|Unpacking hottest topics for the 2019 Carolina Panthers|
|Newton, McCoy among training camp talking points|
|Published Thursday, July 18, 2019 8:42 am|
|PHOTO | CURTIS WILSON|
|Cam Newton’s surgically-repaired right shoulder and remade throwing motion will draw plenty of attention during the Carolina Panthers’ training camp and preseason games. If Newton’s healthy, Carolina could challenge New Orleans and Atlanta for the NFC South title and a playoff berth.|
Training camp is a time of possibilities – and questions.
The Carolina Panthers, who open camp July 25 in Spartanburg, South Carolina, have many questions for a club that faded from 6-2 to start the 2018 campaign to missing the playoffs. How healthy is quarterback Cam Newton’s shoulder and throwing motion.
Who, if anyone, will have a breakout season? Is the occasional switch to a 3-4 alignment enough to lift the defense to elite status?
And, to top it off: Is this crew good enough to make the playoffs in 2019? So let’s examine the inquiries.
What to look for over the next month:
Newton’s health. According to all concerned – coach Ron Rivera, and most important, Newton – say the quarterback’s surgically repaired shoulder is sound. As important as the health equation is Newton’s growth in offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s scheme, which emphasizes spraying the field with short passes. It worked well before Newton’s shoulder went south last year, so it stands to reason they’ll improve on it.
Watch for a breakout player. Three candidates come to mind. Running back Christian McCaffrey put up numbers last year that should’ve landed him a Pro Bowl berth as the league’s most versatile back.
McCaffrey’s a willing participant between the tackles and obviously a first-rate pass catcher, too, which could make him the first Panther to gain 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in a season.
Receiver D.J. Moore, on the other hand, plays like a running back, which makes him Carolina’s big-play threat downfield. Moore turned in a strong rookie season, and if Newton is on top of his game, the pairing could put up big numbers.
Defensively, cornerback Donte Jackson is a contender, too after leading Carolina with four interceptions as a rookie. With James Bradberry on the opposite side, the always-confident Jackson can improve on that total.
Who flourishes in the 3-4. Hybrid defensive end/linebackers Bruce Irvin and Brian Burns put speed on the edges, but Gerald McCoy, the top offseason free agent acquisition, puts another elite defender in the middle. The Pro Bowler is motivated and hungry after an ugly divorce from Tampa Bay, which is good for a Carolina defense in need of more push in the middle.
Check out the best training camp battles. On offense, it’s figuring out five starters on the line. Outside of Pro Bowl right guard Trai Turner and center Matt Paradis, who signed in free agency, the other three spots are a toss up. Darryl Williams and Taylor Moton can play guard or tackle and second-round draft pick Greg Little will push for a job at either tackle spot. Where they’ll line up on opening day is anyone’s guess.
On defense, it’s Corn Elder and Ross Cockrell battling for the nickel corner job. Cockrell is returning from a broken leg suffered in preseason, but has the edge in experience, while Elder played 13 games last year, primarily on special teams.
Reach for the ceiling, or beyond. Carolina fell apart late last year when Newton’s arm issues became apparent. No matter how many complementary pieces are on offense, Newton is the most important player, and if he’s right, the Panthers are a threat. If the defense is up to par, the playoffs, not to mention supplanting New Orleans atop the NFC South, is more than a suspicion.
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