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Panthers camp battles to know: McCaffrey looks to shine while kickers intrigue


(247 Sports)
The Carolina Panthers are only a few days away from beginning training camp in Spartanburg, S.C.
While most of the media attention will be on the Panthers' general manager situation and the status of Cam Newton's surgically-repaired right shoulder, a number of Carolina players will be fighting for a starting gig or their roster spot.
Here are the Panthers' most heated training camp battles to watch.

1. Right tackle

With Michael Oher having been released, third-year pro Daryl Williams and second-round rookie Taylor Moton are scheduled to battle for the starting job. While Williams, who started 10 games at the position last season, enters camp as the favorite, the former fourth-round pick struggled with his pass protection last season, though his run blocking was solid. Moton has better size and could have more upside long-term, but he will have to latch on and get adjusted quickly to supplant Williams.

2. Backup safety

While the Panthers have their starting safeties penciled in with Kurt Coleman and Mike Adams, their backups are relatively an unknown. LJ McCray has gotten some run this offseason as a potential surprise, though he's been unable to stay healthy for much of his NFL career. Former undrafted free agent Dean Marlowe is a favorite of Panthers' coaches, though he too, has struggled with injuries. Colin Jones has the most experience and his special teams expertise gives him a strong chance to make the team once again. Former Falcons defender Dezmen Southward will also compete for a spot.

3. Third wide receiver

The top two spots are virtually locked up between Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess, but a number of players will be battling for playing time from there. Ideally, the Panthers will want second-round draft pick Curtis Samuel to run away with the No. 3 position and become a key contributor as a slot receiver, but Carolina has high hopes for free agent signee Russell Shepard. The Panthers also signed speedy wide out Charles Johnson from the Vikings to help replace Ted Ginn Jr.'s deep threat ability. After that, Damiere ByrdBrenton Bersin and Keyarris Garrett, among others, will be battling just to find a way onto the 53-man roster.

4. Running back

Plenty of eyes will be on Panthers' rookie first-round selection Christian McCaffrey during training camp, especially after the former Heisman Trophy candidate missed virtually all of OTAs and minicamp. But veteran Jonathan Stewart isn't going to hand over his starting position that easily. Look for McCaffrey and Stewart to each have their days to shine in training camp. Behind them, veteran Fozzy Whittaker, former Auburn back Cameron Artis-Payne and former undrafted player Jalen Simmons will fight for the third running back spot.

5. Placekicker

Perhaps the most intriguing competition of any position could be at placekicker, where veteran Graham Gano will square off against seventh-round selection Harrison Butker. Gano sputtered at the beginning and end of last season, missing a handful of clutch kicks that cost the Panthers games. But he's been largely dependable over his stay with Carolina, and he's proven he can be a capable NFL kicker, which means Butker will have to put together a very productive training camp to unseat Gano. Butker was one of the NCAA's most accurate kickers during his tenure at Georgia Tech, though his range might not be as great as Gano's.



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