Pros: Lost in all the talk about Cam Newtons pouty press conferences and his towel-draped, sideline posture is this fact: No one in NFL history has thrown for more yards his first two seasons. Thats not all Newton does: Last year he became the first QB to lead his team in rushing since Donovan McNabb in 2000.
Cons: First-year general manager Dave Gettleman set the tone in training camp when he said it was time for Newton to win. No one knows that more than Newton, who wont be asked to do as much under first-year offensive coordinator Mike Shula. Running less zone-read could improve Newtons footwork in the pocket, helping him set his feet before he throws.
Observer position ranking: 2nd (out of 8 position groups).
Pros: DeAngelo Williams was the beneficiary late last season when the Panthers went to a more traditional rushing attack. Williams averaged 89 yards on 16 carries over the last five games, topped off with his team-record, 210-rushing performance at New Orleans in Week 17. With Jonathan Stewart out until at least Week 7 following offseason surgeries on both ankles, Williams will have plenty of touches.
Cons: The Panthers much ballyhooed backfield depth was not evident during the preseason, when fullback Mike Tolbert (hamstring) and Stewart were out. Journeyman Armond Smith made the team as Williams backup, despite six career carries for 2 yards.
Observer position ranking: 6th.
Wide receivers/tight ends
Pros: Panthers fans have been clamoring for a dependable No. 2 receiver since Muhsin Muhammad retired. But Brandon LaFells receiving yards and touchdowns have increased in each of his first three seasons. Add the ageless Steve Smith and underrated tight end Greg Olsen to the mix, and its a pretty good pass-catching trio.
Cons: The competition for the No. 3 receiving spot turned into a battle of attrition this summer, when there were nearly as many pulled hamstrings as receptions among the likes of Armanti Edwards, Domenik Hixon and the jettisoned David Gettis. Ted Ginn Jr. wont catch a lot of passes, but his speed could make them high-impact grabs.
Observer position ranking: 5th.
Pros: The Panthers brought back Travelle Wharton at the end of August to stick between Pro Bowlers Ryan Kalil at center and left tackle Jordan Gross. Kalil looked strong during the exhibitions after season-ending foot surgery last fall. Second-year guard Amini Silatolu was progressing well before injuring his hamstring during the preseason.
Cons: Offensive line coach John Matsko wants to play his five best linemen, but thats tough when both Wharton and Silatolu are natural left guards. The right side combination of guard Garry Williams and tackle Byron Bell will be counted on to establish the line of scrimmage in Shulas rushing attack.
Observer position ranking: 7th.
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