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3 players with the most to gain in training camp for the Panthers

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Disheartening is just one word that comes to mind when you reflect upon the Carolina Panthers’ 2018 season. At first, Carolina seemed ready to pounce their ways into the race for the NFC South—starting the season at 6-2.

Cam Newton was leading the way in Norv Turner’s new offense and Christian McCaffrey was becoming a lethal weapon. Everything seemed to be kosher heading into a Week 10 battle against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday Night Football. 

Then, the Panthers were ambushed by the Steelers offense and defense rather quickly. The Steelers jumped out to a 21-7 lead in the first quarter. Things would only get worse for Carolina as the game would end with the score 52-21 in favor of Pittsburgh.

To make matters worse, Newton came out of the game with a shoulder injury that would gradually get worse. The team ended the season at 7-9 and their franchise quarterback was in need of shoulder surgery. Now, Newton is returning to the practice field and ready to pick back up from where he left off before Week 10 last year.

Carolina will want to quickly dispose of their 2018 season by having an outstanding campaign in 2019. Before that, the Panthers have to go through training camp to iron out a few of the wrinkles on their team. Here are three players who have the most to gain for the Panthers in training camp.

3. Rashaan Gaulden

The Panthers secondary has constantly undergone some changes in the past few seasons. They will have yet another change this season at the free safety position.

Last season, Mike Adams assumed the starting role at free safety and started in all 16 games. Adams finished with three interceptions, six pass deflections, and 75 tackles.

The Panthers are deciding to go the youthful route in 2019 by starting Rashaan Gaulden at free safety. Gaulden was Carolina’s third-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. The rookie safety didn’t see the field much but will get his first start in Week 1 against the Los Angeles Rams.

It’s going to be quite the first test for Gaulden going against the second-best offense in the NFL last season. Nevertheless, Gaulden can use training camp to prepare himself in his new role as a starter in the secondary.

2. Shaq Thompson

In 2018, Shaq Thompson had his best statistical season to date with 79 tackles, four tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks. Now, Thompson will need to get adjusted to playing his new position on the defense.

This offseason, Carolina has made the transition from a 4-3 defensive scheme to a 3-4 scheme. Ultimately, the Panthers kept Eric Washington as their defensive coordinator but Ron Rivera will call the plays.

Before this season, Thompson spent his time as a 4-3 outside linebacker next to Luke Kuechly. Now, Thompson will remain beside Kuechly but he will be playing at the left inside linebacker spot.

Moving to inside linebacker may cause Thompson to be less of a threat as a pass rusher but it should improve his tackles in the run game. Thompson will need to get acclimated to his new position and training camp is a perfect time to do so.

1. Curtis Samuel

The past couple of seasons, Carolina has used Curtis Samuel sparingly as a dynamic offensive weapon. Heading into this season, Samuel could have a large role in the passing offense.

Earlier this offseason, the Panthers allowed Devin Funchess to walk in free agency—knowing they have young receivers who are ready to step up. D.J. Moore will assume the number one receiver spot while the second receiver role seems to be up for grabs.

Currently, Samuel is expected to get the first shot at being the second receiver but that could be subject to change in training camp. The Panthers added Chris Hogan and Aldrick Robinson to a crowded receiving corp and both those guys are battling for a spot in the offense.

Jarius Wright and Torrey Smith are also two receivers who could squeeze their ways into the offense with inexperience at the position. Samuel will have to secure the second receiver spot by having a strong training camp and showing he can be an every-down receiver.