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Carolina Panthers

Ask Bryan: A nickel for your thoughts

I get the feeling we released Brandon Boykin because of Zack Sanchez. Do you think Sanchez is ready to take that role? – Justin via Twitter

I can't provide you with any earth-shattering insight as to why the Panthers parted with Boykin, who signed with the Panthers this offseason. Boykin looked like a fit at nickel corner for Carolina but was trying to bounce back from a couple of tough seasons: Since recording six interceptions and 16 passes defensed in 2013, he's totaled two interceptions and 14 passes defensed over the last two seasons.

Sanchez, a rookie from Oklahoma, could well be next up at nickel. The Panthers do have a player with experience at nickel in Bene Benwikere, but at this point indications are that he'll play outside. Still, it means that even with Boykin gone, the Panthers have options at nickel.

On the outside, the Panthers are excited about the potential of rookies James Bradberry and Daryl Worley, but don't forget about veteran Robert McClain, who stepped up big-time in the postseason, taking over as a starter throughout the playoffs when Charles Tillman went down with a knee injury. McClain also has experience at nickel, and linebacker Shaq Thompson played quite well as a nickel at times against Arizona in the NFC Championship.

The Panthers also added an intriguing cornerback prospect in Shaquille Richardson, signed after his participation in rookie minicamp. A fifth-round draft choice of the Steelers two years ago, Richardson is a bigger corner like the rookies, and he ran a 4.4 at the combine.

What position group do you see as viable for upgrades with veteran signings when cuts begin in training camp? I believe offensive line and running back. – Kevin in Fort Carson, Col.

Well, corner is a position to keep an eye even with the options currently onboard. Recall that the Panthers added McClain with three games left in the regular season, a couple of weeks after adding Cortland Finnegan to help at nickel after Benwikere was lost to injury.

Also, I'd keep an eye on the punting situation. The Panthers brought in two punters for their minicamp but didn't sign either of them. The two punters currently on the roster, Swayze Waters and Michael Palardy, have shown they have big legs but haven't previously stuck on NFL rosters come the regular season. Will this be the big break for one, or will the Panthers eventually sign someone with more experience? Stay tuned.

Could No. 1 draft pick Vernon Butler be used as a defensive end? He appears to have that kind of push up the field. – Chip in Kernersville, N.C.

Butler didn't disappoint with the way he moved at rookie minicamp, already having the look of a disruptive force. Lining him up at defensive end seems like a stretch – he weighs 40 pounds more than the Panthers' heaviest end, Charles Johnson – but his quickness should allow him to give headaches to interior linemen.

More than Butler playing end, I could see Johnson moving inside on occasion, pairing with Butler or Kawann Short while speed rushers like Kony Ealy and Mario Addison do their thing on the outside.

The combinations are countless, though I wouldn't count on them including the 323-pound Butler steaming around the edge.

Love your column, Bryan! Why does it take the time that it does to get rookies signed with the signing structure already set up? – Ed in Greensboro, N.C.

In a lot of ways, contracts for drafted rookies are a formality ever since the Collective Bargaining Agreement of 2011 set up a rookie wage scale. This year, it took a little longer for the draft picks to sign for one simple reason – the Panthers held their rookie minicamp two weeks after the draft rather than one. By and large, the draft picks sign shortly after they arrive at Bank of America Stadium for their first camp.

View photos of 2016 rookies as they participate in drills on the second day of minicamp.

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