At the beginning of the season, Ron Rivera looked like he wouldn’t make it to midseason before being fired in Carolina. At the end of the season, he was Coach of the Year. The Carolina Panthers were the feel good story of the year in the NFL and proved the former Chicago Bears star could take a team, build a solid defense, and have the offense play up to its counterpart’s standard.
That’s a “win/win” for any NFL team looking to make the playoffs.
Now, Carolina comes back to reality of sorts this season, losing Jordan Gross to retirement, having cut Steve Smith at receiver and dealing with issues to a porous offensive line. If that was not enough Cam Newton’s surgically repaired ankle is not responding as he is still limping around and may not be ready for the team’s opener.
Here are three bold predictions as the Panthers open training camp this week.
ANKLE PROBLEMS LEAVE NEWTON ON THE SIDELINE
A report over the past weekend proved to be true. Cam Newton is still dealing with offseason surgery, which has made his mobility a question mark. The all-world quarterback was the reason Carolina made such an improbable run last season. While his arm is not in question, the movement in the Panther’s backfield is. The offensive line took a beating in the offseason with retirements and defections. Newton professes he is fine and sets a target date of August 8 against Buffalo as the day he will declare himself completely fit.
MIKE TOLBERT WINS STARTING JOB
No one on the Carolina roster could crack 1,000 yards last season. And while DeAngelo Williams and Cam Newton did the bulk work of the running last season, Tolbert was a bowling ball at the end zone and in the red zone. The former Chargers free agent signing looked might impressive from day one and locks into the role of lead back. Jonathan Stewart, who has had two injury-riddled seasons, feels a bit disrespected. After showing he is healthy and can carry the lion’s share of the running load, he asks to be traded to Oakland where he thinks he can beat out Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew for the starting job.
CASON BECOMES FIRST CAMP CASUALTY
Knowing full well he was coming off the bench in Arizona, head coach Ron Rivera signs Antoine Cason to a free agent contract, then pencils him in at one of the cornerback slots. Cason comes into camp taking about a new beginning, etc., but is slow out of the gate and looks rugged. Rivera, in an attempt to keep a weak secondary from becoming weaker, cuts the veteran so he can save cap space and quickly find his replacement in Charlotte.