It’s a scary question, well for the rest of the league anyway. Imagine if Michael Oher plays well, or even if he has a slightly better than average season. Carolina could be far more dangerous than anyone could have ever foreseen.
While one player at one position certainly wasn’t Carolina’s only problem last seaon, left tackle remains the only lingering problem we’re unsure if Dave Gettleman and the Panthers adequately addressed.
Last season, Carolina entered training camp with a host of problems and unknowns. The NFC South Champs had 21 unrestricted free agents departing from the roster. Their franchise left tackle, Jordan Gross, retired, and they cut their greatest all-time offensive player, Steve Smith. Amidst this violent personnel storm, Cam Newton had sudden last minute ankle surgery that we were promised was minor, having only a 6-week recovery period. It took longer. The pain lingered, and more injuries piled up for the gimpy quarterback.
The offensive line, meant to protect Cam, was in utter disarray as well. With only one drafted player, Ryan Kalil, the Panther’s line was a hodgepodge of overmatched players with underwhelming talent. Those who weren’t in over their head, like Trai Turner and Andrew Norwell, were as green as they come. And then there were the tackles. A failed defensive tackle turned offensive lineman (Nate Chandler) and an undrafted free agent right tackle (Byron Bell) moved to the left tackle position because he was left handed were charged with protecting a quarterback against a league where rushing the passer is what dictates the game. Carolina’s line ultimately consisted of any fat guy Dave Gettleman could convince to suit up and give it a shot. It was an epic fail, one that remains Gettleman’s biggest misstep to date.
Ron Rivera’s Panthers prayed that a hobbled quarterback under assault behind a porous offensive line could somehow manage to produce without a single familiar face in the receiving corps. The entire receiver corps had departed, and Dave Gettleman went and hired a group of cheap, has been receivers, that never really were. The math of Jason Avant, Jerricho Cotchery, and Kelvin Benjamin amounted to a number three + a number three + an unpolished future rookie number one + a bunch of spare change found under the couch cushions (Philly Brown, Brenton Bersin), and it never added up.
Then there was the defense. Gettleman warned that the pain of this personnel turnover was coming, and chose to bet the farm on Greg Hardy and the defensive line. It wasn’t an illogical bet, but it turned out a bad one when Hardy found himself suspended for the entire season because of a domestic violence incident. Hardy’s absence stressed the defensive line and exposed problems in the secondary, as the rookies that Gettleman required to step into a starting role struggled with their crash course of the pro game.
The personnel problems went even further, but you get the point. Carolina fortunately has taken major steps to remedy these problems via free agency and the draft. Yea I know, it doesn’t seem as if the Panthers did much in free agency, but their moves were strategic. What I failed to mention to this point is that Carolina’s special teams were even worse than the problems discussed above.
Gettleman has worked hard, however, to bolster the roster and overcome the problems of last season.
- Cam Newton is healthy.
- The receiver core is physically imposing, has serious potential, and most importantly has some speed.
- Hardy is gone and Carolina knows that they got. A group of star third year players in Kawaan Short and Star Loutoulei, and a top-tier pass rusher in Charles Johnson.
- A revamped special teams with proven kick and punt returners (Jordan Toddman and Tedd Ginn, Jr.).
So what’s really left? Safety and left tackle. Carolina has notable hope in now sophomore safety, Tre Boston. Gettleman, who we know is great at finding the bargain bin castoff, grabbed Kurt Coleman, who has played under Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott in the past and has experience at both the strong and free safety positions. Gettleman even added a solid, experienced cornerback in Charles “Peanut” Tillman.
It ultimately all comes down to Michael Oher and if he can play well. While it’s been a couple of years since he has, he at least has played well at left tackle before. Charlotte Observer's Jonathan Jones writes “Oher had four good years in Baltimore to start his career before a nagging toe injury hampered his play in 2013. Oher signed a four-year, $20 million deal with the Titans before the 2014 season, but the injury persisted."
After offseason surgery, Oher is reportedly feeling better than ever.
Michael Oher says toe feels “excellent … hasn’t felt this good since I entered the NFL.”— Black & Blue Review (@BlackBlueReview) May 28, 2015
Oher has also been reunited with his original line coach John Matsko, under whom he had his initial success in Baltimore.
A storied player, most known as the inspiration for “The Blindside” movie, is feeling better and ready to get back to the player he once was. He sounds ready to take back the narrative, and if he can get just somewhere in the general vicinity of what he once was, the 2015 Panthers could be deadly.
By the Professor, aka Tony Dunn