Training Camp Primer

Training Camp starts this weekend in Spartanburg, S.C., so what are the goals, who should you keep an eye on, and who is on the hot seat?

TRAINING CAMP GOALS

1. Expand the offense. Quarterback Cam Newton will have a target on his chest this year, and they know it. 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. So the goal is to keep adding wrinkles to Rob Chudzinski's offense, both 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 declined in recent years. The Panthers are hoping to get defensive 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 defensive end Greg Hardy making a big step, and crossing their fingers fourth-rounder Frank Alexander can be the third end.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Right tackle Jeff Otah. If the former first-round pick can stay well and be motivated, the Panthers could have the makings of a dominant line. However, health and motivation have never been givens with Otah, who has played four games the last two seasons combined. But he's entering a contract year, and has been given time to heal. If it's ever going to happen for him, it's this year. They're going to give him a chance, but have worked him with the backups in the spring to make the message clear - He'll have to earn his way back. If he can't go, they're going to have to patch in with Byron Bell, and that's a significant drop-off. The former undrafted rookie was game last year, but doesn't have the same kind of size or strength as Otah.

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's also shown a tendency to give 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, perhaps just to push him but possibly to replace him. Ed Reed's old backup is a good player in his own right, but Martin has the kind of talent they want to keep on the field, so long as it's focused better than it was last year. If it's not, they'll likely make a change, and go with the hard-hitting special teamer.


Panther Insider Top Stories