It's going to be a very interesting Pre-Season for the Panthers this year. Gone are the days of predicting what's going to happen based on Fox's propensity to stick with the Vets...because well, there almost are no vets! It's a young team, but one brimming with talent and athleticism, and a team that I feel will bring out some of Fox's best coaching.
Here is a look at what I personally view as the major position battles for this upcoming season. (This post was getting kinda long so I split it up into Offense and Defense)
This one is pretty obvious and is probably the most talked about Panther's position nationally. As the starter it comes down to Matt Moore or Jimmy Clausen. The most likely scenario is that Moore starts unless he completely implodes during the Pre-Season. He earned the right to start at the end of last year and I don't foresee Fox giving the starting nod to Jimmy Swagger unless Moore does horribly or the team is out of contention. As far as backup don't sleep on Hunter Cantwell or Tony Pike as the team holds both players in high regard and I doubt either would make it through Waivers to the Practice Squad.
Winner: Matt Moore
Backups: Jimmy Clausen and Hunter Cantwell
Practice Squad: Tony Pike (while he has a lot of upside he is a project and most likely to make it through Waivers although I doubt he would)
Steve Smith is the obvious and unchallenged WR1. WR2, however, is much more interesting. It will most likely come down to the perennially underachieving Dwayne Jarrett and two 3rd Round rookies in Brandon LaFell and Armanti Edwards. Jarrett will be given every opportunity to succeed and the hope is that he will seize the day and live up to the potential he has flashed now that Muhammad is gone. Another wrinkle is that he does have a new position coach this year and the hope is that a new direction might be just what he needs. Though if he should falter, Brandon LaFell is the most likely replacement. He has the size and athleticism to replace Muhammad's production and is willing and very capable to do downfield blocking for the RBs, which is huge in the Panther's offense. The dark horse is Edwards who has tons of athletic ability, but he is still learning the WR position as he played QB in college. While the upside for Edwards is huge and fans would love to see the second coming of Steve Smith, the likelihood is that Edwards makes his impact this year as a Slot Receiver, Punt Returner, and - potentially - as a Wildcat QB. There are a few other notable WRs on the roster including David Gettis, Kenneth Moore, and Wallace Wright, but I don't see any of them cracking the starting lineup unless a spot is opened via injury.
Winner: Brandon LaFell
Backup: Dwayne Jarrett (although if he doesn't win the starting job, my hope is that they'd trade him for depth elsewhere)
Slot: Armanti Edwards
There will be a new starter at RG this year with last year's starter, Keydrick Vincent, not being resigned. This position comes down to three people: Mackenzy Bernadeau, Duke Robinson, and Geoff Schwartz. Bernadeau has the edge early as he filled in very capably last year at LG after Jordan Gross' injury caused a lot of line shuffling. However, Robinson and Schwartz will both be given a chance to earn the starting nod. Robinson was a mini-project draft pick a few years ago. He has the physical tools to be dominant but some character and motivation concerns dropped his stock, but if he were to put it all together he could be one of the dominant RGs in the game. Schwartz is a massive Offensive Tackle who played surprisingly well at RT at the end of last season as a sub for the injured Jeff Otah. Any of the three could win this spot and be very effective, but I can't help but salivate at the prospects of the 330lb Robinson or the 330lb Schwartz opening up running lanes beside the 330lb Otah. I can make reasons for all 3, but in the end I think Bernadeau wins out because of the trust he earned last year. However, my personal hope is that Robinson lives up to his potential and starts at RG, Bernadeau is the primary G and C backup, while Schwartz remains as the primary T backup.
Winner: Mackenzy Bernadeau