Panthers in midst of change after releasing vets

The Sports Xchange

March 01, 2018 at 1:49 pm.

Oct 8, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Carolina Panthers offensive guard Andrew Norwell (68) smiles before the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Photo Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 8, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Carolina Panthers offensive guard Andrew Norwell (68) smiles before the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Photo Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

INDIANAPOLIS — The Carolina Panthers have made some difficult decisions in letting go a few veterans who have been core members of the team, most notably franchise rushing leader Jonathan Stewart.

So it’s clear there’s willingness for an overhaul in some areas.

The Panthers released running back Stewart, safety Kurt Coleman and defensive end Charles Johnson. That seemed jarring on the surface, but those three players were clearly past their prime and their production had waned.

This also set the stage for what the Panthers might do in part regarding the draft and free agency.

Stewart spent 10 years with the Panthers, and head coach Ron Rivera said there had been a positive vibe with what Stewart could do. The Panthers are bound to try to find another running back who provides many of the same skills.

“He has been the physical presence on the offensive side who sets the tone and tempo,” Rivera said. “You’ve got to find a guy with similar characteristics and is willing to do that for you.”

What’s also important is identifying who might be the best complement to running back Christian McCaffrey, who’s coming off a solid rookie season. McCaffrey’s role often is bigger in the passing attack than the rushing attack, so that will be one of the major considerations.

Rivera said the Panthers aren’t about to abandon a power rushing game.

“I do think you do need to have that in the NFL today,” he said.

Rivera said he’s just beginning to delve extensively into studying the pool of running backs in the draft, but he already has seen examples of players who could provide the elements the Panthers will look for.

“It’s really about the guy who you think is the best fit for what you want to do,” Rivera said.

The Panthers have an array of needs that will be addressed in coming weeks. Those could be highlighted by wide receiver.

With Norv Turner on board as the new offensive coordinator there could be some new perspectives on what type of players the Panthers need at some of the positions of concern.

One area that Turner must sort out is if receiver Devin Funchess is deemed a top receiving target or if the Panthers should pursue another receiver for that role and have Funchess serve as more of a No. 2 role.

The offense also will be impacted one way or another on the free-agent status of left guard Andrew Norwell.

Rivera said general manager Marty Hurney has identified Norwell’s situation as one of the priorities. Hurney and Rivera have talked extensively about the topic.

“Andrew being an All-Pro this year definitely raises the bar,” Rivera said.

The Panthers might have been slow in making some offseason decisions with Hurney serving in an interim capacity and then briefly going on administrative leave when the NFL investigated his ex-wife’s allegations of domestic violence.

Hurney was reinstated and has since had the interim tag removed from his position. He was the team’s general manager previously, then rejoined the organization last summer after the dismissal of Dave Gettleman so it’s not like he’s starting from scratch.

But the Panthers might have some offseason catching up to do in terms of front-office work. That includes contracts for players who are currently under their control and decisions regarding free agents on the roster.

–The release of safety Kurt Coleman leaves the Panthers with a hole to fill more from just a physical standpoint at safety. Coleman was the leader in the defensive backfield.

“Filling that leadership, that’s going to be very important,” Rivera said. “Leadership will be a big piece of that.”

Rivera pointed out that Coleman’s presence was particularly vital because of the presence of young cornerbacks Daryl Worley and James Bradberry. They’ve both completed two seasons, but in many ways they are still considered in the developing phase.