Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera was talking about the team’s improved depth at several positions last week when he zeroed in on the receiving corps.
The Panthers are beginning their second season since the massive overhaul that saw Steve Smith and three other receivers leave after the 2013 season.
But after drafting two big wideouts the past two years, bringing back Ted Ginn Jr. and signing a couple of free agents, Rivera believes the Panthers have created competition at the position. That’s good for the health of the offense, bad for a proven wideout who might be on the outside looking in at roster cutdowns.
“Wide receiver really sticks out. It’s a good group of young men,” Rivera said. “And unfortunately somewhere along the lines we might have to let a really good player go.”
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As the Panthers arrive in Spartanburg for the start of training camp, the Observer looks at five veterans who might not make the 53-man roster.
WR Jerricho Cotchery
Why he’s on the bubble: Cotchery’s 2014 numbers were nearly identical to those he posted in Pittsburgh two years ago, with one notable exception: His touchdown catches fell from 10 to 1. The Panthers want to get second-round pick Devin Funchess on the field with Kelvin Benjamin. And with Ginn and Corey Brown serving as the speed guys, there might not be room for a 33-year-old possession receiver.
Why he could stick: Cotchery has stayed healthy throughout his 12-year career and is a sure-handed receiver who’s not afraid to go over the middle and take a hit. Plus, coaches love the professionalism he’s brought to the receivers room.
QB Joe Webb
Why he’s on the bubble: With Cam Newton coming off offseason ankle surgery, the Panthers signed Webb last year as an insurance policy. He ended up making the roster and appeared in seven games on special teams and as a reserve receiver. But with Newton and backup Derek Anderson both healthy, carrying a third quarterback might be extraneous.
Why he could stick: Webb’s size and speed make him useful on special teams. While he only had one special teams tackle last season, it was a big one: a touchdown-saving stop on a 66-yard kickoff return by Atlanta’s Devin Hester. It doesn’t hurt that Webb can serve as an emergency quarterback and wideout.
OL Amini Silatolu
Why he’s on the bubble: The Panthers’ second-round pick in 2012 has been unable to stay healthy since breaking his wrist at the end of his rookie year. He’s missed 22 games the past two seasons with hamstring, knee and calf injuries. While he was out, young guards Trai Turner and Andrew Norwell surpassed him on the depth chart.
Why he could stick: The Panthers experimented with Silatolu at tackle during a few practices late last season, and position versatility is always helpful along the line.
LB A.J. Klein
Why he’s on the bubble: Klein, a fifth-round pick in 2013, started eight games at strongside linebacker last season. But the Panthers signed veteran Jason Trusnik, who can play all three linebacker positions, during the offseason and used their first-round pick on outside backer Shaq Thompson. Klein and Adarius Glanton could be competing for one of the final linebacker spots.
Why he could stick: Klein’s eight special teams tackles last season trailed only Ben Jacobs (nine), another young linebacker who could have a harder time making the team this year. Klein’s versatility and strong special teams track record work in his favor.
CB Melvin White
Why he’s on the bubble: White started 17 games the past two seasons. But with the additions of Charles Tillman and Chris Houston and emergence of Josh Norman and Bené Benwikere, it’s tough seeing where White will fit. Complicating matters for White was the signing of special teams ace Teddy Williams, who could claim another roster spot.
Why he could stick: White has starting experience and a knack for making big plays. His forced fumble against Ginn, then with the Cardinals, in January swung the momentum in the Panthers’ playoff victory. He could be insurance in the event Tillman is injured again.