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Panthers improve speed, Cam Newton's supporting cast

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.





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