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Training camp takeaways


CHARLOTTE – We don't have all the answers, but training camp answered some questions.

"I think the future for this team is bright," head coach Ron Rivera said after camp concluded Tuesday. "It's heading in the right direction.

"But you won't know until you start playing."

After three weeks at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., the Panthers have a better sense of who can be counted on to determine those outcomes.

And as much as training camp is about coming together, separation plays an equally important role in shaping a team's identity.

Leaders separate themselves from the pack. Starters separate themselves in position battles.  

Here's a rundown of some training camp takeaways.

CAM LEADING: More experience has seemingly brought out more leadership in quarterback Cam Newton.

"I really like how Cam is really starting to step up and exhibit that leadership that you're looking for from your quarterback when he's on the field," Rivera said. "He's still growing, he's still maturing, but he did a lot of good things in this camp."

Teammates say Newton's been more vocal and more confident as he enters his third season.

Newton said he's just doing his job as a teammate.

"Everybody has a microphone on this team, and I think that's what makes this team very unique," he said. "We have our key leaders that people look to for leadership, but at times, anybody can motivate."

You can bet Newton will be one of the key leaders the Panthers look to in 2013.

RECEIVERS RISING: Fourth-year wide receiver Armanti Edwards was the first name out of Rivera's mouth when asked who surprised him in training camp.

"Armanti has really surprised us," Rivera said.

Before a hamstring injury kept him from practicing in the final days of camp, Edwards consistently made plays.

The fluidity of his routes was noticeable. So was the increased confidence.

And fellow-wideout Brandon LaFell was well aware.

"Armanti has been pushing me the most," LaFell said. "Every time I go out there and make a play, he'll come back and make a play and everybody will forget about what I did.

"The way he's made strides over these four years – it's great to see him come into his own."

The same could be said for LaFell, who had a productive camp and continues to improve as the No. 2 receiver behind Steve Smith.

SAFETIES SETTLING: The battle for the starting strong safety job was a major storyline heading into camp, and one player appears to have taken hold of it.

"Mike Mitchell is stepping forward," Rivera said.

Mitchell brings a physical presence to the defensive backfield. He constantly mixed it up with members of the offense, playing right on the edge. The Panthers secondary can benefit and feed off that intensity.

And Mitchell is forming a solid partnership with free safety Charles Godfrey, the veteran leader of the defensive backs who made his voice heard throughout camp.

O-LINE QUESTIONS: It was a surprise to see veteran lineman Geoff Hangartner released during training camp. Garry Williams has since stepped in as the first-team right guard, and Rivera has been excited about his growth.

"I like to think we're answering the question at right guard," Rivera said. "Garry Williams has done a great job."

Injuries hit the offensive line hard in camp. Tackle Bruce Campbell is likely lost for the season due to a rotator cuff injury, and rookie guard Edmund Kugbila missed all but one practice due to a hamstring injury.

Because of those injuries, depth could be a concern, but Rivera has been encouraged with what he's seen from recently converted defensive lineman Nate Chandler –now the backup left tackle.  

FRONT 7 GOOD AS ADVERTISED: We knew that coming in, and training camp further solidified the notion.

Defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy were a nightmare to contain before the team upgraded the interior by drafting Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. Both rookies are poised to make an early impact.

Luke Kuechly leads a deep, talented linebacker group that will benefit greatly from the disruptive down linemen in front of them.

Linebacker Chase Blackburn has stepped in seamlessly, and rookie A.J. Klein – labeled Luke Kuechly 2.0 by Rivera – has clearly made a nice impression.

How good can this defense be when Jon Beason returns to join Kuechly and Thomas Davis in the starting lineup?

Hopefully, we'll find out soon.

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