Aug 17, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers defensive back Haruki Nakamura (43) runs out of the tunnel before the game against the Miami Dolphins at Bank of America Stadium. The Panthers defeated the Dolphins 23-17. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-US PRESSWIRE
Following up James Dator post where he predicts the first roster cuts I'm here to update you on the key position battles and who appears to be out in front for some key starting positions and back-up roles. Though the actual depth chart on Panthers.com remains pretty much unchanged except for one BIG improvement I'm going to draw off of player rotations I've seen these first two games to make some predictions on how the depth chart actually looks at this point.
First the big change:
#1 FS - Panthers.com confirms what we gathered from the first two games and that is FA signee Haruki Nakamura has moved ahead of Sherrod Martin and is now listed as the starting free safety on the depth chart. If I had to gather why its because of missed effin tackles! Martin had an especially bad one against the Dolphins in the 2nd half that allowed a first down when Martin should have stopped him. Nakamura on the other hand has been money in the tackling department. Martin may make better plays on the ball in the air but I think Rivera wants tackling first and prefer the sure tackler at FS. I don't expect Nakamura to look back.
#3 CB - I think it's safe to say rookie Josh Norman has moved ahead of Brandon Hogan and Darius Butler to be the CB the Panthers bring in for nickel formations. Norman will not be the nickel back per se, Captain Munnerlyn has actually been moved to the nickel and Norman is playing the outside in these formations. To me that portends a rise in Norman status the defacto 3rd CB for the nickel and therefore above Butler and Hogan.
#3 WR - Louis Murphy has done nothing but look the part of a solid NFL receiver while Seyi Ajirotutu has dropped his chance, literally. Tutu seems to have the size, speed and route running but he is just too inconsistent and seems to pick the worst times to drop a ball. The Panthers still list him behind David Gettis on the depth chart. Even though he is still missing from the Panthers.com depth chart Murphy has looked very reliable and is in my view now solidly locked into the #3 spot.
#2 RDE - Though the Panthers depth chart lists Eric Norwood as the #2 RDE it was clear from the time he spent on the field and his performance that rookie DE Frank Alexander has moved ahead of Norwood. Alexander has the size and strength needed of the true 4-3 DE and he showed it this past Saturday. In fact, starter Greg Hardy needs to be looking over his shoulder after he put up a disappointing effort against the Dolphins.
WLB - It is confirmed that Thomas Davis is now the back-up to the rookie Luke Kuechly at WLB. I'm not sure Davis will get his spot back no matter how good his knee holds up. Still he would be one of the better WLB back-ups in the league if healthy plus a great guy for the sub-packages.
#2 SLB - Jordan Senn is now listed at #2 SLB over Jason Williams who was listed at #2 previously. Maybe they just forgot to put Senn on there the first time because he was not on the original depth chart. I'm betting Senn was hoping it was an oversight. Never fear, The Senn Master is back and at #2 behind James Anderson.
#2 LT - Though Garry Williams is listed as the #2 LT he has been playing RT in the preseason and not very well at that. That might be due to the fact RT Bruce Campbell has been playing well at LT forcing the move of Williams to the other side. The Panthers have been down this road before with Williams early last season but then decided they liked the UDFA Byron Bell better. Williams seems to play better at LT than RT which means he may not even have a roster spot at this point. Pencil in Bruce Campbell at #2 LT; actually you can write that in ink.
K - It's my impression that Justin Medlock has out kicked Olindo Mare but I think the reality is that it is still a close competition. The concern is always how will the kicker perform under the pressure of winning or losing a game on a last second kick? You never know until it happens and to rely on a guy that has never done it at this level is a huge leap of faith. I expect Ron Rivera to take the plunge; put Medlock in there but use pencil!