Sports

Top 5: Carolina Panthers To Watch For In Summer Training Camp 2014

By Tyler Blackshaw
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(Photo by Brian A. Westerholt/Getty Images)

(Photo by Brian A. Westerholt/Getty Images)

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As the summer days start to heat up, so does the Carolina Panthers’ offseason. With training camp just around the corner we’re taking a look ahead at the top 5 players to watch for in the upcoming weeks.

Nate Chandler: While Steve Smith’s departure might have garnered the most attention from the fans, it was likely Jordan Gross’s retirement that will make the biggest impact on the upcoming season. The All-Pro Tackle was chosen 8th overall in the 2003 NFL Draft and was immediately placed into a starting role. He had been the anchor for Carolina’s offensive line since. This season will be the changing of the guard (err Tackle) for the Panthers as they will rely on either Chandler or Byron Bell to block Newton’s blindside.

Nate Chandler came into the league in 2012 as an undrafted defensive lineman out of UCLA. The 25 year old made the switch to the offensive side of the ball last season after the Panthers drafted Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short in the first two rounds of the 2013 draft. Due to injuries, Chandler ended up starting 8 games on the O-line. After a strong minicamp in June, Chandler was rewarded with a 3 year extension. The young tackle has been reaping praise for his athleticism and strength and now looks to win the vacant starting left tackle position. Hall of Fame tackle Jackie Slater feels he can do it stating, “There’s no doubt in my mind he’s a top left tackle.” He’ll need to be in order to protect the franchise star, Cam Newton. Luckily, Chandler will have plenty of practice by going head-to-head with Greg Hardy every day.

Kelvin Benjamin: The Panthers’ top pick in the draft this offseason comes in to July with a ton of pressure to perform. Carolina saw the departure of their top four wide receivers this past offseason, including fan-favorite Steve Smith. At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, Benjamin is a tantalizing prospect with a monster catch radius. His size alone with make for matchup nightmares and he should be a red zone weapon for Cam Newton right out of the gate. He has also reportedly been spending time with Cam off the field in order to grow, the ever important, chemistry together. However, questions about his route running and hands have been raised. It’ll be interesting to see how Benjamin progresses and what type of impact can he makes early on.

Josh Norman: Last offseason, Josh Norman looked like the next superstar defensive back in the league. He racked up 10 deflected passes, 4 interceptions, and a touchdown. However, a blown assignment in Week 2 against Buffalo that cost Carolina the game relegated him to the bench for the remainder of the season. Now the question remains, can Norman get back to his past form and find himself a spot in the lineup? If so, he could help sure up the secondary and make an ever better Panthers’ defense than last year.

Brandon Williams: Despite having a team with Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, Greg Hardy, and now Kelvin Benjamin, the most imposing figure coming off the bus might be tight end Brandon Williams. He’s 6-4, weighs in at 250 pounds of pure muscle, and blazed a 4.5 40 yard dash. Williams was a former basketball star and a true project when the Panthers scooped him up last season. Now in his second professional season, the 26 year old will hope to find a way into being a major contributor for the Panthers’ offense.

Cam Newton: The rest of the names on this list are there because they are in position battles and/or hope to make a difference in the upcoming season. Cam has no worries in these regards. The playmaking star quarterback will undoubtedly be starting under center come September 7th when Carolina opens against Tampa Bay. Newton is on the list to see how he performs after an offseason ankle surgery and with a brand new cast of wide receivers. Newton was unable to take meaningful snaps during minicamp and thus missed out on developing a rapport with the new receivers. He will have to make up for lost time in training camp while simultaneously testing out his freshly healed ankle. When fans see a Cam Newton at 100% on Fan Fest expect to hear an audible sigh of relief that can be discerned throughout the Carolinas.

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