Thursday, August 11, 2011

NFL 32 in 32: Carolina Panthers

When you have a season like the Panthers did last season, it can be reasonably inferred that changes would be made. And boy were they sweeping. The Panthers have a new head coach in Ron Riviera, a new attitude, and of course, Cam Newton. Does his presence have the ability to change the fortunes of a franchise who could use it badly?

What's New: The head coach and the look of the QB position, for sure. Ron Riviera had been the defensive coordinator in San Diego, and he took the helm of a pretty good defense during his tenure there. He looks to turn around a pretty average defense with good talent and transform it into a dominant defense the likes of which he is used to. And, the Panthers made a very good trade for TE Greg Olsen, who should be a good safety blanket for whoever starts at QB this season. But, the focus at Panthers camp has been and remains on the QB situation. Cam Newton has a chance to start, but there is doubt as to whether he will. He still has to overtake the incumbent Jimmy Clausen, and newcomer Derek Anderson from Arizona. This 3 way QB battle has the makings of one that the entire league will want to watch. Most of the emphasis this offseason was placed on re-signing the plethora of free agents the Panthers had, including DE Charles Johnson, RB DeAngelo Williams, and CB C.J Wilson. Overall, there isn't much new to speak of on the Panthers roster.

Biggest Strength: They still have a great 1-2 punch at RB with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, and that is always a QB's best friend. They still have a great wideout in Steve Smith (not the one that defected to Philly), and with Greg Olsen, the offense doesn't have a terrible look. Defensively, the squad isn't that bad with guys like Charles Johnson at DE, and Thomas Davis at MLB. Don't forget also about their underrated offensive line.

Biggest Weakness: The QB position will be a struggle this year for whoever starts. Cam Newton is still a raw talent, and Jimmy Clausen and Derek Anderson have a lot to prove. The secondary is also a sore spot for this team. But the real issue is the combination of all of these factors plus the youth and lockout lag time, this could become a tough year fast for Carolina.

Outlook: It doesn't help that they are playing in one of the toughest divisions in football, the NFC South. Their schedule isn't the most favorable either. It looks like they will improve from a season ago, but not enough that they will challenge for a playoff berth in a very crowded NFC.

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