Carolina Panthers Position Preview: Quarterback

CHARLOTTE, NC - AUGUST 17: Cam Newton #1 and teammate Taylor Heinicke #6 of the Carolina Panthers react after a third quarter touchdown against the Miami Dolphins during the game at Bank of America Stadium on August 17, 2018 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - AUGUST 17: Cam Newton #1 and teammate Taylor Heinicke #6 of the Carolina Panthers react after a third quarter touchdown against the Miami Dolphins during the game at Bank of America Stadium on August 17, 2018 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) /

Keep an eye on the competition for Cam Newton’s backup this season

With the start of Carolina Panthers training camp quickly approaching us, Old North Banter will be breaking down each position group on the team in the days leading up to camp. With training camp set to start on July 25, let’s start with the all-important quarterback position.

In the 2018 season, there was no bigger storyline for the Panthers than Cam Newton’s shoulder injury. It wasn’t a coincidence that a once promising season with a 6-2 start went quickly downhill as Newton’s injury got worse, with the team going 1-7 in the final eight games and missing out on the playoffs completely.

Quarterback is arguably the most important position on any team, and Newton being at his best has always been detrimental to the overall success of Carolina. With that being said, Newton’s recovery and how he bounces back from offseason shoulder surgery will be key for the team going forward.

Reports are the Newton has progressed well in going through the rehab process with the injury, and that was the case when he was throwing in mini camps in early June, when he wasn’t originally supposed to start throwing until training camp. If Newton continues to progress this quickly, we could see him be back at full strength by the start of the regular season, which obviously bodes well for Carolina.

Newton is far from a perfect player, with people constantly knocking on his accuracy and overall decision-making, but when he is at his best, he is easily one of the most dynamic playmakers in the NFL. This is evidenced by Carolina’s 2015 season, where he was crowned the NFL’s Most Valuable Player and led the team to a 15-1 regular season record and Super Bowl appearance, and this was with his only truly reliable offensive weapon being Greg Olsen.

How many other teams get to the Super Bowl that includes a receiving corps where Ted Ginn Jr. is the No. 1 receiver of a group that also consists of an aging Jerricho Cotchery, the mediocre Philly Brown and an inconsistent rookie in Devin Funchess? Add in Jonathan Stewart at running back, who was also in the back end of his prime, and two revolving doors at the offensive tackle positions and it’s hard to fathom that this team was the top scoring offense in 2015.

This isn’t the only example, though. Look at the 2017 season, when the team finished with an 11-5 record and made the playoff with a receiving corps that included Funchess, Brenton Bersin, Russell Shepard and Kaelin Clay heading into postseason play.

That’s what Newton brings to the team when he’s at his best — he can carry the load and turn a mediocre team into a contender. This team has now surrounded him with the best group of offensive weapons he’s had in his career (which is still below average in the NFL) and if he is able to return to form after his injury, expect him to take full advantage of this. Again, Newton has his faults and there’s always the chance he struggles when he comes back, but only time will tell.

With Newton’s injury being the thing to watch over the offseason, the backup quarterback position has never been more important for the Panthers. As a result, they selected Will Grier in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, and expect him to step up right away as the primary backup behind Newton by beating out Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen in training camp.

After transferring from Florida, Grier threw for over 7,000 yards and 70 touchdowns in two years at West Virginia. He was the fourth quarterback taken in the NFL Draft and the Panthers taking him that early is a good sign that the team recognized the importance of getting a quality backup, and Grier fits that bill.

Heinicke was the No. 2 throughout last season and got the start when Newton was sidelined for the final two games of the season. This was short-lived, however, as after leading the team to a touchdown on the opening drive, Heinicke suffered an arm injury and left the game. He ultimately returned and played through the pain, but struggled when he returned, throwing three interceptions. It’s hard to judge how much the injury hampered him, as he was sidelined in the season finale and even had offseason surgery for the injury.

The last quarterback on the roster is Kyle Allen, who spent eight weeks on the practice squad before being promoted to the active roster in the final two weeks. Following Heinicke’s injury, he started in the Week 17 victory over the New Orleans Saints, throwing for 228 yards and two touchdowns. It’s worth noting it was a meaningless game for the Saints, who were playing primarily backups, but Allen still showed promise in what was the team’s only win in the second half of the season.

The key battle to watch will be that for the No. 2 spot behind Newton, and expect the coaching staff to give Grier, Heinicke and Allen a fair shot at the job. While Grier is in the best position for that job given his draft status, they’re going to make him compete and truly earn that spot.

In terms of this depth, while some teams opt to keep just two quarterbacks on the roster, expect the Panthers to go with three given Newton’s injury status. With Newton and Grier being locks, Heinicke and Allen will likely end up competing for the third spot, making their performances in training camp and preseason that much more important for them.

Next. Panthers Position Preview: Running Back. dark