NFL Season Preview: Carolina Panthers Seek to Get Back to Their Bread and Butter
The Panthers know where their bread is buttered: the running game. Ever since the team drafted QB Cam Newton, and sewed up RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart long-term, it was clear that the Panthers wanted to ground and pound. This is what made 2012 so bewildering for Panthers fans, as the team sought to become more pass-oriented, thereby losing its identity. Only late in the season did the Panthers get back to running the ball consistently, and began to experience success, following a brutal start to the 2012 season.
With former offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski in Cleveland, the Panthers have stated that they will re-commit to running the football. They even drafted former Oregon star, Kenjon Barner to further bolster the backfield, as Williams is reaching his limit in NFL years as a RB. The Panthers signed free agents Ted Ginn (formerly of San Francisco) and former Super Bowl champion Domenik Hixon from the New York Giants. Most of the Panthers’ offseason focus was on the defensive side of the football, where they aged in a hurry in some positions.
The team cut longtime CB Chris Gamble, drafted CB Melvin White out of Louisiana-Lafayette, and expect Captain Munnerlyn and Josh Norman to continue to progress at the position. Their first round pick was used on defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who figures to pair with Dwan Edwards, the latter who experienced a breakout season in 2012. The Panthers got good production out of Greg Hardy at DE, and expect a resurgence from Charles Johnson in 2013, as he is one of the highest paid DEs in the NFL. At linebacker, Thomas Davis and Jon Beason appear to be aging two years for every year that everyone else on the team has aged. Davis is 30 and Beason is 28, but both have taken an awful beating in the injury department. Davis and Giants’ CB Terrell Thomas are the only players to come back from three ACL tears. The Panthers are hoping for major contributions from former Super Bowl champion Chase Blackburn (Giants) and 2nd year stud Luke Kuechly.
As long as the Panthers continue to run the ball effectively, feed the ageless Steve Smith and get contributions from their new lifeblood defensively, they expect to contend for the NFC South crown as soon as this upcoming season.
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