With training camp just days away, CatCrave proudly presents an analysis on each position on the Carolina Panthers roster. In an effort to prepare you for the excitement of watching your favorite team prepare for the season, we will analyze the projected strengths and weaknesses at each position.
In a league with a gluttony of proficient passers and complex route schemes, even the great innovator Don Coryell would be given a run for his money. The league wide average passer rating (86.0) and touchdowns thrown (804) each were record highs for the NFL, as the average 471.2 net passing yards per game also broke the 2012 record of 462.2. In a league seemingly more focused on the past than ever before, the Panthers reshaped secondary will look to clamp down on high octane offenses come this September.
Strengths: Elite in their front seven, Carolina last season relied on a “bend but don’t break” secondary which worked last season as the team only allowed 23 pass plays 25 yards or more, fourth best in the league. Gone are starters and contributing players from last year’s team (Captain Munnerlyn, Drayton Florence, and Mike Mitchell) who remain unsigned or bolted in free agency.
Projected to start at the corner positions, Antoine Carson has much to prove after a disappointing one year stint in Arizona. Still only 28, Carson has much time to prove that he can be a solid defensive back in the league and is still at an age where he is still at the peak of performance. Joining Carson, Melvin White returns and showed promise last season in a limited role. White is likely to become the other starter for Carolina. Behind White and Carson, Josh Norman and Josh Thomas will round out the cornerback position. Both are similar to Carson and will look to have bounce back years following a season where Norman, once considered a steal by the Panthers in the 2012 Draft, has yet to show the consistency Carolina management has sought; and Thomas was inactive for three games last season due to his play.
Bringing the hammer to wideouts crossing the middle and patrolling deep, the safeties of the Panthers provide less doubt for fans than the team’s cornerbacks. Roman Harper (formerly of New Orleans), Robert Lester, and Thomas DeCoud all will vie for the starting two spots. DeCoud, a former Pro Bowler and Atlanta Falcon, provides veteran stability to an inexperienced secondary. Harper, also a free agent signing of a division rival, had a disappointing season with New Orleans but has proven to be a more than capable safety, as he was selected to two Pro Bowls as a member of the Saints. Lester looks to be the most well-suited to start. The undrafted Crimson Tide product showed great potential in his first season as opposing quarterbacks had a quarterback rating of 49.6 when balls where thrown in Lester’s direction.
Weaknesses: Similar to the offensive line on offense, the Panthers secondary looks to be the position on defense which comes with the most questions. Aging acquisitions along with the inconsistency of developing defensive backs leaves the secondary of Carolina as the most concerning group for Panthers nation heading into the season.
At the corners, Antoine Carson failed to crack the starting lineup of a talented Arizona Cardinals secondary. Formerly a member of Ron Rivera’s defense in San Diego, Carson shined as a Charger, but struggled last season. Rivera bringing back one of his stars from San Diego has the potential to either reawaken Carson to have a resurgent year or watch the eight year veteran wrestle to get into games as he did last season.
White showed showed flashes of brilliance in a limited role last season and it should be interesting to see if he could show the same ability in a more prominent role. Norman and Thomas have struggled in their tenures as Panthers. Touted by Panthers brass in selecting the two corners, Norman and Thomas have not regularly been the most reliable defensive backs and will need to step up this season as the two are projected to feature more prominent roles this season.
At the safety position, play-maker Mike Mitchell left to join Pittsburgh and GM David Gettleman signed Harper and DeCoud to go along with second year veteran Robert Lester. Among the three safeties, a year ago, Lester was truly the only one who showed strong play throughout the season and should be at the top of the depth chart at safety. The acquisitions of Harper and DeCoud definitely raises more doubt than Lester due to their ineffective play. Harper appeared in just nine games as a Saint and posted near career lows in 2013. At 31 years of age, it was a risky decision to bring a veteran, who is a good presence in the lockeroom, but is nearing the end of his prime. DeCoud, not as experienced as Harper, is a veteran who is coming off a disappointing season was brought in to help mentor a young secondary. Over the past five years, DeCoud has started in 78 of 80 games and has a keen sense of the happenings of the NFC South. Though Lester currently is the best of the group, I expect DeCoud to make some plays as the other starting safety and to have Harper come in certain roles.
The greatest secondary, some say, is a dominating front seven. Getting after the quarterback creates errant throws which lead to turnovers. Elite on the defensive line and with one of the best inside linebackers in the game, the secondary is buoyed by a strong front seven. Yet, with the lingering questions involving Greg Hardy and the aging health of their linebackers, it will be difficult for the Panthers defense to wreak as much havoc in opposing teams’ backfields. As a result, their secondary (filled with unproven prospects and declining starters) could be exposed come this season as the Panthers will be facing ten Pro Bowl quarterbacks this season.