Steve Smith is a Baltimore Raven. Jordan Gross is our Panthers sideline reporter. If this were college football, we would be congratulating the departing seniors while talking up the underclassmen and transfers to the program.
It’s a new day for the Carolina Panthers, who are coming off a (12-4) season as NFC South champions. The good news is that the cupboard is not bare and the Panthers have a plan moving forward. Jordan Gross started on the offensive line for 11 years, mostly at left tackle. Byron Bell is the most likely candidate to take over as he moves across from right tackle. That is where Nate Chandler is expected to anchor the other side as he continues his meteoric rise of transitioning last year from defensive line. Rookie Trai Turner of LSU has a solid chance of being an opening day starter at right guard.
As for the receiving corps, Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr, and Domenik Hixon are all gone. Replaced by first round pick Kelvin Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood among others. With tight end Greg Olsen returning as their leading pass catcher, the Panthers feel that they have what they need overall in the passing game.
Since QB and RB are stable at the top of the depth chart, let’s focus on defense now where the front-7 was among the best in the NFL and returns intact led by Luke Kuechly, the AP Defensive Player of the Year. The secondary has been reworked though with veteran safeties Roman Harper and Thomas DeCoud switching allegiances from NFC South competitors New Orleans and Atlanta. Antoine Cason comes aboard from Arizona and will compete for a starting CB job opposite last year’s surprise, Melvin White. Charles Godfrey returns from a torn Achilles with a new position at the nickel corner.
Change is inevitable in the NFL, and at least for now, the Panthers feel they have the pieces in place to make another run at the division championship and onto the playoffs.