OPEN CAMP: July 25, Wofford College, Spartanburg, South Carolina
LAST YEAR: QB Cam Newton suffered through worst statistical season of career, injury-plagued offensive line failed to protect adequately, and young secondary struggled early against pass. Panthers went from being No. 1 offense in 2015 to 19th, prompting them to spend first two draft picks on versatile RB Christian McCaffrey and WR Curtis Samuel, and add pieces on O-line. Newton played final month of season with partially torn rotator cuff. Concussions ended seasons of two key starters: LB Luke Kuechly and OT Michael Oher. Oher has since been released after failing physical. K Graham Gano missed several big field goals, causing team to draft Harrison Butker to compete. TE Greg Olsen had strong season, clearly team MVP in 2016. Entire defensive line returns along with free agent pickup Julius Peppers. Panthers were second in sacks last season (47) but defense finished out of top 10 for first time in five years.
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IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Peppers, OT Matt Kalil, CB Captain Munnerlyn, WR Charles Johnson, rookies McCaffrey and Samuel, S Mike Adams.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: OT Michael Oher, OT Mike Remmers, WR Ted Ginn Jr., WR Philly Brown, FB Mike Tolbert, defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, GM Dave Gettleman, assistant GM Brandon Beane.
CAMP NEEDS: All eyes will be on Newton, who’s returning from right shoulder surgery. He’s expected to throw at training camp and should be ready for season opener. Matt Kalil, Ryan’s brother, takes over at LT, but RT position up for grabs between Daryl Williams and rookie Taylor Moton. Olsen, LB Thomas Davis up for contract extensions. Team already extended contracts of DT Kawann Short and G Trai Turner this offseason. Kuechly returns after missing last six games in 2016 with concussion.
EXPECTATIONS: Panthers going for it all after finishing 6-10 one season following reaching Super Bowl. They have one of most experienced teams in league, particularly with addition of free agents Peppers, Munnerlyn and Adams on defense. Team added versatile playmakers in McCaffrey and Samuel on offense to take pressure off Newton, whose production dipped significantly last season. Carolina’s well positioned to challenge for fourth NFC South title in five years and another conference championship while playing fourth-place schedule.
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