While first-round pick Star Lotulelei will inevitably face more pressure and scrutiny, he'll be very much linked both in the immediate future, and in the Panthers' long-term hopes, with second-round selection Kawann Short.
"When you draft guys like that you have an opportunity to keep them together for a long time," head coach Ron Rivera said during the Panthers' rookie minicamp. "They can play together for six, seven, eight years down the line and they'll develop that rapport that you see when a group has been together a while."
The minicamp was the first time Lotulelei and Short were together on a field, even though they did connect in February. They were both sidelined during the Combine in Indianapolis, Lotulelei with a heart scare and Short with a hamstring injury.
"We both didn't work out, so there wasn't too much to look at," Lotulelei said. "We were on the sideline talking. He was a real cool guy over there and it's carried over here."
It may take some effort to get the low-key Lotulelei to open up. His big body doesn't equal a big personality, but apparently he's found at least one new teammate to help him turn from soft-spoken, to relatively talkative.
"We sit there at meetings and barely say anything. We focus and try to learn our playbooks," Short said. "But when we go to lunch or something, he's talking and he's opening up."
The Panthers no doubt hope their two rookie defensive tackles establish a connection both on and off the field. It's actually one of the more vital things that has to go right for Carolina to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Last month's draft strategy was the product of new general manager Dave Gettleman's philosophy that good teams need strong defensive lines. They also need to be big, just like 310-pounders Lotulelei and Short. If the two can play well, it'll be a pairing that could help define the defensive line for years to come.
"That's a very good tandem," Rivera said. "I'm excited about who they can become."
Even though the Panthers have multiple questions marks in their defensive backfield, they didn't spend any of their five draft picks on the unit. They'll likely enter the season without a true No. 1 cornerback and a handful of journeyman to serve as Band-Aids.
Head coach Ron Rivera was perhaps being overly optimistic when he singled out a couple undrafted guys during rookie camp, but considering the team's defensive backfield mess, maybe Alabama safety Robert Lester and former Louisiana-Layfayette cornerback Melvin White do actually have a chance to stick around.
"The two guys we felt really good about, who we thought were draftable was the safety from Alabama … and I really liked Melvin White," Rivera said. "He's another guy we felt had a chance to get drafted and didn't unfortunately. I think those two guys really showed well."
After 21 NFL seasons, longtime Panther John Kasay has finally hung up his kicking shoes. Kasay signed a one-day contract with Carolina so he could officially retire with the team last week.
The man long known as "The Last Original Panther" spent 16 seasons with the Panthers, from their expansion season in 1995, until he was released in 2011. He spent that year in New Orleans and spent last season out of the league.
One of the most beloved players in the history of the organization, Kasay set a number of team records including most points scored (1,482), most games played (221), most field goals made (351), most consecutive games scoring (100) and most consecutive field goals made (21). He also won 11 games for Carolina with last-second field goals.
Kasay rarely enjoyed the spotlight, so it was a bit surprising he decided to hold a media event, instead of quietly announcing his retirement with a statement.
"I told (Panthers owner) Mr. Richardson the reason I wanted to do this is I can't write 70,000 thank-you notes," Kasay told gathered media, former teammates and Panthers employees. "I wish that I could. But this is my feeble attempt to tell everybody thank you."
Kasay already has a new post-NFL job lined up. He'll be the athletics director and assistant football coach at Charlotte Christian High School.
"Every day I'm going to remind myself that 181 people passed on me."- RB Kenjon Barner, who the Panthers drafted in the sixth round with the 182nd overall pick.
A closer look at the Panthers' picks:
Round 1/14—Star Lotulelei, DT, 6-3, 311, Utah
The Panthers were very high on Lotulelei coming into the draft, but they weren't sure if he'd fall to them. When he did, they wasted no time taking him. He could provide the huge presence Carolina's been missing in the middle of its defensive line for years.
Round 2/44—Kawann Short, DT, 6-3, 308, Purdue
Even though they had bigger glaring holes in their secondary, the Panthers used their second pick on another defensive tackle. Short was at the top of their board at the time, and they're going to use the talented pass rusher in a rotation with Lotulelei and veteran Dwan Edwards.
Round 4/108—Edmund Kugbila, OG, 6-4, 317, Valdosta State
The Panthers need some depth on their offensive line, and Kugbila could immediately compete at guard. The native of Ghana may have lasted another round, but Carolina obviously saw enough in him to not risk waiting.
Round 5/148—A.J. Klein, LB, 6-1, 251, Iowa State
Klein should find immediate roles as a backup linebacker and on special teams. He could also be in the Panthers' future plans as a starter if this ends up being linebacker Jon Beason's final season in Charlotte.
Round 6/182—Kenjon Barner, RB, 5-9, 196, Oregon
With DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert already on the roster, this certainly wasn't a "need" pick. Barner could see action as a returner in 2013, and he could be groomed to be Williams' future successor.
DE Antwan Applewhite, who was limited to just five games because of injury last year, may be brought back. The Panthers could use him for depth at defensive end.
S Sherrod Martin won't be back. The former starter lost his job in the 2012 preseason and an ACL tear cut short his time last year.
(not tendered offers)
DT Andre Neblett (not tendered as RFA) missed time last year with a suspension and injury. The Panthers might bring him back to help out their weak defensive tackle position.
CB Nate Ness (not tendered as RFA), who was waived after suffering a concussion in the preseason, may get a training camp invite, but he won't make the final roster.
QB Derek Anderson: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
TE Richie Brockel: ERFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
DT Dwan Edwards: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
TE Ben Hartsock: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
CB Captain Munnerlyn: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
LB Jordan Senn: Potential UFA; terms unknown.
LB Chase Blackburn: UFA Giants; terms unknown.
DT Colin Cole: FA; terms unknown.
CB Drayton Florence: UFA Lions; 1 yr, terms unknown.
WR/KR Ted Ginn: UFA 49ers; 1 yr, terms unknown.
WR Domenik Hixon: UFA Giants; $1.2M/1 yr, $250,000 SB.
S Mike Mitchell: UFA Raiders; $840,000/1 yr.
CB D.J. Moore: UFA Bears; 1 yr, terms unknown.
LB James Anderson (released/post-June 1 designation).
TE Gary Barnidge: UFA Browns; $3.75M/3 yrs, $650,000 SB.
DT Ron Edwards (released).
CB Chris Gamble (released).
DE Thomas Keiser (released).
WR Louis Murphy: UFA Giants; 1 yr, terms unknown.
LB Kenny Onatolu (released).
LB Jason Phillips: UFA Eagles; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
G Mike Pollak: UFA Bengals; $780,000/1 yr.
C/G Zack Williams (released).