Ah, summer time... The draft is done. Free Agency is practically over. The days are long and the sun is sweltering. Or at least it will be come July and August in the upstate when the Carolina Panthers head into training camp. Last I saw reported, we had at least 90 people on the roster and only a chosen few (53 to be exact) will make it to the team. Even now though , I can see the makings of some extremely tough camp battles that are just going to come up from the numbers.
Let's take a look...
By the Numbers: 14 on the roster competing for 6 to 7 spots
Locked In: Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, David Gettis, Joe Adams, Kealoha Pilares
In the Fight: Chris Manno, Armanti Edwards, Seyi Ajirotutu
Something to Prove: Wes Kemp, Darvin Adams, Rico Wallace, Brenton Bersin, Jared Green
I wanted to get this one out of the way first because it's something of a dead horse. With so many interesting battles shaping up, a lot of this will depend upon what happens at the different positions. If we end up carrying only 6 WRs, then we will have 6 people competing for the final spot. As it stands, I'm thinking that Chris Manno has a leg up on everyone else to make the final roster. After that things really get hot. We've talked at length about Armanti Edwards, and most people probably know that I don't expect him to survive camp if we go into 2012 with 6 WRs. Seyi Ajirotutu is an interesting case because we don't really know a whole lot about him other than he was with Chudz and Rivera in San Diego. He was resigned in the off season, and it makes me wonder if he will get one of the remaining spots because of it.
By the Numbers: 8 on the roster competing for 4 spots
Locked In: No one.
In the Fight: Terrell McClain, Sione Fua, Ron Edwards, Frank Kearse, Andre Neblett, Jason Shirley
Something to Prove: Ogemdi Nwagbuo, Nate Chandler
What a mess... and even worse trying to figure out what to do with it. Honestly, there isn't a single player that I can say is a true lock to make the 2012 team if he doesn't show up strong in camp. At first I wanted to say maybe McClain and Fua, but even one of them may be endangered if everyone else comes on strong. This is an overabundance of uncertainties and potential mixed in with mediocrity because there is really no player without faults here. Ron Edwards is probably as close to a lock as you can get, but he's aging at 32 and is a solid starter and nothing more. The twin rookie tackles were eaten alive by the wolves last year, but this isn't a position that translates well in the next level. I doubt they get cut because of that. And then you have the 3 silver linings on the dark defensive cloud from last year in Kearse, Neblett, and Shirler. Our defensive line really solidified last year once these guys were put in, but was that just because they weren't rookies or is that some true talent to be had here? Don't leave out Ogemdi Nwagbuo either, who followed Rivera to Carolina after being cut, resigned, and cut again by the Chargers. This dramatic finish is going to depend greatly upon just how many DTs we want to keep. Last year, we only had 3 going into week 1. I expect we'll end up with 4 due to pressing needs elsewhere, but 5 is possible if everyone proves to be more worthwhile than say another WR or LB.
By the Numbers: 8 on the roster competing for 5 roster spots
Locked In: Charles Johnson, Greg Hardy, Frank Alexander
In the Fight: Antwan Applewhite, Thomas Keiser, Jyles Tucker
Something to Prove: Eric Norwood, Ryan Van Bergen
Get your popcorn ready because this is going to be fierce! Our two starters from last year and our rookie will surely make the team, leaving only 2 spots for 6 people to fight over. Jyles Tukcer follows his old coach from San Diego (like so many other players), which is why I elevated him to being "in the fight" for this spot. Thomas Keiser and Applewhite both proved they could be effective in specific positions last year as well. South Carolina product Eric Norwood looks to prove he has a place in the NFL after disappearing behind the depth charts last year, but I'm thinking this may be out of reach for him unless he moves back to the linebacker spot... and we all know how much I think about constantly shifting people's positions around (waste of time).
By the Numbers: 7 on the roster competing for 4 roster spots
Locked In: Chris Gamble, Josh Norman
In the Fight: Darius Butler, Brandon Hogan, Captain Munnerlyn
Something to Prove: R.J. Stanford, Josh Thomas
Who would have thought we might have a CB battle brewing? Gamble is a veteran of our team and simply won't be going anywhere after a fantastic season last year. Similarly, Josh Norman is a rookie, but has starting potential and could at least contribute on nickle and dime packages. After that though, things are very murky. Captain Munnerly should still make the team, but not as a starter, but that only leaves one open spot for Darius Butler and Brandon Hogan. I think Hogan has the edge as a younger player who hasn't really had a chance to show if he can perform, but don't count Butler out. It's very possible that Munnerly may end up being the odd man out in this battle.
By the Numbers: 7 on the roster competing for 4 roster spots
Locked In: Charles Godfrey, Haruki Nakamura
In the Fight: Sherrod Martin, Jordan Pugh, D.J. Campbell
Something to Prove: Jonathan Nelson, Reggie Smith
First two things off the bat that might catch your eye is Martin being in a battle for a spot and D.J. Campbell being the only rookie in the fight. Campbell's status is pretty easy to explain: practice squad eligible, so if the Panthers think they can stash him there for a year, they very likely will. If not, the Jordan Pugh may find he will need to live up to the praise from a year ago to stay on the team.
Martin on the other hand is a very curious case. I think last season was largely an aberration for Martin who had a strong rookie year. Call it a sophmore slump. We had a new Head Coach, new Defensive Coordinator with a completely different philosophy from the bend-don't-break mindset of the previous Defensive Coordinator... who by the way was our Secondary Coach because we couldn't get the guy we wanted last season due to contractual obligations. Well we have that coach now and Ron Meeks is gone. But if Martin gets supplanted by Nakamura, then he may even be cut. Why is Haruki locked in though? Simply because no matter whether he ends up a starter or back up, he will get a spot.
Obviously with no crystal ball, this is all speculation. As we move into the final weeks of the off-season, we may see sparks of camp battles cropping up in otherwise unsuspecting places. Tight End, for example, is over stocked at the moment, but there are likely only 3 legitimate contenders for positions among them. At LB, only Jason Williams's role is uncertain so it is likely someone could end up surpassing him as well. I look forward to seeing how this will end as our players continue to grow and move forward.