For all the attention that has been heaped on Christian McCaffrey during his first two full weeks in a Panthers’ uniform, it’s interesting that more readers asked about some of the other rookies in the questions submitted Friday via Twitter.
It’s almost like: “We get it. McCaffrey’s good and we can’t way to see him juke out some poor 49ers linebacker in Week 1. But how about the other young guys?”
We’ll get to that, but we open up the mailbag with a query about a couple of other key pieces to the offense.
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Q. Thoughts on KB and Norwell getting extended?
A. The Panthers picked up the fifth-year option on Kelvin Benjamin for 2018, so there’s no urgency for interim GM Marty Hurney to do anything now. And from Benjamin’s perspective, he has a chance to increase his value if he can put up big numbers two years removed from ACL surgery.
Complacency and weight issues have dogged Benjamin since his earliest days at Florida State. But Benjamin looks good after shedding more than 20 pounds since April.
And though he’s never going to be a blazer who creates much vertical space, he remains an important target for Cam Newton, particularly over the middle and in the red zone.
By picking up his option, the Panthers essentially have Benjamin at a relatively cheap price for two years before they have to decide whether he’s worth a long-term investment.
The situation with left guard Andrew Norwell is a little different. Norwell is in the final year of his rookie deal and will make $2.75 million after the Panthers gave him the second-round tender.
Players and coaches love Norwell’s toughness, but the team just committed $45 million to right guard Trai Turner. Norwell was acquired under Dave Gettleman’s watch, but my hunch is Hurney – if he’s still in the job – values Norwell enough to get something done next offseason.
If there’s a new GM, that obviously could change the dynamics drastically.
As for current contract negotiations, Hurney continues to talk to the representatives for linebacker Thomas Davis and tight end Greg Olsen about extensions, per sources. Stay tuned.
Q. Is Samuel listed low on the depth chart simply because of injury? How concerned should we be about his and Corn Elder’s injuries?
A. Curtis Samuel, the second-round pick from Ohio State, is listed as a third-team receiver on the Panthers’ first depth chart – alongside Damiere Byrd and behind second-teamer Brenton Bersin.
There are several reasons for this: Samuel’s hamstring injury, Bersin’s seniority and the fact that coaches don’t want any rookies to feel like they’ve arrived before they’ve played a preseason game.
That is especially true of Samuel, who hasn’t been on the field since the Panthers’ first practice in Spartanburg.
Elder’s injury – a stress fracture in his knee – could sideline him for much of the preseason. The nickel back from Miami is missing valuable time, although another rookie – Cole Luke – has made the most of his increased reps in Elder’s absence.
Q. Who will start at DE and how soon will we see D Hall in the rotation?
A. I would think Julius Peppers and Charles Johnson, Nos. 1 and 2 on the team’s all-time sacks list, would be the starters Week 1 in San Francisco. But defensive line coach Eric Washington will stick with the platoon system he has used the past several years, so all of the ends will get plenty of work.
Daeshon Hall, the third-round pick from Texas A&M, hasn’t flashed – to borrow a Ron Rivera-ism – much at camp. But the 6-5, 265-pounder will get plenty of chances to do so during the preseason, beginning Wednesday against Houston.
Q. Little worried about outside CB depth behind Worley and Bradberry. How do the Panthers feel about their depth there, is anyone stepping up?
A. Depth across the secondary is an issue, including corner. Second-year pros Daryl Worley and James Bradberry have had impressive starts to camp, but there’s no one behind them with much experience. (I’m not counting Captain Munnerlyn here, although the No. 1 nickel could slide outside if needed.)
The corners who have taken most of the second-team reps are Zack Sanchez, who struggled as a rookie, Jeff Richard, who spent the past two years with the Ottawa Redblacks in the CFL, and Teddy Williams, primarily a special teams player.
Nearly 1,200 players will hit the market when teams cut rosters from 90 to 53 players on Sept. 2. The Panthers should be looking for an experienced corner (and maybe a safety).
Q. Does CMC emergence in training camp spell doom for Fozzy?
A. Not necessarily. Fozzy Whittaker’s value on special teams – as a kick returner and covering kicks – makes him almost a lock to make the 53. The running back whose spot is in jeopardy with McCaffrey’s arrival is Cameron Artis-Payne.
Another piece of the RB puzzle is whether the Panthers will keep a fullback (presumably they will). Gettleman cut Mike Tolbert during the offseason, but there are two fullbacks on the roster – Darrel Young and rookie Alex Armah.