Carolina starts 2019 looking to erase the breakdown of 2018
After a hot 6-2 start to the 2018 season, the Carolina Panthers fell out of the playoffs race as they lost seven of their final eight games. This breakdown in the second half of the season proved that while this is a talented team, it doesn’t come without its flaws. The front office and coaching staff recognized this as well as they look to take time during the offseason to make necessary changes to get back into the playoffs.
With OTAs concluding on June 6, let’s take a look at the biggest developments to come out of Carolina during the offseason workouts.
Cam Newton’s shoulder
There’s no coincidence that the Panthers’ breakdown started as quarterback Cam Newton’s shoulder injury worsened. It got to the point where Newton was sidelined during the final two games of the season as Carolina’s playoff hopes dwindled. Newton then underwent surgery following the conclusion of the season to help correct the injury.
Reports are that Newton’s rehab has been going well, and although he primarily worked on the side with trainers during OTAs, he is still on track to be fully healed by the time training camp starts in late July.
Newton’s health is critical to Carolina’s success, so if he makes a full recovery, expect to see the success the Panthers saw in their 6-2 start rather than the 1-7 finish.
While you don’t normally hear about big free agent signings in early June, the biggest news to come out of OTAs for the Panthers, as Old North Banter reported earlier this week, was the signing of recently released defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. The six-time Pro Bowler will make an instant impact along the defensive front, as the coaching staff plans to use a variety of different looks in adding a 3-4 package in addition to their base 4-3 and nickel fronts.
While McCoy’s numbers have dipped slightly over the past few years, his six sacks and 21 quarterback hits in 2018 are still nothing to slouch over, and he will be a massive improvement when paired with Kawaan Short and Dontari Poe along the interior defensive line if he can improve upon, or even just replicate, these numbers.
The corresponding move was releasing wide receiver Mose Frazier on an injury settlement after he broke his arm earlier in OTAs. Frazier, not to be confused with Mose Shrute from The Office, had been a practice squad mainstay over the previous two seasons and was showing promise in both preseason and offseason activities, so there’s a chance he could come back once his arm is healed.
Another move, which was much less publicized for obvious reasons, was signing cornerback Javien Elliott to a one-year deal and releasing guard Brendan Mahon. Elliott is coming off a season where he started five games for Tampa Bay, recording his first career interception and one pass defensed. Expect him to compete for a roster spot and potentially provide depth in the secondary if he does make the roster.
Defensive scheme change
One change the Panthers have emphasized was not necessarily a complete change from a 4-3 to 3-4 front, but adding 3-4 looks to keep opposing offenses on their toes. Some of their personnel moves would support this, adding lean edge rushers Brian Burns, Christian Miller and Marquis Haynes in the past two drafts. Additionally, signing Poe as a free agent last offseason might have been a hint to the transition as well, as Poe had success as a 3-4 nose tackle in Kansas City.
A move to 3-4 would likely see Short and McCoy move to defensive end and the team’s sack leader Mario Addison move to outside linebacker, with Burns, Miller, Haynes and Efe Obada likely competing for the spot opposite Addison. With the departure of Thomas Davis, the Panthers didn’t have a sure-fire replacement for someone to play alongside Luke Kuechly and Shaq Thompson. This change would allow the team to simply move Thompson inside in the 3-4 set rather than find a full-time starter at a third linebacker spot in a 4-3 set.
Anytime there’s practice, guys looking to make an impact will look to make big plays. Some of these include:
- A diving touchdown grab by Curtis Samuel
- A one-handed snag by Greg Olsen, which is promising to see him back on the field after nursing foot injuries in each of the last two seasons
- One-handed interceptions from cornerbacks Donte Jackson and Corn Elder
- Kawaan Short batting a pass, picking it off and taking it to the house