Carolina faithful breathed a collective sigh of relief when Marty Hurney announced that Cam Newton had only suffered a foot sprain in Thursday’s preseason game against the Patriots. The team remains “cautiously optimistic” about his availability week 1, but even after dodging the worst, serious questions still remain heading into the regular season.
After a disappointing home performance against the Bills in week two, the expectation was that a different and more motivated team would show up for their regular season dress rehearsal against the reigning Super Bowl champs. But if Thursday night’s game serves as a measuring stick for what to expect week 1, Carolina has a lot of work to do over the next couple of weeks.
Will the Real Panthers D Please Stand Up
Historically, defense has been the Panthers strong suit, but last year’s disappointing performance led to a total restructure. The combination of new comers Gerald McCoy, Bruce Irvin and first round pick Brian Burns, in addition to Luke Kuechly, KK Short and Mario Addison we’re constantly referred to as “scary” by players during training camp. But the group has been nothing more than solid during the preseason and solid, according to McCoy, only gets you an 8-8 record.
Is it possible that we’ll see a totally different group when the Panthers host the Rams week one? Yes. But there will have to be a lot of corrections made. Lineman will have to get a better push and put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The chunk plays that plagued the defense last year will have to be few and far between and the unit will have to find a way to get off the field on third down.
Protect Your Most Important Merchandise
The offense line struggled against the Patriots. The Panthers will not be able to reach their full potential if QB1 is running for his life every play. After watching tape from Thursday night’s game, Coach Rivera said most of the issues were communication related – which is expected as an offensive line with new pieces gains familiarity and gels.
The hope is that the line will work the kinks out during practice over the next two weeks in preparation for week 1 against the Rams, and with Newton coming back from shoulder surgery and a foot sprain, protecting him will be more important than ever.
Murky Backup Battle
So far, no one has impressed enough to be named Carolina’s backup, and while Kyle Allen, Will Grier and Taylor Heineke may show glimpses of number two capability, errant passes and questionable decision making have outnumbered the positives.
A solid backup is one of the best insurance policies a team can invest in. Rivera said that they’re happy with who they have on the roster and do not plan on working out any additional QBs. Will the real back-up stand up in Thursday’s preseason finale? It’s possible. Kyle Allen has been taking the majority of the 2nd team snaps, so I’ll expect that to continue heading into the season, with the hope that Newton will remain healthy so that the depth of the QB position isn’t truly tested.