Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said on Jan. 3 that the staff would spend two weeks analyzing the team, looking to avoid hasty, emotional decisions. The Observer will do the same, position by position. Up next: Specialists.
Something to know
▪ Bringing in competition: After Panthers kicker Graham Gano struggled in 2016, head coach Ron Rivera mentioned that he would like to bring in a little competition for Gano in camp. It’s unlikely the Panthers would draft a kicker or punter and it’s unlikely they end up dropping Gano (who has a year left on his contract).
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On the roster
▪ Graham Gano: Gano had a rough year, missing eight field goals (including three in the season finale at Tampa Bay) and suffering during the latter third of the season from a broken bone in his foot. It was his career high in misses as a Carolina Panther.
▪ Andy Lee: Lee, the Panthers’ punter, went on injured reserve midway through the season with a hamstring injury. He told the Observer that he expects to be back fully in 2017, and will be back punting and working out by spring.
▪ Also: Michael Palardy, who was brought in by the Panthers halfway through the season when Lee got hurt, was serviceable as a punter but is unlikely to be retained. He may make a training camp appearance or be picked up by another team. Long snapper J.J. Jansen went unnoticed this season, which is an excellent thing, if you’re a long snapper.
▪ Making moves to sign a new kicker is unlikely for the Panthers, but if they do decide to shake things up in the specialist room, there are three free agents worth eyeing. Seattle’s Steven Hauschka, a former N.C. State kicker, has an 87.2 career field goal percentage. Veteran Robbie Gould has an 85.9 career field goal percentage and had a 10-make streak after being picked up by the Giants this year. And Chandler Catanzaro had two great seasons with Arizona before a career-high seven misses this year.
▪ This is not a year in which the Panthers should even think about drafting a kicker or punter, with more pressing needs elsewhere, but if a promising undrafted free agent comes along, they might as well test him out in camp. Possibilities include Arizona State’s Zane Gonzalez, who made 92 percent of his field goals in 2016, was 6 of 6 in distances between 40-49 yards, and was 7 of 9 in distances of 50-plus yards, including a 59-yard field goal. He won the Lou Groza Award for the nation’s top collegiate kicker. He is projected as a late-round draft pick but could make things very interesting for Gano if he’s around long enough to be picked up by Carolina as a UDFA.
The bottom line
Competition will do the specialists good, but don’t expect any massive changes to the roster in 2017.