Before the dog days of training camp when everyone was in a foul mood and ready to go home, Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera made a reference to the roster projections undertaken by many of the beat writers.
The reaction of said writers was along the lines of: “He reads these things?”
Apparently so, as do a good number of readers. So despite having the benefit of having seen only one preseason game, the Observer takes its first crack at predicting the Panthers’ 53-game roster.
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Quarterbacks (3): Cam Newton, Derek Anderson, Joe Webb
The Panthers love the chemistry in the QB room. Plus, Webb does everything but hold for kicks on special teams. Carolina goes three-deep at quarterback for the third year in a row.
Running backs (4): Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert, Fozzy Whittaker, Cameron Artis-Payne
Brandon Wegher made the opening-week roster last season on the strength of a strong preseason, and he certainly could do the same again this year. Rivera said recently he views the No. 2 back as a Tolbert-Whittaker combo. But Artis-Payne is more of an every-down workhorse in the mold of Stewart.
Receivers (6): Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess, Ted Ginn Jr., Philly Brown, Brenton Bersin, Damiere Byrd
Stephen Hill deserves credit for coming back from a catastrophic knee injury last summer, but the former Jet looks like a longshot to make the team. Bersin had a huge game last week at Baltimore before injuring his ribs. Byrd’s game-changing speed on special teams can’t be ignored.
Tight ends (4): Greg Olsen, Ed Dickson, Scott Simonson, Braxton Deaver
The fight for the fourth TE spot is shaping up to be one of the more competitive battles. Deaver, the undrafted rookie from Duke, gets the initial nod over Marcus Lucas and Beau Sandland, the seventh-round pick. All three will get plenty of reps at Tennessee on Saturday with Olsen and Dickson expected to be sidelined.
Offensive linemen (9): Michael Oher, Andrew Norwell, Ryan Kalil, Trai Turner, Mike Remmers, Gino Gradkowski, Chris Scott, Daryl Williams, free agent to be determined
The Panthers signed former East Carolina tackle Willie Smith this week in the hopes he’ll be a better backup option to Oher than David Foucault. But expect the Panthers to continue to monitor the waiver wires during roster cut-downs, when they could pluck at least one additional lineman to help their depth.
Defensive line (9): Charles Johnson, Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short, Kony Ealy, Mario Addison, Wes Horton, Ryan Delaire, Vernon Butler, Paul Soliai
The Panthers kept five defensive ends and four tackles last year. But it’s not inconceivable that Rivera and GM Dave Gettleman keep Kyle Love as a fifth tackle. That would leave Delaire or Horton as the odd man out. There were high hopes for young defensive ends Rakim Cox and Arthur Miley. But Cox is hurt and Miley hasn’t done much.
Linebackers (6): Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Shaq Thompson, A.J. Klein, David Mayo, Ben Jacobs
These are the same six who made the team out of preseason last year. Jacobs is nursing an ankle injury, but his special teams skills would seem to put him ahead of Jeremy Cash, the undrafted rookie from Duke whom the Panthers could stash on the practice squad.
Defensive backs (9): James Bradberry, Daryl Worley, Kurt Coleman, Tre Boston, Zack Sanchez, Bené Benwikere, Robert McClain, Colin Jones, Trenton Robinson
Special teams ability will help decide the final secondary spots, which is why Jones and Robinson get the edge here as backup safeties over Marcus Ball. Teddy Williams is another special teams mainstay. And if Williams doesn’t miss much time with his groin injury, he could bump McClain for the final cornerback spot. This corner group could still benefit from the addition of a veteran.
Specialists (3): Graham Gano, Mike Scifres, J.J. Jansen
The punting job appears to be Scifres’ to lose, assuming his surgically repaired, non-kicking leg holds up. Scifres is a 14-year veteran who looked good punting during Thursday’s practice after resting his leg for the better part of a week.