Countdown to training camp: Special teams

CountdownToTrainingCamp_ST

As the Panthers prepare for training camp, we're going to take a position-by-position look at what to expect when they get to Spartanburg. Today we're taking a look at the special teamers.

CHARLOTTE — Competition is a word that gets thrown around a lot around a football team, but it has special meaning for the Panthers specialists.

As in who has it, and who doesn't.

The Panthers go to training camp with an unexpected duel for the long snapping job, but only one kicker on the roster in Joey Slye.

That could always change, of course, but they have generally been impressed by the work Slye has put in this offseason to become a more consistent kicker.

He has one of the strongest legs in the game, and worked with a sports psychologist (among others) this offseason to hone his craft.

If he makes the kind of improvements on long kicks this season that he made on the mid-range stuff a year ago, they'd be delighted with the progress.

What's new: The Panthers shuffled the special teams deck by using one of their sixth-round picks on Alabama long snapper Thomas Fletcher. He was one of several players they worked with at the Senior Bowl who ended up here, and apparently made a big impression on them.

It's noteworthy since they had a long-time long snapper on the roster already, after re-signing veteran J.J. Jansen this offseason.

Fletcher's the son of a former NFL long snapper, and could become the next fixture at the position if he's better than the other one on the roster. If that turns out to be the case, it will mean he earned it.

J.J. Jansen

What's old: Jansen, literally. At least in football terms. He's the eldest Panther at 35, and the longest-serving. He's also incredibly good at his job, as he hasn't had a bad snap in a game since the 2010 opener.

But logging more than a decade of consistency earned him even more pressure this summer.

It's easy to think this will be an easy decision in favor of the younger and cheaper player, but it might not be.

Jansen's one-year contract came with a team-friendly perk which reduces his cap charge, meaning there's less than a $300,000 difference in cap hits between Jansen's and Fletcher's deals this year. That's less than half the rookie minimum for a player in 2021 ($660,000), so finances won't be the only thing that makes this decision.

They can't keep both of them on the roster all year, but if Jansen's markedly better in camp, there's no reason he can't be the guy.

Joseph Charlton

What we know: There's also another punter in camp, as they brought in undrafted rookie Oscar Draguicevich III to work alongside incumbent Joseph Charlton.

Charlton performed well last year, and there's not much reason to think his job is in particular danger, but nothing is guaranteed this year.

What we don't: They could still bring in other kickers, they've had enough around to keep Slye paying attention.

Whether it was having guys in for minicamp on tryouts or otherwise, they've left the door open for bringing other kickers around.

And realistically, having extra kickers and punters in camp is kind of normal, if only to keep from wearing out your regulars with the extra practice reps.

But with Slye building the confidence in his own game, letting him be the only one on the roster for most of the offseason was at least a subtle hint that the team believes in him, which can't hurt.

What to expect: It's not the kind of thing to trigger cable television hot takes, but keep an eye on the long snapper reps during training camp.

Realistically, one of the two could be traded if another team has an injury, or just wants to upgrade closer to the regular season.

But before Fletcher makes the job his own (potentially for a long time), he has to prove he's as good as Jansen or better. That's not going to be snap, so to speak.

Check out the photos of the 2021 TopCats squad.

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