With rookie quarterback Cam Newton leading the way the Carolina Panthers improved from a 2-14 2010 season to finish 6-10 in 2011. Another four win improvement this year would have the Panthers at 10-6, which generally puts you in good position to make the playoffs most years. They say “you can’t win it, unless you’re in it” and to make a run at the Vince Lombardi Trophy securing a playoff spot is the first step.
That’s exactly where Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil envisions his Carolina Panthers at the end of the regular season. But just making the second season isn’t enough. He feels like the Panthers can win the whole thing. And Kalil took out a full page in the Charlotte Observer to make his point.
Cam Newton talked about wanting to change what had been a losing culture in Carolina last year in an interview with ESPN and wanting teammates to get to the point where losing isn’t accepted. Kalil may have went a bit further to make his point but the message is understood. Positive attitudes help bring positive results. Coach Ron Rivera didn’t have any issue with Newton’s comments then, and doesn’t with this either.
On offense Newton will look to build on his impressive rookie campaign. Steve Smith had a resurgent 2011 on the receiving end of many of Newton’s passes and will once again be his top option. Brandon LaFell should provide a decent target on the opposite side and Louis Murphy was recently acquired, bringing speed to stretch the field with him. Greg Olsen is a reliable tight end and the backfield is more than capable with DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, and Mike Tolbert. Kalil and Jordan Gross anchor an offensive line that should do a good job keeping Newton upright and providing running lanes for the backs.
Defensively is where Carolina will need a big improvement to make good on Kalil’s prediction. The unit ranked towards the bottom of the NFL in yards and points allowed a season ago. Charles Johnson is a good pass rusher but not much else is a certainty on the defensive line. Rookie Luke Kuechly will form a solid duo with Jon Beason at the linebacker position. As with the defensive line, Chris Gamble was a bright spot in the secondary a year ago but outside of him there are question marks.
One good thing about training camp starting is that everyone has lofty expectations and spirits are high throughout the league. We’ll check back on the Carolina Panthers later to see if their goal becomes a reality.