playing on the right side. But the Panthers say they’re confident that Oher can turn things around now that he’s been reunited with former Baltimore Ravens offensive line coach John Matsko. They’d better be right. The success of Oher in large part will determine the success of this offense. If he plays well, then it’s all about Newton. With the defense expected to play at a top-10 level for the fourth straight year, this team will go only as far as Newton takes it. He’s being paid like a top-five quarterback after receiving a five-year, $103.8 million extension. Now he has to play like one.
Position battles to watch: Amini Silatolu will try to reclaim the left guard job he lost last season due to injury. Andrew Norwell played well down the stretch and enters camp as the starter, but Silatolu has started all 25 games in which he’s been healthy since 2012. If he can’t win the job, Silatolu and his $1.5 million cap hit may become expendable. The right tackle position also will be interesting. The Panthers finished the regular season 4-1 after Mike Remmers replaced the injured Nate Chandler. But look for Remmers to get a strong push from fourth-round pick Daryl Williams. And don’t forget about Chandler.
Veterans to watch: Cornerbacks Charles “Peanut’’ Tillman and Chris Houston. Tillman is 34. He also has been limited to 10 games the past two seasons with Chicago after tearing the triceps tendon in his right arm in the eighth game of 2013 and second game last season. He’s penciled in as the starter opposite Josh Norman. If he can stay healthy, and Father Time doesn’t catch up with him, he’ll be a huge asset. Houston signed the week before offseason workouts ended after missing all of last season in Detroit with a toe injury. Prior to that, he was a solid player for the Lions and Atlanta. He could be good insurance for Tillman.
Rookies to watch: First-round pick Shaq Thompson wants to prove the draft analysts and teams that had him slated as a safety that he can play linebacker in the NFL. Adding him to the mix with Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis potentially gives Carolina the fastest linebacker corps in the league. The reviews on second-round pick Devin Funchess were mixed because he lacked elite speed. But put the 6-foot-4 wide receiver beside 6-5 wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and 6-5 tight end Greg Olsen, and the Panthers have the potential to create massive mismatch headaches for opponents.
Bubble watch: Wide receiver Brenton Bersin arguably was Carolina’s third- or fourth-best receiver last season. With the addition of Ted Ginn Jr. and Funchess it’s going to be tough for Bersin to make it as the sixth receiver. Jarrett Boykin, a free-agent receiver signed from Green Bay, also could be in jeopardy with the depth at receiver. So could Stephen Hill, a former second-round pick by the New York Jets.
Two or three quarterbacks? The Panthers kept three quarterbacks (Newton, Derek Anderson, Joe Webb) last season because of injuries to Newton. With the first pick of the 2011 draft healthier than he’s been since entering the league, and with bigger needs at other positions, it’s hard to imagine third-stringer Webb making this roster. Webb also can play wide receiver and special teams, but he’s not good enough at either to warrant keeping a third quarterback over an extra lineman, running back or linebacker.
For daily updates at camp, check out the Carolina Panthers clubhouse page.