Strategy And Personnel

The Sports Xchange

July 24, 2018 at 1:10 am.


QUARTERBACKS: Starter – Cam Newton. Backups – Garrett Gilbert, Taylor Heinicke, Kyle Allen.

Newton had a choppy preseason in 2017 to say the least as he was coming off shoulder surgery, creating a severe reduction in his practice repetitions. Given that the Panthers have a new coordinator, Newton’s role in training camp figures to be particularly important. Yet it can’t be all about Newton because the Panthers no longer have a veteran backup, so that means they will begin the grooming of a second-string quarterback during this process as well.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters – Christian McCaffrey, C.J. Anderson. Backups – Alex Armah, Cameron Artis-Payne, Kenjon Barner, Reggie Bonnafon, Elijah Hood.

Anderson is coming off a 1,000-yard rushing season with the Denver Broncos, so despite releasing the franchise’s all-time leading rusher in Jonathan Stewart there’s no decline expected. In fact, the group needs to pick up the pace, particularly in terms of the ground attack. McCaffrey offers so much more than a traditional tailback and he’s more equipped to be a factor catching the ball. If Anderson comes close to repeating his 2017 with the new team, a lot of the issues could be solved. Artis-Payne is a solid backup for this group.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter – Greg Olsen. Backups – Chris Manhertz, Evan Baylis, Jason Vander Laan, Ian Thomas.

Olsen is one of the best in the game and his presence tends to be a comfort for Newton. It will be worth monitoring if he starts slowing down, but he gives no indication he’s expecting any sort of decline though he missed about half of last season with an injury. Ed Dickson picked up so much clout as Olsen’s fill-in that he was able to go elsewhere so establishing depth here is one of the keys. Manhertz has time with the team, so that’s a plus but Thomas could become a factor in a hurry if he shows strides this summer.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters – Devin Funchess, Torrey Smith. Backups – DJ Moore, Rasheed Bailey, Damiere Byrd, Austin Duke, Mose Frazier, Bug Howard, Fred Ross, Chris Samuel, Jarius Wright.

Funchess became the No. 1 receiver last season after the trade of Kelvin Benjamin, so he’ll have to prove he’s cut out for that across the long haul. Smith, who arrived in a trade from the Philadelphia Eagles, is an ideal addition, with experience and explosiveness that has frequently been lacking among the wideouts. The Panthers used their first draft selection on Moore, so count on him getting a close look as he learns the ropes. The key could be Samuel, a second-year pro who had an injury-riddled preseason and regular season last year as a rookie. His speed, if used right, is a difference maker.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters – LT Matt Kalil, LG Amini Silatolu, C Ryan Kalil, RG Trai Turner, RT Daryl Williams. Backups – T/G Taylor Moton, G Kyle Bosch, G Quinterrius Eatmon, C Kyle Friend, G Taylor Hearn, G Dorian Johnson, C Tyler Larsen, C Greg Van Roten, G Brendan Mahon, G Norman Price, T Jeremiah Sirles.

The second season with two Kalil brothers on the roster might not start with so much attention, so that’s likely a good thing. Ryan Kalil dealt with a neck injury that lasted too long last year, while Matt Kalil, who was the newcomer to the Panthers, wasn’t as effective as he needed to be. The Panthers have to replace All-Pro Andrew Norwell, who bounced off to Jacksonville. Moton provided a lot of encouragement as a versatile lineman last year, so he could be ready for a full-time role if that’s necessary.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters – LDE Julius Peppers, DT Kawann Short, DT Dontari Poe, LDE Mario Addison. Backups – DE Wes Horton, DT Vernon Butler, DT Kyle Love, DE Bryan Cox Jr., DE Daeshon Hall, DE Marquis Haynes, DT Drew Iddings, DT Ashaad Mabry, DE Zach Moore, DE Kendrick Norton, DE Efe Obada, DE Karter Schult, DT Tracy Sprinkle.

The pass rush has been the most notable asset for this group. With Addison helping lead the charge and Peppers back for another season as one of the all-time best at getting to quarterbacks, they’ll look to maintain that trend. But the middle will need to be hardened to some degree, particularly with roster turnover along the front. Poe arrives as a free agent from Atlanta with the ability to help be a big (all 346 pounds big) factor. Yet one of the keys could be Butler, who was a first-round draft pick in 2016 and has shown only occasional signs of living up to that billing.

LINEBACKERS: Starters – SOLB Thomas Davis, MLB Luke Kuechly, WOLB Shaq Thompson. Backups – David Mayo, Rich Brown, Jermaine Carter Jr., Chris Frey, Ben Jacobs, Jared Norris, Andre Smith.

Kuechly continues to be one of the best in the game, though he’s injury prone and that means there’s always a plan to keep him limited during preseason (not to mention he had offseason labrum surgery on his left shoulder). Thompson has emerged and he could move to the elite level. While Davis is listed as a starter, he’ll miss the first four games with an NFL suspension so that means opportunity for one of the younger backups. Mayo is better suited for the middle (as Kuechly’s backup), but he has the best credentials among the others at this point. Carter might have the edge among the others in the group.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters – LCB James Bradberry, SS Mike Adams, FS Da’Norris Searcy, RCB Kevon Seymour. Backups – S Colin Jones, CB Ross Cockrell, CB Captain Munnerlyn, S Demetrious Cox, CB Lorenzo Ross, CB Corn Elder, S Rashaan Gaulden, CB LaDarius Gunter, CB Donte Jackson, CB Cole Luke, S Damian Parms, S Dezmen Southward.

Bradberry is suddenly one of the staples of this unit and if he can make improvements for this season as much as he did for his second pro season last year then there’s reason for optimism. There could be good competition at cornerback, particularly with Cockrell figuring to make a bid to be a starter with his hometown team. Adams is a veteran voice in the secondary and that’s something that needs to be established. Gaulden was drafted with the intent that he’ll move into a valuable role, but the speed at which that happens depends on how he responds during the preseason.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Graham Gano, P Michael Palardy, LS J.J. Jansen, KR Christian McCaffrey, KR/PR Damiere Byrd.

Gano is coming off a special season and Palardy showed that it was a good choice to keep him in the mix with other options available. Gano seemed to thrive in last year’s preseason competition with then-rookie Harrison Butker, so it will be interesting to see how crisp Gano is without that type of scrutiny.




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