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2011 Team Report: Carolina Panthers

Quarterbacks

Starter: Cam Newton
Backup(s): Jimmy Clausen, Derek Anderson, Tony Pike

Starting QB: Newton was the first pick in the NFL Draft, and he looks like the presumptive starter in Carolina if he can pick up the offense quickly during training camp. He has great athleticism and throws the ball with good velocity. He is skilled at running the football when passing plays break down. The Panthers are in a rebuilding phase with their club, and he's the cornerstone they have decided to build around. Newton didn't play in a pro-style offense during his college years, and he isn't good at going through passing progressions/making reads. He'll have to refine his mechanics and learn to play the pro-style game (likely learning on the job during the 2011 regular season). The Panthers will have to be patient as Newton develops over the course of 2011.

Backup QB: Jimmy Clausen lost nine of his ten starts during 2010, putting up an abysmal 157/299 for 1,558 yards, three TDs and nine interceptions over 13 games played. He is listed as the top QB on the depth chart as of the start of training camp, but the Panthers are praying that Cam Newton can take over soon. Tony Pike was placed on IR Friday, December third 2010 due to a shoulder injury. He was 6/12 for 47 yards passing in limited action with the Panthers during 2010, and is now on IR for the 2011 season as well. Derek Anderson was brought in during free agency to be a mentor for Cam Newton - he is currently second on the depth chart.

Running Backs

Starter: DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart
Backup(s): Mike Goodson, Tyrell Sutton
Fullback(s): Tony Fiammetta

Starting RB: Williams will be part of a run-heavy offense designed to help ease Cam Newton into the NFL. He is just one year removed from his 2009 performance of 216/1,117/7 rushing and 29/252/0 receiving season as part of the running back by committee in Carolina. Though last season was shortened due to injury, Williams is still a young man (he'll be 28 when the season begins), and the Panthers have said publicly that they think he is their best back, and they hope to retain his services for the 2011 season. The Panthers matched words to actions, offering him a contract worth $43 million with $21 million guaranteed, and Williams re-signed with the team. Though Williams is reported to be over the nagging foot injury that dogged him during 2010, we have yet to see him run and cut during 2011 and there is some lingering uncertainty due to the disappointing 2010 season. Realize that even though Williams stayed in Carolina, the Panthers will be installing a new offense in a very compressed time frame due to the ongoing NFL labor stoppage - obviously, a slow start out of the gates for the team is a very real possiblity. He'll team with Jonathan Stewart again this year. Stewart will be part of a run-heavy Carolina offense this season, as the team transitions into the Cam Newton era at quarterback. He is finally healthy to begin a training camp (for the first time since turning pro), and fully participated in the first day of practices. With he and DeAngelo Williams back in the fold this year, a bounce-back season to numbers similar to his 2009 campaign should be possible: 221/1,113/10 rushing and 18/139/1 receiving were his results over a full 16 game season that year. Stewart has struggled with heel/Achilles tendon issues during his time in the NFL, though, and last year he was limited to 14 games played, with 178/770/2 rushing and 8/103/1 receiving to his credit. The Panthers' offense struggled mightily to score points last year (witness Stewart's drop from 10 rushing TDs per season in 2008 and 2009 to just two last year), and they will likely spend the majority of the season breaking in a rookie QB, which could lead to a similar dearth of scoring during 2011. Williams should be the senior partner in the Panthers' running-back-by-committee, although the split with Jonathan Stewart will probably be fairly close to 50-50. In real NFL terms, they form one of the best 1A/1B tandems in the league, but in fantasy terms both are likely to be limited to RB #2 statistics due to an extensive sharing of the work-load in Carolina.

Backup RBs: Mike Goodson was pressed into service during 2010 due to injury woes that bedeviled DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, and he responded with solid numbers in his chances: 103/452/3 rushing with 40/310/0 receiving. He proved to be a solid reserve running back who gives the team some margin for issues at the RB position. Tyrell Sutton is utilized on special teams, mostly, with minimal presence in the offense (13/71/0 rushing and 12/70/0 receiving last year over nine games played).

Fullback: Tony Fiammetta enters his third season with the Panthers. The fullback on this team catches an occasional pass or makes a plunge for first-down yardage, but don't look for fantasy-worthy production from the position. Fiammetta had zero carries and zero receptions during his rookie season in 2009 (he was targeted with three passes), and 7/22/0 rushing with 5/34/0 receiving during 2010.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Steve Smith, Legedu Naanee
Backups: Brandon LaFell, Armanti Edwards, Wallace Wright, Kealoha Pilares,

Starting WRs: Steve Smith was very unhappy with the offense last season (he had 100 targets for just 46/554/2, his worst results in a season since 2004, when he played in just one game), and requested a trade during the offseason as a result. Smith's showing last year (69th among fantasy WRs) was the first time in six years that he didn't finish among the top-20 wide receivers in the league - it looks like an aberration. He has been convinced to stay in town by Cam Newton and the Panthers' generous spending during free agency - we'll see if Newton can do a better job getting Smith the ball and returning him to top-20 receiver numbers. The arrival of TEs Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey should help the situation - the two tight ends will threaten defenses in the short-to-intermediate range and hopefully open up lanes for Smith. The number two was going to be David Gettis, but he is out for the year with an ACL tear. The current favorite is Legedu Naanee, who has experience with offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski from their time together in San Diego, although the team did bring in Seyi Ajirotutu from San Diego after cut-down day - the #2 wide receiver in Carolina is still in contention as of the start of regular season.

Backup WRs: Brandon LaFell is another second-year player who arrived via the 2010 draft (just as David Gettis and Armanti Edwards did). LaFell posted 38/468/1 receiving last year out of 76 targets, catching one ball more than counterpart David Gettis. Armanti Edwards did special teams duty last year with zero catches during regular season, but he may get more of an opportunity with John Fox now out in Denver. Seyi Ajirotutu is familiar with the new coaching staff's system from his time in San Diego as a rookie, and he may challenge for #2 wide receiver if he gets up to speed in Carolina quickly.

Tight Ends

Starters: Greg Olsen
Backups: Jeremy Shockey, Gary Barnidge, Ben Hartsock

Greg Olsen was a pillar of consistency over his first three seasons in Chicago. 10+ yards per reception, increasing reception totals each year and eight TD receptions. He was a top 10 fantasy TE during 2008 and 2009 and he was a big part of the limited success that Chicago had up to 2010. However, he slipped under Mike Martz's offensive coordinatorship during 2010, down to 41/404/5 receiving last year, ending as the 22nd-ranked fantasy tight end in the land. However, the Bears parted ways with Olsen via trade to Carolina, and now Olsen will get to work with offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, who is the guy behind Antonio Gates' huge seasons in San Diego. Clearly, things are looking up for Olsen, who figures to be the top tight end in a two-tight-end tandem with Jeremy Shockey, who arrived via free agency from New Orleans. Shockey and fellow new-Panther Greg Olsen will team up to threaten opposing defenses in two-TE schemes, and help provide dual safety valves for Cam Newton. Shockey could be productive in spots from week to week in this scenario, though Olsen is probably going to be option 1A from the tight end position now that he's arrived in Carolina. Both players are familiar with Chudzinski and should transition to his system readily. Ben Hartsock is primarily a blocking TE and won't generate fantasy-worthy numbers, while Gary Barnidge is on IR after a preseason injury.

Place Kicker

Olindo Mare : Since the beginning of time, John Kasay was the Panthers kicker. But that changes this year, as the team no longer wanted to carry a second kicker to handle kickoffs, as they had done in recent years with Rhys Lloyd. They splurged in free agency on a kicker who has done well in both roles -- Olindo Mare. The other two specialist jobs for the Panthers will remain the same as the last few years: J.J. Jansen will again be the long snapper and Jason Baker the punter and holder. The panthers have ranked in the bottom third of the NFL in kicker scoring opportunities in 4 of the last 5 years, including 30th last year.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Mike Goodson, Tyrell Sutton

Punt Returners: Armanti Edwards, Kealoha Pilares, Captain Munnerlyn

RB Mike Goodson emerged as the primary kickoff returner last year and is expected to handle that role again this year. CB Captain Munnerlyn was the primary punt returner, but he'll probably shift to a backup role this year. While rookie WR Kealoha Pilares will get a look on punt returns, the main focus will be a second look at WR Armanti Edwards. They tried converting him into a punt returner as a rookie last year, but he wasn't ready. As he noted, "I had a hard time judging the ball last year. This summer, I tried to focus on catching the ball. Once you catch, it's back to football and what everybody does with the ball - just run with it."

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Jordan Gross, LG Travelle Wharton, C Ryan Kalil, RG Geoff Schwartz, RT Jeff Otah
Key Backups: Garry Williams, C.J. Davis, Duke Robinson

Team Defense

The Panthers were 11th in the NFL last season in terms of passing yards allowed per game (212.1), but ranked 23rd in the NFL in average rushing yards allowed per game, at 123.8. They generated 17 interceptions (tied for 11th in the NFL), 31 sacks (tied for 20th in the NFL), and forced nine fumbles (tied for eighth in the NFL). Overall, they were 18th in the NFL with 335.9 net yards allowed per game - they were a mediocre defense that got little support from a very anemic offense during the 2010 season (32nd in passing yards and pass TDs, 13th in rushing yards but 31st in rushing TDs).

Defensive Line

Starters: NT Ron Edwards, DE Charles Johnson, DE Greg Hardy, DE Everette Brown
Backups: Nick Hayden, Terrell McClain, Sione Fua

Starting DL: DE Charles Johnson made a huge splash early in free agency with his new $72 million contract - when asked what he was thinking, he replied 'That's a lot of money. That's what I was thinking,'. The team expects him to pick up where he left off last year (50 tackles, 11 assists, 10.5 sacks) and to anchor the defensive line. NT Ron Edwards is a ten-year NFL vet who spent four seasons in Buffalo and then five years in Kansas City - he posted 15 tackles, 11 assists and two sacks in K.C. last year. Greg Hardy and Everette Brown will rotate at the other DE position, most likely.

Backup DL: Early in training camp, it remains to be seen who among the backup defensive linemen will crack the starting lineup or earn time as a rotational player. The Panthers are beginning a new coaching regime and that has unsettled the depth chart to a large extent.

Linebackers

Starters: MLB Jon Beason, OLB Thomas Davis, OLB James Anderson
Backups: MLB Dan Connor, OLB Omar Gaither, OLB Jordan Senn

Starting LBs: MLB Jon Beason also cashed in with a five-year, $50 million contract extension on 7/29/11 that includes $25 million guaranteed, according to local reports. Clearly, he is considered an important component to the team's front seven (Beason was the 14th-ranked fantasy middle line backer last season with 89 tackles, 30 assists, one sack, two forced fumbles, one interception, and eight passes defensed - he finished with 106 or more tackles in each of his first three seasons before dropping off somewhat during 2010). Thomas Davis only managed seven games last season but was on pace to go over 100 solo tackles before his injury, logging 50 over seven contests, and he had 92 solo tackles during 2009. James Anderson had a career-best season last year with 101 solo tackles, 29 assists, 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, one interception and five passes defensed - he was sixth-best fantasy LB at season's end. The Panthers' starting LBs are one of the best trios in the NFL.

Backup LBs: Early in training camp, it remains to be seen who among the backup linebackers might crack the starting lineup or earn time as a rotational player, though the front three players are excellent across the board. MLB Dan Connor was reportedly almost dealt to Chicago in the trade for TE Greg Olsen, but he ended up staying on with Carolina. The Panthers are beginning a new coaching regime and that has unsettled the depth chart to a large extent.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Chris Gamble, CB Captain Munnerlyn, S Charles Godfrey, S Sherrod Martin
Backups: CB Robert McClain, CB Brandon Hogan, S Kevin Payne, S Sean Considine

Starting DBs: The Panthers lost unrestricted free agent CB Richard Marshall to the Arizona Cardinals, leaving the team with a hole at that position as of 7/30. Nickle corner Captain Munnerlyn may get first crack at entering the starting lineup to team with (hopefully) Chris Gamble, though Gamble is injured as of the start of training camp. The safety position is more settled with Charles Godfrey at strong safety and Sherrod Martin manning the free safety position. Godfrey was the highest-ranked fantasy DB among the players remaining to the Panthers during 2011 - he landed at 32nd among all DBs with 69 tackles, 14 assists and five interceptions logged during 2010. Martin was 60th among fantasy DBs with 54 solo tackles, 26 assists, one interception and one fumble recovery last year.

Backup DBs: Captain Munnerlyn proved himself a capable nickel corner over the last two seasons and will return in that role this year - he's also the team's best punt returner entering 2011. Early in training camp, it remains to be seen who else among the backup defensive backs might crack the starting lineup or earn time as a rotational player. The Panthers are beginning a new coaching regime and that has unsettled the depth chart to a large extent, as has the above-mentioned defection of CB Richard Marshall to Arizona.

Last modified: 2011-09-05 13:11:45

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