Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers have faced a lot of flack this offseason. They lost their entire receiving core, half of the offensive line retired, and successful pieces of the secondary were given contracts elsewhere that they couldn’t refuse. Is seriously doubting success for Carolina in 2014 a crime? No, it isn’t, and it’s certainly justified. But if the Panthers taught the world one thing last season, it’s that you should never underestimate a team hungry for success.
Being that he is considered the star of the show, many doubt Cam Newton can live up to the performance of his 2013 season. Losing all of your receivers and half of your offensive line will certainly draw the skeptics in, but Newton has faced adversity all of his NFL career. I’m here to tell you that he will overcome the struggles that face him once again. Here’s why:
Newton gets better each and every year.
The evolution of Super Cam is fascinating. Although he isn’t putting up the jump-off-the-page numbers he recorded his rookie season, the young quarterback is playing smarter and more efficiently. Besides sporting a mediocre supporting cast, Newton played his best season yet in 2013. His touchdowns were at an all-time high, while his turnover numbers were the lowest they’ve ever been. Not only that, but his completion percentage, passer rating, and QBR were the best numbers he has ever recorded in each respective category. Newton also accomplished this while throwing for the fewest attempts in his career. He managed to put up his best passing stats yet while leading a rush-orienated offense. If that isn’t impressive, I don’t know what is.
Most importantly, Cam became the leader that he needed to be. Instead of crumbling in crunch-time like he did in the past, Newton stepped up and led his team with 6 game winning drives. He recorded only 2 in his rookie and sophomore seasons COMBINED.
He’ll have a revitalized receiving core to grow with.
Now I might be alone on this, but I think the most important thing for a young quarterback to have is a young receiving cast to mold and grow with. I also truly believe that to be the main reason long-time receiver Steve Smith was cut. While Smitty was beloved by all, his leadership needed to be put in Newton’s hands. During Cam’s rookie year, he had veteran guys to help him understand the nature of the NFL. While that is vital for any players’ first few seasons, Cam is now ready to be the leader of this offense. So while Smith, LaFell, and Ginn all left this offseason, Coach Rivera and General Manager Dave Gettleman had a master plan in mind: to surround Newton with young talent to lead.
That is exactly what they’ve done. They brought in young, fairly in-experienced guys in Tavarres King and Marvin McNutt, but most importantly, they drafted their future #1 receiver in Kelvin Benjamin. Cam now has the veteran presence he requires in Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant, but also has his receiving core of the future. Cam will be able to teach these guys off the bat how he plays the game, and it’ll be a mutual growth for both sides that will result in an efficient offense. Therefore, while all-star receiver Steve Smith was dismissed, I fully expect Newton to have the most success he has ever had passing the ball in 2014. Most importantly though, he’ll be set up with the many of the same receivers for years to come.
The Panthers plan to utilize more two tight-end sets.
It’s no secret that Cam Newton excels with two tight-end sets. In 2011, Newton lit-up the NFL with his passing ability, with most of his passes targeting two TEs- Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey. Ever since Shockey left the team after the 2011 season, Carolina’s offense has never been the same, and certainly not as successful. For the following two seasons, the Panthers lacked a true pass-catching tight end to complement Greg Olsen. In 2014, Coach Rivera plans to bring back the success.
“With an extra tight end in the game you can do so many different things, depending on who the tight end is,” Rivera said. “You can line him up as a fullback, as another wide receiver or as a wing tight end. It’s going to give us a lot more versatility on what we do.” – Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera
The Panthers acquired ex-Raven Ed Dickson in April to help put the new offensive plan into motion. While Dickson has always been proficient as a run blocker, but Rivera and company truly believe he can contribute to the passing game. Dickson has been backing up their claims during OTAs, proving that he truly can be a weapon in the air.
Dickson won’t be without competition. Brandon Williams, a rookie in 2013, has been making a strong case that he deserves the second TE spot. Williams didn’t get a chance to prove his worth during his rookie season, but he hasn’t let that discourage him. He has been perhaps one of the strongest receivers during OTAs this month, as he has been a dominate player on the field catching everything that comes to him. Williams has long been a fan favorite since training camp of the 2013 season, and he has a high ceiling to work up to.
With an inexperienced receiving core, 2014 is the season for Dickson and Williams to step up as weapons for Cam. He is at his best when throwing to big bodies, which both tight ends provide.
When you closely examine the situation, it seems that Cam Newton has more reasons to succeed, rather than to fail. I believe that Cam will have his best season yet, not just because he has the talent, but he now has fresh talent to lead. With an intimidating defense at his back, Cam Newton and his surrounding cast should put their team in a position to succeed, and I fully expect that they will.