An Early Look at Panthers Top 5 Position Battles

Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

There has been some considerable Panther roster changes this offseason and that has created some openings in the starting line up. Here's an early look at the top 5 to watch throughout the upcoming preseason.

Based on the offseason changes as well as some starters under achieving in 2012 I see the following starting positions as the ones up for grabs in the upcoming training camp.

1. Strong Safety

As I recently posted last year's initial starter Charles Godfrey has been moved back to free safety leaving the SS position a free for all between free agent pick up Mike Mitchell, 3rd year pro Anderson Russell and USFA Robert Lester. I like Lester's chances but he has to prove the concerns about his hips and game speed are off base. If he doesn't seem up for the task then all Mitchell needs to do is be solid in run support.

2. Cornerback

With the retirement of Chris Gamble it leaves both starting positions essentially wide open. DJ Moore appears to be the best nickel corner so Captain Munnerlyn would have the inside track on one side. Free agent Drayton Florence would seem the best of the CBs to play the outside so I think he is very probably on one side. Beyond those three we will have the following players battling for 2 or maybe 3 more roster spots: Josh Norman, Josh Thomas, James Dockery and rookie UDFA Melvin White. Though the Panthers might be short on experience with this group I really like the potential of all four.

3. #3 Wide Receiver

Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell will enter the 2013 season as the #1 and #2 WRs, that much we pretty much know. Now I realize a #3 WR is typically not a starter but for some games we just might start with 3 WRs. It's possible but given Mike Shula's history I agree it is not likely to happen much. Regardless I think it will be fun to watch. The Panther starter at #3 in 2012 Louis Murphy was not retained and instead the Panthers brought in Dominick Hixon formerly of the Giants. The Panthers also have Lamont Bryant, David Gettis, Armanti Edwards, Joe Adams, Keoloha Pilares and Ted Ginn to consider at the spot. Hixon might have the inside track but don't sleep on Bryant or Gettis.

4. Right Offensive Guard

Though last year's starter Geoff Hangartner returns I don't think Piggy is really the type of player the Panthers want to plug in at RG. Hangartner is a valuable back-up at all three interior OL positions but I think the Panthers would prefer one of the younger, bigger guys prove more reliable in run blocking. Though I think 4th round pick Edmund Kugbilla will end up there it's one of the other unknowns like Justin Wells (316 lbs) or Hayworth Hicks (336 lbs) that could get the nod if they can run block.

5. Strong Side Linebacker

Up until recently the common thought was Jon Beason would slide over the strong side with the departure of last year's starter James Anderson. Now that Beason is still being limited by his injury and rumors he may not want to move over there anyway I think the job is wide open. Beason still has the edge obviously but a guy like Jason Williams, free agent pick up Chase Blackburn or even rookie AJ Klein could snatch it outright.


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