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Carolina Panthers open camp in the midst of culture change
Off and on the field, it's overhaul season
 
Published Wednesday, July 25, 2018 3:13 pm
by Herbert L. White | The Charlotte Post

PHOTO | CURTIS WILSON
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has more explosive receivers and a new offensive coordinator in Norv Turner for the 2018 campaign.

The Carolina Panthers are surrounded by change.


New owner. New coordinators. New roles.


David Tepper is the owner after buying out founder Jerry Richardson for an NFL-record $2.2 billion. Tepper’s brought in a new attitude of accountability, something Richardson finally had to face when details of racial and sexual misconduct in the workplace became public. The scouting department and equipment staff were overhauled, which signals the most sweeping organizational change since the franchise was launched in 1995.


On the field, there’s a lot of acclimation in the works. When training camp opens July 25, Carolina will look to evolve an offense that was inconsistent but good enough to fashion an 11-5 record and a playoff berth for the fourth time in five seasons. Cam Newton is the clear-cut No. 1 quarterback, but new offensive coordinator Norv Turner wants him to be more efficient.


To that end, the offense will consist of shorter passes in space to improve Newton’s completion percentage to the mid-60s and move the ball in chunks. Another goal is to get more from the ground game, specifically Christian McCaffrey, who tallied 117 carries as a rookie. C.J. Anderson was brought in after a 1,000-yard campaign at Denver last year to plug into the power back role.


Although they earned a wild card berth in 2017, Carolina went 1-4 against New Orleans and Atlanta, including 0-3 against the Saints.
Here are some storylines to follow:


More tools for Newton
First-round draft pick D.J. Moore drew raves for his work ethic during offseason drills and looks like he’ll start alongside Devin Funchess at receiver. Funchess excelled after the midseason trade of Kelvin Benjamin, turning in a career season with 63 receptions for 840 yards and eight touchdowns to earn the top wideout role.


McCaffrey, last year’s top pick, led Carolina with 80 receptions as a rookie. Tight end Greg Olsen, who missed nine games because of a broken foot, is healthy, but depth could be a question with Ed Dickson in Seattle.


The Panthers need a legitimate deep threat, which is why Torrey Smith has an opportunity. Smith, who came to Carolina via trade with Philadelphia, has the speed, but his hands have been inconsistent. Free-agent pickup Jarius Wright, who played for Turner in Minnesota, is going to make the competition tougher for Damiere Byrd and Curtis Samuel, who were hurt for most of 2017.


Power up front
The offensive line has one change – left guard – where Taylor Moton and Amini Silatolu will battle to succeed Andrew Norwell, who signed with Jacksonville as a free agent. Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil, who major chunks of last season with a neck injury, is playing his final campaign. Daryl Williams has locked down right tackle and Kalil’s brother Matt is the left tackle incumbent.


Front four rebuild
New defensive coordinator Eric Washington has a pair of dynamic edge rushers in Julius Peppers and Mario Addison, who tallied 11 each last year. Daeshon Hall, who missed all but one game as a rookie (knee), put in a strong minicamp and will get his share of action.


Kawann Short and free agent signee Dontari Poe gives Carolina a pair of space-eating bigs in the middle. Vernon Butler is going to be in the mix, too.


Linebacker rotation
Luke Kuechly is ready after offseason shoulder surgery. Thomas Davis is unavailable the first four regular season games after failing the NFL’s performance enhancing substances test. Shaq Thompson, who was going to get more time in Davis’ stead anyway, get even more now. David Mayo, who can play all three linebacker positions, will have plenty of opportunities to contribute, as will youngsters Jared Norris and Andre Smith.  


Settle the secondary
James Bradberry is set at one corner, but who’ll play opposite him? Might it be rookie Donte Jackson, who has the swagger but lacks experience? How about second-year player Corn Elder or veterans Kevon Seymour, Charlotte Latin alum Ross Cockrell or Captain Munnerlyn?


Safety could be the bigger issue with Mike Adams, 37, and special teams star Colin Jones atop the depth chart. Third-round pick Rashaan Gaulden will get a hard look as the Panthers look for a long-term answer.

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