PANTHERS 2015 Preview

By | July 29, 2015

It looks as though, almost by default, the PANTHERS are poised to retain their NFC South title. Heck, they might even do it with a winning record this season, say 9-10 Wins. The team has done some good things this off-season, but in reality it’s mediocrity and step-backs by their divisional opponents that give them the biggest edge.
CAM NEWTON has clearly stepped up and secured a spot as a Top 12 QB in the NFL. Even though his 82.1 Passer Rating and 18-12 TD/INT ration leaves a bit to be desired his ability to make things happen out on the grass cannot be denied. He rushed for over 500 yards, scoring another 5 TD for good measure and therein lies his true value. He’s a versatile athlete who is now using his head as well as his body to make things happen. His receiving corps got a boost this spring with the return of speedster TED GINN/VFA, who should improve field position with his speed as a return man, and also stretch secondaries from scrimmage. Rookie DEVIN FUNCHESS/WR/TE should be a versatile compliment to KELVIN BENJAMIN/WR, one of 2014’s best Rookie wideouts. PHILY BROWN/WR was not as flashy as BENJAMIN, but is a solid back-up possession receiver type. GREG OLSEN & ED DICKSON make a nice TE combo who should catch a lot of balls even if they don’t block a ton.
The team cut ties with DeANGELO WILLIAMS/RB, but still looks well stocked to run the ball. JON STEWART, 809 yds/4.6ypg, is top notch, when healthy. VFA/JORDAN TODMAN was brought in from Jacksonville to help here, as well as in the return game. But the biggest boost here should be R/CAMERON ATIS-PAYNE/RB, who should be very effective in the team’s straight line running attack approach. MIKE TOLBERT seems like he’s been around forever, but he’s just south of 30, and blocks, runs & receives effectively. The best news is probably along the O-Line. Two of last year’s Rookies, TRAI TURNER & ANDREW NORWELL, developed nicely as the season went along. The team also showed that they may finally realize that URFA manning both OT slots is seldom a good thing. VFA/MICHAEL OHER may not be a world beater but he’s an upgrade over guys like BYRON BELL & NATE CHANDLER. Watch for DARYL WILLIAMS/OT/R to make some noise for playing time at RT, although MIKE REMMERS came on strong after being inserted as the RT starter. AFter a mediocre season at OKlahoma WILLIAMS really impressed with his work at the Senior Bowl and Combine.
HC RON RIVERA will count on his Defense to lead the way and control both the tempo and scoreboard in most games. The D is two deep all along the defensive front, with a nice mix of youngsters and vets, speed and power. No new blood here, but expectations are high for DE/KONY EALY to improve in his second year in the NFL. Tackling machine LUKE KUECHLY will lead the LB corps, supported by vets THOMAS DAVIS & AJ KLEIN. But look for 2 Rookies to get serious playing time. 1st Rounder SHAQ THOMPSON has tweener size (6’0/228) but should fit nicely in today’s NFL with his speed and athleticism. Expect 5th Rounder DAVID MAYO to make his mark on Special Teams initially, but he’ll also find the field from scrimmage as injuries occur in the natural course of things. JUSTIN TRUSNIK/OLB/VFA is on board from Miami and his biggest impact will be felt on Special Teams; all units. The secondary found 2 Rookie starters last season in S/TRE BOSTON and CB/BENE’ BENWIKERE. Two VFA were added to this group in CB/PEANUT TILLMAN & S/KURT COLEMAN. Special Teams ace COLIN JONES makes a solid backup FS.
In a stronger division this team would at best be fighting for a 9-7 Wild Card spot. But in the AFC South they look to me like the best all-around team, with some exciting young players and a modicum of depth in most places. A bunch of little things add up to a stable, balanced roster. Don’t look for more than a dozen newcomers to make the roster, but those that do could see serious roles developed for them. RON RIVERA isn’t flashy, but has proven to be fundamentally sound Head Coach overall. And his players do seem to respond to his coaching style.