The first week of training camp has injected some drama into the Carolina Panthers training camp battles.
During practice at Wofford College, the Panthers saw Darryl Williams, the projected starter at right tackle, go down to a knee injury that looks like it might keep him out a while. That opens up his spot, previously thought to be fairly secure, and may have an impact on the battle that had been raging elsewhere on the line.
A few days later, newly acquired cornerback Ross Cockrell broke his leg, removing him from the competition at the second cornerback spot.
Here’s a look at the positions and candidates to watch as the Panthers work through the summer months.
In his third year with the team, James Bradberry appears to be solid at one starting spot. The other one opened up when the team dealt Daryl Worley, chosen in the same draft as Bradberry, to Philadelphia. The team’s replacement plan fell through when free agent Bashaud Breeland failed his physical with the team. Cockrell was signed from the Steelers and expected to have a good shot at starting opposite Bradberry. In his absence, the two other contenders will fight it out for the spot: Rookie Donte Jackson and former Buffalo Bill Kevon Seymour. Seymour has started five of his 31 NFL games with Buffalo and Carolina. Jackson was a second-rounder out of LSU. He has speed and confidence, but he needs to gain experience. There’s still a possibility the team might bring back Breeland or another free agent off the street, if Panthers management isn’t confident the in-house options will suffice. Corn Elder, Cole Luke, Lorenzo Doss and Captain Munnerlyn are all options farther down the depth chart.
The Panthers let Andrew Norwell leave for Jacksonville in the offseason, and there’s a whole slate of contenders to replace him. Amini Silatolu has been around since 2012, when the team drafted him in the second round, but he’s started a total of 31 games over that span and hasn’t seized a spot on the offensive line. Former Charger and Viking Jeremiah Sirles signed with the team over the offseason. Tyler Larsen has been with the Panthers the last two years as a backup and would be moving over from his usual position of center. Taylor Moton, a second-round draft pick last year, played in all 16 games last year in a reserve role. Sirles, on the basis of being a new face, likely has the inside track for the spot. Greg Van Roten, another option for the team, has been getting snaps at center.
If Williams misses the start of the season, Moton will likely end up moving to this spot, taking him out of the left guard competition. He’s listed as the backup on the depth chart and took the reps in the practices immediately following Williams’ injury. Silatolu could also move over, if needed. The other tackles on the roster, led by Norman Price, entered camp as long shots to even make the roster.
The Panthers have veteran talent at the two starting spots in Devin Funchess and offseason pickup Torrey Smith. The third receiver spot will be a battle between high picks in the last two drafts. Curtis Samuel, a second-rounder in 2017, had a slow start last season but eventually adjusted to the NFL, and his speed gave Cam Newton another intriguing weapon. His season was cut short by an ankle injury in Week 10. This year, the Panthers used a first-round pick on D.J. Moore, whose speed and versatility will earn him a long look as well. Veteran Jarius Wright, who signed with the team in the offseason to reunite with offensive coordinator Norv Turner, is another contender.
Second tight end
Ed Dickson, who excelled while starter Greg Olsen was out with an injury last year, departed for Seattle after the season. The backup spot will likely come down to Chris Manhertz and Ian Thomas. Manhertz was part of the Panthers’ plans last year while Olsen was on the shelf. He started four games and appeared in all of them. He suffered an injury during minicamp and opened training camp on the PUP list. That opened the door for Thomas — a fourth-round pick out of Indiana who has impressed early in camp with his physical play and pass catching.
The Panthers let longtime backup Derek Anderson walk after last season and opened camp with two unproven options. Garrett Gilbert has been in the league since 2014, but last season, when the Panthers signed him from the practice squad in October, it was the first time in his career that he’d ever even been on the active roster of an NFL team. Taylor Heinicke has been around since 2015. The Panthers are his fourth team, but he’s thrown one career pass.