The upcoming season provides the Carolina Panthers another chance to get comfortable in the role of favorite. The team is generating plenty of national buzz before Saturday's first training camp practice in Spartanburg, S.C.

General manager Marty Hurney and head coach John Fox sure wish they had a crystal ball to clearly see the future, but they felt positive enough to re-sign Foster to a three-year, $14.5 million contract, including a $4.5 million signing bonus.

Foster had microfracture knee surgery early in his rookie season and suffered a broken collarbone in last year's playoffs, after carrying a career-high 205 times in the regular season.

Thanks to a smooth combination of speed and power, Foster is elusive enough to not take too many hits. He also brings a tough-nosed approach, which leaves him susceptible to the big blow.

Earlier this year, the Panthers used their first-round draft pick on running back DeAngelo Williams for insurance. They also have proven veteran Nick Goings and untested second-year man Eric Shelton on the depth chart.

The roster looks solid from top to bottom. If there are any worries - aside from staying healthy, which every team frets over - it might be creating an immediate feeling of chemistry and cohesiveness.

Every NFL team has some level of annual turnover. The Panthers not only lost some talented football players, they also lost experienced veterans who were great leaders. Brentson Buckner and Will Witherspoon were gregarious, outgoing types who could keep things loose in tense situations. While he wasn't always the most fan-friendly guy, Stephen Davis commanded respect from his teammates. And Ricky Proehl was an ardent teacher.

It's tough to choose just one name among high-profile guys such as linebacker Witherspoon, running back Davis, defensive tackle Buckner, safety Marlon McCree and receiver roehl.

Witherspoon, however, gets the nod because of age and impact. The Panthers would have loved to keep the dynamic duo of Witherspoon and best pal Dan Morgan together, but the purse strings only extend so far, and the 25-year-old left for bigger bucks in St. Louis.

But the most treacherous span no doubt be a four-game stretch that begins on Oct. 15 in Baltimore and ends at home on Nov. 13 against Tampa Bay with the first of the Panthers' two Monday night games.

Ray Lewis and the hard-nosed Ravens are always a punishing squad, especially at their place, and that's followed by a trip to Cincinnati, which should be a contender if quarterback Carson Palmer rebounds from a knee injury.

That's a tall mountain to climb as the Panthers have predicated their attack on strong defense and a grind-it-out running game. The current roster, however, certainly has the potential to the be team's strongest ever.

For that to transpire, the unit will need a couple of pieces to fall right. Kris Jenkins, a monster in the middle, needs a return to his Pro Bowl form of three years ago before consecutive season-ending injuries robbed the defensive front of one of its main catalysts.

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