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WRs battle for roster spots

Posted Aug 10, 2012

My virtual mailbag runneth over with questions from passionate Panthers fans everywhere, and I do mean everywhere.

Since we introduced the latest interactive feature on Panthers.com earlier in the week, I've been inundated with inquires from near and wide. I've heard from fans as close as Spartanburg – host city of Panthers training camp – and from places as far away as Australia and the United Arab Emirates.

Much like Cam Newton making his way around the Bank of America Stadium bowl to sign autographs last weekend, I can't answer all of your questions, but I encourage you to keep sending them in as the regular season fast approaches and hope you enjoy reading what your fellow fans have on their minds.


The wide receiver depth chart has obviously been one of the most interesting parts of camp thus far. It seems Brandon LaFell is a lock as the No. 2 WR but No. 3 and so forth seems to be up in the air. I'm curious what you think the WR depth chart will look like Week 1 in Tampa Bay. - Ronnie in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Great question to start us off, and literally the first "Ask Bryan" query ever submitted, rolling in at 2:25 a.m. Tuesday morning. The No. 3 spot is a critical one because the Panthers won't hesitate to use three-receiver sets. But the thing to keep in mind is that they have different packages that will feature different receivers, so in some ways there won't be a true No. 3. David Gettis needs to get healthy, but he seems a safe bet along with special teams stalwarts Kealoha Pilares and Joe Adams and probably recently acquired Louis Murphy to make the roster. That's already six receivers (including LaFell and Steve Smith), making it difficult to see a scenario where Seyi Ajirotutu, Armanti Edwards and Jared Green – all talented players enjoying good camps – all make the 53-man roster.


How are some of the undrafted rookies doing? - Josh in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Green appears to be blossoming and is likely to land a job with the Panthers, their practice squad or possibly elsewhere. A pair of 6-4, 300-pound defensive linemen with versatility – tackle Nate Chandler and end Ryan Van Bergen – have made notable contributions. Running back Tauren Poole has enjoyed a productive training camp.


Throughout camp it seems there have been more interceptions than last camp. Do you attribute them to the defense playing better or the offense struggling to find a rhythm? As a fan it is bittersweet to see Cam intercepted by our own defense. - Joel in Philadelphia, Pa.

It's the ultimate Catch 22 for football coaches: If your defense makes a big play in practice, what does it say about your offense? There are so many moving parts – and all of them aren't moving at the same speed in practice – that it's often tough to tell where to pin blame/praise on a practice interception. Overall, the offense is getting its act together and the defense is making great strides in communication. I'd call it a wash but also label it a situation that serves as a confidence boost for a defense that could use it. Cam's confidence is just fine.


If Cam goes down to injury, will the Panthers still be explosive on offense? - Edward in Greensboro, N.C.

Boy, I hesitate to even answer this question as a hypothetical. Newton is the undisputed starter because he's undoubtedly the quarterback best suited to help this offense thrive. Of course you'd expect some sort of difference without him, but Derek Anderson looked like the team's most efficient quarterback throughout most of training camp in 2011, and the running game would still be stacked without Newton. I sure don't want my theory tested.


In an attempt to be more balanced and protect Cam Newton, is there any indication that Rob Chudzinski will put more emphasis on the running game this season? - Bryant in Pocatello, Idaho

Yes. And no. With DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart back, and the addition of bruising fullback Mike Tolbert, the sky is the limit. But with all the passing records Newton eclipsed last season, it's easy to forget that the Panthers took it to the limit last season, ranking third in the NFL with 150.5 rushing yards per game and leading the league with 26 rushing touchdowns. They ranked 13th in both passing yards and passing touchdowns. The balance is already there, but the still-to-be answered question is whether Newton will run less – especially close to the goal line – with the addition of Tolbert.


Can Mike Tolbert become a household name like Brad Hoover was? - Marcus in Concord, N.C.

Hoover was the Panthers' beloved fullback for 10 seasons. He was undrafted after playing college ball in his native North Carolina and won fans over with his hard-nosed approach that earned him countless serenades of "Hoooooov!" Tolbert is the Panthers' new fullback, born in Georgia and played his college ball in South Carolina. He also went undrafted out of college, but unlike Hoover, he walks in the door already an established pro. Still, he seems destined to be a fan favorite with his bowling ball running style and sparkling personality. For the rhythmic chanters in the crowd, his nickname is "Yogi."


We should be very good if not better next year with all the young core players we've recently extended contracts. Are there any players that could potentially be "cap casualties" after this season judging by our team budget and the salaries some of the guys are due to be making? - Andrew in Birmingham, Ala.

I went straight to the source, Panthers general manager Marty Hurney, for this one.

"The salary cap is tough," Hurney said. "People want to talk about ‘cap casualties,' but really you're just making decisions that are best for your football team. Skill and talent always play into it.

"In order to be competitive each year, you have to make difficult decisions at the end of each season. The salary cap is really about making personnel decisions; it's not working numbers."

Andrew, you were wise to point out the importance of core players getting new contracts, something Hurney said often is forgotten by fans who clamor for big-name free agents. In effect, the Panthers' big-name free agent signings for this season include Ryan Kalil, DeAngelo Williams, Jon Beason, James Anderson and Charles Godfrey – players who could have tested the open market if the Panthers hadn't been proactive before it reached that point.


I am getting really excited about Amini Silatolu. I saw him on opening night in Spartanburg and then again at Fan Fest. He looks like he could really make a difference. How do the coaches feel about his performance thus far? I think we got a great one! - Greg in Tega Cay, S.C.

The coaches are excited about Silatolu as well, and he's got the best teachers a rookie could ask for with Jordan Gross on his left and Ryan Kalil on his right. The transition from Division II to the NFL can be daunting, but we're not alone in thinking he'll be successful: Michael Lombardi recently wrote on NFL.com that if the U.S. fielded an Olympic football team in 2016, Silatolu would be a starting guard – with Newton under center.


Why did Jimmy Clausen switch jersey numbers from 2 to 7? - Kyle in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.

Clausen wore No. 7 at Notre Dame, but when he joined the Panthers in 2010, veteran punter Jason Baker was No. 7. Clausen wore No. 2 as a rookie but switched to No. 7 after the Panthers released Baker in the offseason. Incidentally, Newton wore No. 2 in college but chose No. 1 as a rookie because Clausen already had No. 2. Newton, however, is sticking with No. 1. It certainly seems to fit him.


Can you get Steve Smith to spend a day with me? - Deavarus in Florida

Wish I could, but it's hard to keep Steve still for very long. I'm sure he is, however, looking forward to visiting the Sunshine State for the regular season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Maybe you can come to the game and spend the afternoon with him and the Panthers.

Panthers.com senior writer Bryan Strickland answers your questions. Fill out the form below to send it to him. The answer to your question could be posted on Panthers.com.
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