By Bryan Palmese @BryanPalmese on June 17, 2014
The Carolina Panthers return a dominating defense to the field in 2014, but there are several question marks surrounding other areas. Head coach Ron Rivera will have to pay close attention to training camp and make a few key decisions prior to Sept. 7 in order to maintain the Panthers' place amongst the NFC elite.
Greg Hardy had a phenomenal 2013 season and looked to be a perfect complement opposite Charles Johnson. Due to cap restrictions, the Panthers couldn’t sign him to a long-term deal, so they applied the franchise tag for 2014. Hardy recently experienced legal issues off-the-field in Charlotte and has to maintain focus on the field in a contract year. Was Hardy’s 2013 season a fluke, or can he be counted on as a franchise cornerstone on defense?
The Panthers added four new wide receivers to Cam Newton’s stable of weapons. The question is which player will be the No. 1 WR? Newton will be fine if everyone contributes, but he still needs that dependable guy to be his go-to WR. Can rookie Kelvin Benjamin step in right away and be the main threat? Veterans Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant won’t strike fear in opposing defenses, but they are very capable players.
Jonathan Stewart has spent more time over the past few seasons on an exercise bike than he has toting the rock. he Panthers need to run the ball, and Stewart’s presence in the backfield is important in Carolina’s rushing attack. Stewart has recently claimed to be as healthy as he’s been in three years, but he will need to prove this on the field.
A huge reason Carolina went 12-4 in 2013 was due to field position. Ted Ginn, Jr. was a huge spark plug in the return game and often put the Panthers in good starting position. He is no longer with Carolina, so they will need to figure out who amongst Tiquan Underwood, Kenjon Barner and Philly Brown will replace Ginn. As of now, this is a huge area of concern for the Panthers.
Cam Newton’s blindside has a gaping hole in it right now. There are two serviceable players on the offensive line vying to win this position. Newton is the fuel to the Panthers’ offensive fire, and without him staying upright and calm, he will struggle. Byron Bell and Nate Chandler look to win the starting LT spot and will need to perform at maximum capacity to protect the franchise signal-caller.
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