With new faces everywhere and a coach without security, Panthers begin odd training camp

The familiar sights were missing on Wednesday morning as 80 mostly young guys reported for the start of Carolina Panthers training camp.

There was no wondering which side door Julius Peppers might try to sneak through to avoid reporters outside the dormitory. The star defensive end is in Chicago now.

Jake Delhomme didn't walk up with his familiar smile and trash bag draped over his shoulder. The seven-year starting quarterback was cut, then signed with Cleveland.

No sign of veterans Muhsin Muhammad, Brad Hoover, Damione Lewis, Maake Kemoeatu, Na'il Diggs, Chris Harris or Keydrick Vincent, either. All were former starters. All were then let go in the Panthers' offseason youth movement.

Just how young is Carolina? Steve Smith, at 31, is the oldest position player on the roster and one of only four players not born in the 1980s.

"The vibe around here is unknown," said Smith, out of his cast but still weeks away from returning from a broken arm. "Literally, half of them just pulled up."

The new leader looked different, too. Matt Moore, thrust into the starting quarterback job despite just eight career starts, showed up with a thin beard.

At least he's old enough to grow one.

"There's a lot of wide eyes with the youth," Moore said.

After finishing 8-8 last season and under orders by owner Jerry Richardson to cut costs with labor unrest looming, the Panthers begin a season full of uncertainty that includes their coach.

Only Jeff Fisher in Tennessee, Bill Belichick in New England and Andy Reid in Philadelphia have been with their teams longer than John Fox. But his ninth season in Carolina could be his last after he was denied a contract extension in the offseason.

Fox enters the last year of his deal with the challenge of getting a team with 63 players who are 25 or younger ready to compete in the same division as the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.

"I feel like I'm one of the older guys because I'm in my third year," said Mackenzy Bernadeau, a candidate to start at right guard.

The biggest intrigue will be at QB and on the defensive line.

After finishing strong last season, Moore was handed the starting job when Delhomme was released following his miserable season. Moore is 6-2 as a starter, but those games came over two seasons after Carolina was already effectively eliminated from playoff contention.

Moore, the affable, easygoing Californian, appeared far from overwhelmed as he reported to camp.

"I think if I make it bigger than it is, that's when things start going wrong," he said.

His hold on the starting job is hardly secure. The Panthers snatched up Jimmy Clausen in the second round after his remarkable fall in the draft, and the former Notre Dame star agreed to a four-year contract early Wednesday to avoid a holdout.

With DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart back after they each rushed for more than 1,100 yards last season and with one of the best offensive lines in the league, the Panthers are likely to lean on their running game as they settle their quarterback spot.

That's good because Smith will miss most of the preseason after being hurt playing in a recreational flag football game, a violation of his contract.

"It's only been five weeks. Next week will be six weeks. All the analysts say it takes eight to 10 weeks to see how well I'll be able to use it," Smith said, refusing to say if he thinks he'll play in a preseason game.

Without their four-time Pro Bowl pick in practices, the Panthers will shuffle in Dwayne Jarrett, Brandon LaFell, Kenny Moore and Armanti Edwards as they look for depth after Muhammad's departure.

The defensive line has even more work to do.

After allowing their career sacks leader to walk away in free agency, the Panthers also must replace both defensive tackles. Only starting defensive end Tyler Brayton returns.

"There is a lot of starting positions on the line and a lot of candidates for them at all positions," said Everette Brown, a candidate for Peppers' old spot. "It's just going to pick up the intensity."

Weakside linebacker Thomas Davis' season-ending knee injury last month will cause changes there, too. Pro Bowl pick Jon Beason could move from the middle to the outside. The Panthers plan to use Sherrod Martin as Harris' replacement at safety.

With so many new and young players, Fox is expected to push the team harder when two-a-day workouts begin Thursday morning in perhaps his final camp at Wofford College.

"I think it's going to be fun," Smith insisted. "We've got a lot more younger guys, so I think things are going to be different, a little bit more loose, a little bit more fun, a little bit of guys trying to establish their own traditions. I'm excited to see, to observe, what's going to happen."