If the Panthers are going to make a march to the Super Bowl in 2013 there are seven key roles they need to solidify this offseason. I'm not referring to positions or players but more secondary roles within a team; each serving a purpose. This post defines each and identifies my pick for each.
In honor of the 7 passenger Hyundai Santa Fe here are the seven roles:
The Brain - C Ryan Kalil / LB Luke Kuechly
As the center of the offensive line Kalil diagnoses the defensive pressure and directs the protection to give each play as much of a chance of success. This is no easy matter and requires quick thinking and attention to even the smallest things that might tip off a defenses plans. In this Kalil must be the smartest player on the line or as I am suggesting, the brains of the offense.
On the other side of the line the Brain is MLB Luke Kuechly. Like Kalil, Kuechly has to diagnose formations, adjust defensive alignments and make split second decisions when the ball is snapped. Given how well Kuechly did this as a rookie I think there is no question he has the 'Brain' to run the defense.
Technician - WR Steve Smith
Smitty has been snagging passes and scoring touchdowns for so long I bet he could do it in his sleep. When he is on his game he can carve up a secondary like a sushi chef with a ginsu knife. Whether its a crossing route for a first down or toe tapping TD in the back of the end zone you can bet Smitty has practiced that play as many times any 'technician' who considers himself an expert at his trade.
Loose Cannon - QB Cam Newton
You might think the last thing you need from your QB is a 'loose cannon' type of mentality. But honestly its more of nod to the fact Newton can do just about anything on the field on any particular play. Need a big play on the line? Newton can provide it with his huge arm or break the pocket and make it with his legs. Soon we will hear about defenses feeling helpless to stop the player that can really only stop himself; hence the loose cannon persona. Is there really any question that if the game is on the line we would prefer the ball in Newton's hands?
The Enforcer - Greg 'The Kraken' Hardy
This was the easiest role to fill of the seven. Three games come to mind that show Hardy's 'enforcer' mentality. First it was the two huge games against the Falcons, the second of which ended with Hardy telling the Falcons to 'Get the F^&%& Off the Field' after hearing Matt Ryan say the same after the first game. The third game I thought of was against the Raiders and the hit he laid on QB Carson Palmer. Palmer offered him body up to try and make a play and Hardy made him pay with a huge but very legal hit. I don't think you will ever see Hardy back off of making a hit like that and for that reason he is easily the Panthers enforcer.
Motivator - Jon Beason
We got a shining example with the ravens winning the SB how important it is to have not just leaders but players than can motivate their teammates, ala Ray Lewis. Since his arrival in Carolina from Miami (like Lewis before him) Jon Beason has likewise been the epitome of a leader and motivator both on and off the field. He will get a shinning chance to continue that role in 2013 as he rehabs from injury and probably accepts a position change due to the arrive of the defensive brain Luke Kuechly. It cannot be understated how important it will be for the Panthers motivator to stay engaged the entire season.
Prankster - LS JJ Jansen
This has to go to JJ Jansen for the 'protective layer' he put on rookie WR Brenton Bersin's Jeep last year.
As pranks go that one was pretty epic. Every team needs a guy to lighten things up from time to time. A good laugh can go as far as a motivational speech at times in order to keep players from getting too tight and serious.
Muscle - DE Charles Johnson
We call him 'Big Money' but you could just as easily call him 'Big Muscles' or even 'Big Guns'. Either way you get the point. Johnson might not be the strongest Panther on the team (though I bet he's close) but the dude plays like a juggernaut on the field; a finesse player he is not. Whether its holding the edge in the running game or pressuring the passer on 3rd and long, Johnson unleashes his bull rush on opposing linemen play after play.