Bryan, what do you think are the biggest storylines at camp so far? – David in Concord, N.C.
Among the seemingly countless angles we've already chronicled at Panthers.com less than a week into training camp, three stand out to me:
-- Cam Newton: It always starts with the quarterback, even more so with Newton coming off ankle surgery and the offense around him going through its share of changes. With the wide receivers, offensive line and now even the running backs trying to define their position groups, the offense needs Newton to be as good as he's been in his career. The good news is that once his ankle is fully healed, every indication is that Newton can be better than ever.
-- The secondary: While the front seven on defense (with an honorable mention to the kickers) is the most stable group on the team, the back four is dealing with plenty of turnover. It's dealing with it well so far, with offseason acquisition Antoine Cason shining right along with second-year player Melvin White at cornerback. Undrafted rookie corner Carrington Byndom has also made some notable plays. At safety, veteran additions Roman Harper and Thomas DeCoud have been relatively quiet so far but clearly fit the bill, while second-year player Robert Lester has picked up where he left off. A special shout-out goes to special teams stalwart Colin Jones, who has been making some plays in the secondary.
-- Wide receivers: The guys trying to catch passes from Newton while being defended by the secondary are, as expected, a major storyline. The group has endured an injury scare to first-round draft choice Fozzy Whittaker (LINK) with several players stepping up at different times. No one, however, is yet to consistently stand out. This position should be one to monitor all the way through final cuts.
Speaking of wide receivers…
Bryan, I was at Fan Fest and was really impressed with Brenton Bersin. He has been improving every day since he joined the Panthers. I think this may be his year to finally make the roster. What are your thoughts? – Richard in Fayetteville, N.C.
Head coach Ron Rivera tabbed Bersin as the standout at Fan Fest after Bersin hauled in a long touchdown reception with the aforementioned Byndom draped all over them. The former Wofford standout has slowly but surely made himself into a player who could make the roster. He attended training camp with the Panthers in 2012 but made neither the roster nor the practice squad. Carolina re-signed him in 2013, however, and he earned a spot on the practice squad and made the most of the opportunity. At first, Bersin was the guy who could show newcomers around the Wofford campus; now he's looking like he could possibly find a new home on the Panthers roster.
How does Marcus Lucas look, and will he get an opportunity to show his skills? He had a fantastic senior year at Missouri. – Nathan in Albemarle, N.C.
I'll let Rivera tell you how the 6-4 undrafted rookie has looked so far.
"Marcus is a good, physical receiver who runs good routes and has good hands and shows good concentration," Rivera said. "He's a young guy that's enthusiastic and practices hard. I like his attitude. I like his work ethic. When they're looking for someone on the show team, he's one of the first ones to jump up. That catches your eye as a coach."
How many receivers make the final roster? – Robert in North Carolina
The end of August will spell the end for many of the players fighting for a roster spot, and that's certainly the case at wide receiver where the Panthers currently have 11. Carolina kept just five receivers at last year's cutdown and six in each of the previous three years.
Benjamin obviously isn't going anywhere, but there's not even a guarantee that a trio of talented veterans signed in the offseason (Jericho Cotchery, Jason Avant, Tiquan Underwood) will all survive the cut. There's Marvin McNutt and Tavarres King – prospects that had hardly any role last season but remained on the 53-man roster to protect a possible future with the team. There's Damiere Byrd, who missed the last 24 games because of injuries but who could provide an answer at kickoff return. There's Philly Brown – an undrafted rookie off to a strong start – and Toney Clemons, the only receiver on the roster heading into free agency with an NFL catch to his credit. There's the aforementioned Bersin and Lucas.
The decisions will be difficult.