Super Cam’s return didn’t start off so super, completing only 1 of his first 5 passes. Newton stared down his receivers, had trouble getting through his progressions, threw a ball into triple coverage that miraculously wasn’t intercepted, and missed Kelvin Benjamin deep. It wasn’t until the second quarter that Newton rebounded after piecing together a drive sparked by Jonathan Stewart’s impressive debut and a sharp pass to new tight end, Ed Dickson. Cam looked unwilling to run, whether by coaches’ orders or personal hesitancy. He evaded a few pass rushes, but to be expected, he never pushed on the gas fully. Cam was clearly a little rusty. The worrisome part, however, is that his ankle looked squeaky also. Hopefully a few of drops of 3-1 oil will do the trick. I’m sure Jonathan Stewart has some borrow.
2) Benjamin was feisty.
Targeted early and often, Benjamin has already established himself as Carolina’s #1 receiver. Cam Newton knows it; Derek Anderson knows it; Panthers fans know it, and the country would have found out had Cam connected on that deep ball where Benjamin looked like a land speculator with all that open real estate around. Benjamin looks more than just the part, but he also acts. He works the middle confidently and showed surprising down-field speed. He also doesn’t take any flak from opposing corners, seen in his quickness to mash this guy’s face and then manhandle him in the following play. Benjamin took a little heat from the fan base today, describing his behavior as unacceptable and harmful to the team. I’m on the other side of the fence, however. I want to see this guy play with this intensity and confidence, and I certainly can’t wait to see him block like a tight end 20 yards down field.
3) Run Jonathan Stewart, run!
It has been so long, I truly forgot how much Stewart transforms Carolina’s offense. The Panthers are a completely different team when Stewart is healthy and on the field. Cam and the offense struggled until Stewart peeled off a 17-yard run that instantly breathed life into the offense. Stewart finished the game with 26 yards and 2 TDs. This was Stewarts first 2 TD game since 2009 against Atlanta. If Stewart is still healthy and reeling off two TD games when we face Atlanta in Week 10, it will be a near miracle. It would also be a catalyst for Carolina’s offense and be vital to their chances of repeating as division champs.
4) Antoine “wants some” Cason and Melvin “Breaking Bad” White got some!
After a rocky start against Buffalo, Antoine Cason came to get his tonight. Cason made back-to-back exceptional plays to stop a surging Chiefs offense. Quite the opposite of the blown coverages and missed tackles last week, Cason anticipated and finished all night.
Melvin White also broke bad last night, amassing 4 solo tackles, 2 assisted tackles, and at least 1 pass defended. It’s easy to forget that White was an undrafted rookie free agent last year after Rivera listed him as the #2 corner and asked him to play as the #1 because Captain Munnerlyn is, well, 5’-8”. White sent a Heisenberg message to opponents last night to “tread lightly.” What I liked most is White’s continued quickness to break from his assignment and make key tackles. He did last week against Sammy Watkins, and again this week in a 3rd and goal stop where he delivered a punishing tackle to rookie standout D’Anthony Thomas.
If Cason and White continue to perform as they did against the Chiefs, Carolina’s secondary should be much improved from last season.
5) Byron Photo-bomb Bell and the Offensive Line blowing dudes up.
Panther Nation has waited anxiously to see the offensive lines performance in the wake of Jordon Gross and Travelle Wharton’s retirements. Gettleman’s decision not to address the left tackle position through free agency or the draft only heightened this anxiety. Fans and analysts have droned on and on how this offensive line isn’t talented enough to prevent he edge rush. Whether it is the undrafted Byron Bell or the converted defensive tackle, Nate Chandler, the consensus has been that this offensive line will take a significant step back.
From what we’ve seen so far, it hasn’t been anywhere as bad as fans feared. The interior line looks to be stronger with the addition of Trai Turner and the return of Amini Silatolu. Leaving Chandler at right tackle looks to be the right move as Bell continues to impress on the left. What’s most encouraging about Bell’s assumption of the left tackle position is his acceptance of the leadership role that comes with such a high profile position. Bell has become more vocal and visible, photo-bombing Cam Newton rather than bombing before him.
Panther fans should be encouraged by Carolina’s preseason so far. The doom and gloom of a quiet off-season punctuated by departures instead of arrivals appears less troublesome than expected. The offense looks more potent already and the defense is only getting better. Barring injury and granting Cam’s complete recovery, the Cardiac Cats should be causing heart attacks rather than suffering from them this season.
What would you say the most encouraging aspects of the Panthers first preseason victory were?