It’s August you know what that means football is back!! The Carolina Panthers are entering camp with great momentum, as they became the first team in our division’s history to win back-to-back titles. They also were able to lock up two key pieces to their success, in linebacker Thomas Davis and quarterback Cam Newton to contract extensions. These moves show this team wants to win now and are loyal to their players.
The teams also made some under the radar moves to improve the club’s weaknesses from last season. They signed Michael Oher, Jarrett Boykin, Ted Ginn, and Charles Tillman just the name a few. These signings will not jump off the page, but address three key areas of weakness that were offensive line, wide receiver depth, and special teams. These moves show the front office is paying attention and are doing whatever they can to make this team even better. The Queen city has a buzz about it that I haven’t seen in a while, I guess that’s what happens when you start winning and investing in the team’s stars, keeping the chemistry of the organization at its best. Here are my five keys for the Panthers to 3-peat as division champs and chase the Lombardi trophy.
In sports, health is the most important aspect of any teams success!! For the Panthers it’s been a hurdle we dealt with for the last couple of years with Cam Newton’s car wreck and a revolving door at running back because of nagging leg injuries. Training camp has just got underway and the team has taken a few body blows to their depth the biggest being defensive tackle Star Lotulelei suffered a stress reaction in his surgically repaired foot Monday and will be reevaluated in a few weeks. A tough loss, but luckily it happened so early in camp, to give him the chance to get healthy and help this team win. The team also lost offensive lineman Jonathan Martin and cornerback Chris Houston to retirement because of injury. To say the least the Panthers have dealt with adversity due to injury, I hope this year we will have our full team to give every opponent our best shot.
Injuries are given in sports, but if you can avoid long-term injuries to key players as a team you have a much better chance to win. If the Panthers can stay healthy we are deadly with the team we plan to put on the gridiron in 2015 it’s going to be exciting to watch!!
2. Protecting Cam Newton
The team signed Cam Newton to a five-year $104 million contract extension this off-season. The key for him is going to be his offensive line here’s why, since entering the league in 2011 Cam Newton has been hit 587 times 270 times more than any other quarterback in that timeframe. That is partially due to his style of play being a dual threat quarterback making him more susceptible to bone crushing hits. Another factor is the offensive line, which was no doubt the weakest aspect of the team in 2014 at times they couldn’t even protect a paper bag. The team has tried to address that weakness with the signing of tackles Michael Ore and drafting Daryl Williams in the fourth round of this year’s draft. Oher is just trying to rebound from an injury-riddled year with the Tennessee Titans and return to how he played in Baltimore protecting Joe Flacco’s blindside.
Cam Newton is one of the most dynamic players in the NFL making defenders look foolish. If he is picking himself off the ground one play after another he is more likely to get injured, he can’t lead this offense from the sideline. If this team wants to reach the ultimate goal Cam Newton has to be under center the entire season that is up to the offensive line.
3. Getting off to a Fast start
The Panthers must take advantage of our first four games of the season. We play the Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans New Orleans Saints, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. These are teams on paper, we should be able to beat Jacksonville is still trying to find their identity and the only won three games in 2014. Houston has a dominant defense, but don’t know whom their quarterback is going to be. Today lost thier running back Adrian Foster to a groin injury that will require surgery and he will miss the start of the season. The Saints are getting older and traded Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks to create cap space so they are in a transitional period. The Buccaneers were last in our division last couple years and are starting a rookie quarterback.
The cards are stacked in our favor to begin the year we must go at least 3-1 because after that we enter the toughest stretch of our schedule when we face Seattle, Philadelphia, Indianapolis and Green Bay. Making the first four games of the year the most important for our confidence and swagger! The first four games will make or break our season we better come out of the gates on fire or we could crash and burn.
4. The Running Game
This off-season the Panthers parted ways with their all-time leading rusher in Deangelo Williams. This puts all the pressure on Jonathan Stewart to become the lead running back and showcase all of his skills as a downhill runner and a pass catcher out of the backfield. In his career, he has amassed 4,825 yards 30 touchdowns, averaging 4.6 yards per carry pretty darn good! I think you will take this role by the horns and become one of the leading backs in the NFL if he is able to stay healthy which is always been his problem, but I’m really excited to see when he can produce with an even larger role.
To complement Stewart we have Mike Tolbert, Fozzy Whittaker, draft pick Cameron Artis-Payne, and even Jordan Todman a great stable of backs I can’t wait to watch operate. We are a better team when we rush over 100 yards because it takes the pressure off of Cam Newton opens up more passing lanes for him as well making our offense look like a well oiled machine.
Mike Tolbert is built so big he is like tackling a tree defenders just bounce off of him. Fozzy Whitaker is a little bit more of a speedster a great complement to cam Newton and his running ability. I don’t know much about Cameron Artis-Payne, but he has been one of the camp standouts thus far and can’t wait to see him in action. Jordan Todman was signed to help the special-teams deficiencies, but he can also be used in third-down situations and if someone needs a breather. We might have lost our leading rusher, but I think we are in good hands as long as everyone stays healthy.
5. The Special Teams
Along with the offensive line the biggest shortcoming for the Panthers in 2014 was special teams. I can point to one game where I wanted to puke it was against the Minnesota Vikings when we gave up two punt blocks after the second one I turned it off. Not only that our main punt returner Brenton Bersin had trouble catching the ball every time a punter kicked it to him I always-yelled “Catch It” because I was so nervous he didn’t catch it enough for my liking.
We ranked tied for 24th in the kicking game and that had to change, we went out and re-signed Ted Ginn Jr to return kicks and punts to solidify our special teams. If we are able to play the field position game better this year than last our defense will be licking its chops because it’s already good, but if opponents are on their end of the field the defenses confidence will be even better.
These are five key areas that will determine the success of the Panthers in 2015. To reach the ultimate goal of the Lombardi trophy and finally the respect this team deserves. I am super pumped for this season I need some new excitement as the Braves have not been what I hoped. The Panthers have the highest ceiling we’ve had in years and I’m excited to see where we will take it!! Go Panthers!!!