Training camp goals
1. Expand the offense. Quarterback Cam Newton will have a target on his chest this year. After a record-breaking rookie season, the Panthers know Newton has to keep adding to his arsenal if they're going to have a chance. The goal is to keep adding wrinkles to Rob Chudzinski's offense through the run and the pass. If wide receiver Steve Smith can continue at his 2011 level, and Brandon LaFell can build on his progress, they have a good shot. The third receiver is up in the air, though David Gettis has the inside track, and could add a new element with his size and downfield speed. There will still be a heavy emphasis on the run game, as they mix and match running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart with new fullback Mike Tolbert, putting them out there in combinations to keep opponents guessing.
2. Find a defensive line. Pity poor defensive end Charles Johnson, the only known commodity. He's coming off a down season, but he's still the best part of a unit that has declined in recent years. The Panthers are hoping to get tackle Ron Edwards back on the field, and figure out how to mix and match the odd collection of parts left behind when he was hurt last year. They hope 2011 third-rounders Terrell McClain and Sione Fua step up, and they have high hopes for Frank Kearse. It's just as muddled on the outside, as they're counting on end Greg Hardy to make a big step, and crossing their fingers fourth-rounder Frank Alexander can be the third end.
On the hot seat
Free safety Sherrod Martin. The former second-rounder has exceptional range and has shown a willingness to make big hits. But he also gives up big plays, and came under fire last season for a number of mental errors that resulted in touchdowns. They brought in free agent Haruki Nakamura from Baltimore as insurance. Ed Reed's old backup is a good player in his own right, but Martin has the talent they want to keep on the field. If it's not, the Panthers will likely make a change, and go with the hard-hitting special teamer.
Strategy and personnel
It seems like every time a veteran wide receiver was looking for work in recent years, the Panthers were floated as a possibility.But while they might not have had a true complement to Smith since Muhsin Muhammad retired, they've never shown as much interest as folks might think.
The latest example is Plaxico Burress, who stoked the flames himself. He went on a Charlotte radio station and said he'd love to play for the Panthers, partly because he has family in the area.
The only problem? The feeling isn't mutual.
Panthers decision-makers have made clear they're not interested in adding him. They'd rather focus this year on the development of LaFell, who looked like a solid No. 2 last year, and gets the chance now that place-holder Legedu Naanee was allowed to walk.
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