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Offensive line could be on draft radar


Mr. Strickland, why is no one talking about the possibility of the Panthers selecting an offensive lineman in the first round of the draft? Mr. Gettlemen hinted in is first press conference that the number one priority is to protect Cam Newton. – Josh in Concord, N.C.

You may not be hearing a lot of chatter, because offensive linemen don't often create a lot of draft buzz - but it's certainly a way the Panthers could go.

"In terms of building a team, you need a quarterback, you need touchdown scorers, you need pass rushers," general manager Dave Gettleman said at his introductory press conference. "And I'll give (Giants head coach) Tom Coughlin credit for teaching me that big men allow you to compete. That to me is a winning structure."

The Panthers have their quarterback in Newton and a pair of potent pass rushers in Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy. They could use some more touchdown scorers (like most everyone). They also recognize the importance of the guys in the trenches, along both the offensive and defensive lines.

There are a handful of offensive linemen that could be considered with the No. 14 overall pick, including a couple that would be difficult to pass on if they were to drop into the Panthers' lap.

Why is Derek Anderson still on the roster? Why is the depth chart not showing anything? – Jake in Newton, N.C.

Anderson, a reliable backup behind Newton the last two seasons, is among the team's 11 potential unrestricted free agents but is under contract for now. If the Panthers don't extend Anderson's contract before the new league year begins at 4 p.m. ET on March 12, he will be free to sign with any team. That was the case last year as well, when Anderson became a free agent but was re-signed a week into free agency.

The roster posted on currently includes Anderson and the team's other potential free agents, among them defensive tackle Dwan Edwards, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, wide receiver Louis Murphy and safety Sherrod Martin. The depth chart is blank because the Panthers don't play again until August and the roster will undergo a multitude of changes between now and then.

Who do you think are the most important free agents we need to re-sign this year? In my opinion, it's Dwan Edwards and Captain Munnerlyn. – Sean in Middletown, N.J.

It's hard to argue with those two. Edwards was very effective last season at defensive tackle, a position the Panthers will be looking to improve this offseason. Munnerlyn played well as the nickel early in the season and performed well as a starter when he replaced an injured Chris Gamble six weeks into the season.

Edwards and Munnerlyn accounted for 25 of the 45 starts in 2012 recorded by the Panthers' 11 potential unrestricted free agents. Murphy and tight ends Gary Barnidge and Ben Hartsock each started five games, while versatile defensive end Antwan Applewhite and linebacker/special teams standout Jason Phillips combined to start five games.

I'm related to Nate Chandler! My grandfather told me that he is my fifth cousin! Do you see Nate becoming a force on the Panthers' defensive line in future years? – Spencer in Rochester, N.H.

Chandler has a chance because of his versatility. The Panthers signed him as an undrafted rookie free agent to play at tackle, but used him at end over the second half of the season after promoting him from the practice squad.

He still hasn't reached his full potential, having first played defense as a junior at UCLA. It's difficult to project Chandler's future at this early juncture, but I know of one fan that certainly will be pulling hard for him.

After going through growing pains in the 2012 season, do you think it's time for the Panthers to return to the playoffs? – T.J. in Kings Mountain, N.C.

It's fitting that you chose the term "growing pains." Remember that the Panthers won just two games in 2010 before scratching out six victories in 2011 and finishing strong to win seven in 2012.

The Panthers won four of six to close the 2011 season but started slow in 2012. They won five of six to end 2012 and now have a better understanding of what it will take to avoid another slow start.

"I would like to believe that after two years, we've really grown," head coach Ron Rivera recently said at the NFL Scouting Combine. "We learned a lot from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. The last seven weeks of the season is indicative of what we can become. We've got to be able to start from there."

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