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Panthers coach Ron Rivera has said he doesn't think adding a defensive tackle is the same kind of priority others do, but their pre-draft visit card shows they're taking a long look at the top prospects.
They've already had LSU's Michael Brockers, Memphis' Dontari Poe and Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox in for visits, along with Michigan State's Jerel Worthy.
Granted, they're part of the 30 players they'll bring in, and they're also taking long looks at most of the impact defensive players, but the emphasis is not accidental.
They think veteran nose tackle Ron Edwards will make a huge difference after coming back from triceps surgery, and are encouraged by the progress of 2011 third-rounders Terrell McClain and Sione Fua. But after Edwards was hurt and the rookies hit the wall, the Panthers used a revolving door of spare parts (Andre Neblett, Frank Kearse, Jason Shirley, Ogemdi Nwagbuo).
They clearly need at least one more starting-caliber player, even if you assume McClain and Fua will develop into solid wave players, because the Panthers aren't loaded on the outside.
More protection for their linebackers would also be a benefit, with starters Jon Beason and Thomas Davis coming off serious injuries. Both play a speed game moreso than getting by on power, and clearing lanes for them to run will be a necessity for the Panthers to improve defensively.
1. Defensive tackle: They hope getting veteran Ron Edwards back from injured reserve (torn triceps) will help, as there's some hope 2011 third-rounders Terrell McClain and Sione Fua will improve. But until the Panthers can create a reliable wave of rushers inside, their outside players have little chance.
2. Cornerback: Chris Gamble is as good as they come on one side, but the Panthers are short-handed and short on the other side. Diminutive Captain Munnerlyn and Darius Butler are both competitive, but are often physical mismatches (especially with Tampa Bay signing giant wide receiver Vincent Jackson).
3. Offensive tackle: The Panthers got by with undrafted rookie Byron Bell last year, and think Garry Williams offers something after recovering from last year's broken leg. But they need a better option if Jeff Otah checks out again.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--LB Omar Gaither was brought in as the defensive version of wide receiver Legedu Naanee, since he was familiar with defensive coordinator Sean McDermott's plan. But his play was spotty at best in 2011, and it's probably unlikely the native Charlottean will return for another year.
--CB Cletis Gordon spent the year on injured reserve and is unlikely to step foot in the place this year.
--WR Legedu Naanee was another guy who had a job based on familiarity. But there are too many younger (and likely more talented) options behind him to think they're going to bring him back as a starter.
--LB Jordan Senn is an excellent special teams player, and showed some flashes as a defensive regular. But he's too small to be a regular there, and they'll let him test free agency. Possible to return, but not a guarantee.
--TE Jeremy Shockey was a key player last year, but in a cap-tight environment, paying him a rich long-term deal isn't in the plan. If he doesn't want to come back for what they offer, they'll ride with Greg Olsen and Gary Barnidge there.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--LB Thomas Williams (not tendered as ERFA) was an exciting player in preseason, and could project as a good special teamer, after spending last year on injured reserve.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
--WR Seyi Ajirotutu is another in a long line of San Diego projects brought East, and he'll have a chance to compete for a bigger role this year.
--FB Richie Brockel was a versatile special teamer and situational player, best known for his fumble-rooskie touchdown late in the year. Can play some tight end too.
--QB Derek Anderson: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--DE Antwan Applewhite: UFA; terms unknown.
--OG Geoff Hangartner: Potential UFA; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--LS J.J. Jansen: Potential UFA; $3.6M/4 yrs, $500,000SB.
--LB Jason Phillips: Potential RFA; $540,000/1 yr.
--CB R.J. Stanford: ERFA; terms unknown.
--G/T Bruce Campbell (trade Raiders).
--PK Justin Medlock: FA; terms unknown.
--S Haruki Nakamura: UFA Ravens; $4.8M/3 yrs, $1M SB.
--LB Kenny Onatolu: Not tendered offer as RFA by Vikings; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--G/C Mike Pollak: UFA Colts; $765,000/1 yr, $65,000 SB.
--RB Mike Tolbert: UFA Chargers; $10M/4 yrs, $2M SB/$2.7M guaranteed.
--DE Jyles Tucker: FA; terms unknown.
--P Jason Baker (released).
--C/G Mackenzy Bernadeau: UFA Cowboys; $11M/4 yrs, $3.25M SB.
--LB Dan Connor: UFA Cowboys; $6.5M/2 yrs.
--RB Mike Goodson (traded Raiders).
--DT DeMario Pressley (released).
--OG Geoff Schwartz: Not tendered as RFA/Vikings; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--G/T Travelle Wharton (released/post-June 1 designation).