T uesday we posed five questions for each Panthers’ position group, and even the coaches, as training camp quickly approaches. The idea was to use those as a starting point of what to watch for, not just in Spartanburg, but over the next six-plus weeks.
But many of you want answers now, and unfortunately, the BBR crystal ball is still in the shop.
So how’s this for a compromise?
We’ll toss out our best GUESSES if you agree to completely forget which — or how many — end up being wrong.
Deal? Good. Let’s go.
1. Will Cam Newton be limited?
Yes, for the first week or two. Nothing major, just sitting some things out more than he usually would.
2. How much will Newton and the Panthers push it if he’s not 100 percent?
If our guess is he’s going to be limited, that will mean he’s not yet 100 percent. He wanted to be by now. But Newton’s patience barely lasted through offseason workouts. He’s going to be all over the coaches to put him on the field as much as possible. Then it’s a matter of Ron Rivera’s optimism versus cautiousness.
3. Can Newton get his timing down with the rebuilt receiving corps?
It’s going to be tough to get an accurate gauge on this one because Newton struggles with accuracy. Add in the ankle stuff, and if he’s misfiring, would timing be the true cause? The passing game is going to be erratic through the preseason, and timing will be just one of the reasons why.
4. How vocal will Newton be in his ‘new’ leadership role?
He’s been saying all the right things off the field this offseason. That will continue. On the field, he’ll still be more happy-go-lucky than rah-rah, and that’s fine because that’s him.
5. Will the Panthers keep a third quarterback?
1. Will Jonathan Stewart’s good health last?
Yes. While many have focused on the guys no longer around, a vital offensive weapon has quietly returned.
2. Could Stewart start taking more snaps with the ones, in place of DeAngelo Williams?
Kinda/sorta. Remember, Stewart took over the starting job in 2012, before another injury derailed his season. This should be the year he supplants Williams for good, but that won’t happen before Week 1.
3. Can Kenjon Barner make a case for a real role in the offense?
No. He showed flashes during offseason workouts, but his best bet to make a meaningful contribution in 2014 is as a kick returner.
4. Is Tyler Gaffney’s immediate future solely on special teams?
5. Could Michael Zordich steal a roster spot as someone who can do a bunch of things?
Yes. Richie Brockel has glue guy competition.
1. Will coaches continue to give everyone plenty of chances?
Yes. Until …
2. When will the cream start rising to the top?
After two preseason games. Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Kelvin Benjamin are favorites for the top-three spots, but there’s plenty of ways this unit could shake out.
3. Will Tiquan Underwood look better than he did during offseason workouts?
Maybe, but our guess is no.
4. Is there an “answer on the roster” from this group: Brenton Bersin, Tavarres King, Marvin McNutt, Kealoha Pilares?
Let’s go with Bersin. He may not be the next Victor Cruz, but there’s real reason to watch him closely the next few weeks.
5. Could De’Andre Presley snag a spot in the slot?
Yes, but everything has to go perfectly. Turf toe shortened his minicamp. He has to stay healthy and shine in games, but he’s got a shot.
1. How far along is the Brandon Williams project?
This is going to be one of the more interesting guys — and positions — to keep tabs on. Williams may be one more year away from becoming a legit part of the offense.
2. Will Ed Dickson follow up his strong showing during offseason workouts with a solid camp?
Yes. He may not be as effective as Jeremy Shockey was in 2011, but he’s a nice new toy for Newton.
3. What is Mike McNeill’s true role?
He had just five receptions the last two years, but that’s three more than Ben Hartsock. The former Panther was one of the best blocking ends in the game, though.
4. Can anyone fill the vital job of a blocking tight end?
If it’s not McNeill, the answer could be no.
5. How often will the offense use two-tight end sets?
Often. They won’t even hide it much in the preseason.
1. Who will earn the left tackle job?
Nate Chandler, perhaps by the first preseason game.
2. Can Garry Williams stay healthy?
We’ll try and throw some positive karma his way and say yes, at least through camp.
3. Will Trai Turner be the starting right guard from day one?
4. Will Amini Silatolu be limited?
Besides an occasional practice just to be cautious, no.
5. Can Edmund Kugbila get on the field?
Yes. Getting through his first complete practice will be a big win, but he should be able to graduate from the bike.
1. Will Greg Hardy face any punishment from the team or league?
2. Is Frank Alexander, who’s suspended the first four games, worth keeping around?
If we’re wrong about Hardy, it’d be tough for the Panthers to keep two guys who can’t play when the season starts. Even if we’re right, Alexander is likely on the outside looking in.
3. How far along is Kony Ealy?
Hardy and Kawann Short took a bit to get going. Early expectations for Ealy should probably be curbed.
4. Will either of the two defensive players with CFL ties — Linden Gaydosh and Alex Hall — stick?
No. A back injury ruined Gaydosh’s decent run at a spot last year, but the numbers at tackle aren’t in his favor. Same with Hall at end. He’s tall, but not big. And he’s 28.
5. Was Drake Nevis a sneaky-good offseason find?
Yes, but again, numbers.
1. Can A.J. Klein supplant Chase Blackburn on the weak side?
We get asked this a lot, and truthfully, it doesn’t matter all that much. The third linebacker’s importance is lessened by how much nickel the Panthers play. But to answer this question — No, not before Week 1.
2. How vocal will Luke Kuechly be in his ‘new’ leadership role?
He won’t be noticeably different on the field. Off of it, he’ll keep slowly emerging from his shell.
3. Will Thomas Davis continue to practice without a knee brace?
Yes, even if Rivera thinks he shouldn’t.
4. Can D.J. Smith get back to his pre-injury form?
The Charlotte native is just 25, but the Panthers are his third team after the Packers released him last offseason. He may never be the guy he was before a torn ACL spoiled what had become a great story in Green Bay.
5. How many of the offseason signees will make a case for a roster spot?
Billy Boyko was released Tuesday for failing to disclose a physical condition. That leaves Smith and undrafted free agents Denicos Allen and Adarius Glanton. Forget guessing, let’s flip a coin. Allen is heads; Glanton is tails. It’s heads.
1. Will anyone challenge Antoine Cason and Melvin White at outside corner?
Yes. See below.
2. Will the light turn on — and stay on — for Josh Norman?
Sure, we’ve been here before, but something about the third time’s a charm. Right? Right?!?
3. How limited will Charles Godfrey be?
He’ll do more than he did during offseason workouts, but they’re going to be careful with him in camp. Full-time nickel is a new gig for him, but he doesn’t have to be full-go right away.
4. Is Bene Benwikere ready to start at nickel if Godfrey struggles in his return?
Not really. He’s going to make a handful of plays, but he’s also going to have plenty of growing pains. Again, the Panthers play a ton of nickel. It’d be better for them if Benwikere didn’t have to dive in head first, from San Jose State to Tampa Bay.
5. Will Josh Thomas and/or James Dockery make a case to hang around another season?
No, and no.
1. Can Roman Harper and Thomas DeCoud bounce back from down years?
Let’s pick one and say DeCoud.
2. Can Robert Lester back up his solid rookie season?
Yes. He’ll never be a Pro Bowler, but he was a smart pickup last offseason.
3. How healthy is Tre Boston?
He should be fine now.
4. Can Boston make up for the time he missed during offseason workouts?
Eh. Missing OTAs and minicamp isn’t a killer, but he has to stay healthy through camp.
5. Will Colin Jones get more snaps with the defense?
Yes, and rightfully so.
1. Who’s going to return kickoffs?
Week 1? Barner.
2. Who’s going to return punts?
Week 1? Oy. Pilares? In that case, can we take back the Barner pick since Pilares could do both?
3. Who will replace Jordan Senn as the special teams leader?
4. How many units can Tyler Gaffney earn a spot on?
Two: kickoff and kickoff return.
5. Which bubble guys have a chance to stick on the roster because of special teams?
Yeah, so here’s a good spot to remind you that this post is not to be taken as reporting. And no screenshots of the guessing is allowed. Anyway, let’s say Williams and Pilares. And if not Pilares, Barner.
1. How much input will senior offensive assistant John Ramsdell have?
Not as much as fans who dislike Mike Shula would hope.
2. Can Ron Rivera and secondary coach Steve Wilks help Cason get back to the level he played at when they were in San Diego together?
Wilks hasn’t gotten enough credit for his part in the defense’s overall improvement. Cason may be past his prime, but he should be better than he was in Arizona.
3. Will defensive line coach Eric Washington be able to accelerate Ealy’s adaptation to the pro game?
Yes. Rivera and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott have done a great job with the defense, but Wilks and Washington are tremendously important.
4. Which cuts from other teams will the coaches bring in?
Who put this question in?! How the heck are we going to answer that right now? Pass.
5. How many times will @RiverboatRonHC — who’s now verified — tweet?
Let’s set the over/under at 2.5 while he’s in Spartanburg. Under.
- Pete Prisco put the Panthers at 19th in his first ‘Power Rankings’ of the preseason. — CBSSports.com
- Jameis Winston compared himself to Newton this week. Bucky Brooks disagreed. — NFL.com
- Alexander had a good Tuesday. — Instagram
- Hardy did not. — TMZ
- George Gring’s dad talked to ‘The Mac Attack.’ — WFNZ
- Sparkle City is ready. — WYFF
- So are Chandler and Sir Purr. — WYFF