Panthers need more focus vs. Dolphins

Cam Newton said he went into the Carolina Panthers’ preseason opener last Saturday night a little “lethargic.”

Perhaps the grind of training camp was getting to Newton and the Panthers, and they were unable to match the intensity the Houston Texans brought to Bank of America Stadium. For Houston, just getting out on the road and breaking the monotony of camp might have been a necessary tonic the Panthers weren’t afforded. 

The result was a 26-13 loss for Carolina, with a second half that left a lot to be desired. But the Panthers have a chance to get the nose pointed in the right direction Friday night versus the visiting Miami Dolphins and should have more bounce in their collective steps this time around.

First, training camp broke Tuesday, which is always a relief, especially after nearly three weeks of bunking together and seeing very little of anything or anyone else. Plus, being at home without having to bus to Charlotte from Spartanburg S.C., will give the players more of a feel of this being a real game. That ought to excite some of them.

For Panthers coach Ron Rivera, it means he expects much better performances across the board.

“Consistency. We can’t have the ups and downs, we’ve got to make plays . . .,” Rivera said. “If there is one thing I had to say, defensively, I want to see us separate from blockers a little bit quicker and I want to see better tackles.

“Offensively, I want to see us make plays when we need to make them, especially in critical situations. Third down, we’ve got to be better on, and most certainly on defense, we’ve got to get off the field on third down.”

Here are some things the coaching staff wants and needs to see more of or improvements in:

• Rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly played pretty well last weekend, forcing a fumble to set up a field goal. He was in on some impressive tackles and gave the veterans on the team reason to continue seeing him not as a rookie.

•  Wide receiver Louis Murphy had two receptions for 42 yards, offering a glimpse of why the Panthers went out and got him. Rivera, former defensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers, said he recalled having to devise game plans against Murphy, who spent the past three seasons with the Oakland Raiders. So Rivera brought Murphy to Charlotte to beef up the position. Murphy might be gaining the inside track to take the third receiver spot.

• The Panthers must show more spirit at the outset of their game against the Dolphins. Mistakes are one thing, especially in the first preseason game of the year, but lacking focus is inexcusable. 

“He wasn’t happy; you could see why,” Newton said. “The effort out there; it just wasn’t good enough.”

• Special teams were at it again, and this might have been the most disappointing development of the night. After Carolina tied the score at 3-3, Texans’ return man Trindon Holliday raced 90 yards on the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown. The Panthers had issues with kick coverage last season and allowed two late punt returns for touchdowns, possibly costing them victories in both contests. Needless to say, the staff must see improvement in this area.

“It all starts with the kickoff being the foremost,” Rivera said, later adding his disappointment in how the team handled such an important aspect of the game. 

“The nice thing about it is that it (was) a preseason game,” he added. “We will learn from this, and we will get better.”

The game Friday won’t count toward the standings, but it’s important the staff sees more positives, from the starters on down to the guys who might get cut next week. Carolina used 73 players last season, so many who comprise the current roster might still get an opportunity to get onto the field this season because of natural attrition, so it’s about more than getting 53 guys ready for the season. 

• With that in mind, training camp ended this week, and Rivera feels pretty good about what the team accomplished. 

“We accomplished some of the things we wanted to,” he said. “We are starting to practice more consistently. We’re taking away those highs and lows during practice, and we’re starting to answer some of those position questions.”