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2014 CAROLINA PANTHERS FOOTBALL PREVIEW

July 1, 2014
INDIANA SPORTS PAGE



2014 Carolina Panthers football preview

Carolina Panthers (1995 - Pres) 

HEAD COACH: RON RIVERA

RECORD: 25-23

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: MIKE SHULA

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: SEAN McDERMOTT

SCORING: 22.9

RUSHING: 126.6

PASSING: 190.2

TOTAL OFFENSE: 316.8

DEFENSE PPG: 15.1

RUSHING: 86.9

PASSING: 214.3

TOTAL OFFENSE: 301.2

INTERCEPTIONS: 20

SACKS: 60

TURNOVER MARGIN: +11

 Carolina Panthers (2012 - Pres)

The Carolina Panthers and showed steady improvement over the last four years winning only two games in 2010, six in 2011 seven and 2012 and then surprising a lot of people by winning 12 games and reaching the playoffs for the first time in five years in 2013. If Carolina is to duplicate what they did last season everything will have to fall in place as it did a year ago. The Panthers were able to hide their secondary weaknesses with a dominating strong front seven. Winning 12 games with this secondary was a miracle. But when you have a quarterback like Cam Newton all things can be possible. Two players that will be missed will be receiver Steve Smith and left tackle Jordan Gross.

When you talk about the Carolina Panthers it all starts with Cam Newton after coming off a career-high in touchdown passes (24), completion percentage (61.7) and passer rating (88.8). Newton matured a lot in 2013 leading the Panthers to four come-from-behind victories. He should be ready for training camp despite having off-season ankle surgery in March. Newton is also very effective running the football and the Panthers will still allow him to run up to eight times per game but they would rather have him throw the ball downfield instead of taking off. One really big concern will be who Newton will throw to after losing his top four receivers in the off-season. Right now, the Panthers don’t have what would be considered a number one receiver despite drafting Kelvin Benjamin out of Florida State with her number one selection in the draft. Benjamin has good size at 6-5 and will definitely be a threat at the goal line. Joining Benjamin will be Jerricho Cotchery, Tiquan Underwood and Jason Avant. Newton’s favorite target will be as tight end Greg Olson who is one of the better pass catchers in the NFL. Still losing receiver Steve Smith who holds virtually every team receiving record will be difficult to overcome.

There are many question marks in the offensive line as well with the loss of Jordan Gross who retired. Byron Bell will move from right tackle to left tackle but he may not be quick enough to handle that position. Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil will have to be a head coach on the line helping many of the younger players adjust to the NFL game. Rookie Trai Turner should get the starting right guard and right tackle Nate Chandler is a former defensive lineman, who may struggle, but is a good athlete.

Carolina loves to run the football and will do so behind DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. The question is with Williams and Stuart aging how many carries can they get per game and still stay healthy. Mike Tolbert will also see some carries in 2014. Carolina drafted Stanford fullback Tyler Gaffney in the sixth round and is considered an insurance policy in case they see injuries to Williams, Stuart or Gaffney.

Carolina’s defense ranked second in the NFL in total defense, rushing defense and scoring. They were also number one in the NFL in sacks and sixth in turnover differential. The NFL’s defensive player of the year linebacker Luke Kuechly returns to anchor the Panthers defense along with defensive ends Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson. Carolina used to their franchise tag on Hardy to make sure he didn’t sign elsewhere. Hardy had 15 sacks last year Johnson finished with 11 sacks. Making the defense even stronger, Carolina drafted Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy who is another effective pass rusher. Also upfront will be former Purdue defensive tackle's Kawaan Short and Star Lotulelei. Making the front deeper will be Colin Cole, Dwan Edwards and Mario Addison.

Joining Kuechly will be strong side linebacker Thomas Davis, weak side linebacker Chase Blackburn and upcoming linebacker AJ Klein. Blackburn is more of a run stopper and Davis came back strong from three ACL surgeries to play some of his best football.

The secondary found a way to get 20 interceptions in 2013 which was fifth best in the NFL. This year the secondary has been revamped and will count on veterans Roman Harper and Thomas DeCoud to have a couple of good years left in them. Cornerback Melvyn White was signed last year and corner Antoine Cason was signed as a free agent this season. Charles Godfrey will be making the switch from safety to cornerback.

With Carolina’s defense they should be in every game this season. The Panthers still have two major issues including the O-Line and loss of so many good receivers. The secondary will have to be at its best when they take on quarterbacks like Matt Ryan and Drew Brees. On paper it appears the Panthers have taken a step back since last year’s playoff loss to the 49ers.

Carolina Panthers (2012 - Pres)

SCHEDULE:

 

CHARLOTTE – The Carolina Panthers are ready for primetime.

The Panthers, coming off a 12-4 season and an NFC South division championship, will host two primetime games for the first time since 1997 and are slated to appear in each of the NFL's three primetime slots.

Carolina's regular season schedule, which includes a stretch of five consecutive games against 2013 playoff participants beginning in Week 6, kicks off Sept. 7 at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"Once again we knew it was going to be a challenging schedule regardless of the order of the games," head coach Ron Rivera said. "It is important that we be ready because we are playing two teams with new head coaches to start the season, and preparing for the uncertainties of a new staff can be difficult."

After opening at Tampa and first-year head coach Lovie Smith, the Panthers open their home slate Sept. 14 against the Detroit Lions and first-year head coach Jim Caldwell. Carolina then hosts its first primetime tilt of the season, welcoming the Pittsburgh Steelers to Bank of America Stadium for Sunday Night Football on NBC.

After traveling to Baltimore and hosting Chicago, the Panthers face five consecutive 2013 playoff teams beginning with a trip to the Cincinnati Bengals. They then visit the Green Bay Packers and host the reigning Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks before the stretch ends with back-to-back primetime games. Carolina hosts the New Orleans Saints in Week 9 on Thursday Night Football before travelling to Philadelphia in Week 10 for Monday Night Football.

Following the bye week in Week 12 – the latest bye week in team history - the final four weeks of the regular season feature three games against NFC South rivals.

 

PRESEASON
DAY DATE OPPONENT LOCATION TIME NETWORK
Fri. Aug. 8
vs. Buffalo Bills
Bank of America Stadium 7:30 p.m. Panthers TV
Sun. Aug. 17 vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Bank of America Stadium
8:00 p.m. FOX
Fri. Aug. 22 at New England Patriots
Gillette Stadium
7:30 p.m. Panthers TV
Thu. Aug. 28 at Pittsburgh Steelers Heinz Field
7:30 p.m. Panthers TV
REGULAR SEASON
DAY DATE OPPONENT LOCATION TIME NETWORK
Sun. Sept. 7
at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Raymond James Stadium 4:25 p.m. FOX
Sun. Sept. 14 vs. Detroit Lions
Bank of America Stadium 1:00 p.m. FOX
Sun. Sept. 21 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Bank of America Stadium 8:30 p.m. NBC
Sun. Sept. 28 at Baltimore Ravens M&T Bank Stadium 1:00 p.m. CBS
Sun. Oct. 5
vs. Chicago Bears
Bank of America Stadium 1:00 p.m. * FOX
Sun. Oct. 12 at Cincinnati Bengals
Paul Brown Stadium
1:00 p.m. * FOX
Sun. Oct. 19
at Green Bay Packers
Lambeau Field
1:00 p.m. * FOX
Sun. Oct. 26 vs. Seattle Seahawks Bank of America Stadium 1:00 p.m. * FOX
Thur. Oct. 30
vs. New Orleans Saints
Bank of America Stadium 8:25 p.m. NFLN
Mon. Nov. 10 at Philadelphia Eagles Lincoln Financial Field
8:30 p.m. ESPN
Sun. Nov. 16 vs. Atlanta Falcons
Bank of America Stadium 1:00 p.m. * FOX
Sun. Nov. 23 BYE
     
Sun. Nov. 30
at Minnesota Vikings TCF Bank Stadium
1:00 p.m. * FOX
Sun. Dec. 7
at New Orleans Saints Mercedes-Benz Superdome 1:00 p.m. * FOX
Sun. Dec. 14 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bank of America Stadium 1:00 p.m. * FOX
Sun. Dec. 21 vs. Cleveland Browns
Bank of America Stadium 1:00 p.m. * CBS
Sun. Dec. 28 at Atlanta Falcons Georgia Dome 1:00 p.m. * FOX
* - Subject to flexible scheduling.


The Panthers could end up making more than three primetime appearances with the NFL extending flexible scheduling in 2014. Typically reserved for Weeks 11-17, flex scheduling can begin as early as Week 5 this season, though it can't be applied more than twice through Week 10.

Flex scheduling allows Sunday afternoon games to be moved to Sunday night, in which case the original Sunday night game would move to an afternoon start time. Sunday games can also be moved from a 1 p.m. start to a kickoff time in the four o'clock hour, and vice versa.

Flex scheduling will not affect games airing on Thursday, Saturday or Monday nights. A flex scheduling move would be announced at least 12 days before the game. For Week 17, the Sunday night game will be announced no later than six days prior to December 28.

Carolina Panthers (1995 - Pres)

DRAFT GRADES:

 

Round 1, 28th overall

 

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

 

After three years, the Panthers finally invested a top draft pick in a weapon for quarterback Cam Newton. Kelvin Benjamin is a massive gamble, but at the end of the first round, he’s well worth the risk because he has the highest ceiling of any wide receiver in this year’s draft.

 

Many have called Benjamin a "raw" wide receiver, but I’m not sure that’s the best word to describe him. Although Benjamin occasionally struggled with bad drops, poor route running and lazy run blocking, it’s important to keep in mind that this was not due to a lack of proper technique or skill -- rather, it was lack of consistency.

 

 

 

Now it’ll be up to receivers coach Ricky Proehl to help Benjamin work on his consistency by giving him the coaching and development he needs, and Benjamin himself to work hard so he can make the most of his rare physical talents.

 

Grade: B+

 

Round 2, 60th overall

 

Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri

 

The Panthers might have gotten the steal of the draft in Kony Ealy after they selected him at 60 overall. Despite offensive tackle being a much bigger need than defensive end, the Panthers stuck to their BPA philosophy and took Ealy, a player they had a first round grade on, according to Panthers GM Dave Gettleman.

 

Ealy will be able to make an immediate impact because of his ability to play both defensive end and defensive tackle. This pick also makes a lot of sense for the future because it’s important to remember that Greg Hardy is playing on a one year franchise tag, and it’s uncertain if the Panthers can agree to a long-term contract with him after the 2014 season. Charles Johnson also carries a steadily increasing high cap figure, so it’s not too unlikely that he becomes a cap casualty in the upcoming future.

 

You can never have too many pass rushers, and the Panthers got the second best 4-3 defensive end in the entire draft at the end of the second round. This is as close as it gets to a home-run selection.

 

Grade: A

 

Round 3, 92nd overall

 

Trai Turner, OG, LSU

 

The Panthers got another potential "steal" when they selected LSU guard Trai Turner in the third round of the draft. Several draft analysts actually think that if Turner stayed at LSU for another year, he could have been a first round selection in 2015. Instead, Turner declared early and his raw skill-set caused him to fall to the third round in the Draft.

 

Despite not having the most polished technique, Turner has elite athleticism, as he posted the best 40-yard dash, 10-yard split and 20-yard shuttle times of all the guards at the combine. Turner will immediately compete at right guard on the Panthers offensive line, and is currently the favorite to win the job. Once again, this is an excellent value pick at the end of the third round.

 

Grade: A- 

 

Round 4, 128th overall

 

Tre Boston, SAF, North Carolina

 

The third day of the draft is for filling out the depth chart, and Gettleman did just that by taking Tre Boston of North Carolina. Boston doesn’t have elite athleticism or the most polished technique, but he’s good enough in several areas to be a valuable depth player in the Panthers secondary as a rookie.

 

Boston is a low risk, medium reward player. Not the worst selection in the fourth round, but probably not the best either.

 

Grade: C+ 

 

Round 5, 148th overall (from Minnesota via trade up)

 

Bene Benwikere, CB, San Jose State

 

The Panthers made a surprising decision to trade up and get "their guy", in this case a completely under-the-radar small school cornerback. Coach Ron Rivera and defensive backs coach Steve Wilks secretly worked out Benwikere before the draft, and it’s clear that they liked Benwikere enough to justify using a fifth and seventh round pick on him. Benwikere isn’t the biggest or fastest cornerback, but in many ways he’s similar to Melvin White as a read and react zone cornerback who can play the ball in the air.

 

Benwikere will compete for the slot cornerback role in the Panthers defense. Even if he doesn’t win the job as a rookie, he’ll still be solid depth at one of the weakest positions on the Panthers roster.

 

Grade: B 

 

Round 6, 204th overall

 

Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford

 

That’s right, the Panthers added another running back to their roster. It almost wouldn’t be a Panthers draft without one. Gaffney has gotten some comparisons to Boston College running back Andre Williams, a player many fans wanted in the fourth round.

 

However, the Panthers already have three running backs and Mike Tolbert, which means Gaffney will likely not see the field at all as a rookie. It’s not even guaranteed he’ll make the roster, which is why I felt like this pick could have been better used on a late round offensive tackle, a position the Panthers have very little depth at.

 

Grade: C- 

 

Final thoughts

 

It’s hard to really love this draft, but it’s also hard to hate it. The Panthers got two potential steals in Ealy and Turner, and took a well-calculated gamble on Kelvin Benjamin, and added depth in the secondary and at running back on the third day. However, I question the the Panthers decision to pass on an offensive tackle, their greatest position of need.

 

Overall Draft Grade: B


ROSTER:

 

Active

 

#NamePos.Ht.Wt.AgeExp.College
97 Addison, Mario DE 6-3 260 26 4 Troy
90 Alexander, Frank DE 6-4 270 24 3 Oklahoma
55 Allen, Denicos LB 5-11 225 23 R Michigan State
3 Anderson, Derek QB 6-6 230 31 10 Oregon State
81 Avant, Jason WR 6-0 210 31 9 Michigan
25 Barner, Kenjon RB 5-9 195 25 2 Oregon
77 Bell, Byron T 6-5 340 25 4 New Mexico
13 Benjamin, Kelvin WR 6-5 240 23 R Florida St.
29 Benwikere, Bene CB 6-0 185 22 R San Jose St.
2 Bersin, Brenton WR 6-3 210 24 1 Wofford
93 Blackburn, Chase LB 6-3 240 31 10 Akron
5 Blanchard, Matt QB 6-3 225 25 1 Wisconsin-Whitewater
33 Boston, Tre S 6-1 205 22 R North Carolina
46 Boyko, Billy LB 6-2 235 22 1 Lehigh
47 Brockel, Richie TE 6-1 255 27 4 Boise State
16 Brown, Philly WR 5-11 180 22 R Ohio State
37 Byndom, Carrington CB 6-0 180 21 R Texas
20 Cason, Antoine CB 6-1 195 27 7 Arizona
78 Chandler, Nate OL 6-4 315 25 3 UCLA
18 Clemons, Toney WR 6-2 205 25 1 Colorado
91 Cole, Colin DT 6-2 330 34 10 Iowa
82 Cotchery, Jerricho WR 6-1 205 32 11 North Carolina State
58 Davis, Thomas LB 6-1 235 31 10 Georgia
21 DeCoud, Thomas S 6-2 195 29 7 California
62 Dennis, Derek G 6-3 325 25 1 Temple
84 Dickson, Ed TE 6-4 255 26 5 Oregon
31 Dockery, James CB 6-1 185 25 4 Oregon State
94 Ealy, Kony DE 6-4 275 22 R Missouri
92 Edwards, Dwan DT 6-3 305 33 11 Oregon State
64 Folkerts, Brian C 6-4 310 24 2 Washburn
63 Foucault, David T 6-8 305 25 R Montreal
27 Gaffney, Tyler RB 6-0 220 23 R Stanford
9 Gano, Graham K 6-2 205 27 5 Florida State
61 Gaydosh, Linden DT 6-3 310 23 2 Calgary
6 Gay, Jordan P 6-1 205 24 1 Centre
57 Glanton, Adarius LB 6-1 230 23 R Florida Atlantic
30 Godfrey, Charles CB 5-11 210 28 7 Iowa
50 Hall, Alex DE 6-5 255 28 4 St. Augustine's
76 Hardy, Greg DE 6-4 275 25 5 Mississippi
41 Harper, Roman S 6-1 205 31 9 Alabama
96 Horton, Wes DE 6-5 270 24 2 Southern California
72 Hughes, Kevin T 6-4 315 25 2 Southeastern Louisiana
53 Jacobs, Ben LB 6-4 245 26 2 Fresno State
44 Jansen, J.J. LS 6-2 240 28 7 Notre Dame
80 Jefferson, D.C. TE 6-6 265 25 2 Rutgers
95 Johnson, Charles DE 6-2 285 27 8 Georgia
73 Johnson, Oscar T 6-6 345 24 1 Louisiana Tech
42 Jones, Colin S 6-0 205 26 4 Texas Christian
67 Kalil, Ryan C 6-2 300 29 8 Southern California
12 King, Tavarres WR 6-1 200 23 2 Georgia
56 Klein, A.J. LB 6-1 245 22 2 Iowa State
59 Kuechly, Luke LB 6-3 238 23 3 Boston College
71 Kugbila, Edmund G 6-4 325 23 2 Valdosta State
38 Lester, Robert S 6-1 225 25 2 Alabama
98 Lotulelei, Star DT 6-2 320 24 2 Utah
83 Lucas, Marcus WR 6-4 220 22 R Missouri
79 McDonald, Andrew T 6-6 310 25 1 Indiana
85 McNeill, Mike TE 6-4 240 26 4 Nebraska
15 McNutt, Marvin WR 6-2 225 24 2 Iowa
26 Menzie, De'Quan CB 5-11 200 24 2 Alabama
73 Nevis, Drake DT 6-1 295 25 4 Louisiana State
1 Newton, Cam QB 6-5 245 25 4 Auburn
24 Norman, Josh CB 6-0 195 26 3 Coastal Carolina
8 Nortman, Brad P 6-2 210 24 3 Wisconsin
68 Norwell, Andrew G 6-6 310 22 R Ohio State
88 Olsen, Greg TE 6-5 253 29 8 Miami (Fla.)
19 Pilares, Kealoha WR 5-10 200 26 4 Hawaii
10 Presley, De'Andre WR 5-10 190 24 1 Appalachian State
36 Reaves, Darrin RB 5-10 220 21 R Alabama-Birmingham
60 Roh, Craig DE 6-4 280 23 1 Michigan
72 Rowell, Shaq DT 6-4 315 24 R West Virginia
32 Russell, Anderson S 6-0 200 27 3 Ohio State
75 Scott, Chris G 6-4 345 26 3 Tennessee
99 Short, Kawann DT 6-3 315 25 2 Purdue
66 Silatolu, Amini G 6-4 315 25 3 Midwestern State
52 Smith, D.J. LB 6-0 240 25 3 Appalachian State
28 Stewart, Jonathan RB 5-10 235 27 7 Oregon
22 Thomas, Josh CB 5-11 185 25 4 Buffalo
35 Tolbert, Mike FB 5-9 245 28 7 Coastal Carolina
70 Turner, Trai G 6-3 320 21 R LSU
11 Underwood, Tiquan WR 6-1 185 27 6 Rutgers
74 Walker, Casey DT 6-1 335 24 1 Oklahoma
14 Webb, Joe QB 6-4 230 27 5 Alabama-Birmingham
69 Wheeler, Jared C 6-5 320 23 R Miami (Fla.)
23 White, Melvin CB 6-1 205 24 2 Louisiana Lafayette
86 Williams, Brandon TE 6-4 250 26 2 Oregon
34 Williams, DeAngelo RB 5-9 215 31 9 Memphis
65 Williams, Garry T 6-3 315 27 6 Kentucky
54 Williams, Jason LB 6-1 245 28 6 Western Illinois
39 Zordich, Michael FB 6-1 245 24 2 Penn State



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