Three offensive Carolina Panthers to watch in training camp

TAMPA, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 02: Curtis Samuel #10 of the Carolina Panthers runs for eight yards in the third quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on December 02, 2018 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Will Vragovic/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 02: Curtis Samuel #10 of the Carolina Panthers runs for eight yards in the third quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on December 02, 2018 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Will Vragovic/Getty Images) /

The Carolina Panthers have tons of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball.

Some Carolina Panthers  players will need to prove their worth in training camp to fight for a starting spot, others may be scratching and clawing just to make the roster. When training camp begins and the pads come on, everyone starts to get a better idea of who should be playing and just how good they can be.

Rookies get their first shot against NFL competition, newcomers try to establish themselves, and young players can show whether or not they’ve developed in the off season. Although training camp may be a couple months out, it’s never too early to speculate on who will need to show out the most at Wofford College this summer. In this first installment we will discuss three offensive players to watch when the Carolina Panthers finally return to the field at the end of July.

OT Greg Little (Rookie)

The Carolina  Panthers haven’t had a serviceable starting left tackle since former Ole Miss alum Michael Oher helped anchor Carolina to a historical offensive season and Super Bowl berth in 2015. Since then, it’s been a rotating door in Cam Newton’s blind side and the offense has struggled mightily as a consequence. Not to mention the fact that Cam Newton’s durability has plummeted due to massive hits he’s received behind porous pass protection.

Enter newly former Ole Miss alum, offensive tackle Greg Little. The Panthers drafted Little in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft and have made it clear that they feel he can become their starting left tackle sooner than later.

Little is heralded primarily for his ability as a pass protector. Under David Gettleman the Panthers tended to favor “hog-molly” run maulers over finesse linemen who specialize in protecting the quarterback. In a new age NFL where passing is king, it’s somehow become  even more important to protect your quarterback and give them the time they need to make plays down the field. If Little is able to hold up strongly when the pads come on, the Panthers passing offense could soar to new heights.

On the less bright side of things, the former top high school recruit is known to struggle as a run blocker. ESPN’s Todd McShay even went as far as calling Little “soft”. Training camp should be a huge indicator as to whether the Panthers have found a hard-nosed stalwart for the left side of their line, or another pole on the turnstile.

TE Ian Thomas (2nd Year)

After another off-season of speculation over whether or not tight end Greg Olsen would retire and replace Jason Witten in the Monday Night Football booth, the Carolina Panthers never really panicked.

Greg Olsen is irreplaceable on and off the field, but Carolina seems to have found a gem in their 2018 fourth round draft pick, tight end Ian Thomas. Thomas showed flashes in limited opportunities along with signs of real development towards the end of his rookie season. This play from last year’s preseason is a great indication of what Thomas is capable of athletically:

For the Carolina Panthers, this is hopefully a sign of things to come more consistently. With Olsen’s sudden inability to stay on the field over the course of the past two seasons, Thomas will enter his second training camp with expectations to step in as a starter at any given moment as the Panthers attempt to establish a safety net and legitimate future at the position.

The Indiana product who didn’t have much production in college, has off-the-charts measurables. One year in an NFL system can expose a lot about a players development or lack thereof. His upcoming training camp performance may prove whether Ian Thomas will be a staunch contributor or just an insurance policy in 2019.

WR Curtis Samuel (3rd Year)

This is a crucial training camp for wide receiver Curtis Samuel. Yes, he needs to establish himself as a legitimate threat on the outside, but it’s also time to figure out his nickname. Will he get one to himself? Will he share one with DJ Moore?  “Bread and Butter”? “Smash and Dash”? There are a number of unanswered questions heading into Spartanburg for the young receiver. He can answer most of them by continuing to make plays like this:

In a recent article by Jourdan Rodrigue of the Charlotte Observer, she discussed the the fluidity of the Panthers wide receivers room and the absence of deferral to a true “number one” guy. After the departure of Devin Funchess, Curtis Samuel and DJ Moore will absorb the lion share of the targets left in his wake. They both bring unique and explosive skill sets to the table which gives the Panthers a lot of flexibility in terms of who they choose to lean on in any given week.

The fact that the Panthers don’t have a clear cut first option at receiver is usually cause for concern, but not with this group. Many are pegging 2019 as a potential breakout season for Samuel. Starting fast in training camp will be a hell of an indicator that the former buckeye is primed for takeoff heading into his third year.