Goals for Training Camp

There are three key goals the Panthers must accomplish to ensure a successful season.

1. Find a running back rotation.
The most intriguing question for the Panthers entering camp will be how Stephen Davis recovers from knee surgery. Davis missed all but two games last season and needed microfracture surgery, forcing him to go on injured reserve. He has begun running and hopes to practice with his teammates near the start of training camp. It's likely the Panthers will continue to bring Davis along slowly and he could receive limited reps early in the regular season even if he looks healthy. That likely means DeShaun Foster will get the bulk of carries this season, at least early on. Foster, however, has also had trouble staying on the field, finishing two of his three seasons in the league on injured reserve. The Panthers drafted Eric Shelton from Louisville in the second round this year because they believe he runs a lot like Davis and could be his eventual successor as a power running back.

2. Establish continuity on the offensive line.
Once again the Panthers are faced with changes on the offensive line. They believe they've solved their right tackle position by moving Jordan Gross back to that spot, but the big question is whether or not second-year player Travelle Wharton can handle Jake Delhomme's blind spot at left tackle. Wharton started 11 games last season at left guard and played well enough to show the coaches something. Wharton spent four years at South Carolina playing left tackle, so he's no stranger to the position. Mike Wahle represents a major free agent pickup and he will stay at left guard for now. The only two players playing the same position as last year will be center Jeff Mitchell and right guard Tutan Reyes. It took the Panthers about eight games last year to develop some continuity on the offensive line. Once they found, Jake Delhomme was able to light up opposing defenses and the Panthers won six of their final eight games. The only potential change this year on the line is at right guard where rookie Evan Mathis could challenge Reyes, who played through injuries all of last season. Look for offensive line coach Mike Maser to pick a starting five early and try to stick with it to develop some continuity.

3. Get off the field on third downs.
The Panthers have a strong front seven, but their secondary let them down for the most part in 2004, especially early in last season. Carolina opponents converted 46 percent on their third downs last year, the worst mark in the NFC. That's why the Panthers felt the need to bring in Ken Lucas, who got a $36 million contract. In so doing, Ricky Manning Jr. will be shifted to a backup role as a nickel back. But Manning will play an important role in the defense since three corners are regularly used in today's NFL. The Panthers have also added safety Thomas Davis in the first-round of the NFL draft and he should improve the overall team speed on defense. Davis is likely to move from safety to linebacker on third downs. Carolina's defensive line should take care of itself and do its part on third downs, providing defensive end Mike Rucker is able to elevate his game this year. The Panthers did do a great job of forcing turnovers in the second half of '04, forcing a remarkable 29 turnovers in a seven-game stretch from Week 9 to Week 15. However, in the final game of the regular season when the Panthers needed them the most, they were unable to come with any turnovers and lost to the New Orleans Saints and missed a shot at the playoffs.

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