Reasons for Optimism in Carolina

Friday (7/26), the Carolina Panthers host their annual Fan Fest at Bank of America Stadium. As with most fan bases around the NFL, everyone is 0-0 right now and hope springs eternal. That is of course if you don’t listen to the media.

Next Friday (7/26), the Carolina Panthers host their annual Fan Fest at Bank of America Stadium. As with most fan bases around the NFL, everyone is 0-0 right now and hope springs eternal. That is of course if you don’t listen to the media.

Last year, the media named the Carolina Panthers secondary “The Legion of Whom?” The “Legion of Whom” flourished behind a front seven that accumulated 60 sacks and picked off a combined 13 passes for 2 TDs. The defense carried the Panthers last year, and that same core is back with the addition of two NFC South battle tested, Roman Harper and Thomas DeCoud. Rivera also brought in cornerback, Antoine Cason, to help. This familiar face, who Rivera coached in San Diego, coupled with those battle worn Pro Bowl vets, should only strengthen an already strong defense that was already ranked 3rd overall.
This year the onus will really be on the offense. Jordan Gross’s retirement left a difficult hole to fill on the offensive line. The Panthers chose not to fill this position through the draft, leaving Byron Bell and converted defensive lineman Nate Chandler to battle for the right to protect Cam Newton’s blind spot. While the tackle spots remain a concern, the guard position has some depth with a returning Amini Silatolu, Gary Williams, and Chris Scott. 4th draft choice from 2013, Edmund Kugbila, and this year’s 3rd round choice, Trai Turner, will also compete for time.  Carolina’s run game was more productive last year than many would think from watching the games.  Cam’s ability to hurt defense with his feat bolstered the running games statistics.  These improvements at guard may help to take some of the pressure off Cam to facilitate the run.

The loss of fireplug and longtime Panther Steve Smith is also an issue for Carolina. Smith was the heart and soul of the offense the last decade, but the Panthers’ brass seemed ready to move in a different direction. Opposing defenses have had to dedicate their top corner, with safety help over the top, to handle Smith for years.  Last season Smith wasn’t the team’s leading receiver--a tight end was. Sure handed, but sure tacked, Greg Olsen led the team in receiving.  Olsen is a great tight end, but he shouldn’t be the any team’s leading receiving leader

Although Olsen will not take over a game, he’s difficult for defenses to shut down entirely. It’s tough doubling a tight end, and devoting a linebacker and safety is difficult defensively. Add Kelvin Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant, and either Marvin McNutt or Tiquan Underwood to the mix, and defense coordinators will find themselves scratching their heads. The parity of Carolina’s receivers because of a substantial pass threat with Olsen strains defenses in personnel matchups. In essence, not having a true number one receiver is a good thing.

Don’t forget this is the same offense averaged 126.6 yards on the ground.  The guards position has improved so much that running up the middle will only be more effective than 2013. Also, while his blind spot is suspect at the moment, Newton has a rare skill set and athleticism that allows him amazing escape ability to extend plays. Jonathan Stewart’s return will finally add that pop needed to DeAngelo Williams consistency. Throw in big bowling ball Mike Tolbert, the speedster Kenjon Barner, and rookie bruiser Tyler Gaffney with Newton’s run threat, and this offense doesn’t look so bad anymore.

There may not be any superstars other than Cam, but things don’t look as bleak as many think. Long story short, the defense, the running game, the strong guards, and a bevy of capable receivers are all reasons for optimism in Carolina. Cotchery and Smith’s stats were comparable last season, with Cotchery going 46 recs for 602 yards and 10 TDs. That is only a 29 percent decrease from the combined effort of departing receivers Smith, Lafell, Hixon and Ginn Jr who went 156 for 1983 and 15 TDs. No that is not to say the 32-year-old Cotchery is the answer, but stats are stats, Even Rivera noted that Carolina only had to “replace those 10 catches a game.”

Strengthening and already strong defense with a more balanced and likely more productive offense should make Panther breath deeply and relax.  Don’t be worried Panther fans need, instead be optimistic.

By: +Justin Davis.  You can find his work at  Be sure to give him a follow on Twitter @JerseyMikeJr