Thanks to everyone who sent in Carolina Panthers questions following the first week of training camp. I picked five that I felt encapsulated the subjects of the majority of them:
Q. How are you feeling about corners aside from (second year corners) James Bradberry and Daryl Worley?
A. While resting of veteran nickel corner Captain Munnerlyn is mostly precautionary, the recent news of rookie Corn Elder’s patella stress fracture is definitely cause for concern. Elder will eventually lend depth at nickel and on the outside, but will already be playing catch-up as he takes a few weeks to recover.
I do think that we have seen promising flashes from rookie undrafted free agent Cole Luke in the nickel. If Elder and Munnerlyn were both healthy, he certainly would not have had this opportunity in the first week of camp – but Luke has shown athleticism and has adjusted so far. If he keeps up this trajectory I would not be surprised to see him jump over second-year corner Zack Sanchez on the depth chart.
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Q. What’s the word on Taylor Moton? Seems like he’s had a quiet camp so far.
A. Moton, the rookie tackle/guard out of Western Michigan (and No. 64 overall pick), has been somewhat quiet, it’s true. But in his case it’s a good thing, because it means he hasn’t made any glaring mistakes yet.
He hasn’t been exposed by a pass rusher and he’s fitting in well when getting his repetitions at right tackle and guard. Carolina also wants to use Moton as depth at left tackle behind Matt Kalil, and the starting right tackle spot is Daryl Williams’ to lose.
Even though the players are clanging in camp in full pads, we will know more about where Moton and Williams stand once preseason games begin next week.
Q. Who is going to handle punt returns this year? Do you think they’ll risk putting (rookie running back and No. 8 overall pick) Christian McCaffrey there?
A. I like to think that throwing McCaffrey back on punt return would be like sending a Ferrari through a $2 car wash. I doubt Carolina risks the health of the rookie – even though he is a phenomenal return specialist.
Part of the reason the team has crowded the receivers room with very fast, very quick players is because they want to find their next return specialist. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Damiere Byrd’s role increase in this manner, and Kaelin Clay has also shown a lot of promise here and was a fantastic returner in college. Russell Shepard is also really proud of his ability on special teams and will probably be in the gunner role this fall.
Q. How is the Ben Boulware/Zeek Bigger competition at linebacker?
A. This is an interesting question because both of these linebackers are locals (Boulware is a Clemson product and Bigger played at East Carolina), and both bring a great mindset to camp even as undrafted rookies.
But I will say that both also definitely look like rookies out there. That’s to be expected when sharing a position group with guys such as Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. Carolina asks its linebackers to do a lot in both run and pass coverage, so special teams will be where either of these two make their mark during preseason games as they continue to learn the defense.
Bigger had to leave the field on Sunday early on and did not look like he was feeling well (he almost lost his breakfast right in front of me). Head coach Ron Rivera said Bigger is dealing with a stomach bug.
Q. Star (Lotulelei)? When will extensions get worked out for Greg Olsen and Thomas Davis? Is (interim general manager) Marty Hurney willing to negotiate mid-season unlike Dave (Gettleman)? Did you go to Krispy Kreme?
A. Thanks for fitting quite a bit into one question.
I assume the first question is about how Lotulelei, one of Carolina’s starting defensive tackles, is doing. He came off of shoulder surgery in the spring and has been rotating with defensive tackle and last year’s first-round pick Vernon Butler so far in camp – which is to be expected if he’s still a little limited. But Butler wants his spot, is healthy, and will be cheaper because of the time still left on his rookie contract (through 2019). If the Panthers are serious about Lotulelei in the long-term, his deal will be next on the list as he is in the final year of his rookie deal after the team exercised his fifth-year option – yet there is a chance they believe in Butler instead in the long-term.
I think the hullabaloo over those two veteran contracts has died down now that the grind of camp has begun. In my eyes, this situation specifically is more about these two players trusting possible assurance that deals will get worked out in the proper time than actually sealing something in camp. I do believe both will get done, but I’m not sure if they are a priority quite yet. I think Hurney will certainly be open to in-season negotiation, provided it’s not distracting to the player involved.
And I actually am kind of proud of myself because I have not yet gone to the Krispy Kreme down the street from the practice field. I’m trying to keep my eating somewhat clean in preparation for a very long season. (We will see if that mindset lasts through next week, as everyone knows doughnuts are my weakness).