Three position battles to watch


1. Wide Receiver: Following the final practice before Friday's preseason opener, head coach Ron Rivera outlined his "first group of guys" at wide receiver, presumably Kelvin Benjamin, Ted Ginn Jr., Jerricho Cotchery, Corey Brown and Devin Funchess. Rivera also told reporters that the team could end up carrying six or seven receivers when camp breaks. The advantage would likely go to players with NFL experience like Brenton Bersin, Jarrett Boykin and Mike Brown, but rookies Damiere Byrd, Avius Capers and Paul Browning  have shown to be more than capable. Bersin made his only catch count in Friday's game, snagging a 12-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Byrd and Browning also played a big role in the game-winning drive.


2. Defensive End:  Veteran Charles Johnson is locked in as the top edge rusher and will see action on both sides of the defensive line. The team will likely use a rotation opposite Johnson, but between Frank Alexander, Wes Horton, Mario Addison and Kony Ealy, one defensive end could rush to the top of the depth chart. Ealy and Alexander got the start with the first-team defense on Friday night, but expect this battle to heat up once Johnson returns from a nagging calf injury.


3. Linebacker:Despite being drafted in the first round, it is not a certainty that Shaq Thompson will open the year as the starter alongside Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. With Thompson missing out on valuable training camp snaps due to a hamstring injury, A.J. Klein and Adarius Glanton have stepped up. Glanton started the final two regular season games last season and recorded six tackles in the preseason opener on Friday night. Third-year player A.J. Klein provides the versatility to play both inside and outside linebacker and excels in stopping the run. Either could start the year at outside linebacker as rookie Shaq Thompson gets comfortable with the pro game. Jason Trusnik, Ben Jacobs and Kevin Reddick, plus rookies David Mayo and Brian Blechen are among those competing for a roster spot. Special teams ability could be the determining factor in how this position group looks in Week 1.

Other players to watch: S Dean Marlowe, OL Martin Wallace, TE Marcus Lucas, RB Brandon Wegher, CB Carrington Byndom, DE Rakim Cox.

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