Well Panthers fans we're down to 61 days left in our countdown until the regular season begins for the Panthers in Tampa Bay. We have training camp in Spartanburg, SC to look forward to and the preseason to get an idea of how our rookies, UDFA's, pickups and backups measure up and fit on to the team. These two preliminary events will showcase some fantastic story lines, some of the most interesting this fan can remember in a long time.
There's an old saying "Iron Sharpens Iron" that applies very well to the next two months of Panthers activities. The competition will aid and ultimately sharpen the victor. After the jump let's take a look at what we have to look forward to before the real fun even begins.
RT: Byron Bell vs. Jeff Otah - The former 19th overall pick goes into training camp not as the assumed starter at RT for the first time since his selection. He will be battling for his spot with UDFA Byron Bell who was actually set up for success by Otah's last injury. At the time he was laying carpet in exchange for rent in New Mexico. Rivera has made it clear that whoever starts will earn it.
CB2 Captain Munnerlyn vs. Brandon Hogan vs. Josh Norman - This may be the most exciting battle of the offseason. To recap, 7th rounder Captain Munnerlyn is drafted as a nickelback/return specialist. In 2010 he plays admirably as the 3rd DB, Richard Marshall leaves and in 2011 Captain proves a CB2 he is not.
The 2011 draft brings an unpolished yet phenomenal athlete with maturity issues and a nagging injury by the name of Brandon Hogan. The injury held him out for most of 2011 but in the few games he played he flashed solidity, something Munnerlyn was lacking. The injury persisted though and with the 143rd pick in the 2012 draft enter Josh Norman.
There are two main camps with Norman. One references highlight reels, a strong open practice showing and reports that he was a draft steal to appoint him CB2 before competition begins. The other extreme views his accomplishments with less regard since he comes from a small school and only shined at practice because Smitty and the other veterans weren't going full speed. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
Regardless this battle will be interesting. Personally I'm hoping for CB1 - Chris Gamble, CB2 - Josh Norman, NB - Brandon Hogan and ST - Captain Munnerlyn.
DE Greg Hardy vs. Frank Alexander -The Kraken has been a fan favorite since he amazingly fell to the 6th round of the 2010 draft. In his rookie debut he blocked a punt for a safety, forced a fumble and recorded four tackles. Last year with little relief he managed 4 sacks, another safety and seemed to be just inches away from 6 or 7 more sacks. This offseason the Panthers gave up a future 3rd round pick to draft Frank Alexander in the 4th round. CBS Sports called him a hard working, solid character guy with good pass rushing ability and all the physical traits you look for in a DE. So the Panthers essentially gave a 3rd round pick for a pass rushing DE who many have been drafted higher if not for a bogus medical grade referencing a "hole in his heart". Did I mention that Hardy bulked up to nearly 300 lbs. in the offseason? My sources tell me he's been wrestling bears and bench pressing Buicks since December. Okay I made that last part up. But I can tell you first hand from the open practice at BoA the dude is big. The real question here is does The Kraken play as a 300 lb. DE much like The Minister of Defense, R.I.P., or is he going to be somewhere a little closer to center? Where does Alexander fit in?
SSherrod Martin vs. a Ham Sandwich
S Sherrod Martin vs. Haruki Nakamura vs. Reggie Smith - No need to rehash Martin's 2011 season, I'm pretty sick of hearing about it honestly. Suffice to say it was not acceptable. Regardless of the excuse, and there are legitimate ones, he cannot start for this team if his level of play from 2011 continues. This offseason saw an influx of special team aces including Nakamura and Smith. These two playmakers were unfortunately buried behind some serious talent in San Francisco and Baltimore, Nakamura backing up one of the greatest safeties of all time, Mr. Ed Reed. They will compete for that starting spot, the only question is can the former 2nd rounder out of Troy hold off these two.
LB Group - The final battle royale will be in the Linebacker corps. I don't know where to begin. The 9th overall pick was used on the best MLB in the draft, record breaker Luke Kuechly, to join a team with the NFL's 2nd best 4-3 MLB, Jon Beason, and thrice torn ACL owner Thomas Davis, who's inspiring determination to return to Pro Bowl form is a prime example of "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak". Ever steady, though not spectacular, LB James Anderson rounds out this group of four vying for three starting spots.
Which storyline are you most excited to see play out? How do you predict they end? Did I miss a good one that you want to discuss?