<
>

Three things to watch as Panthers begin OTAs

4/17/2015

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers begin voluntary offseason workouts Monday at Bank of America Stadium.

While it is voluntary, the Panthers expect full participation unless the player has a good excuse.

Coach Ron Rivera recently said he expects quarterback Cam Newton (Auburn) and linebacker Luke Kuechly (Boston College), working to complete their college degrees this semester, to make most -- if not all -- of the workouts.

The first two weeks are limited to strength and conditioning and physical rehabilitation. On-the-field workouts don't begin until Phase II.

Here are three things to keep an eye on:

New tackles: The Panthers signed veteran Michael Oher to take over the left tackle position for Byron Bell, who was not re-signed. They claimed Jonathan Martin after San Francisco released him to provide experienced depth and competition at right tackle. We won't really know how this is going to work until players get on the field, and by then Carolina likely will have added a tackle through the draft. Still, this will be the most watched position because it was such a disaster in 2014.

Stephen Hill: I could have said wide receiver in general here. The Panthers signed Ted Ginn Jr., and Jarrett Boykin to upgrade that position during the offseason. But I suspect there'll be more eyes on Hill than anybody. He spent all of last season on Carolina's practice squad after being released by the New York Jets at the end of training camp. There is the anticipation the 2012 second-round draft pick out of Georgia Tech is ready to contribute and possibly compete for the No. 2 spot opposite Kelvin Benjamin. Rivera certainly sounded optimistic at the NFL owners meeting. If Hill or another receiver steps up at No. 2, that would fill a huge void from 2014. Hill is intriguing because he is tall like Benjamin and super fast.

Injuries: Nothing major to report here as there was last offseason, when Newton was coming off ankle surgery that kept him from participating. Newton is as healthy as he's been since arriving at Carolina as the first pick of the 2011 draft. The main player to keep an eye on is defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who missed the NFC divisional playoff game with a foot injury that required surgery. Rivera ran into Lotulelei last month at a Sam's Club -- yes, Sam's Club -- and said his tackle seemed to be moving well. Nothing like passing the Sam's Club test to get ready for organized team activities.