By DJ Siddiqi @DJSiddiqi on July 15, 2014
The Carolina Panthers open training camp on July 26 and much has changed for the defending NFC South champs. Though star quarterback Cam Newton returns for his fourth season, the Panthers won't return any of their main receivers from the 2013 roster. Longtime franchise players, such as receiver Steve Smith and tackle Jordan Gross, either were released or retired. Here are the five biggest whispers surrounding the Panthers before training camp.
Greg Hardy was slapped with the $ 13 million franchise tag following his 15-sack season in 2013. Hardy's 15 sacks was the third-best mark in the NFL, and helped the Panthers lead the NFL with a total of 60 sacks. Hardy enters his fifth season in the NFL following back-to-back double-digit sack seasons. He'll be looking for a long-term contract after 2014 as he looks to post his third-straight double-digit-sack season.
The Panthers had a strong rushing game in 2013, as they ranked 11th in the NFL by posting 126 rushing yards per game. The running game was powered by a three-headed rushing attack led by Newton, DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert. All three players had at least 100 carries last season. Jonathan Stewart returns healthy in 2014, but is dealing with recurring ankle injuries, while Williams will be 31 years old this season.
The Panthers enter the 2014 season without a true No. 1 wideout. Carolina will begin the 2014 season without a wideout who caught a pass for them last season. First-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin is currently the team's best option. Other receivers, such as Jerricho Cotchery, Tiquan Underwood and Jason Avant, were added in the offseason to overhaul the receiving corps.
A big reason for why the Panthers had such a successful 2013 season was due to the play of franchise quarterback Cam Newton. The mobile QB not only ran the ball less last season, he also established career highs in every major statistical category including completion percentage, touchdown passes and quarterback rating. He'll have to have an even better season in 2014.
The Panthers have never made it to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons in their franchise history, let alone win a division title in consecutive seasons. That looks to be the case yet again next season as both the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons return with stronger rosters. The Panthers had one of the weakest offseasons of any NFL team, and they'll be hard-pressed to return to the playoffs in 2014.
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