The Christmas festivities have officially ended for me. It was nice to spend time with family and get away from the grind that is life. Hopefully you all enjoyed Christmas and our beloved Panthers had a chance to get away from football for the day and be with their families.
The Panthers started the season out with close losses and that trend continued throughout much of the season. Over the past few weeks, though, that has changed. Here are some thoughts on the season, the draft and how the team will look going forward.
Defense has stepped up
Sure, the Panthers’ defense is far from perfect but one thing is clear and it’s that these guys are playing hard. The talent may not be there due to injuries, yet this team has played at a high level lately. In particular guys like Jordan Senn, Thomas Keiser, Andre Neblett and Frank Kearse have played inspired football of late. The chances of any of those four starting next season are slim but they have shown that they belong on the team and could be nice rotational players.
It’s interesting that the defensive line has played better since Sione Fua and Terrell McClain hit injured reserve. The two weren’t particularly effective in the reps they received, but you can’t fault Ron Rivera and Sean McDermott for wanting to get them experience in a rebuilding year.
I still believe that another defensive tackle needs to be added just not in the first round. There are some intriguing names, such as Dontari Poe, Brandon Thompson, Jerel Worthy and Devon Still. But the consensus among draft experts is that this is a relatively weak position at DT so it’s more than likely that one or more of the above players falls past the first round in the draft.
Speaking of the draft…
Where do the Panthers go?
Currently, the Panthers are in the ninth slot in the draft. Picking ninth means that Carolina will bag a top-end prospect but not necessarily one that is regarded as a sure thing. Strengthening the offensive line will be an option in this position and I am a big fan of Stanford’s Jonathan Martin.
Martin is projected to be a right tackle in the NFL and could be an insurance policy for oft-injured Jeff Otah. Byron Bell clearly isn’t the answer as he is better suited as a backup at this stage in his career. Still, the offensive line has gelled of late and if Otah can come back healthy–a big if–the pick would be better suited addressing other areas.
I wouldn’t go linebacker in the first round, but it is definitely an area that Carolina has to address in the draft to acquire some depth.
The most intriguing option would be adding a wide receiver. Fans are going to fall in love with Justin Blackmon and hope that he’s available when the Panthers are picking. Personally, I feel that someone will select him before Carolina picks or will move up in the draft to snag him. But even if Blackmon is off the board there are still two prospects that the Panthers could consider.
One is Alshon Jeffery from South Carolina and the other Michael Floyd out of Notre Dame. If I was forced to pick one it would be Floyd. He is a playmaker and has an imposing frame, which will cause plenty of problems for defenders. Jeffery has the higher upside and some believe he could be the next Calvin Johnson. Others believe that he is the next Mike Williams.
Maybe the debate shouldn’t be over which receiver to take but instead on whether or not they should take one at all.
Best rushing attack in the league?
This is something that I’ve been thinking about of late. Do the Panthers have the best rushing attack right now? If we went by the numbers that would be a no, but this team is ranked third in rushing and that’s not taking into consideration the lack of emphasis the running game received earlier in the season. Rob Chudzinski has pushed all the right buttons of late, although the best thing he has done is find a happy medium between running and throwing the ball.
Earlier in the season the Panthers threw the football entirely too much. The running game showed signs of life, yet it never resembled what it is now. Part of the reason the Panthers are having so much success on the ground is the read option that they continue to use more and more. When Newton, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are on the field it creates plenty of problems for opposing defenses.
All three are exceptional runners but what makes the attack so successful is the decision making of Newton. He seems to always know when to hand it off to Stewart, keep it or pitch it to Williams. The success of the running game has meant that Newton hasn’t had to throw the ball nearly as much, and it’s taken some of the pressure off of the rookie.
The playoffs are aren’t a possibility this season but you know the Panthers are going to be a sexy pick to make it next season. I truly believe that this squad should make the playoffs next year. The only things that I could see stopping Carolina from rolling into the postseason would be another year of unfortunate injuries or a sophomore slump from the franchise, Newton.
If the Panthers can hang on to Chudzinski and quarterbacks coach Mike Shula for one more season I think that this offense could do special things. It already is showing signs of what it can be with all of the big plays and innovative formations the team is using. But what this offense hasn’t developed yet is consistency; and when I say that I mean there have been too many times this season when the offense has been explosive for a period of time and gone into a funk for a quarter or so.
Give Newton an offseason with the same coaching staff and the sky is the limit. Stability is the key for any young player, just ask Alex Smith who has had more offensive coordinators than I have fingers–OK, maybe not quite.
Does Chud stay?
This is a question that is going to be asked a lot after the season ends. I think Chud stays one more season to work with this dynamic offense as he looks to continue to build up his resume. He’ll be a wanted coach after this season, but there will always be coaching jobs open. And unless the Panthers’ offense regresses drastically it would be hard to see his stock going down.
Hiring the up and coming coordinator has become the thing to do in the NFL. It’s possible that some team will pry him a way from the Panthers and Chud will jump at a head coaching opportunity but I just don’t see it happening.
Well, that was exhausting. Thanks to all of those who made it this far!