At this point there's no way of knowing whether the Panthers' reliance on their youth tomorrow is a factor of an excellent 2012 draft class, or an indication their depth is sub par. Tomorrow we'll see at least four rookies start, with a chance of at least two more seeing significant time. For now we're looking at each of them, and what impact they'll have on the game.
It all starts with the first round pick. When Kuechly was selected there was a distinct lack of excitement surrounding the selection. Few doubted the Panthers took the best player available, but there was a strong sense it was a selection that didn't make the Panthers better immediately, and for a team who needed so much help on the defensive line, and secondary this was a little deflating.
Thus far, Keek has done everything needed to dissuade those doubters, whether he needed to or not. He's a linebacker who's hard to get a sense for until you see him play because of his unnatural pre-snap recognition, and seemingly always perfect first step. Against Tampa Bay he's poised to be in the perfect situation to make a big impact, and if Josh Freeman gets a little too comfortable testing Kuechly, then he could learn very quickly that he's a ball hawk at linebacker.
More after the jump
Perhaps the rookie in for the most difficult day, Amini is slated to be matched up against former #3 overall pick Gerald McCoy. While he hasn't had the kind of huge impact that Ndamukong Suh has, McCoy is able to get a serious push out of his stance, and uses violent hands to shed blockers. Thus far Silatolu has looked great against the run, but gets caught against good pass rushers, and this could pose a problem. Over time he'll develop these skills, but right now Silatolu will need to lean heavily on Ryan Kalil to help him tomorrow.
Watching Joe Adams field a punt is like playing electric football after going on an 18 hr bender. He jitters around the field looking for a hole at a breakneck pace, and when he sees the slightest opening he gets a huge gain. However, just like that bender can be a little scary, so too can his propensity for putting the ball on the ground.
Tampa spent a good chunk of free agent money ensuring their punter position was solid last season as the brought in Michael Koenen from Atlanta, almost as if they had foresight that Josh Freeman would struggle. Koenen is one of the best in the NFL, averaging 45.1 yards last year, and getting excellent hang time. Adams' job wont be easy, as he wont get as much space to work in as he's used to.
Oh boy, two punter talks in one article?! BW Smith must be positively salivating!
Truthfully nobody knows how Nortman will react to punting in real NFL competition for the first time. There were times during preseason where he looked great, and others where he looked no quite ready for the test. Whichever way you cut it, Nortman performed well enough to beat out Nick Harris, and now the job is firmly his. What happens from here out only determines how much BW is willing to spend on an official Nortman jersey.