Editor's Note: With this post please welcome CSR's newest author Brandon Becker.
One of the most exciting rookie season's in NFL history has Cam Newton in line to win Pepsi's Rookie of the Year. Newton took over a Carolina Panthers squad that was 2-14 and helped bring them back to respectability. If it weren't for a rash of injuries that led to a porous defense it's quite possible the Panthers could have made a playoff push, although I believe that they wouldn't have made it even if everyone had stayed healthy.
Now the focus has turned on to the draft and next season. Expectations are going to rise for this Panthers squad, which will probably be a sexy pick by pundits to make the playoffs next season. But in order for that to happen Newton has to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.
On radio, Twitter and in message boards Josh Freeman and Sam Bradford keep being pointed out as examples of players who underwent a sophomore slump. While it's true in the case of Bradford it isn't true for Freeman. Yes, Freeman had a down year but many forget that this past season was his third year in the league--his second as a full time starter.
After the jump I will take a look at ways the Panthers can help Newton avoid a sophomore slump.
Keep Rob Chudzinski
This one is pretty obvious and it isn't up to the Panthers whether or not they can keep him. Chudzinski's already interviewed for multiple jobs this offseason so it appears that he is ready to move on if he is offered a head coaching position. Carolina can offer a raise but that pales in comparison to be the one calling the shots on Sunday.
Keeping Chud would be huge for the Panthers offense but most importantly for Newton. Newton bounced around from school to school in college and then went to the NFL and hasn't had the same offensive coordinator for two straight years since probably high school. If Chud does get a head coaching gig the Panthers aren't going to change their offensive philosophy, which will allow Newton to continue to grow within the offense, but it takes away the chemistry that he and Chud built this past season.
Add another offensive weapon
The Panthers have a dynamic wide receiver, two above average pass catching tight ends and two really good running backs. Yet the offense still could use one more weapon, most likely a receiver, although a scat back that could be used in the screen game and on third downs is also an option. The top teams in the NFL such as New England, New Orleans and Green Bay all have offenses that have plenty of weapons.
As many needs as Carolina has on the defensive side of the ball it's important not to get content on the offensive side. Finding another receiver this offseason has to be a priority for the Panthers. That doesn't mean that they have to use their first round pick on a receiver, but at some point either through free agency or the draft the team needs to look at the position and add another guy, just in case David Gettis and Brandon LaFell don't step up.
Strengthen the offensive line
Winning the battle in the trenches often goes unnoticed by the casual viewer. They see the pretty runs and nice passes but don't always pay attention to how those plays developed. Having a strong offensive line is vital for any team to have success, but more importantly in order to keep your quarterback from taking too many shots.
The Panthers have a good line right now, yet there are depth concerns and health issues at the position. Right tackle Jeff Otah is expected to be good to go for next season and would be a great addition to the line. Having him healthy for an entire season seems a bit wishful, though. With the success that Marty Hurney has had drafting offensive lineman in the draft--Jordan Gross and Ryan Kalil were first and second round picks that have developed into Pro Bowlers--it wouldn't be surprising to see Carolina draft another one with its first pick.
Giving Newton enough time to throw the football and keeping him healthy over the course of a season is vital to this team being successful.
These are just a few things that the Panthers can control in terms of helping their young quarterback avoid a slump. The rest is up to him to continue to hard this offseason and learn the game. Something tells me that Newton will do his part, but will the Panthers? Let's discuss below.