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Carolina Panthers 2014 Training Camp Preview

By John McMullen, NFL Editor

(SportsNetwork.com) -

REPORT DATE: July 24

SITE: Wofford College, Spartanburg, SC

CAMP CONFIDENTIAL: If there is one team which seems destined to take a step back on paper in 2014, it's probably the Carolina Panthers, who finished 12-4 in 2013.

Cam Newton underwent left ankle surgery in March and wasn't ready for serious offseason work while receiver Steve Smith, perhaps the best player in franchise history, is now in Baltimore. Also, steady left tackle Jordan Gross called it a career and pass-rushing star Greg Hardy is dealing with some significant legal issues and could be facing a suspension.

The biggest issue seems to be at receiver, a group which is headlined by C- level free agent pickups Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant, along with rookie first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin. Meanwhile converted right tackle Byron Bell is penciled in to replace Gross.

KEY OFFENSIVE ACQUISITION: The Panthers needed help at wide receiver and jumped at the 6-foot-5 Benjamin at No. 28 overall. It remains to be seen if Benjamin has the suddenness to be anything more than an outside the numbers, ball-aware threat but either way the Florida State product filled a big need.

KEY DEFENSIVE ACQUISITION: Veteran safety Thomas Decoud, who made the Pro Bowl in Atlanta after the 2012 season, will be asked to help replace the departed Mike Mitchell.

Decoud has lost a step but he's a pretty instinctive safety who is well-versed in both phases and could be rejuvenated playing behind Carolina's stout front seven.

PRESEASON SCHEDULE (All Times Eastern):

Aug 8 - vs. Buffalo, 7:30 PM Aug 17 - vs. Kansas City, 8:00 PM Aug 22 - at New England, 7:30 PM Aug 28 - at Pittsburgh, 7:30 PM

07/17 13:24:07 ET

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