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Rookies leave good first impression


From your first impressions of the 2013 Carolina Panthers draft class, who stood out to you the most and why? – Fabian in Calipatria, Calif.

During last weekend's rookie minicamp, sixth-round draft pick Kenjon Barner and undrafted rookie Robert Lester caught my eye. While I am genuinely excited about both, I would take this with a big grain of salt (if there is such a thing as a "big grain") because both were in better spots to stand out than some of their teammates. Given the lack of live contact and offense-versus-defense plays allowed at the camp, the players allowed to "interact" with the football like Barner at running back and Lester at safety were in better position to be noticed than defensive linemen like top draft picks Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. Barner took advantage, showcasing his speed and shiftiness during pass-and-catch drills. So did Lester, looking fluid going after lofted balls during defensive back drills.

It's not as easy in that format for defensive tackles to catch your eye, though Lotulelei and Short certainly displayed a hint of their power at the expense of tackling dummies.

How does the CFL's No. 1 pick compare to the Panthers' No. 1 pick Star Lotulelei? – Justin in Mollie, N.C.

You're referring to defensive tackle Linden Gaydosh, the No. 1 overall pick in last week's Canadian Football League draft who scored a tryout with the Panthers. Monday, Gaydosh became one of nine tryout players added to the Panthers' 90-man roster.

Lotulelei's track record speaks for itself, and I firmly believe the Panthers snagged the most complete defensive tackle in the draft class with the No. 14 overall pick. Gaydosh was eligible for the NFL Draft but wasn't selected; nonetheless, he's an intriguing prospect. His 33.5-inch vertical jump at the CFL combine was better than any verticals logged by defensive tackles at the NFL combine, and his 36 bench-press reps would have been third most among defensive tackles. For comparison, Lotulelei recorded 38 bench-press reps and a 30-inch vertical at his pro day.

Why did the Panthers draft only one offensive lineman, even though we were in the top five for most sacks? – Jaylen in Charlotte

A couple of things here. First, the Panthers actually were smack-dab in the middle of the league in sacks allowed in 2012, tied with two teams for 16th with 36. Second, they only had five picks in the draft, so selecting one offensive lineman – Edmund Kugbila in the fourth round – qualifies as addressing the position in my mind. The Panthers also signed a couple of interesting guard prospects as undrafted free agents in Robert Jones and Tori Mobley and added center Brian Folkerts from the pool of tryout players.

The biggest improvement for the line this season should come from simply being able to start the 2013 season healthy. With Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil missing the final 11 games last season with a foot injury and veteran guard Geoff Hangartner out for four games with foot and knee injuries, the Panthers employed six different starting line combinations over the last 12 games.

With all the competition in the defensive backfield, who is the frontrunner to start opposite Charles Godfrey at the safety position? – Jeremiah in North Wilkesboro, N.C.

Fitting that this question comes from North Wilkesboro not because of any allusions to racing but rather because this is a question fit for secondary coach/passing defense coordinator Steve Wilks(boro). That's beyond a terrible pun. I'll move on.

Anyway, I recently discussed the state of the secondary with Wilks. He expressed his opinion that Godfrey will thrive at free safety after moving there from strong safety late last season. Candidates abound at the other spot, from late-season starter D.J. Campbell to free agent acquisition Mike Mitchell to Lester. Wilks also talked about the wide-open race at cornerback, an Ask Bryan question posed by Brandon in Center Valley, Pa., among others. Be sure to check out the article.

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