The 2015 NFL season is finally here! It has been a long seven months since the New England Patriots played the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. But we can finally look past that and focus on this season (I hope). The Carolina Panthers have had a very interesting offseason filled with injuries, releases, and acquisitions. If the Panthers want to three-peat as NFC South Champions, they will need some of their players to step up.
Who are those players that will need to have a strong season for the Panthers to have success?
LT Michael Oher
Player Replacing: LT Byron Bell (Released - Allowed 11 sacks in 2014 season)
GM's Take: Dave Gettleman told Panthers.com, "We did our homework on Michael, and we feel very strongly that he can be an answer for us. He'll be inserted at left tackle, and we'll go from there."
My Take: I really think that Michael Oher is an upgrade at left tackle from Byron Bell. But you can pretty much say that about anyone that replaces the second-lowest rated tackle in the league. Bell was given this rating by Pro Football Focus because of the 11 sacks he allowed last season. Oher is being inserted into the starting lineup even though he hasn't played well since he left the Baltimore Ravens. While on the Tennessee Titans he struggled in both pass and run blocking. Why should the Panthers give him another chance? Because he is the only option at left tackle right now and Dave Gettleman is hoping that it works out. It needs to workout because Cam Newton needs to stay healthy and the Panthers offense will need to run the ball to be successful.
DE Kony Ealy
Player Replacing: DE Greg Hardy (Free Agency - Commissioner's Exempt List)
Coach's Take: Ron Rivera stated that he was looking for a every-down starter to play opposite of defensive end Charles Johnson going into training camp. Well Rivera believes that he has found the right guy, and that guy is named Kony Ealy. The Black and Blue Review reported Rivera saying, “He [Kony Ealy] has taken the bull by the horns." Rivera also said, “He’s earned the opportunity, and I’ve been very pleased with him the last two weeks.”
My Take: Kony Ealy finished strong last season by recording a sack in the final three games. He also has registered two sacks in the last two preseason games. This is promising for the Carolina Panthers, but he was too inconsistent last season. So I am not really sure what the Panthers will get out of Ealy, but momentum is going in a positive direction. I still think that the Panthers will need to fill this role by committee (Kony Ealy, Wes Horton & Mario Addison).
WR Philly Brown and Ted Ginn Jr.
Players Replacing: WR Kelvin Benjamin (ACL Tear) and WR Devin Funchess (Not Ready - Hamstring Issues)
Coach's Take On Philly Brown: Ron Rivera told Panthers.com, "Corey knows all three positions, and then the one thing you talk about is Corey's speed. Now he's got to go out and perform, but that's the bottom line. You have to be productive, and you can't miss opportunities."
Coach's Take On Ted Ginn Jr.: According to Panthers.com Ron Rivera said, "I thought Teddy Ginn had a really nice training camp, did some really nice things. He played the role that we're looking for him to play for us."
My Take: The Panthers starting wide receivers can be best described in two words: Fast and Buckeye. They are both very quick receivers who played their college ball at Ohio State University. I was happy to have these two receivers on our depth chart, but not as starters. They were suppose to provide solid depth behind star receiver Kelvin Benjamin, and second round draft pick Devin Funchess. But Benjamin is out for the season and Funchess is still blooming. So the Panthers are crossing their fingers and hoping that a miracle happens.
Do you see these players having a strong year for the Carolina Panthers?
By, Justin Raymond
Follow Me On Twitter @JayRay19