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Thursday 21 June, 2018 | RSS Feed

Panthers improve speed, Cam Newton's supporting cast

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The Carolina Panthers ended their offseason program on June 14. Here's a look at how they fared:

Offseason goals: Improving the overall speed on offense and the consistency of quarterback Cam Newton under new offensive coordinator Norv Turner to help the Panthers keep up with the explosive units of New Orleans and Atlanta in the NFC South. Newton's stats in particular have gone down since his MVP season of 2015, when he threw a career-best 35 touchdowns. He's had 41 touchdown passes and 30 interceptions the past two seasons. Without Newton on top of his game, there wasn't enough firepower to keep up with defending South champ New Orleans, which went 3-0 against Carolina and scored at least 31 points in all three meetings last season. Newton potentially is surrounded by more legitimate weapons than he has had during his seven NFL seasons so far. Trading for Philadelphia's Torrey Smith and selecting Maryland receiver D.J. Moore in the first round should be an upgrade in terms of speed and the ability to create separation, a major weakness in 2017. Outside of Devin Funchess, Newton will have a rebuilt receiving corps. Christian McCaffrey will take over the primary role at running back now that Jonathan Stewart is gone. The addition of C.J. Anderson as the power back also is an upgrade.
How they fared: Above average
Move I liked: Moving to the top of the fourth round of the draft and selecting Indiana tight end Ian Thomas. He gives Newton a legitimate weapon opposite Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen. Newton had one of his best years passing as a rookie when he had two tight ends who could catch -- Olsen and Jeremy Shockey. Thomas has the potential to be much more of a threat than Ed Dickson, who signed with Seattle in free agency.

Move I didn't like: Not signing a veteran quarterback to back up Newton. Not to suggest 34-year-old Derek Anderson, Newton's backup since 2011, should have been re-signed. But it's hard to be comfortable with Garrett Gilbert and Taylor Heinicke, who have no regular-season starts between them, doing for Carolina what Nick Foles did for Philadelphia last season. Gilbert hasn't played a down in a regular-season game, and Heinicke has appeared in one game with one pass attempt.

Biggest question still to be answered in training camp: Who will start opposite James Bradberry at cornerback? Ross Cockrell seemingly has the edge based on experience, but rookie Donte Jackson appears to have more upside in speed and cover ability. For the front seven to play free and pressure the quarterback and make this defense effective, there has to be trust in the cornerbacks.

Quotable: "To me, Cam [Newton] is one of the three or four -- if not the -- hardest guys to defend in the league. Coaches spend extra time when they play against Cam Newton because he can beat you in so many different ways. Our intention is to expand on those things that he can do well and things he may not have been exposed to yet." -- Panthers offensive coordinator Norv Turner.

Monster' financial gap between Panthers, key player in contract year

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The Carolina Panthers' contract negotiations with representatives for right tackle Daryl Williams face a "monster gap" financially between the player and the team, a source close to the process said.

A league source said Tuesday that it would be "shocking" if a contract extension happened for Williams before training camp in July.

Williams, a fourth-round pick out of Oklahoma in 2015, is eligible for an extension before training camp. He started all 16 games for the Panthers last season and played every offensive snap, finishing the year as Pro Football Focus' highest-rated right tackle and with second-team All-Pro honors.

His development drew recent praise from head coach Ron Rivera.
"When he first got here, it was understanding how to practice. Then as he became a starter it was continuing to practice hard. Now it’s the consistency of how hard he practices,” Rivera said. "He's a smart player, understands the game, has good technique. But it's about coming to work every day and being consistent with that effort, (and) he's done a great job with that."

If a deal doesn't get done by the start of next spring's free agency period, Williams will be a free agent. The tackle market is competitive, and the offensive line market in general has become more robust in recent seasons because of a spike in the value of contracts given to offensive guards.

Williams told the Observer last week that he's focused on staying healthy — and his upcoming vacation in the Dominican Republic.

But he also made it clear that he'd love to stay with the organization.

"I love the Panthers, I love the organization (and) I love Charlotte," he said. "I hope I can finish the rest of my career here."

Panthers: Will Newton run as much in 2018?

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Will Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton run as much in 2018?
Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera initially indicated there would be no changes to his coaching staff after last season barring an assistant leaving for a promotion. However, just three days after being eliminated from the playoffs, the Panthers parted ways with offensive coordinator Mike Shula and quarterback coach Ken Dorsey. Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks was granted an opportunity in Arizona and eventually Rivera would need to replace every coordinator – offense, defense and special teams.

Norv Turner filled the offensive coordinator position in a return to the NFL after missing 2017, his first absence from a sideline in over 30 years at the professional level. His experience and expertise at gaining the most from his quarterbacks will be key to the success of Carolina and Cam Newton this season.
Turner has already admitted that he has never worked with anyone quite like Newton but how exactly he plans to put the Panthers quarterback in a position to succeed remains a mystery. Some obvious focal points include: quicker decision making, hitting a check-down receiver option, improving completion percentage and developing a rapport with an extremely young wide receiver group.

All important parts of the passing game but how will Turner utilize Newton’s ability to run the football?
Rivera has talked about having Newton take less punishment by limiting designed quarterback runs, especially after entering last season with a surgically repaired shoulder. While his intentions were pure, Newton wound up rushing the most he has over his entire seven year career.

The former league MVP carried the football 139 times, seven more than his previous high from 2015 for 754 yards – another new career high but he found the end zone just six times, tying his second lowest performance in terms of scoring.

Carolina parted ways with veteran running back Jonathan Stewart last year but signed C.J. Anderson as a first-down option and a heavier workload is also expected of second-year back, Christian McCaffrey. Both are viable options in the backfield and combined with Newton provide an interesting mix of weapons for Turner to scheme around.

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