Spartanburg is show time for the Carolina Panthers wideouts…
Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said something pithy about the defensive backs looking good in OTAs and mini-camp because they can afford to cut it loose, take chances when there’s no real negative to 1-1 covers making receptions. When the pads go on- still almost a month from now- is also when the lower, less recognizable names on the 93-person roster get to show what they can do as receivers.
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As a fact, there are 15 potential bodies (including three TEs not named Olsen) in the receivers room, plus local UNCC product Austin Dukes, and Damiere Byrd, who had some actual success with Panthers before an ankle injury last year. Misters Ross, Jones, Frazier and two tight ends (Ian Thomas is going to be a favored project behind Olsen), along with Curtis Samuel, are names that will have to build a spot in various coaches memories to even make it to a taxi squad spot before Opening Day. First rounder D.J. Moore will be at the top of the list with Torrey Smith while Devin Funchess is surely about to light things up.
Between now and July 26th, the most popular guys for the Carolina Panthers receiving corps may well be backup QBs Garrett Gilbert (SMU) and Kyle Allen (Houston), because nothing—Curtis Samuel bought a JUGS machine—helps improve a pass catcher more than having someone throw live balls for them to go after. The times a second-string QB comes into a game and hits a taxi guy because they worked together since their first OTAs is a staple of the make an impression game. Knowing a QB will stick it on your hands when you stutter step at eight yards and do the quick out pattern, that requires time together.
There’s no doubt there are going to be plenty of passes in 2018, and yes, many will be swing passes and check downs to the elusive McCafferty and sturdy Anderson. The Norv Turner system will undoubtedly amp the offense, and the numbers should be easy to track: If Newton averaged 31 throws a game over the course of his and MVP/Super Bowl year, and only 59.8% that year, getting to mid-60s for completions on twenty percent more throws (to 37 per game) would be statistically huge. Newton hung up 4,000 yards-plus passing his first two years in league, expectations to that level come with new system, his physical assets, and a dramatically upgraded group of receivers that will indeed stress the opposition.
Pegging Funchess and McCaffrey as ‘Bigger Three’ for the Carolina Panthers is about pushing historical production into another gear. McCaffrey seems to have an unlimited ceiling, and if one counts this year as a growth-career progression for Funchess, one more catch per game turns him into an elite (1200 yards, double digit touchdowns) pass catcher. Free agents Smith and Jarius Wright will be out to prove any recent slump in their numbers was about opportunity, and having Newton’s strong arm challenged by receivers who could be at the end of loooong rainbows and crossing patterns underneath would be a welcome sight.
Fans might try to sort big, slot, possession, speed categories for receivers, and that variety now becomes the defenses problem. Training camp will be the ‘iron sharpens iron’ time, and if Carolina Panthers defensive backs can’t truly strut their game until there are consequences, there will be fireworks to watch for sure when any one spectacular play might be worth a coach’s vote. Next time you see them in Spartanburg, it’s going to be almost as real for many names on the roster as being around September 9th will be.