Andy Dalton vs Matt Corral
At this point, Frank Reich has done everything but announce Bryce Young as the Week 1 starter, so the attention will now shift to the backup job. Most will presume that the grizzled vet Andy Dalton will easily secure the 2nd string position. After all, Dalton has plenty of experience in the NFL, amassing over 38,000 passing yards, 244 touchdowns, and 144 interceptions, over his 12 year career. He has wholeheartedly embraced his role as a backup over the past few years, filling in when needed with the Bears, Cowboys, and Saints. Dalton appears to be the perfect signal caller to help usher in the Bryce Young Era.
However, don't count out the fiery young passer in Matt Corral, who was selected by the previous regime with the 94 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. He played sparingly in the preseason before suffering a Lisfranc injury behind the 5th string offensive line that kept him sidelined the entire season. Corral should be very familiar with the RPO concepts introduced in Reich/Brown's offensive system, having almost entirely operated out of RPOs during his collegiate career at Ole Miss under Lane Kiffin. Reich gave Corral praise for his work in the team's offseason training program, saying that he has made "significant strides."
It is worth noting that the 6'2" 220 lb QB is still a relative unknown when it comes to his prospects in the pros, so fans should expect plenty of play time for the 24 year old in preseason, in order to fully assess his skillset in-game. Will Reich opt to go with the proven vet or the potential of a young QB prospect at QB2?
Chandler Zavala vs Cade Mays
Late in the regular season last year, both starting guards suffered leg-related injuries against the New Orleans Saints in a come-from-behind win. Fortunately for Brady Christensen, he is expected to return before the season starts after recovering from a fractured ankle. However, right guard Austin Corbett still has a ways to go after tearing his ACL. All reports indicate the former Los Angeles Ram is on track to make a full recovery, but won't make his season debut until later on in the regular season.
To ensure for plenty of depth and competition at the position, Carolina's front office selected NC State guard Chandler Zavala in the 4th round, who was teammates with franchise left tackle Ikem Ekwonu in college, and was considered one of the best value picks of the draft. Zavala will compete with former 6th round pick Cade Mays, who has impressed the coaching staff this offseason with the improvements he's made. Last year, Mays was included in jumbo packages, even earning snaps at fullback on a few plays. The former Tennessee Vol was considered a steal where the front office selected him and is seemingly outperforming his draft status at pick #199.
It will be interesting to see if Zavala wins the job, whether James Campen will consider sliding Christensen over to right guard, and letting the NC State offensive lineman assume the left guard spot in which he almost exclusively played at during his collegiate career. As with many position group battles, training camp will provide a better picture of the offensive line once they put on the pads.
Damiere Byrd vs Shi Smith vs Raheem Blackshear
While most Panthers fans remember Byrd for his "buttcheek TD" against the Green Bay Packers in 2017, the kick return specialist has carved out a nice role as a WR4 the past few years with the New England Patriots, Chicago Bears, and the division rival Atlanta Falcons. His most notable season was with his former Carolina teammate and face of the franchise Cam Newton while in 2020 with New England, recording 47 catches for 604 yards and 1 TD. Although he offers some talent as a wide receiver, it's likely that Scott Fitterer brought Byrd in to compete for the returner spot along with Shi Smith and Raheem Blackshear.
Given the lack of production in Carolina from the returner spot for quite a while, Frank Reich had to add someone to fill that role to compete with the incumbent returners. Shi Smith, a 2021 6th round pick from South Carolina, was slated to be the kick returner last year before suffering an injury that paved the way for Raheem Blackshear. The undrafted free agent was electric in the run game and had a few good returns later on in the season but still isn't necessarily THE guy you want to be returning kicks without some growth.
Which training camp battle on the offense are you most looking forward to? Is there a battle that I haven't listed? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
This is part of a two-part series where we'll be analyzing training camp battles to watch for after the next few weeks. Part 1 (article above) will be detailing battles within the offense while Part 2 is examining position battles on the defensive side of the ball. Stay tuned for Part 2 soon!