After about three weeks of training camp, the Carolina Panthers will head to Nashville for two joint practices and a preseason game against the Tennessee Titans this Saturday.
Carolina is clicking into gear as the season approaches, but still, there were plenty of questions following the wrap of camp in Spartanburg on Sunday.
Q. If the final wide receiver roster spot is Brenton Bersin versus Damiere Byrd, who gets it?
A. I think Byrd has already nabbed one of two open roster spots (the Panthers will probably keep six receivers, and Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess, Russell Shepard and second-round pick Curtis Samuel are locks for the others).
Byrd provides the burner vertical threat the Panthers desperately need after the departure of Ted Ginn Jr. in free agency, and barring injury, he seems like a lock. As of right now, I’d think Bersin gets the sixth spot based solely on his tenure with the team and his ability as a route-runner. Also peaking at the right time is Kaelin Clay, but he doesn’t have the tenure of Bersin. Keyarris Garrett feels like a long shot again, based on the expectations of the two players he’s a copy of: Benjamin and Funchess.
And don’t forget, Christian McCaffrey’s ability as a route-runner throws a variable into the absolute necessity of a six-receiver roster, should other positions require more attention.
Q. I still think the Fozzy Whittaker versus Cameron Artis-Payne question is very intriguing. Any thoughts based on what you saw?
A. I have to think that this is the year Artis-Payne draws the short straw, after the McCaffrey pickup. Whittaker is so valuable on special teams as well as in the locker room I have a hard time seeing him get cut, while Artis-Payne has never really gotten a chance to show his potential.
Q. What’s the biggest position in need of more depth?
A. Safety, safety, safety. After Dean Marlowe went on injured reserve with a torn hamstring, Carolina looked even more exposed at the position behind solid starters Mike Adams and Kurt Coleman. The team will look for Dezmen Southward and L.J. McCray to step up in the preseason, but it’s even more likely that Carolina picks up a safety either pre or post-cuts this fall.
Q. After naming corner James Bradberry your camp MVP, where would you place Devin Funchess?
A. Funchess had the best camp of any of the receivers in practice, but was overshadowed by Byrd in the preseason game against Houston. (Obviously Byrd was on the field a lot longer than first-teamer Funchess.) I would say Funchess would get a nod for runner-up, but McCaffrey put so many linebackers in a blender all throughout camp that it would really be a tough call.
Q. Thoughts on any undrafted rookies you saw in camp who have a chance of impacting first-team offense or defense?
A. None of Carolina’s undrafted rookies could come close to nabbing a first-team spot, but that’s not to say that some weren’t impressive. I think the player who will have the most important role of any of them this fall is corner Cole Luke, who was a depth piece on the outside as well as in the nickel. I spoke with Bradberry right after camp wrapped and he said Luke was the young defensive player he was most impressed with, based on his smarts and ability to see the field.
Luke has a huge opportunity too, because depth is quite thin behind Bradberry and Daryl Worley, as well as behind veteran nickel Captain Munnerlyn with draft pick Corn Elder still rehabbing a stress fracture in his patella.