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Three Questions: Special Teams

Posted Jul 21, 2016

Between Mike Scifres and Swayze Waters, who wins the punting competition? Who returns kicks? Where will kicker Graham Gano rank?

SPECIAL TEAMS PREVIEW: For the past three years, Carolina’s specialists were a tight-knit group known as “The Bomb Squad.” But the squad will look different this year after punter Brad Nortman signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Jacksonville Jaguars. There’s additional change in the coaching department, with Thomas McGaughey joining the team to assist special teams coordinator Bruce DeHaven.

THREE QUESTIONS

1. Who wins the punting job?

Mike Scifres and Swayze Waters are the two candidates battling to replace Nortman. Scifres, who spent 13 productive years with the San Diego Chargers, was signed midway through organized team activities. With an established veteran now on the roster, most assume the position is secured. But Waters, who spent the past four seasons in the CFL and was the CFL Special Teams Player of the Year in 2014, isn’t about to shy away from the competition with an NFL job there for the taking.

2. Who returns kicks?

Fozzy Whittaker and Joe Webb were the kick returners last season, and Carolina finished last in the NFL in kickoff return average (18.5 yards). With so much depth at wide receiver, perhaps the Panthers look to Ted Ginn, Jr., who served as the team’s punt returner last season. The speedy veteran has long been considered one of the best returners and one of the fastest players in the NFL. It’s something to keep an eye on through training camp and the preseason.

3. Where will Graham Gano rank among kickers?

In 2013 – his first full season with Carolina – Gano converted a career-high 88.9 percent of his field goal attempts, good for 13th in the NFL. The percentage dipped to 82.9 percent in 2014 and improved to 83.3 last year – a percentage impacted by a league-leading four blocked kicks. Gano fully expects to rank amongst the best kickers in the game, and he’ll aim for increased efficiency in 2016.