Carolina Panthers Training Camp Primer: The New Guys

SQUIRREL!!!! - Lance King

With Training Camp officially underway, let’s take a look at the Panthers’ rookies and see what could be in store for them over the next few weeks. What will it take for them to earn a roster spot? What are their chances of earning significant playing time? Who are the players to watch?

High hopes.

Star Lotulelei - 6' 2" - 315 lbs. - DT - Utah

Kawann Short - 6' 3" - 310 lbs. - DT - Purdue

Heading into training camp, the Panthers' hope for success in 2013 hinges on fast development and strong starts for a few of their youngest players. Sure, it has been fun to sit around since April gloating over our fortunes in having Star Lotulelei fall into our laps with the fourteenth pick. However, even though Star is widely considered to be one of the most complete and "sure-fire" picks of this year's draft, projections do not always equal production. If we are to have success on the defensive side of the ball this year, Star will have to be "as advertised" and anchor the nose reliably from day one. The Panthers have effectively jettisoned any veteran help at the position, leaving Frank Kearse and Sione Fua as the only depth behind Star. To give you an idea of how troubling that is, rumor is the Panthers coaches are considering switching Fua to the offensive line, as he is so adept at opening up holes for running backs - ZING!!!

Kawann on the other hand should not be expected to start immediately. Dwan Edwards is returning at the under-tackle position, and he had a career year last season in Sean McDermott's rush-heavy defense. There is of course the possibility last season was an anomaly as Dwan has never before been so productive throughout his ten year career. Of note, he was not rated very well versus the run, even though he was a force in the passing game. This lends some credence to the argument that Dwan may find it hard to repeat his success. If he proves to consistently be one-dimensional, this could lead to Kawann becoming more involved in the defense much earlier in the season. If he puts in a strong camp, we can probably expect Short to rotate heavily with our two starters from day one of the season. He will likely replace Star on pass-rushing downs and Dwan on running downs initially, maybe replacing Dwan more permanently as the season progresses.

At least, that is the hope.

For better or for worse...

Edmund Kugbila - 6' 4" - 325 lbs. - OG - Valdosta State

Robert Lester - 6' 1" - 215 lbs. - SS - Alabama

Melvin White - 6' 1" - 205 lbs. - CB - Louisiana-Lafayette

The next group of rookies we will look at is the group of guys we truly need to contribute right away, yet lack the pedigree to suggest they will be able to. Edmund Kugbila is a rare athletic specimen at the guard position, yet he played at tiny Valdosta State in a system that virtually never had him line up with his hand in the dirt. He is going to be facing a similar jump in competition to that which Amini Silatolu faced last year in coming from a D-II school to the NFL, and Big Ku gets to add in the extra wrinkle of having to change his game completely. Amini struggled early, and I would expect the same from Kugbila. Ideally, he should be given a few years to develop before plugging him into the starting lineup; realistically, if Hangartner doesn't improve significantly from his performance level of last year, Edmund could get pushed into the starting lineup before the end of the season.

Everyone else on this list made it there the hard way - by sitting through the entire draft without hearing his name called, then having to wait for the phone to ring. The Panthers had myriad holes to fill this offseason, and only five selections in the draft to do it with. Offensive guard and defensive tackle were two of the greatest positions of need, and Gettleman and Co. addressed those positions with our first three selections. However, the defensive secondary was also a huge area of need and it was not addressed at all in the draft. Gettleman was seemingly on the phone the second the draft ended, though, because Robert Lester and Melvin White were two of the first undrafted free-agents signed.

On the surface, it looks like Gettleman and Rivera may have pulled a coup by getting both safety Lester and cornerback White to agree to sign with Carolina. Rivera couldn't stop singing the praises of either man throughout OTAs or rookie minicamp. Now it is time for them to show they belong while wearing pads. If either player shines I think it likely that he will see significant playing time in the preseason and possibly beyond. The entire secondary is a young group and not a single person has their position locked down, other than perhaps Charles Godfrey. The problem is that with our porous secondary we need one of these rookies to shine. With undrafted free-agents, that is never a good position for a team to be in.

I know we already have one but just look at the price!!

A.J. Klein - 6' 1" - 245 lbs. - LB - Iowa State

Kenjon Barner - 5' 9" - 190 lbs. - RB - Oregon

Linden Gaydosh - 6' 3" - 315 lbs. - DT - Calgary

This group of young'uns falls into the "best-player-available" category. With five former first-round picks manning the linebacker and running back positions and with massive holes throughout the offensive line and secondary, conventional wisdom would not have led Dave Gettleman to select A.J. Klein or Kenjon Barner in this year's draft. Likewise, after burning our first and second-round picks on defensive tackles, it seems a little redundant to pursue the number one pick from this year's Canadian Football League draft at that position. However, Gettleman has already shown he is not a man bound by conventional wisdom. None of us thought he would so deftly navigate our salary-cap troubles in one offseason, but he did, and maybe that is reason enough to trust him when it comes to these selections. This is further supported by the team's announcement today that Jon Beason has agreed to take a pay cut this season. Not a restructure. A pay cut.

Well done, Dave. Well done. But I digress...

A.J. Klein is very intriguing to me. My attention was first drawn to him because he was so often called a "poor man's Luke Kuechly" throughout the lead-up to the draft. By all accounts, while he is not the most physically gifted guy in the world, he - like Kuechly - is a very cerebral player who always seems to be around the ball and takes good angles to the ball carrier. If this proves to be true throughout camp and pre-season play, A.J. could provide quality depth at any of the linebacker positions this season, and possibly push for a starting spot once Beason or Davis eventually ages out.

Kenjon Barner was a value pick, plain and simple. You don't often find starter-quality playmakers in the sixth round of the draft, and Barner is a special talent. He's fast, explosive, and can literally do it all. He has had success as a runner, receiver, and return man. In a crowded backfield these periphery abilities may be the ones which bear the most fruit in Barner's quest for playing time, especially over the next season or two. Kenjon will probably be given a look for punt and kick-returning duties as well as in specialty packages. He'll probably also get a few touches per game in the read-option or on screen passes initially, and provide insurance in case Jonathan Stewart can not get healthy. Of course, all of this hinges on what he shows in training camp and the pre-season...

Linden Gaydosh is one of the most intriguing players for me going into training camp. We already know he was the first overall selection in this year's CFL draft. We also know that his workout numbers are extremely impressive. What we don't know is how well he will transition his game to American rules (or how well he can handle the South Carolina sun, for that matter). After investing their first two draft picks at this position, it may seem a little weird for the Panthers to aggressively address the position in the undrafted free agent market, but just think of the possibilities! If Star and Kawann both work out, we could have one of the best defensive lines in history. If one of the big two does not work out, then maybe Gaydosh will. If all three work out...

If a miracle happens, great! If not, so what?

Colby Cameron - 6' 2" - 210 lbs. - QB - Louisiana Tech

Michael Zordich - 6' 1" - 240 lbs. - FB - Penn State

Craig Roh - 6' 4" - 275 lbs. - DE - Michigan

Morgan Lineberry - 6' 1" - 200 lbs. - K - Abilene Christian

Jordan Gay - 6' 1" - 200 lbs. - P - Centre

This group of rookies is made up of guys who, if they light it up in training camp and pre-season could potentially steal a roster spot from an underachieving veteran or get themselves stashed on the practice squad.

It has been oft-discussed here at CSR and the consensus seems to be that regardless whether you think he got a bum rap or is just turrible, Jimmy Clausen is an ill fit for the style of offense that the Panthers run, and Derek Anderson is clearly our backup quarterback for the foreseeable future. Colby Cameron is a talented passer that could take advantage of this situation to oust the notorious Clausen, and right or wrong I doubt much of a complaint would be raised throughout Panther Nation if that happened.

It is well known that Mike Tolbert isn't much of a lead blocker. Well, Richie Brockel is a fair one, and a versatile H-back/tight-end/fullback/Annexed Puerto Rican to boot. Sheer utility is what has cemented Richie's spot on the roster. Rookie Michael Zordich is a traditional lead-blocking fullback from Penn State, and if he has any chance of squeaking onto the final 53, it will be by pushing Richie Brockel off. I don't know how much of a chance there is of this happening, but the mere possibility of it makes this a camp battle worth watching.

After inexplicably cutting Thomas Keiser the Panthers have very little depth at the defensive end position. Frank Alexander seems to be moving in the right direction, and the "Mario Addison must have made Keiser expendable with his strong play" argument makes for good conjecture, but the truth is we have no real idea what we have behind Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson.

Enter Craig Roh. Sure, he may just be a camp body, but I have a feeling Roh could stick around. He played at a big-time program and had a fairly productive college career during a turbulent time at Michigan. He is a versatile end who plays well against the run and pass, and if he doesn't push for a spot on the 53-man roster I could definitely see him ending up on the practice squad this season.

Morgan Lineberry and Jordan Gay are the resident camp fodder brought in every year to compete at kicker and punter, respectively. However, it isn't like either Graham Gano or Brad Nortman has a very firm grip on his starting job. It isn't unheard of for a starting kicker or punter to be replaced by an unlikely usurper in training camp, and I'd say if it was going to happen this season Carolina is as good a place as any.

Hey Ma! I made the practice squad!

Wes Horton - 6' 5" - 265 lbs. - DE - Southern California

Casey Walker - 6' 1" - 345 lbs. - DT - Oklahoma

Tori Mobley - 6' 3" - 300 lbs. - OG - Jacksonville St.

In truth, anything could happen with these guys. I would assume that Kugbila has the inside track on a roster spot against Mobley considering the difference in their draft status, and Gaydosh seems to have a better pedigree than Walker, but my choice of Roh over Horton is based on my own admittedly lackluster scouting ability. These players could end up on the team, they could end up on the practice squad, or they could be at home sitting on the couch and eating Cheetos in a week and a half.

The bottom line:

Over the next two weeks all of the guys I have listed today are going to put on their helmets and pads and hopefully leave everything they've got on that scorched field in Spartanburg. Some of them will go on to wear the blue and silver this season, some will end up wearing other colors, and some will go home, but as of this moment they all share a bond. They are Carolina Panthers...

Gentlemen, the 2013 NFL season is officially under way. I'll see you on the other side, and as always: KEEP POUNDING!!!

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