The Carolina Panthers are in Spartanburg, SC for yet another training camp session. The coaching staff will be taking a closer look at players fighting for a change to make the 53-man roster.
A player could be on the fence for a number of reasons. Perhaps the Panthers could not afford them last year. Maybe they suffered an injury last year. Perhaps they were unprepared when the arrived in Spartanburg last year. What is done, is done. All players participating in training camp sessions this summer will have equal opportunities to showcase their talent. Players that did not make the 53-man roster in previous years will have another opportunity to impress their coaches.
Here is a list of three players that are fighting for a change to make the 53-man roster this year. Their performances at training camp will determine if they suit up week one or spend another year on the practice squad.
Defensive end Wes Horton is working towards his sixth season with the Panthers. He has recorded 69 combined tackles (solo and assisted) and 14 sacks in five seasons with the team. Horton was released in 2015 halfway through the season after he was sidelined the first four games for failing a drug test.
In 2016, the team brought him back. This year he will be finishing out the second year of his two-year contract with the Panthers.
Julius Peppers is locked in as the starting left defensive end and Mario Addison is locked in as the starting right defensive end. The team could choose to keep five defensive ends on the 53-man roster. If that ends up being true, the Panthers would have to pick three guys out of the five possible player options (Horton, Bryan Cox Jr., Daeshon Hall, Marquis Haynes and Drew Iddings).
Cameron-Artis Payne (CAP)
Fans have been anxiously waiting for Cameron-Artis Payne to get more touches on the ball. In three seasons with the Panthers he has appeared in 23 games. He has carried the ball 99 times for 422 yards. CAP is the same height as former Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart and 25 pounds lighter. Both players have averaged 4.3 yards per attempt thus far.
Over the offseason the Panthers lost their No. 1 running back, added Fozzy Whittaker to the injury reserved list and signed two running backs. Coming off of a 1007-yard season, Anderson will likely replace Stewart. Also, Elijah Hood and Kenjon Barner will both have a chance to make the 53-man roster.
The problem is that CAP has a similar running style to Anderson. If the Panthers choose to pick three running backs each with a different play style, that would potentially move CAP to the No. 4 running back, which is borderline practice squad.
The Panthers will likely keep five or six receivers on the 53-man roster this season. Coming off of his best season, Funchess will likely the No. 1 wide receiver. But after Funchess, the depth chart is unclear. The Panthers will have to pick four or five players from the following list of wide receivers: Torrey Smith, D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, Jarius Wright, Damiere Byrd, Jamaal Jones, Fred Ross and Austin Duke.
Smith brings veteran experience to the locker room and speed. He will likely play opposite of Funchess or in the slot.
Wright doesn’t get hyped up as much as some of the other receivers recently signed by the Panthers, but he knows offensive coordinator Norv Turner well, and he has mastered Turner’s system. His relationship with Turner and his ability to move the chains on third down is very valuable.
Rookie D.J. Moore has quickly become one of quarterback Cam Newton’s favorite weapons. He has excellent hands for winning 50-50 balls in the red zone, fast feet, and a stellar work ethic.
If they can stay healthy, Damiere Byrd and Curtis Samuel will likely share slot responsibilities. Byrd has shown enormous potential for the short amount of time he has appeared on the field. At age 25, his vertical speed is very valuable.
Austin Duke was placed on the practice squad last season. As a slot receiver, he has the toughest battle ahead of him. On the bright side, he has shown enough potential to warrant a second look.