As we settle into post-draft mode we can quickly assess the Panthers did not answer all their questions with the draft. In fact, we got a couple very important ones and couple semi-important ones remaining to answer before we enter training camp. I'm not real confident OTAs or mini-camp will necessarily answer them either.
1. Where will the additional pass rush come from?
We know DE Charles Johnson will bring it from one spot. With 4th round pick Frank Alexander being the only new pass rusher added to the roster it would seem the plan is to hope for improved play from Greg 'The Kraken' Hardy and the return of LB Thomas Davis. If that is the plan then honestly I'm not too worried. The Panthers did help themselves with the run defense int he draft. We are going to love LB Luke Keuchly. So the Panthers will be much better at stopping the run next year and will therefore create more 3rd and long situations. There's a good chance we likewise see more 3-4 sets which would allow DEOLBs Antwan Applewhite and Thomas 'The Furor' Keiser more chances to get after it. Mix in Davis or Beason coming on stunts and zone blitzes and I see another 10 sacks for this team in 2012 (31 in 2011) which would put them around #10 in the league.
2. Are we done at CB?
Ask only out of curiosity because it seemed like a big need prior to the draft since we didn't bring in an experienced player to at least compete. I love the pick of Josh Norman and I think he could be a year 2 or 3 starter. He has a nose for the ball but CB is a big leap in the NFL.
So it would appear the Panthers seem content with letting Captain Munnerlyn, Darius Butler and Brandon Hogan competing for the island across from Chris Gamble. Honestly there is no reason why one of these three guys could not step up and be a quality starter. My money for 2012 is Darius Butler who is entering his 4th season. The former 1st round pick won't get a better chance to show the Patriots they made a mistake. There is an outside chance 2nd year Hogan gets the call given he has tremendous upside but might still need a year or two. Either way I hope Munnerlyn slides to the nickel where he is better suited. That way he can play gunner on coverage as well.
3. Are we happy with the DT rotation?
Most of us thought a DT would be added to the mix at some point this offseason. We are now past free agency and the draft and the Panthers have the same roster at DT they had in February. That can only mean they are convinced that finally getting Ron Edwards at NT will make a big difference. We know they think highly of Andre Neblett and Jason Shirley. They have also recently praised Frank Kearse. It is certainly way too early to give up on Fua or McClain, who I think both will contribute in 2012. That's not a very experienced rotation or even one highly thought of from a draft pick perspective. But they all fall in that high motor category so though DT might still be our biggest weakness it will still be stronger than in 2011.
Now here's two questions I think got answered:
4. Who will return kicks?
Our punt returner will most definitely be Joe Adams provided he doesn't develop fumblitis [knock on wood]. I'm not even going to venture into the Armanti Edwards quagmire. Suffice to say enough is said. I think Kealoha Pilares stays at kick returner though.
5. Do we expect Thomas Davis to be the starter at WLB?
Though Kuechly is being billed as a BPA pick its apparent the Panthers are planning for Thomas Davis to not be available for an entire 16 game schedule. If he does what has never been done and contributes an entire season then great, I will be extremely happy about that. But considering the offseason signings at LB and the drafting of Kuechly having a healthy Thomas Davis will be more like icing on the cake than a real need.
So what are your remaining questions to be answered before Training Camp?