|Questions seek answers as start of Panthers training camp nears|
|Philosophy and roster shifts play out in real time|
|Published Thursday, July 12, 2018 9:35 am|
|PHOTO | CURTIS WILSON|
|Panthers receiver Curtis Samuel (10), whose rookie season was cut short by injury, will try to earn more playing time in the rotation.|
The Carolina Panthers have some catching up to do when training camp opens July 25.
Although they earned a wild card berth in 2017, Carolina went 1-4 against New Orleans and Atlanta, including 0-3 against the Saints. To produce a better result than last year’ 11-5 regular season, the Panthers are looking to upgrade the offense with the addition of a new coordinator in Norv Turner and a defense making way for new blood.
With an eventful offseason – including a change in ownership – winding down, here are some storylines to follow:
Turner’s offense aims to make Cam Newton more effective
Turner believes Newton can be a more accurate passer than the below-60 percent completion rate fashioned the last four seasons. That would be an upgrade of epic proportions for Newton, who produced career-low passer ratings of 75.9 in 2016 and 80.7 the last two years.
If Newton can break 60 percent completions, it’s a win for the 2015 league MVP.
The Panthers continued their talent stockpile on offense with the addition of first-round pick D.J. Moore to challenge for a starting receiver spot opposite Devin Funchess. Last year’s top pick, running back Christian McCaffrey, led Carolina with 80 receptions as a rookie. Tight end Greg Olsen, who missed nine games because of a broken foot, is healthy and provides Newton a reliable target in the passing game.
Is there a worthy slot receiver of the roster?
Holdovers Curtis Samuel and Damiere Byrd, who had their seasons curtailed by injury, are back, but they’ll have to get past Torrey Smith, who came over in a trade with Philadelphia. Smith’s hands have been inconsistent through his career; his speed isn’t, which is why he’s in Charlotte. Free-agent pickup Jarius Wright is going to make the competition tougher.
Energetic running game
Carolina finished fourth in NFL rushing yards last season, but changes are in store.
Gone is franchise yardage leader Jonathan Stewart, who was cut during the offseason. C.J. Anderson, who rushed for 1,007 yards with Denver, was signed to add power to the attack. Coach Ron Rivera wants McCaffrey, who accounted for 117 carries as a rookie, to get more carries, too.
The offensive line is in for change as well with Taylor Moton and Amini Silatolu scrapping for the starting job at left guard after all-pro Andrew Norwell signed with Jacksonville. Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil, who battled injuries last season, has announced 2018 is his final campaign.
Is the front four still elite?
New defensive coordinator Eric Washington has a pair of top-shelf pass rushers in Julius Peppers and Mario Addison, who tallied 11 sacks each last year. Daeshon Hall, an edge rusher who missed all but one game his rookie season with a knee injury, drew raves from Rivera for his minicamp performance.
Kawann Short is one of the league’s best defensive tackles, and the addition of free agent Dontari Poe gives Carolina another space-eater in the middle. Watch for Vernon Butler, who appears ready to be more productive in the rotation.
Luke Kuechly took it relatively easy during OTAs after offseason shoulder surgery, but is expected to be ready for the start of training camp. Thomas Davis won’t be available for the first four games of the regular season after the NFL flagged him for violating its performance enhancing substances policy.
Who’s the starting cornerback spot opposite James Bradberry? Might it be rookie Donte Jackson? How about veterans Kevon Seymour, Charlotte Latin alum Ross Cockrell or Captain Munnerlyn in the role?
As uncertain as cornerback is, safety could be the bigger with Mike Adams, 37, and special teams star Colin Jones atop the depth chart. Rashaan Gaulden will get a hard look as the Panthers look forward.
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