Carolina Panthers Training Camp Profile: Star Lotulelei

By Curt Popejoy
Star Lotulelei
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Going into the NFL offseason, the Carolina Panthers understood that a top priority would be to re-tool a defense that ranked 18th in points allowed in 2012.

While the defensive line played well, the interior defensive line needed additional depth, especially as pass rushers go. So, when the 14th pick of the first round came around, it was a no-brainer for the Panthers to pounce on defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. I had Lotulelei rated as my no. 2 overall prospect and my no. 1 defensive prospect.

Needless to say, I considered the Panthers getting a player of his talent at that point in the round to be a steal.

But as the Panthers approach training camp, Lotulelei finds himself in a position where his spot on the depth chart is hardly secure. No, I’m not hinting that defensive tackle Sione Fua is going to beat him out. Fua has been a decent player, but understand an upgrade is a must.

No, Lotulelei is going to have a fight on his hands to win a starting spot against fellow rookie defensive tackle Kawann Short. Short fell to the Panthers in the second round and while some fans groaned at back-to-back defensive tackles, the Panthers staff understood just how talented Short is.

The biggest key for Lotulelei is going to be how he refines his pass-rush skills and makes better use of this athleticism, showing that he can be on the field all three downs. That’s one area of his game that he has an edge over Short. But Short is already impressing the coaches, and just needs to show a more consistent effort than he did in college and the Panthers will have to get him reps.

The best-case scenario for both players might be that they become part of a three-man interior rotation with fellow defensive tackle Dwan Edwards, but we all understand that there is a level of recognition and respect that comes from being at the top of the depth chart, so I expect to see Lotulelei to do everything in his power to win that starting job outright.

Lotulelei is incredibly talented and could be in Pro Bowls sooner rather than later. The Panthers’ preseason is going to be fascinating to watch unfold as the team might have drafted a little too well in 2012.

Curt covers the Pittsburgh Steelers, the NFL draft, and college football for Rant Sports. Connect with Curt on Twitter @nfldraftboard.

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