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.
Constantly the least discussed unit of the NFL’s three aspects of play, special teams has proven to be as instrumental as any offense or defense. Game winning field goals have sent teams to playoff and championship glory. Strong returns on punts and kickoffs have eased the process of offenses driving down the field to score, and punts have turned the tide in games with field position. In the final issue of the Catcrave pre-training camp preview, we breakdown the projected starters on a Panthers special teams, that figure to be one of the best into the season.
Strengths: After an average performance in 2012, kicker Graham Gano had a year of resurgence last season for Carolina. Signed in November of 2012, Gano finished his first complete season for the Panthers with the highest touchback percentage by any kicker on any team. Helping the Carolina defense by limiting deep returns as well as lowing the chances of injury on special teams, touchbacks are an underrated commodity for teams. Graham Gano was one of the best in the league at specializing in them. Along with a field goal percentage of 88.9% and tying the NFL lead with six makes of 50 yards or more, Graham Gano was rightly awarded a four year contract by Panthers management by being one of the most consistent kickers in the league a year ago.
Punter Brad Nortman also had a solid second season for the Panthers after being drafted by the team in 2012. Nortman set a franchise record for gross punting average and net yards during the 2013 campaign, and finished third in the league with an average of 4.6 seconds of hang time per punt. Averaging 47.8 yards per punt and 41.6 net yards per punt, Nortman had one of the best seasons by a punter and should look to put up similar numbers this season.
In the gutting of the Panthers receiving corps, Ted Ginn Jr.( the team’s return specialist) was let go this off-season. Though he did not break for a score on special teams a year ago, he was a reliable returner who averaged 23.8 yards per kick return and 12 yards per punt returner. Projected to replace Ginn, running back Kenjon Barner saw limited opportunities to return last season and should be the returner for this upcoming season.
Weaknesses: I see little weakness on the Panthers special teams. Brad Nortman and Graham Gano are two of the best in their field and at the ages of 24 and 27 respectively (in the midst of their prime) there is little reason to believe the two specialists should stumble this season. Though Ted Ginn Jr was a capable returner, Kenjon Barner should do a nice job replacing the former receiver. On far less attempts than Ginn, Barner averaged eight yards on two attempts returning kickoffs. While the numbers are not impressive, Barner has not truly had the chance to show he can be a decent returner. With Ginn gone, and Barner having the experience of returning kicks, Carolina should be confident that Barner can hold down the position of returner as he seeks to prove to the team that selected him a year ago that he can be a contributor for them.