There is a lot to be excited about as a Carolina Panthers fan in 2017. The season is full of promise with major upgrades on both sides of the ball. However, there is one position on offense that is a glaring weakness that could hold the team back. They say you are only as strong as your weakest link and for the Panthers that is the second tight end spot. Not having a true threat at that position is a real problem. How big of a problem? Let’s see.
First, the good news. The Panthers are poised to be more like their 2015 offense where they ranked first in the league. With a protected Cam and a healthy offensive line, this offense ran roughshod over the NFL going to a cool 15-1 record. They were also virtually unstoppable in the red zone in 2015. Without Kelvin Benjamin, Cam was forced to spread the ball around to multiple receivers. Perhaps most importantly, the Panthers had a consistently healthy offensive line in 2015 to protect Cam and to open holes on offense. At least as of July 15, the offensive line is once again healthy and intact. 2015 is a standard to reach for going forward.
Now for the challenge. The Panthers like to run a personnel grouping called a 22 personnel. That is two running backs, two tight ends and one wide receiver. That is an old-school formation that is usually reserved for short yardage situations, but Panthers like to run out of this formation with Trai Turner pulling. The Panthers have made a name for themselves under Ron Rivera by running the Power O out of a 22 formation. However, have you ever wondered why it feels like opposing teams can stack the box and stuff Jonathon Stewart, even though we have an elite QB in Cam Newton? Here’s why: the Panthers don’t have a true receiving threat opposite Greg Olsen when in the 22 personnel package. Defenders know who they must stop in this package. To contrast, the Patriots have shown what a team can do with two receiving Tight Ends. Imagine if the Panthers had that option too.
Right now the Panthers have Ed Dickson as the starting TE opposite Greg Olsen when in a 22 personnel package. This is the same Ed Dickson that at one point in 2015 (our glory year) ranked as the lowest rated player at any position in the entire NFL. This is the same Ed Dickson that ranked as the 47th tight end in football in 2016. This is why C3’s Joe Riollano, AKA the Freakn’ Puerto Rican, was clamoring for the Panthers to take OJ Howard in the Draft. I’m happy they went the way I wanted in Christian McCaffrey; however, the Panthers have too much to lose to not address this glaring weakness.
The Panthers may be foolishly hoping that Dickson improves or that promising back up Scott Simonson emerges this year. But for the life of me, I can’t figure out why we haven’t jumped all over Gary Barnidge. This really seems to be the missing link to the an offense that could once again be ranked first in the league. Why take the chance that the weakest link breaks down and ruins a shot at a Lombardi trophy? David Gettleman, go get Barnidge!