The light at the end of the tunnel will shine brightly for Carolina sports lovers going through withdrawal as the Panthers hold their first training camp practice at Wofford college in Spartanburg, SC today. After one of the most uncertain off-seasons since their inception, the Panthers head into the official start of football with a new owner, new offensive coordinator and new key contributors.
Although in general I feel the team got stronger, I still have a few legitimate questions.
- Offensive Line: It has been well documented that quarterback Cam Newton has been one of the most hit in recent history. Part of that has been that Cam has often had to make plays with his legs (one of his best strengths and an added threat to opposing defenses), but inconsistent and sometimes mediocre offensive line play has also contributed to Newton’s hits. When Carolina shocked the NFL in 2015, going 15-1 and making a trip to the Super Bowl, offensive line play was the best it’d been in years. If the Panthers want to make another such run o-line consistency will be crucial. Unfortunately, for Carolina this is one of their biggest question marks. Who will replace Andy Norwell (who signed with the Jaguars in the offseason after his impressive All-pro play at guard)? Will Matt Khalil’s play improve? 2017 was rough for Matt. Will he find his footing this year? Carolina drafted Taylor Moton, who can plays both guard and tackle and could potentially address either need, but it’s still an obvious concern headed into camp.
- Norv Turner’s Fit: Outside of getting a new owner, the biggest change in the Panthers’ off-season was at offensive coordinator. Mike Shula, much criticized for his stale and predictable play calling is out and Norv Turner, well known for his development of quarterbacks Troy Aikman and Phillip Rivers, is in. Turner’s job is to essentially bring the best out of one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in league history. How will Turner help improve Newton’s accuracy? What offensive schemes will Turner build around Newton that balances his skills in the air and on the ground? How will he take advantage of the deep-strike ability of Newton’s arm? This marriage has the potential to generate one of the most exciting offenses in the league. It’s the type of relationship that legacies are built on. Let’s just hope it’s the good kind.
- Secondary: One of Carolina’s perennial weak spots has been their secondary (except during the 2015 season with the emergence of Josh Norman). Last season they got exposed…a lot (see Julio Jones’ record setting game that Falcons’ fans will never let Carolina forget). And although the Panthers defense has alway been built around having a good defensive line and linebackers who get pressure on opposing quarterbacks forcing them to make mistakes the secondary can take advantage of, they didn’t even do that last season. Often times they looked old and slow when it came to coverage. Kurt Coleman and Daryl Worley are gone, leaving James Bradberry and Mike Adams as the only two starters to return from last season. So, who will start with Bradberry and Adams when the Panthers open their season against the Cowboys? How well will rookies Rashaan Gaulden and Donte Jackson play? Who will line up at nickel? There are a ton of questions here, which are sure to be some of the toughest the Panthers’ coaching staff will have to answer, but at least they have options.
The Panthers will celebrate the start of training camp with a kick-off party at Joe Gibbs stadium from 4:30-6:30 ahead of their first official practice. It is open to the public and admission is free.