The Carolina Panthers will once again make the trek to Spartanburg SC’s Wofford College on July 28 for training camp-kicking off the beginning of the 2021 NFL season.
Carolina ended the 2020 season with a disappointing 5-11 record, but there’s nothing like the promise of a new year to wipe the slate and memory banks clean of last season’s futility and disappointment.
Here’s a breakdown of what to expect as 2021 Panthers training camp unfolds.
Quarterback: Of all positions, it’s safe to say that the quarterback is Carolina’s blank canvas. It’s blank in tone and in depth. Remember, they didn’t draft any quarterbacks or keep the un-drafted free agents they had around afterwards. Teddy Bridgewater is now in Denver while Sam Darnold is the de facto QB1. PJ Walker and Will Grier return to compete for the backup role.
In Darnold, what’s worth watching is how quickly and well he can adapt to Joe Brady’s offense. For the backups, Walker won the backup role last season. However, he didn’t perform well enough to solidify it. Grier now has the opportunity to claim the QB2 spot if he can show significant progress and outplay Walker during camp.
Running Back: Christian McCaffrey’s health was a huge factor in last year’s disappointing record. McCaffrey missed all but three games due to various injuries. The hope in Carolina is that McCaffrey will be healthy for a full 17 games or something close.
In his last fully healthy season two years ago, McCaffrey recorded 2,392 yards and 19 touchdowns from scrimmage. It remains to be seen if he can return to this form. If McCaffrey can return to at least 70 percent of what he once was, the Panthers will make a significant leap.
Rookie Chuba Hubbard will succeed Mike Davis, who signed with the Atlanta Falcons during the offseason. After McCaffrey and Hubbard, there is a traffic jam at running back with un-drafted free agents jockeying for a position on the team. One name to watch for is Spencer Brown. The un-drafted rookie out of University of Alabama-Birmingham rushed for over 4,011 yards in his career and was a dependable receiver. Look for Brown to try to make the roster with his receiving ability and his willingness on special teams.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: The Panthers’ young receiving corp was one of the few bright spots of last season. DJ Moore racked up 1,193 yards last season and is one of two franchise players to top the 1,193 mark. Look for Robby Anderson to have more of a role alongside Moore since Curtis Samuel signed with Washington in the off season. Receivers, like running backs, are always jammed with hopefuls trying to make the roster. While Moore and Anderson are set, depth at receiver and Tight End will be fluid.
Linemen and Linebackers: The emergence of Brian Burns has been another positive from last year. He and Morgan Fox are expected to pick up where they left off. Coming into his second year, DT Derrick Brown is also expected to build on a solid start to his career. Brown was effective as a run disrupter and showed promise in collapsing pockets up the middle.
To straighten their linebacker unit, Carolina signed Denzel Perryman from the Los Angeles Chargers. The Panthers allowed 4.7 yards per carry and were the 20th ranked run defense in the league. It is the Panthers hope that Perryman will come in and make an immediate impact. In Perryman, the Panthers will have a run stopping linebacker with a penchant for the big hit. Look for how quickly Perryman is acclimated.
Secondary: This offseason the Panthers placed an emphasis on defensive Backs. They’ve shown us as much when they passed up Justin Fields for Jaycee Horn in the draft. Not saying that Horn was a bad pick, it was just surprising in comparison.
Horn, in action, will be the main watch from this unit. Seeing him paired with Jeremy Chinn will be exciting to see as a glimpse into the season. While Chinn might see some snaps at SAM linebacker, look for him to settle into more of a Safety role.