SPARTANBURG — We're a week into training camp now, and some things are beginning to come into focus.
But since the players haven't put on full pads yet (that'll come Tuesday), there are still plenty of unanswered questions. Actually, there tons of unanswered questions, just based on the responses we've gotten to the mailbag so far. We've had over 100 submitted in the first week, so don't get offended (or think I'm ducking you) if yours doesn't appear, because it might...soon.
We're going to do our best to hit the highlights, and shine as much light as we can on the stuff you're curious about — and it heartens me to know that so many of you are as interested in offensive line play as I am. It also makes me smile to know a couple of you are twisted freaks. I love all my children equally, but I love you (and you know who you are) a little bit more.
Let's get right into the questions:
I just graduated from Wofford in May and I've been a fan since I was a kid. It's funny watching grown men come back to live in college dorms for a few weeks. I can't imagine any of the players actually prefer coming to Wofford instead of training in Charlotte and living in the comfort of their apartments. What's your take on the Panthers' attitudes about coming to Wofford? — Grayson, Fort Mill, SC
Not everyone loves it, but that might just be the guy who was stuck with your old dorm room, Grayson. There are a few things to know. Yes, it's a dorm. But it's a really nice, new, spacious dorm. And they're getting a little extra help with mattresses to make the experience as comfortable and productive as possible. Staffers don't all get that perk, so it's a good opportunity to really explore whether you prefer a mattress with, shall we say, a firmer ride. At the end of the month, you'll know for sure what you like, and you can make an informed decision on future bedding purchases.
Beyond that, everything players need (food, clothing, treatment, etc.) is provided for them by the small army of people it takes to come here and pull it off.
There might be things people grumble about, but the experience is invaluable, from a team-building consideration. Being able to sequester yourself with your co-workers, to get to know them at a different level, to concentrate on getting better at your jobs, and to eliminate distractions is something you can't necessarily do at home when you're sorting through the mail and paying the bills and walking the dog. I know Matt Rhule feels that way, and if I may be so bold as to speak for the digital department, it's true for us too. Going to camp is hard but it's awesome, even if it's a little inconvenient at times and we miss our families and physical comfort and water pressure in the shower.
With the additions made by general manager Scott Fitterer this offseason, who do you see having to prove that they can stay on the 53-man roster? Also, is there a possibility that we bring back Kawann Short on a one-year deal? Neel, Waxhaw, NC
No position underwent a more thorough overhaul than the cornerback room, with Jaycee Horn, A.J. Bouye, and Rashaan Melvin joining Donte Jackson. With a late pick invested in Keith Taylor (who has looked really sharp in camp so far, he moves well for a guy his size), it could get tricky for some of last year's holdovers. A couple of draft picks from 2020, Troy Pride Jr. and Stantley Thomas-Oliver III, will have to do some work to hang around. Pride missing OTAs and minicamp for medical reasons didn't help his case, but he's back for the start of camp. When they talk about making positions competitive, they nailed it at corner.
As for Short, I wouldn't necessarily rule it out. He's reportedly been cleared by doctors and is looking to get back in the league, and neither side burned that bridge when he was released in February. Even the day after the season, when asked about the likelihood of the inevitable cap cut, Short replied: "We're all grown."
If I were a GM, I'd be wary of expecting too much from a guy who has played five games the last two seasons because of injuries. Still, if the price is right, the thought of someone with his talent and experience playing a limited role as a third-down pass-rusher and mentoring young players is intriguing, to say the least.
Who can eat more pork chops — Deonte Brown, Derrick Brown, or Spencer Brown? Or, who would win a pork chop-eating competition between the three Browns and the three Moores (guard David Moore, receiver David Moore, and receiver DJ Moore)? You would think the heavier Brown trio, but I am gonna say the Moores. — Westray, Kershaw, SC
Amazing question. I like the cut of your jib, sir.
I'd preface this answer by suggesting that eating a bunch of pork while going through training camp in Spartanburg is probably a pretty terrible idea. Secondly, Panthers director of performance nutrition Kate Callaway would probably strangle both of us for even bringing it up.
But in the hypothetical world, I feel comfortable going with the Browns. Good big players beat good little ones, and no matter how hungry those receivers are, they aren't taking down more chow than a couple of linemen who could see 700 combined pounds from where they're standing.
And while we're on the topic of Deonte Brown and food, it's worth noting the legitimate concerns about his weight (he was 364 pounds at the Senior Bowl, reported to minicamp at 347, and doesn't appear to have gained). The team seems pretty pleased with how seriously he's taking his nutrition, and how he's approaching his work. The rookie from Alabama has a chance to make a big impression (pun sort of intended here) when pads go on Tuesday, and I'm curious to see how he moves people around.
I'm even more impressed with the mind of Westray. I am naming him our first ever Ask The Old Guy Ambassador to Kershaw. If there's ever merch, Westray is getting the third piece of it (behind me and Hal from Canada who brought the good stuff last week).
Can fans attend the practice games with the Ravens? If so, where and how much? — Sharon, Simpsonville, S.C.
Absolutely, and for the low, low price of free. Both of the practices with the Ravens leading up to the preseason game will be open to fans on the practice fields here at Wofford.
They should be among the most competitive practices of camp, and a good test for the Panthers. It's quite a way to close training camp, against a team that's always aggressive on defense. When you're breaking in a new quarterback, that kind of challenge is helpful.
You may also see this entire amazing digital staff and me, so say hello when you get here.
What goes into the making of a training camp all-star who doesn't pan out? I feel like we've seen a lot of those types over the years; ones who had fans and media alike ready to proclaim league domination during camp only to see it not translate to game action. It's not like all of them were simply going up against lesser competition, either. Some would impress vs. the ones. It seems to happen most years, but it doesn't seem to deter us from looking for the next camp all-star. — Shane, Charlotte
Hope springs eternal is part of it. We love underdog stories and bands no one else has ever heard of, so seeking out fringe players and attributing qualities we hope they have, even if they don't, is natural.
Shane's obviously still salty about investing so heavily in David Gettis and Armanti Edwards jerseys. And he nailed one of the major factors here — it's definitely easier for a third-stringer to look great against other third-stringers, and playing against ones can expose his weaknesses. And some guys simply shrink when faced with a higher level of competition.
Another reason a lot of these guys never make it to the regular season is they're only good at one thing. It's great to make splashy plays in camp, but unless you're making enough to be a starter, you're going to have to play special teams. And a lot of the little-fast or big-fast guys who stand out in individual drills can't help an actual football team cover punts or block for the kickoff return team. It's possible, if not likely, that every team they've ever been on has cut receivers or linebackers with more offensive or defensive potential than Brandon Zylstra or Julian Stanford. Yet, those guys have carved out NFL careers by doing stuff other people can't do.
Why haven't we re-signed Tre Boston? We have a weakness at safety this year. We let him go, and he has not signed anywhere yet (as far as I know). Why wouldn't we bring him back? He can't cost much. — John, Huntersville, NC
John sort of answered his own question. No one else has either. And considering he's still counting as dead money on this year's salary cap, there was obviously a cost-benefit decision made when they released him.
Tre's not a bad player, but the biggest part of the answer is Jeremy Chinn.
With Chinn playing at safety instead of linebacker, the room doesn't look nearly as barren. And the coaching staff likes Juston Burris, as well as the potential of backups Sam Franklin and Myles Hartsfield.
If Chinn was playing linebacker this year, I could understand being interested in Boston. But he's not.
Although obviously, it's something to be considered, do you think they'll eliminate the possibility of Brady Christensen playing left tackle based on arm length? Or at least give him a try there and see if they run with it. I know it's important, but he's athletic and seems a smart player. Given our current situation, he could really be the best option (short and long-term) at that position. — Fernando, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Offensive line play is huge in the Southern Hemisphere.
Christensen has 32 1/4-inch arms. That does not make him a T-Rex that can't do push-ups or anything, but it's not the prototypical size for a left tackle. Being able to reach extremely fast pass-rushers is an important thing, and the longer your arms, the easier it is to get hands on him.
And you're right; Christensen is an exceptional athlete. When they were evaluating him before the draft, they thought he was a second round-level guard and a third-round tackle.
They are giving him reps at right tackle, and that's an easier entry point for a rookie than left tackle. And it doesn't preclude him moving later. Jordan Gross played on the right as a rookie in 2003 during the Super Bowl run, and he turned out OK.
How much better do you think our O-line will be this year? We saw some flashes last year but it is still one of our weakest links. — Steve, Sebastian, Fla.
I think it has a chance to be better. But we have to figure out what it looks like first.
The ongoing question about where Taylor Moton lands is a pertinent one, and whether he switches to the left may be more about whether Cameron Erving is a better left tackle than whether Christensen or Trent Scott is a right tackle.
If the Panthers go with the current conventional-wisdom lineup (from left to right: Erving, Pat Elflein, Matt Paradis, John Miller, Moton), they're at least not worse than last year. But they also have some young parts that they're mixing in.
The Moton- Dennis Daley -Elflein-Brown-Scott grouping they put on the field a few times last week was intriguing, and the kind of group that will look better with pads on. That's a five that should be able to get some push.
But the introduction of rookies Christensen, Brown, and offensive lineman David Moore (even if he ends up on the practice squad this year) gives them more options for the future to go with Moton, and that's what they needed to achieve this offseason.
What do you feel are the weakest and strongest position groups heading into camp? — Bruce, Harrisburg, NC
Because I'd rather light a candle than curse your darkness, I'll answer that question in reverse order, you big sourpuss.
As we mentioned earlier, the cornerback room is strong, stronger than it's been in some time.
And they have a couple of positions that are top-heavier than others, for sure. Bringing Terrace Marshall Jr. in to join DJ Moore and Robby Anderson makes that group top-heavy. The defensive line is also much better than it was a year ago, by adding DaQuan Jones and Morgan Fox to two first-rounders, and continuing to pump draft picks into it.
A lot of people are freaking out about the offensive line, but at least they have options there. The concern for me is linebacker, and when Shaq Thompson left Saturday's night's practice with a little lower-body tightness, it underscored how thin they are at the position. They use linebackers differently here, and they have good outside pressure, but without Shaq on the field, they had two regular season-caliber inside linebackers on the roster in Jermaine Carter and Denzel Perryman. And the next time Perryman plays 16 games in a season will be the first. So that's one spot I'd definitely keep an eye on in the coming weeks.
When will the new Carolina Panthers Practice Facility in Rock Hill open? — Kelvin, Charlotte.
The target date remains 2023, and from the plans and updates I've seen, it should be an impressive property.
There's a lot of time between now and then, so it's too soon to know what that means for the site of future training camps and the like. But I thought it was interesting last week when Moton talked about buying a piece of land in the Steele Creek area, which is conveniently located between Bank of America Stadium and the new facility. They don't have too many dudes on the roster who can make real estate decisions with driving to Rock Hill in mind, but he's one of them.
What does the organizational chart look like? Is it David Tepper > Matt Rhule = Scott Fitterer, or Tepper > Rhule > Fitterer? Are the coach and GM considered equals, or does one report to the other? Based on what I know about how Tepper ran his other businesses, my guess is the latter. — Jay, Hermosa Beach, Calif.
These questions always feel like traps, because it almost suggests a level of conflict or wielding superiority that doesn't appear evident.
To make a long story short, Rhule runs football here. Tepper paid him a lot of money to come here and build something according to his design. He and Fitterer both report to Tepper, but Rhule's in charge. Rhule and Fitterer have a good and complementary relationship, and the chemistry and respect they have shown as they get to know each other seems genuine. But yeah, if you want to make a chart, Rhule is the top non-Tepper name on it.
View photos from Saturday's Back Together practice at Gibbs Stadium in Wofford.