Players to watch in training camp

Jenkins returns!

There are four integral players that will factor into the success of the Panthers this upcoming season. As camp progresses, keep your eyes and ears peeled for these players and the storylines that surround them.

Running back Stephen Davis: The Panthers Pro Bowl running back from 2003 is coming off microfracture knee surgery after missing 14 games a year ago. He hopes to be ready to practice when the team reports to camp on July 29, but it's unclear if the knee will swell up once he gets involved in drills.

If Davis' knee is fine, he has a good chance to regain his role as the team's starting running back simply because he fits Carolina's offense so well and has been productive in the past.

But if the 31-year old Davis continues to have problems with the knee, then it's likely DeShaun Foster will be the team's starting running back and rookie second-round draft pick Eric Shelton will move into Davis' spot and get the spillover carries when Foster needs a breather.

Defensive tackle Kris Jenkins: When healthy, he's perhaps the most dominant defensive tackle in the game. But Jenkins is coming off shoulder surgery that forced him to miss 12 games last year. If he's healthy and is committed to the game, then Jenkins can elevate the play of the entire defensive line, helping to take double teams away from defensive ends Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker.

Jenkins is a load at 330 pounds who can apply pressure to the quarterback and also handle the run. There have been some questions about Jenkins' motor and whether or not he still wants it, but he said he's ready to perform at a high level.

If he does, Carolina should have one of the best defensive lines in football again, just as they did in 2003.

Strong safety/linebacker Thomas Davis: There are a lot of expectations surrounding the team's top draft pick. Right now he's playing strong safety, but there's a chance he could move to outside linebacker.

Thus far in minicamps, Davis has worked at strong safety in the base defense and moved to linebacker on third-down situations. He's a very talented player with great speed and is outstanding at wrapping up on tackles and completing plays.

The big question is how quickly he can learn the team's defense and exactly how the Panthers decide to use him once they get to training camp.

Tackle Travelle Wharton: He started 11 games at left guard last season and offensive line coach Mike Maser saw enough in him to move him to left tackle, a position he played for four years in college. Wharton has a big body, but must learn to use his hands more if he plans to fend off rushers.

He will get help this year from veteran Mike Wahle, who will line up at left guard. The Panthers can ill afford to have Wharton make any mistakes and allow a big-time hit that would sideline Jake Delhomme, who is the lifeblood of this team.

If Wharton doesn't work out, the Panthers could flip-flop Wahle and Wharton or move Jordan Gross back to left tackle, where he played last season.

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