SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Some training camps are about finding a quarterback. Some are about finding chemistry or team leaders. Others are about finding style of play or a certain toughness.
But this camp, for the Carolina Panthers, is all about one thing -- finding depth.
Every team has concerns heading into the season, and for the Panthers it’s all about discovering reliable backups – especially on the offensive line and at defensive tackle -- in case the starters go down, which inevitably happens during the course of a 16-game regular season.
It’s not an awful problem to have, mind you, and it sure beats the alternative -- having to find a bunch of starters.
By giving contract extensions to Chris Gamble last season and Jake Delhomme and Jordan Gross this offseason, along with throwing the franchise tag on Julius Peppers, Carolina’s salary cap space got devoured faster than a plate of beef in front of Maake Kemoeatu.
It also prevented them from signing any free agents in 2009.
“We didn't have an extreme amount of cap room, so we weren't real active in free agency, but we did everything possible to keep the guys that we have that are our kind of guys, guys that we feel like perform at a high level,” coach John Fox said. “That's where the bulk of our cap room went - to keep our own. We relied on the draft.”
And with a top-heavy salary cap structure, it also put an emphasis of young, untested (read: cheaper) players stepping up and becoming backups.
Now the Panthers must find out if those young guys can play.
“And that's what we're here for,” Fox said.
In the NFL, you can’t have it all. You can’t always keep all of your own free agents and sign the others you want. That would make it Major League Baseball and that's why football is better than baseball.
But the Panthers were able to keep most of their own free agent – offensive linemen Geoff Hangartner and Frank Omiyale were the exceptions -- and now they’re banking on youngsters like Mackenzy Bernadeau, Geoff Schwartz, Dan Connor and Marlon Favorite to step up.
“When you start getting your organization to a point where you've got good frontline players, that's kind of what happens,” Fox said. “Those guys that have proven themselves, been to Pro Bowls and those types of things, cost you a little more to keep, and you're not going to have a high-dollar veteran back-up.
“So we've got some youth there. There is no question that one of the secrets to success in this league is developing young players, and we'll definitely have that work cut out for us. I think we've got good, young guys that aren't afraid to work, and we'll see how that progress goes.”
And that's what this camp is all about.