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Kalil, Olsen may expand leadership role


With the departures of Jordan Gross and Steve Smith, two long-time captains, who do you see stepping into a leadership role outside of the obvious choices of Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Cam Newton? – Elliott in Charlotte

At this early juncture in the offseason, two names stand out above the rest: center Ryan Kalil and tight end Greg Olsen.

Kalil is entering his eighth NFL season, all with the Panthers, behind only Davis and running back DeAngelo Williams in terms of current continuous service. He had always chosen to stay a step behind Gross when it came to taking on a leadership role but began stepping up last season, when he was a team captain for the first time (incidentally, Newton and Kuechly also were first-time captains in 2013). When the Panthers returned to Bank of America Stadium for the offseason workout program in April, three players addressed the media: Newton, Kuechly and Kalil.

Olsen is also entering his eighth NFL season, his fourth with the Panthers. Olsen, selected by the media as recipient of the 2013 Tom Berry Good Guy Award, has always been willing to impart his vast knowledge to the media and has done so more and more in the locker room as his tenure has increased. Like Kalil, Olsen is a student of the game, and it obviously doesn't hurt his credibility that he led the team in receptions, yards and receiving touchdowns last season.

On defense, it's going to be interesting to track who assumes a leadership role in the revamped secondary. Charles Godfrey was asserting himself before a season-ending injury early last season, and now the Panthers have added 20 seasons of NFL experience between safeties Roman Harper and Thomas DeCoud and cornerback Antoine Cason.

The Panthers have been quiet about Cam being a finalist for Madden 15 cover. Where is the rally cry to support Cam? Let's get the Panthers and Cam on the cover!!! – Al in Bakersfield, Calif.

I think you just provided the rally cry. Seriously, though, the "Cam-Pain" has been in full force across the Panthers' social media platforms, and Newton himself has taken to YouTube to issue a challenge to fellow finalist Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks.

Newton also reached the finals two years ago before Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson prevailed. You can help put Newton over the top this time by voting through Friday, the same day the winner will be announced on the 6 p.m. SportsCenter on ESPN.

What happened to guards Travelle Wharton and Geoff Hangartner? Are they still with the team? – James in Spring Lake, N.C.

Wharton, picked by the Panthers in the third round of the 2004 draft, re-signed with Carolina just before the start of last season after spending one year with the Cincinnati Bengals and ended up starting the final 12 games at left guard. He hasn't yet decided whether to retire but visited with the Panthers Pulse crew last week to discuss his decision-making process.

Hangartner, who re-signed with the Panthers midway through last season and provided invaluable depth down the stretch, announced his retirement after the season. A fifth-round pick by the Panthers in 2005, Hangartner played seven of his nine NFL seasons in Carolina.


On the lighter side, who has the biggest hair, Kenjon Barner or Tiquan Underwood? – Richard in High Point, N.C.

Sorry Kenjon, but it's not really a contest. Underwood not only has the biggest hair on the team; he may well have the biggest hair in the entire NFL.

From the look of things so far in organized team activities, the Panthers' decision to sign Underwood wasn't some sort of harebrained scheme. In addition to the hair on his head, he's got a good head on his shoulders, not to mention speed to burn.

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