OHER'S NEW OPPORTUNITY
Arguably the biggest X-factor for the 2015 Panthers is the left tackle spot. Byron Bell manned the position last year following the retirement of mainstay Jordan Gross, and now Carolina has turned to free-agent signing Michael Oher, who struggled with a toe injury and never felt like a fit in his lone year with the Tennessee Titans. The Panthers are optimistic about Oher on every level – teammates, coaches and the front office were all impressed with how quickly he adapted during offseason training activities.
We're all anxious to see how Oher responds when the pads come on during training camp. If the former first-round pick performs well, the Panthers will have found the missing piece to an up-and-coming offensive line.
WHICH D-END RISES TO THE TOP?
A prime spot in the Panthers defense is there for the taking. Who wants to be the three-down lineman opposite defensive end Charles Johnson? Head coach Ron Rivera would like to see that question answered during training camp.
"We want one guy to take the position and make it his own and just rotate everybody else," Rivera said. "We don't have that (one guy) right now, so for now it's by committee."
And it will stay by committee if that proves to be the best option. Still, Wes Horton, Mario Addison, Kony Ealy and Frank Alexander make up what will be a very competitive committee down in Spartanburg.
SHAQ A SECRET WEAPON
First-round draft picks don't often get to fly under the radar but linebacker Shaq Thompson seems to be doing just that. After missing a large portion of OTAs due to coursework requirements at the University of Washington, the mild-mannered Thompson enters training camp without the typical buzz surrounding a first-round pick. But he's an explosive talent with a diverse skill set. It'll be fascinating to see how defensive coordinator Sean McDermott utilizes him.
WHAT DOES TILLMAN HAVE LEFT?
Can cornerback Charles Tillman, who has played just 10 games over the past two seasons, stay healthy and return to his Pro Bowl form?
"I have a lot left in the tank," Tillman said when he signed as an unrestricted free agent after 12 seasons with the Bears.
If Tillman plays the way he did throughout his career in Chicago, it will provide a substantial boost to the entire secondary, not to mention a respected leader who has just about seen it all.
Two years ago, veteran offensive lineman Geoff Hangartner spoke to the media at training camp and said he was convinced Amini Silatolu had Pro Bowl potential. A career with so much promise has been sidetracked by injury.
Silatolu played in just three games in 2013 after suffering a torn right anterior cruciate ligament. In 2014, he suffered calf and knee injuries and played in seven games while rookies Trai Turner and Andrew Norwell emerged as a young guard duo with a high ceiling.
Where does that leave Silatolu – a former second-round pick? His fourth training camp will give us an indication.
HOW QUICKLY WILL FUNCHESS ADAPT?
Kelvin Benjamin raised the bar for young, high-profile wide receivers in Carolina during training camp last year. He immediately turned heads with his massive frame and catch radius. After just a couple practices, it was clear he was Carolina's No.1 wide receiver.
Devin Funchess wasn't a first-round pick like Benjamin, but the second-round draft choice from Michigan will face those comparisons – fair or not, accurate or not. They are different players with different strengths and weaknesses, but like Benjamin, Funchess will be expected to make his presence felt early.
WHAT TO DO WITH ALL THESE LINEBACKERS
A.J. Klein and Adarius Glanton each started games last season. Jason Trusnik was signed to enhance the special teams and compete for a starting job. Fifth-round pick David Mayo may come from small-school Texas State, but he has the physical attributes to play, and play early. Reserves Ben Jacobs and Kevin Reddick have each made solid contributions on special teams.
That's a lot of depth, and that means a lot of competition.