I get the urgency idea. I really do.
Every NFL team feels like it needs to win every year, and the Carolina Panthers are no exception. Every NFL team feels like it should get faster in this “speed kills” era, and the Panthers are no exception.
But like a new doctor setting up shop and looking for business, the Panthers need to have a lot of patience this season.
Go ahead and groan – I know it’s a bad pun. But patience is going to be a watchword in the locker room in 2017.
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Fans need to remember that one word above all else this season. This is a grand experiment the Panthers are attempting – nothing less than a “Let’s change horses in midstream” evolution of the offense.
So let’s talk a little about what these next 16 games are going to look like. And I mean talk about them realistically – not in the best-case, fantasy-football scenario that is so easy to fall into for every NFL team every August.
This new offense may look fabulous one week and flop the next. And that’s OK. This is a path the Panthers need to take, both to lengthen quarterback Cam Newton’s career and to ultimately keep pace with the points machine that is the Atlanta Falcons.
Newton’s preseason has been far from ideal. He has barely played in the preseason because of lingering soreness in his throwing shoulder, which was operated on in late March. He went 12 days at one point without throwing in any live drills.
On the other hand, he reported to camp at 246 pounds – close to 20 pounds lighter than he played some of the 2016 season. He is a seventh-year quarterback. Don’t let the smile and the occasional sideline “Riverdance” imitation fool you – Newton is taking this year very seriously as he tries to get his swag back.
Rookie Christian McCaffrey is a jolt of jet fuel who reminds me of Steve Smith during his rookie season. As they did with Smith, the Panthers plan to use McCaffrey on punt returns and to get the ball into his hands 10 to 15 times a game. He will contend for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors as long as he doesn’t get hurt.
What do I worry about most? Three things:
1. Overall depth. I’m not sure the Panthers have a lot of “plug-and-play” guys on their second team.
2. The secondary. James Bradberry looks poised for a breakout year. But in a pass-heavy NFC South, this unit will be severely tested.
3. The offensive line. It has looked great for much of the preseason. But this is exactly where things started falling apart in 2016, and so I wonder about it. And Matt Kalil is going to have to prove to everyone he’s worth $55.5 million.
With all that said, I think the Panthers can have a good year. I’m picking them to make the playoffs – which would make it four times in the past five seasons – and my record prediction can be found near this column if you are interested.
But don’t throw in the towel if it all looks awful early. And by the same token, don’t make Super Bowl reservations in Minneapolis on Feb. 4, either, if it all looks great.
All this may work, but it’s not all going to work at once all the time.