Is the Carolina Panthers Offense set to Dramatically Improve?

Hey gang.

 I thought about calling this column something like "Is Dave Gettleman the new Ex-Lax?" It would have probably made some people click on to look that wouldn't normally have done so, but was a bit too "out there" to actually put as the title - not to mention generating some rather unseemly analogies.

 The point, however, remains the same. Dave Gettleman seems to get the "mostest from the leastest" as far as his free agent acquisitions have generally gone so far. Very smoothly.

For instance, last season, he filled a number of gaps with some talented players like safety Mike Mitchell, who is the guy I'm going to miss the most but root for - he earned a nice contract with his play last year and we just couldn't afford to keep him. Our loss is the Steelers' gain in his case.

Same with Ted Ginn, jr. Domenik Hixon, and a couple of others last season. This season, with the media ire aimed squarely at Carolina's "sorriest wide receivers," Gettleman has obviously VERY quietly assembled a fair amount of talent-on-the-cheap to help out Cam in the passing game.

Most of us know the major new names. Veteran WR Jerricho Cotchery had perhaps his best season as a pro last year with a rookie QB, which tells me Cotchery is a guy who can adapt to whatever situation he finds himself in. He will likely be Cam's #1 WR target over the course of an entire game.

Gettleman didn't stop there, however. He added Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood as well. It seems like every year, he's getting rid of low-end receivers in favor of other lower-end receivers (no Megatron here - yet) and puts a patchwork offense together all while being restricted by Marty Hurney's legacy of the Salary Cap from Hell.

Cotchery will probably be the most consistent receiver over the whole 16-game season for the team and should see a lot of targets the first month of the season relative to the other WRs.

Then there's the hulking rookie, Kelvin Benjamin, at a nearly tight end-size of 6'5" and 240 lbs. So far, camp reports have ALL been positive and the latest news is that his hands seem better than advertised.

He was known at FSU in part for dropping too many easy passes. Drops happen once in a while to anyone for sure, but in Benjamin's case you're spending a first-round pick on a guy you're maybe not so sure about that on. Time will tell, but at least he seems to be worthy of his late first-round selection. The 2014 season will tell us a lot more and he could find himself the team's #1 WR if not by year's end, by next year. He could be the "#1-B" WR by season's end while Cotchery is "#1-A" if he lives up to his potential early enough.

Then there's the draft that helped solidify the interior of the offensive line. We have All-Pro center Ryan Kalil in place. I'm looking for a huge leap from a healthy LG Amini Silatolu, who spent his entire second season on Injured Reserve, so he'll know the system from the first snap of the first game.

Don't forget third-round pick guard Trai Turner from LSU, either. It may seem a bit high for a guard, but not really. Not if you want one of the best, it isn't, and from all reports, Turner is a complete beast and should very likely start at the RG spot.

Now we get to the interesting part. On the one hand, Dave Gettleman said about not drafting what appeared to be a high-need position - left tackle - when Jordan Gross unexpectedly retired: "Sometimes the answer is right there on your roster."

To his credit, Gettleman didn't "reach" for an offensive tackle as ALL the good ones were gone when we drafted near the end of the first round. That was when he gave the refrain I mentioned just above.

However, the OTHER thing was talk about moving RT Byron Bell to the left side and inserting another tackle on the right.

I've said it from day one and haven't changed my mind one bit there. If we're down to using Byron Bell as a left tackle, then no, the answer is obviously NOT on our roster, and I actually have a decent record predicting things like this over recent years....for instance I said from day one that Luke Kuechly was drafted to be our MLB, despite the talk at the time about Jon Beason "preferring" the MLB spot but happy to play any spot, while breaking in Kuechly at the WILL backer. I said Luke was an MLB and should be the MLB all along. Easy to connect the dots there as Ron Rivera was a linebacker for that 1986 Chicago Bears Super Bowl team...and the single-season defense widely considered to be the best-ever in NFL history. He played next to some guy named Mike Singletary.

Same with Ryan Tannehill of the Dolphins - the "talking heads" all said he'd be benched for a while during his rookie season when the entire time I was saying he was drafted to start on day one. His offensive coordinator his rookie season in Miami was Mike Sherman, who just happened to be Tannehill's head coach in college. It was a unique situation where I figured the ROOKIE would be teaching the VETERANS the nuances of the offensive system, and it turns out I was right on that. Just a little common sense and an outsider's perspective is a good thing when the TV "analysts" all stuck with the status quo of the day.

The reason I mention these isn't to toot my own horn, but to give you a perspective that some may not have considered: Nate Chandler could well be the starting left tackle on opening day.

Yep, when I heard of Byron "The Turnstile" Bell protecting Cam's blind side, I was like "Oh helllllll no!"

I've also always said Bell is an above-average RUN blocker while being just a tick above a complete disaster as a pass-blocker. I've always said he's a class act, but that doesn't keep pass-rushers from "jumping the gate" and getting into the backfield early and often on passing downs from the strong side of the defense.

One would think NFL defenders would be kind enough to toss Bell a subway token as they go by him.

At any rate, the thought of moving Bell to protect Cam's blind said screamed at me "No, the answer is NOT on our roster" if that was indeed the plan.

I don't think that ever really WAS "The Plan." Remember, the Cylons "had a plan" too. They also had an entirely delicious actress named Trish Helfer, but that's another story for another blog that I wish I had!

Nate Chandler is a converted DT that began the transition to offense last season. He had big swings up and down, as one might expect, while learning his new role. Can't get much more different between defense and offense, can you?

Early camp reports, plus a video of Chandler completely abusing rookie Kony Ealy, have people buzzing about the possibility of HIM being the left tackle.

Well, that's wonderful news, because Bell at left tackle would really be a disaster I think. With the interior line fortified as I pointed out, we should be able to pound the rock up the middle, despite the injury to Tyler Gaffney and the subsequent theft of his services by the Ivory-towerish New England Patriots....who haven't won a Super Bowl after SpyGate, by the way. Classy.

Nate Chandler won't be an upgrade over Jordan Gross, however. There IS no "answer on the roster" to replace a guy who went to multiple Pro Bowls, but Chandler certainly would be an upgrade over Gross athletically if not technically. With more and more dynamic pass-rushers coming off the edge (think of Bruce Irvin of the Seahawks), left tackles are getting more and more athletic themselves as witnessed by the plethora of NFL top-ten left tackle picks in recent years and the sub-5.0 40-yard dash times so many are putting up at the combine.

If Chandler can nail down the left side and keep the Turnstile on the right side, the offense could well be more explosive for another, more subtle and unlikely reason. His name is Ed Dickson.

You see,  Dickson is a much better receiving threat than was Ben Hartsock last year, and if Dickson is the team's second tight end (behind incumbent Greg Olsen of course), it will really mix up the play-calling and not telegraph to the opposing defense what type of play is likely to come.

It's simple. Last year, when Greg Olsen was on the field, the play was more likely to be a pass than a run. When it was Hartsock, it was more likely to be a run than a pass.

The idea is to have them BOTH on the field, Olsen and Dickson that is, using the 2-TE set a la those damnable Patriots when they had a healthy Rob Gronkowski and an un-indicted TE2/speed threat in Aaron Hernandez.

Carolina's' TE duo doesn't approach the level of talent those two had, but it does (or would) give defensive coordinators more confusion and help take away their crystal ball(s) *ahem* in divining the play type, given which TE is in the game. However, a few words about Dickson:

He's a younger guy with a few years of experience under his belt and his last really productive season was in Baltimore in 2011, when he had 54 receptions for 528 yards and 5 TDs. However, the team was in a transition mode at the position and trying to work in Dennis Pitta in Pitta's second season. Pitta had 40 receptions himself in 2011 as a second-year player.

Without a true and tested "burner" on the outside to take the top off the defense on a regular basis, I still don't expect to see too many scoring plays snapped from the Panthers' side of the field. I know the Panthers run a "vertical passing game," but the personnel at hand (other than Cam) are better suited for a West Coast-style offense. All it would take to change that, however, would be a receiver establishing himself as a bona-fide deep threat....that would change the entire dynamic on offense.

Whatever the case may be, Dickson's presence alongside that of Olsen would mean a less-predictable offense and play calling and that's always a good thing.

Toss in the fact Rivera is literally "creating a monster" with rookie Kelvin Benjamin, Underwood's deep speed, and the "campspeak" of using Benjamin in the slot at times, and the offense would be able to show a lot of different looks and be able to mix things up more than the pure vanilla play calling Mike Shula did pretty much all of last season.

By now I think you see where I'm taking this. With a similarly productive defense from last season and a less predictable offense this season, things could be more interesting in Charlotte than what most of these same "talking heads" seem to think.

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