Panthers mailbag: Impact of new ownership, underdogs to watch, is DJ Moore for real?

Panthers mailbag: Impact of new ownership, underdogs to watch, is DJ Moore for real?
Receiver D.J. Moore makes a reception during Day 1 of the Carolina Panthers’ rookie mini camp on Friday. (David T. Foster III | Charlotte Observer)

CHARLOTTE, NC (Jourdan Rodrigue/Charlotte Observer) - There have been a lot of changes for the Panthers in recent weeks, both on and off the field.

Carolina selected eight players in April's NFL draft, including first-round pick D.J. Moore, and also signed running backs C.J. Anderson and Kenjon Barner in free agency. The team accepted the resignation of defensive backs coach Curtis Fuller after an internal investigation into complaints of inappropriate behavior.

Oh, and that lil' ol' matter of the team sale. On Friday, the Observer reported that billionaire hedge fund manager David Tepper was emerging as the likely buyer, and that could be official as early as this week.

With that ...

What sets Tepper apart from South Carolina businessman and bidder Ben Navarro?

I have gotten several inquiries about Tepper over the last several days in both email and tweet form. I sent Tepper inquiries to Observer business reporter Katie Peralta. She's covered this process — and the bidders — extremely closely.

"First of all, he's the richest (worth $11 billion, according to Forbes)," she said. "That makes him likely the only serious bidder able to buy the team outright (theoretically without minority partners). He's also already been vetted and approved by the NFL since he owns a 5 percent stake in the Pittsburgh Steelers, his hometown team. He made that investment in 2009, the same year his team won the Super Bowl. His share is now worth $122.5 million, and in accordance with NFL rules, he'll have to sell it before he officially buys the Panthers.

"A source recently described Tepper to the Observer as having 'more money than God.'"

We also know that Tepper didn't have the high bid. Why a lower bid would be accepted will be more clear in the coming weeks.

Additionally, the investigation into misconduct allegations against owner and founder Jerry Richardson is ongoing.

Finally, I doubt many football-side changes would be made immediately when new ownership arrives. Head coach Ron Rivera and general manager Marty Hurney provide stability throughout the building and their staff is solid. Rivera commands a locker room better than most, creating still more stability on a roster that so far looks like it's built to win. A logical approach by any new owner would be to see how the year shakes out before making major shifts.

And to those who might still be panicking about a location change for the team? Stop.

Is there a replacement for Fuller in mind?

I asked Rivera this after the first day of rookie minicamp and got a curt "no," in response. They could bring in an external candidate soon. But I wouldn't imagine there is a huge rush to find one at present ,with two assistants on staff who are well-versed enough in the system to manage spring workouts and minicamp (Jeff Imamura and Richard Rodgers).

Out of the bottom four draft picks, who had the better rookie minicamp practices?

Remember first that the most important part of rookie minicamp isn't making a highlight-reel play or hitting the hardest (since players hardly make physical contact at all). It's mental performance — adapting to the playbook and to drills, being in the right spot immediately after learning a play and showing coachability.

That being said, my attention was caught almost immediately by defensive end Marquis Haynes (pick No. 136).

The guy is a fastball. He already moves like a pro in drills. He only had one day of work (he walked in his commencement ceremony at Ole Miss on Saturday), but I am really looking forward to watching him work against more tenured players. I'm also excited to see how new defensive coordinator Eric Washington, a defensive end guru, uses him in his system. Every ace has a specialty pitch.

Is Moore the real deal?

Moore had very few slip-ups and looks smooth, fast and sure-handed. He plays confidently, knew his playbook, changes direction well and backed up everything Rivera said about his versatility when he was drafted. So while we won't know if he's "the real deal" until September, he certainly appears to have all the tools to be.

Which tryout player stood out the most?

Charlotte's Kalif Phillips. The running back showed his versatility as a power back and pass-catcher. He drew some chatter from coaches and players after an excellent sideline catch and didn't appear to make many mental errors, if any. I think Phillips has a real shot at being on the training camp roster. His chances for that improve now that the team has placed Fozzy Whittaker on injured reserve.

Speaking of Charlotte products, second-year receiver Austin Duke was eligible for rookie minicamp. A year in an NFL strength and conditioning program has done him well. He looks a lot more solid than he did last year at this time. He also looks faster, and he and Moore were extremely sharp in their route-running. That's a big point of emphasis of new offensive coordinator Norv Turner.

Were there any guards who appeared to be dominant in drills? Or rather, did any of them showcase that nasty streak that (former Panthers All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell) has in him?

I know Carolina fans are hoping lightning strikes twice and reveals the second coming of Norwell, a former undrafted free agent himself. The team certainly helped set up that narrative by signing three UDFA guards this spring.

It's too early to tell who has a "nasty" streak (although run game coordinator John Matsko certainly will bellow it out of them by training camp). But I saw some good size there in Taylor Hearn and Brendan Mahon. I know both of those guys play with a lot of tenacity. And you can count on Matsko to weed out the softies come August. This is one of two position battles I'm most looking forward to.

I also saw a little flare-up on social media last week about the potential of Amini Silatolu starting at left guard next fall. I personally don't think that will happen. I believe second-year lineman Taylor Moton and guard/backup center Tyler Larsen will be the two in heaviest competition for the spot.

Do you believe (backup quarterback Garrett Gilbert) is really the No. 2?

I think Gilbert has the advantage of a year in Carolina's system. I don't know that he will be Cam Newton's backup by September.

How does (claimed running back) Elijah Hood fit in?

Hood is big, physical and I believe more dynamic than some give him credit. He's also still developing and slipped up on handoffs a few times during team drills. But the athleticism is there and the Panthers need depth at the position. I think Anderson and Christian McCaffrey will work in tandem as starters, and Hood will compete with backup Cameron Artis-Payne (who currently has the clear advantage).

Where could the Panthers add a free agent?

I don't think they will make any major moves. If everyone stays healthy, I believe they're three open roster spots away from the 90-man we'll see in Spartanburg, S.C. in about two months.