Every offseason, the goal for an NFL team is to either get better or at least not get worse. It is hard for a team like the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots to improve the offseason after their championship, and it seems like they have taken a step back thus far. But for a below .500 team like our Carolina Panthers, improvement is expected. There is no question in my mind that the Panthers finish next season with more wins than losses, and will probably claim their third straight NFC South title as well. It is obvious Carolina has taken a step forward this offseason, and here are some of the reasons why.
Reason #1: Improved Offensive Line
The jury is still out on whether Michael Oher will be able to keep Cam Newton’s jersey clean, but I think the verdict will be between yes and no. Though our offensive line is no superpower, it is greatly improved over the one that trotted on the field last year. We returned the good (Kalil, Turner, Norwell), the mediocre (Remmers), and rid ourselves of the bad (Bell). In addition to this, we brought in Oher, who the front office believes is an improvement over Bell; plus, we drafted our future at right tackle in Daryl Williams. Though the line may not dominate week in and week out, they are definitely better than last season.
Reason #2: Cam is Healthy
We all know the story behind this. Cam Newton’s ribs aren’t cracked anymore, his spine is fracture-less, and his ankle isn’t gimpy. Unlike last year, he has been working on improving chemistry with his young receivers and actively trying to smooth out the flaws in his throwing motion. Now if Mike Shula can use Newton’s talents to their fullest advantage, he should round into MVP-ish form.
Reason #3: Defense is Better All-Around
It is hard to improve greatly on a top 10 defense, but the Panther’s found away to do it this offseason. Back is nearly every key contributor over the stretch last season. In addition to this group, we welcome back defensive end Frank Alexander who seems poised for a breakout year, and we welcome for the first time rookies Shaq Thompson and David Mayo. In addition to this, we brought in veteran corners in Charles Tillman, and Chris Houston to help solidify a weak secondary. Also brought into the fold is veteran safety Kurt Coleman who has already taken some first team snaps in Roman Harper’s stead. With the further development of Kony Ealy, Bené Benwikere, Josh Norman, and Tre Boston; this defense looks young and scary. Oh, and having Star Lotulelei back and healthy is a huge addition as well.
Reason #4: More Weapons for Cam
For the first time since entering the league, Cam Newton has a solid corp of receiving and rushing talent around him. As Kelvin Benjamin continues his climb to superstardom; an improved Corey Brown looks to make big plays down the field, and the addition of matchup nightmare Devin Funchess will continue to open up the field for Cam. Jerricho Cotchery brings the veteran presence to the group, Ted Ginn adds his speed and familiarity, and players like Jarrett Boykin/Brenton Bersin add stability off the bench. If Ricky Proehl can get players like Stephen Hill and Damiere Byrd in a position to contribute, it will only add another wrinkle to a defensive coordinators playbook. Greg Olsen is back after a career year; with Mike Tolbert fully healthy and resuming his blocking duties, Ed Dickson will find more looks in the passing game. You can’t forget Fozzy Whittaker in the screen game either, and the improved running back unit as a whole. Looks to me like Cam and company will be pitching a tent in the opposing team’s end zone.
Reason #5: A Good Schedule
To me a “good schedule” isn’t one with a bunch of scrubs. A solid schedule is one with some easy wins, some challenges, and one that poses interesting match ups. The Panther’s schedule has all of these, including what should be a confidence booster right out of the blocks against Jacksonville. Though we have an extremely rough patch from week 6-9, it should only prepare us for what I hope is a deep playoff run. The schedule is filled with enough competition and winnable games for an exciting season, we might as well put the six games against the rest of the NFC South should in the “easy wins” section (;.
By Grant Hughes
Follow Grant on Twitter @KenjonVander