Carolina Panthers' surprising offseason standout gains extended plaudits

This is a turnup for the books.
Dave Canales
Dave Canales / Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

There is plenty to ponder for Dave Canales and his coaching staff heading into training camp. The Carolina Panthers made substantial roster changes in pursuit of dragging themselves out of rock bottom status under the new head coach in 2024. Optimism is building among the fanbase, but the situation remains precarious all things considered.

Canales should have a better indication of what this team might be capable of next season. He's implemented his ideas and worked on improving the fundamentals of every player. Watching how this group came together with raised urgency was a worthwhile assessment before things got more intense throughout the summer.

Some players came to the fore. Others saw their respective stocks drop for one reason or another. There were also some eye-catching surprises for good measure. This only raises the intrigue as players continue to jockey for positions before Week 1 at the New Orleans Saints rolls around.

Carolina Panthers finally seeing improvement from Ian Thomas

David Newton from ESPN highlighted the positive impact made by Ian Thomas over early workouts. Most had written off the veteran tight end after an underwhelming stint with the franchise. However, the beat writer indicated that all hope might not be lost for the player under Canales' guidance.

"Much was made about the upgrade at tight end when the [Carolina] Panthers selected Texas' Ja'Tavion Sanders in the fourth round, but it has been 2018 fourth-rounder [Ian] Thomas who has stolen the spotlight at a position that is featured in Dave Canales' passing game. Thomas had only five catches last season and was kept around because of his skills as a blocker. But in this tight-end-friendly scheme he has become a big target at a position for which the Panthers ranked last in the NFL the past four seasons with a total of 181 catches for 1,734 yards and 10 touchdowns. Even Thomas admitted he's looking more like Travis Kelce these days."

David Newton, ESPN

Newton isn't alone in his positive assessment of Thomas. Coaches and other media members also noted how well he's picking up Canales' demands and becoming more of an asset in the passing game. Whether it amounts to anything more is anyone's guess, but the former Indiana star enhanced his hopes in no uncertain terms.

Fans have heard this from Thomas before. He's flashed during camp and the preseason but failed to put everything together in a competitive setting on countless occasions. It's been a steep decline since his promising rookie year. Altering this perception when the real action arrives will be the most critical factor of all.

The Panthers have high hopes for Tommy Tremble as he moves to the No. 1 spot on the tight end depth chart. It would be a surprise if rookie Ja'Tavion Sanders didn't feature in Carolina's upgraded passing attack given the outstanding athletic attributes at his disposal. This adds to Thomas' challenge, but he's proven to be up for the fight if efforts so far are any indication.

This is the last chance saloon for Thomas in Carolina. The competition has also been raised and standards across the board increased. There's a long way to go and a lot to be decided, but this seems to be bringing the best out of him according to reports.

Keeping these improved performance levels up is another matter.