Does the signing of Colin Cole mean we won't draft a defensive tackle? If not a tackle, then what? – George in Charlotte
The fact that the Panthers signed Cole, a former Seattle Seahawks run stopper who last played in 2010, doesn't mean that the idea of selecting a defensive tackle in the April draft is off the table. Given Cole's experience (84 games) and his size (328 pounds), he's an intriguing player worth taking a look at, but signings this time of year rarely lock up a position for a team. The majority of signings prior to the start of the new league year on March 12 involve players that weren't on rosters at the end of last season. This time last year, the Panthers added defensive end Jyles Tucker – who didn't play the previous season – and Canadian Football League kicker Justin Medlock.
That's not to say, of course, that the Panthers will definitely pick a defensive tackle in the first round. At the No. 14 spot, look for them to take the best available player. That's what they've done to perfection the previous two years, choosing quarterback Cam Newton at No. 1 overall in 2011 and linebacker Luke Kuechly at No. 9 in 2012. Both went on to be named the NFL's rookie of the year on their side of the ball.
In the case of Newton, the Panthers did enter the draft seeking a franchise quarterback, but in the case of Kuechly, few felt going into the draft that linebacker was the Panthers' greatest area of need. What they need is as many elite-level football players as possible, and that's what they'll set their sights on again this year. Panthers.com will be there next week for an important part of the process, the annual NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
Will Cam ever be a captain and have that "C" on his jersey? – Shaun in Winston-Salem, N.C.
This very topic came up on a recent edition of Panthers Pulse, our weekly Internet/TV/radio show. Newton's developing leadership skills were on display in the Panthers' season finale at New Orleans, when he returned to the game following an injury to help close out a victory. After the game, he addressed the team in the locker room as a send-off to the offseason.
Quarterbacks are de-facto leaders whether they carry the captain's title or not, and the Panthers' offensive captains in 2012 were left tackle Jordan Gross and wide receiver Steve Smith - two of the most revered players in franchise history. It makes sense that Newton would earn the official designation of captain at some point, but that's up to his peers, as Panthers players vote on team captains prior to each season.
Of the teams the Panthers play next season, what games do you think could have the potential of going primetime? – Richard in Rock Hill, S.C.
That's an interesting question but a tough one to answer because it isn't as simple as determining which matchups are the most attractive on paper. So much goes into the scheduling process, and even after it's all sorted out, the Sunday night primetime lineup can change late in the season because of flex scheduling.
To me, the games that look most worthy of primetime consideration on paper are visits by the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks, the road trip to San Francisco and division matchups with Atlanta and New Orleans. With the expansion of the Thursday Night Football slate in 2012, every team is now guaranteed at least one primetime slot when the schedule is announced in April.
When is training camp going to begin for the Panthers, and what is the likelihood of getting an autograph? – Chris in Fort Benning, Ga.
Training camp dates typically aren't finalized until the summer, but expect the Panthers to descend on Wofford College late in July and remain there until mid-August.
As for that autograph, Chris, I'll see if I can find the time. Oh, perhaps you were referring to getting an autograph from a player? Then, yes, training camp is the place for you, with opportunities abounding on a daily basis.