The Carolina Panthers come into the 2016 season with a massive chip on their shoulder as they look to avenge the Super Bowl loss to the Denver Broncos. It was a bitter end to an otherwise magical season! These 53 players look to take that final step and lift the Lombardi trophy and get rid of that bitter taste after the 2015 season. Here is how the roster looks as we begin the journey to Houston.
Quarterback: Cam Newton, Derek Anderson, and Joe Webb
Running Backs: Jonathan Stewart, Cameron Artis –Payne, Mike Tolbert, and Fozzy Whitaker
Wide receivers: Kelvin Benjamin, Ted Ginn Jr, Philly Brown, Devin Funchess, Brenton Bersin, and Damiere Byrd
Offensive Lineman: Ryan Khalil, Trai Turner, Michael Oher, Mike Remmers, Andrew Norwell, Gino Gradkowski, Daryl Williams, Donald Hawkins, and Tyler Lawson
Defensive Ends: Charles Johnson, Kony Ealy, Mario Addison, Ryan Delaire, and Lavar Edwards
Defensive Tackles: Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short, Vernon Butler, and Paul Soliai
Linebackers: Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Shaq Thompson, AJ Klein, David Mayo, Jeremy Cash, and Jared Norris
Defensive Backs: Kurt Coleman, Daryl Worley, James Bradberry, Tre Boston, Dean Marlowe, Robert McClain, Bené Benwikere, Teddy Williams, and Colin Jones
Specialists: JJ Jansen, Graham Gano, and Andy Lee
The first thing that jumps out at me when looking at the Panthers roster is the veteran presence and that is littered throughout the roster. It’s an aspect of sports that is grossly underrated because this group has been through the wars of an NFL season. The team was returning 42 of the 53 players from the Super Bowl team last season it’s very rare in today’s to keep the majority of teams together because of the enormity of the contracts offered in free agency, but loyalty has been a staple in Gettleman regime and that’s a big reason why they are set up for another Super Bowl run in 2016.
Furthermore, this team has gone through the worst adversity any team can come up one game short of the ultimate glory after such a magical season that’s a bitter pill to swallow. That being said, this team is one year older and can take those experiences, turning them into positives moving forward. I expect us to play with a lot of fire and have a very successful season hopefully with a slightly different result.
By far the biggest storyline coming into 2016 is the changes in the backend of our stingy defense. The team decided to part ways with All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman making our once veteran secondary young very fast. To compensate the loss of Norman the team drafted three cornerbacks two of which will start. This is the first time in 16 years a team will start two rookie cornerbacks. This is very rare and could leave us exposed if our front seven can’t create pressure.
However, both Daryl Worley and James Bradberry are both 6’1 and very physical so if they are able to get into their opponents’ heads because of they’re physicality creating an advantage in their matchups. An advantage we have is we have the best line-backing core in the NFL. They fly all over the place and can cover up some of the mistakes made by the rookies.
This unit will have the spotlight on them all season, but the key is for the young guys is to play their own game and let the game come to them don’t try to force things. They won’t replace the great productivity we had last season on just one play. I think they will be fine because there’s a lot of experience around them to help them through the early part of the season.
Deep linebacking Core
The deepest unit on the Carolina Panthers roster is the line-backing core. They are led by the best duo in the league in Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly and this year the team continues to develop talent at the position as they added two undrafted free agents Jeremy Cash and Jared Norris. These two young bloods might not play every Sunday, but they will gain invaluable experience and possibly be a valuable asset on special teams if needed.
I would be remiss, if I didn’t talk about the quick development of Shaq Thompson and one the most underrated players in the NFL in backup linebacker AJ Klein. Klein would no doubt be a starter on many other teams. He is another one of the diamond in the rough draft picks that the Panthers organization has made through the years.
The Panthers have made it a priority to continue to get talent at this position, especially this year because of the young secondary. The linebackers should be able to take some of the pressure off youngsters as they get acclimated to the NFL.
That’s why I think the depth at the linebacker position is key for developing rookies, improving the special teams, and most importantly giving hell to opponents every single game. The NFL is the most unpredictable sport that is why you can never have too much talent at each position.
Byrd is the Word
Another newcomer to the Panthers roster is former South Carolina Gamecock wide receiver the Damiere Byrd. He is 5’9 180 pound spark plug that ran an eye-popping 4.28 40-yard dash. This is a welcome addition to the team because he’s a threat every time he touches the ball because of his blazing speed. He is a great compliment to the original speedster in Ted Ginn Jr, who has yet to lose a step despite entering his age 31 season.
He will also be a great asset on special teams, as he will likely take over the punt returning duties from Ginn to limit the punishing hits that happen in that aspect of the game. This way Ginn can focus on catching passes and scoring touchdowns without losing any type of advantage in the kicking game. His story is one that I love going from an undrafted free agent and the year on the practice squad to on an NFL roster. These are the guys you root for and I think he will be a very valuable asset to the team this season.
The savvy Move
During his tenure as Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman has known the right buttons to push almost each and every time. This off-season was no different he saw a glaring weakness and filled it. This time it was punter because of injury and ineffectiveness. The team acquired Andy Lee for a fourth-round pick from the Browns.
It might seem like a steep price for a punter, but he is a three-time Pro Bowler, a first-team All-Pro selection, and ranks sixth in NFL history with a 46.2 gross punting average. He also ranks He also ranks ninth all-time with 325 punts inside the 20-yard line. This shows he is worth every penny or in this case a high draft pick. This addition will give both our special teams and ball-hawking defense a chance at even more turnovers and negative plays to give our explosive offense shorter fields to work with.
As icing on the cake, Lee is a South Carolina native and said the trade to Carolina was a dream come true! His contract is a good one as he will be around until at least 2018 creating stability for a position that quickly became a concern during the preseason.
These are my biggest takeaways from this year’s roster ultimately I think we will make another along postseason run trying to avenge the heartbreak of last season. We do have some rookies being thrown into the fire, but I’m confident with the veteran presence around them they will adjust quickly and be successful. It all begins Thursday night in the Mile High City. Let’s get off to a good start! GO Panthers!!