We've had some good conversations on position battles to expect in the upcoming training camp. That made me think about who else I'm looking forward to seeing in camp and the preseason. More importantly who is going to lift their game high enough to make a significant impact on the Panthers season? So I think I've got my top 5 players who will exercise their ‘upside' in 2009.
5. TE Gary Barnidge
Barnidge was billed as a ‘downfield threat' when the Panthers drafted him last season. The Panthers could certainly use a weapon like that but Barnidge has to show he can make that play in the preseason. I will be watching to see if the Panthers run those stretch plays up the middle of the field to the TE. Hitting that play keeps the LB's from cheating up to stop the run. Barnidge has the size and speed to be that downfield threat if he can just convince the Panthers of that.
4. Ryne Robinson
We thought we had solved our PR problem when the Panthers drafted Robinson two seasons ago. He flashed potential at times his first season but still needed a little time to adjust to the NFL game. After losing the ‘08 to injury, I'm looking forward to seeing Robinson come back with a vengeance and win the spot outright. We haven't had excitement in the PR game since Steve Smith was back there. If Robinson can regain is speed and move past the injury he could provide some excitement in the return game.
3. FS Charles Godfrey
Godfrey went into the '08 draft labeled a ‘ball hawk'. For a FS he never shies away from run support and looks to deliver a big hit on any WR. But he has a lot of upside in the form of making plays on the ball. If Godfrey can get his head into the game plan and learn Meeks system he could be a big play kid in the secondary. If the Panther pass defense is going be improved this year the Charles Godfrey will need to be one of the reasons for it.
2. WR Dwayne Jarrett
We've been waiting patiently for the past two seasons for this guy to be the #3 receiver in Carolina. What the Panthers really need from Jarrett is for him to assume the #2 role. If anything I think Jarrett has matured and gained some confidence to go along with the impressive resume and athletic ability. We know this guy has soft hands and the ability to go high for a ball. It would be nice to see the Panthers go to Jarrett early and often in preseason. I'll be looking to see if they run some plays for him in the red zone.
1. RB Jonathan Stewart
As good as Stewart was last season I feel like he has just scratched the surface. His combination of power and speed and that devastating stiff arm will make many a highlight video in 2009. Even if he doesn't get more carries in ‘09 he could outshine his backfield mate DeAngelo Williams, though that will be hard to do. This could be the year when the Carolina running game is solidified as the identity of this team.