As the Carolina Panthers arrive for Training Camp this weekend at Wofford College, there are a few things rattling around in this old bald head of mine.
1) Will this offensive line be able to protect Cam Newton and open running lanes for the running backs?
One of the biggest problems the Panthers faced last season was the lack of lanes for the backs to run through. That had a trickle down effect into Cam’s effectiveness as a passer. With no major changes to the line — Kugbila’s involvement is still unknown at the moment — Will the Panthers suffer the same fate as they did in early 2012? Sure, Silatolu is a year older and wiser, and Kalil is back, but they’re still relatively weak. Remember what happened to Cam in the Broncos game? Could we be in store for more games like that one? Surely other teams have poured over that film during the offseason and are planning similar attacks.
2) Who will emerge at Cornerback?
Are we in for another season of Munnerlyn, Thomas and Norman as the core of the cornerback rotation? They added Drayton Florence — who is on the downside of his career — and D.J. White, who was down on the depth chart while in Chicago. James Dockery had some flashes last year, too, but this still seems to be a position with little flash and little substance. I’m hoping to be proven wrong, and that one of these young, unheralded guys steps up and fills Chris Gamble’s shoes, but my gut tells me that this is where the Panthers will struggle on defense.
3) Is Greg Hardy the second coming of Julius Peppers?
Greg Hardy has played well when given the chance. Mock drafts had him projected as a high first round pick early in his collegiate career. He slipped to the sixth round, where Carolina nabbed him, and he’s clawed his way into being one of the top defensive ends in the NFC South. Now it’s contract time, and Hardy wants to get paid. Does Carolina have the funds to pay him what he wants, and does he want to be in Carolina? Or does Hardy bolt for greener pastures after the season?
4) Is Graham Gano really their kicker?
Gano made 9-11 field goals for the Panthers last season, with a longest-made kick of 51 yards. With the Panthers offense, they shouldn’t have to rely on a kicker to make deep field goals, so accuracy is more important than distance at this point. Gano is also the Panthers kickoff kicker, so he’s got to have a leg for that, too. He placed 32 of 35 kickoffs in the end zone last season, which is just what the Panthers want from him. How short is his leash? Will they look to replace him midseason, just as they replaced Justin Medlock midway through the season last year?
5) What will the offense look like under Shula?
Guys deserve second chances. Mike Shula has been Cam Newton’s position coach for two seasons, and now takes the reigns as the offensive coordinator. I suspect that they’ll be more traditional in scheme, with less QB option runs. Does Shula have the horses on the offensive line to get that done? Does that work in Cam Newton’s favor? Will Shula pass or run on 3rd and long? We’ll find out here in a few short weeks.