CHARLOTTE -- Whether this year's draft turns out better for the Panthers than in previous years remains to be seen. What's known is that it's going to be counted on immediately more than almost any in franchise history.
What's apparent after watching the three weeks of organized team activities which ended last week is that the Panthers are going to rely heavily on three of their draft picks this year, and at least two of them are starting. Compare that with years past, when they drafted a bunch of redshirts with every intention of grooming them for a year or more, and many of them never reaching the desired point of being actual players.
Their first first-rounder, Jonathan Stewart, is the one whose role is still in question. The thought that he'll end up a starter is based more on his attributes and how they match the team's personality than any official statement, since DeAngelo Williams has enjoyed the last three weeks' worth of head start on that battle.
Right tackle Jeff Otah, however, looked immediately ready to go after missing the first week of OTAs with the ankle problem that limited him last year and through the pre-draft process. He's impressed the organization with his agility, earning the praise of several teammates in a short time. Otah's got a basketball player's feet, and combined with his massive frame, has the potential to make an instant impact.
"He's just a huge guy that can move," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "I don't think you can find that every day. I came in as a rookie and played the same position, and he's got a lot to learn and a long way to go, but he's more than capable. I think he can be a really good player for us."
As a side note, if they can't get Gross signed up long-term, Otah could well become their left tackle of the future.
Third-rounder Charles Godfrey's already laid claim to the free safety job, and there appears to be no doubt about that one. If Terrence Holt wants to play with his brother Torry, he better hope he becomes enough of a special teams staple to hang around a few more years. Instead of Holt becoming the revolving-door veteran of the year, they seem intent on letting Godfrey make the position his own, pairing him with Chris Harris for the foreseeable future.
If their first three picks start in San Diego, it would make just the third time they've ever started that many on opening day, along with 2001 (Dan Morgan, Kris Jenkins, Chris Weinke) and 1995 (Tyrone Poole, Blake Brockermeyer, Andrew Peterson). They did start two picks last year, though second-rounder Ryan Kalil was place-holding at right guard for the suspended Jeremy Bridges along with Jon Beason.
Otherwise, the norm has been to get just one opening-week starter out of the draft, though the 2006 and 1998 drafts provided none.
• THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES: Coach John Fox said he wasn't necessarily surprised by Michael Strahan's decision to retire last week.
Fox coached the New York Giants' defensive end from 1997 to 2001, when he was coordinator there. Strahan posted 65.5 sacks during that span, including his league-record 22.5 the year before Fox took over here.
"It's kind of nice when you've got that world championship ring," Fox said of his former pupil going on after the Giants' Super Bowl win. "Michael's played a lot of good years. He had some left. I haven't talked to him yet, but I'm sure he had thought about it.
"He was probably close last year. But I'm happy for him. He's had a great career and I'm proud for him."
• EXTRA POINTS: Receiver Muhsin Muhammad showed nice catch-up speed last week, laughing at his own slip after he declared that second-year receiver Dwayne Jarrett was having "the best camp I've seen him have."
"Of course, it's the first time I've seen him," Muhammad said with a laugh. ...
The Panthers are now finished until they report to training camp July 25, with practice starting the following day. They still have some work to do, as they'll need to sign their nine draft picks and cut nine players to get to the camp limit of 80. ...
Bank of America Stadium's offseason facelift is nearly complete, as the last of the cranes installing the two new video scoreboards came down Thursday afternoon. They're going to start testing the new high-definition boards soon.
They also cleaned up outside, repainting the black areas of the stadium's facade. It's the kind of thing that's much easier to see from the highway than from up close.