The Carolina Panthers welcomed some new faces to their offense this spring, including a new coordinator in Norv Turner.
But many of its cornerstone pieces remain the same: Cam Newton at quarterback, Christian McCaffrey at running back, Ryan Kalil at center and Greg Olsen at tight end.
Here’s a look at the Panthers offense, position by position:
Quarterback: Trending up
Bringing Turner and his son, quarterbacks coach Scott Turner, in to work with Newton and the Panthers offense was only a part of the equation to set right an offense that has struggled for two years.
General manager Marty Hurney and head coach Ron Rivera also put an emphasis on getting more playmakers in the building, too.
Turner’s offense creates layers in the middle of the field and features checkdown options that will help Newton get the ball out quickly to players who can create yards after the catch.
Newton wants to get his completion percentage up to a consistent 65, and finished the preseason at 68.4 percent. He’s healthier than he’s been in a few years. He’s loose and having fun. It might be a good year for No. 1.
Running back: Trending up
After four preseason games, it’s clear that the Panthers will make second-year running back Christian McCaffrey their workhorse back in more ways than one.
Rivera wants to get McCaffrey 25 to 30 touches a game, both between the tackles and as a receiver.
Last season, McCaffrey averaged 14 touches per game. He rushed for 435 yards and two touchdowns on 117 carries, and had 80 receptions for 651 yards and five touchdowns.
The Panthers will also utilize free agent acquisition C.J. Anderson, a veteran back with a soft set of hands who rushed for 1,000 yards in Denver last season.
Wide receiver: Trending up
Hurney and Rivera completely overhauled the receivers room this spring. They traded with Philadelphia for veteran deep threat Torrey Smith, brought in former Viking (and Turner disciple) Jarius Wright and drafted Maryland’s D.J. Moore in the first round.
They join No. 1 receiver Devin Funchess, who is entering a contract year, and last year’s second-round pick, Curtis Samuel.
Carolina will also heavily utilize McCaffrey as a receiver, and welcomes back Olsen from the foot injury he sustained last season.
Tight end: Trending up
A healthy Olsen means Newton’s favorite target is back on the field. In 2016, Olsen became the first tight end in NFL history to record three consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons.
Carolina also refused to trade their fourth-round pick during the draft this spring in order to select Indiana tight end Ian Thomas.
Thomas has only a few years of actual football experience (he was a former basketball player and junior college product before attending Indiana), but he has already flashed his enormous potential as a complete tight end.
And don’t forget about fullback/tight end Alex Armah, who had a great preseason. With a shaky offensive line, the Panthers will need Armah’s blocking as a fullback and even as an extra tight end in some sets.
Offensive line: Trending down
The Panthers’ offensive line is in trouble, and will likely remain there through the first few weeks of the season.
Starting right tackle Daryl Williams, in a contract year, injured his knee in the first week of training camp. Just days later, guard Amini Silatolu injured his knee as well. Silatolu was taking the starting snaps at left guard before his injury.
After Carolina’s second preseason game against Miami, left tackle Matt Kalil had his knee scoped and has been week-to-week.
Finally, fill-in right tackle Jeremiah Sirles pulled his hamstring in the Panthers’ first series of the third exhibition, against New England.
None of those injuries are season-ending. But the offensive line has been reshuffled multiple times, with backups playing in three major spots.
Second-year tackle Taylor Moton has filled in at left and right tackle, and third-string center Greg Van Roten has played left guard.
Carolina hopes to have Williams, Kalil and Silatolu back soon. But even if they return in a timely fashion, they all will be playing on knees fresh from injury.