Carolina Panthers 2013 Training Camp Preview
Carolina Panthers 2013 Training Camp Preview
The Carolina Panthers have massively bolstered their defense over the past couple years.
NFL defensive rookie of the year Luke Kuechly is manning the middle linebacker spot and the team snagged defensive tackles with their top two picks in April's draft. This is hardly surprising given new general manager Dave Gettleman's background in the New York Giants front office. The secondary remains a major question and surely coach Ron Rivera would like to see young players step up there.
Rivera enters his third year with the franchise and has seen moderate success given the state they were in when he took over. After going 2-14 prior to his arrival, Carolina slowly clawed its way back to 7-9 last year. Well, more "rapidly" given how hot their offense got down the stretch. Continuing this momentum in 2013 will be crucial to Rivera keeping his job.
Now Rivera entrusts the re-shaping of his attack to offensive coordinator Mike Shula, who will oversee a faster, more simplified scheme.
“We want to be up-tempo, we want to practice up-tempo and get things going up-tempo,” Rivera said at organized team activities, via The Charlotte Observer. “That’s what you see, you see more of that in the last couple weeks in these OTAs.”
This could be a boon for Cam Newton, who has benefited from the read-option in narrowing his progressions while also catching defenses off guard with his ability to run. Now if another receiver could step up in Panthers training camp, next to the aging Steve Smith, they'll be in business.
Newton is in zero danger of losing his starting job, but Rivera and the new GM would probably like to Newton string together his first consistent year as a pro. Shoring up accuracy problems will be a huge factor. Derek Anderson, Jimmy Clausen and rookie Colby Cameron battle for backup roles.
DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have quietly comprised arguably the best running back tandem of this millennium, ranking seventh and eighth respectively in Pro Football Focus' tailback grades over the past five years in total. However, they also boast ridiculous contracts for running backs in this day and age, probably part of the reason the last GM got canned. Armond Smith and Tauren Poole will battle for reps at the back end while rookie Kenjon Barner provides an interesting scatback-type option on passing downs. Mike Tolbert remains a valuable running, receiving and blocking asset at fullback.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Brandon LaFell enters his fourth season aiming to truly break out after a couple 600-plus-yard, ho-hum seasons and will probably man the slot role. Domenik Hixon comes on over from the Giants along with GM Gettleman. Ted Ginn, Jr., Armanti Edwards and David Gettis are among a slew of receivers vying for a spot on the WR depth chart, while veteran Steve Smith assumes the No. 1 role per usual.
Greg Olsen gets an overwhelming amount of the tight end work. Olsen received 21 percent of the team's targets last season, tied for second among NFL tight ends with Jimmy Graham. Ben Hartsock, Nelson Rosario and Brandon Williams vie for the remaining reps in camp.
Newton's size and elusiveness — combined with Rivera's read-option concepts — have really aided a line that is middle-of-the-pack at best. Jordan Gross has been very good left tackle in the league for years and Ryan Kalil's a solid center, but the rest doesn't leave at ease. Amini Silatolu had a rough rookie year at left guard while Geoff Hangartner and right tackle Byron Bell comprise a mediocre right side.
Terrible play on the interior has plagued the Panthers' 4-3 base defense for years, but could soon become quite stout. Rookie first-rounder Star Lotulelei and second-rounder Kawann Short — who must beat out incumbent Dwan Edwards for snaps — are critical for freeing up an excellent bookend rush of Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson. Frank Alexander provides another key end in the rotation after a strong rookie season.
On paper, this is arguably the worst secondary the league. Captain Munnerlyn could be a decent slot guy if he even wins the job over free agent DJ Moore, but any success will hinge on Josh Thomas and Josh Norman growing up quick. Haruki Nakamara joins Charles Godfrey as the probably starting safeties, while Mike Mitchell and rookie Robert Lester could seize safety snaps.
Kicker Graham Gano and punter Brad Nortman are frontrunners with rookies Morgan Lineberry and Jordan Gay challenging. Ginn, Jr. was signed mainly for his returning ability while Barner, Kealoha Pilares, Joe Adams and Armanti Edwards could also factor here.