There's a lot that can change between now and September, that much is clear. However, as we draw closer to the draft it's an opportunity to see where the roster's strengths and weaknesses lay. Today we're taking an early look at how Ron Rivera's team are coming together.
Dave Gettleman did excellent work over the last month to shed salary, improve the cap situation, and strengthen the team's special teams unit. The draft will be the second part of this development, and that will fill the holes we currently see.
QB: Cam Newton/ Derek Anderson/ Jimmy Clausen
FB: Mike Tolbert
WR1: Steve Smith/ Ted Ginn/ Joe Adams
C: Ryan Kalil
MLB: Luke Kuechly
K: Graham Gano
P: Brad Nortman
LS: J.J. Jansen
KR: Ted Ginn
PR: Ted Ginn
You don't need to be told how bad the situation is, but putting it down on paper makes it downright scary. Getting back Dwan Edwards was vital -- but the depth is as poor as it gets. They have to find a way to bolster this unit prior to the draft, even if the plan is to find a first round talent at the position.
Third wide receiver
Right now Ted Ginn is penciled in, and that's less than ideal. Teams have been burnt in the past relying on Ginn in the slot, and the Panthers can't be the next in line. A 49ers fan stopped by after the signing and told us it looked like Ginn lost a step following his 2011 injury, and while he's still better than what Carolina have on special teams, even hobbled, they have to find a true option to support Cam Newton. The offense needs new weapons, and the bright side is that the team realize it.
Right side offensive line
Maybe I'm in the minority, but I think the left will be fine in 2013. The return of Ryan Kalil will ease a lot of Amini's first-season struggles, and there was enough growth over the course of the season to believe he'll be okay. The real problem is the right, where Carolina are leaning on Geoff Hangartner (who was abysmal) and Byron Bell (with a share of lapses). This is a huge liability, especially when Cam doesn't deal well with rushing defensive tackles, and front-side blitzes.
Switching out James Anderson for Jon Beason is addition by subtraction. Granted, this is assuming Beast returns to full-strength, but it's too early to postulate otherwise. With Jordan Senn returning it offers more quality depth, and players who can play on special teams. The loss of Jason Phillips will hurt slightly, because he was an excellent option where needed, but overall it feels like this unit is stronger than last year's, purely by virtue of the likely starters.
"Things I never thought I'd say for $500, Alex"
Make no mistake, the loss of Chris Gamble is a huge hit on the top-end talent of the secondary, however the depth throughout the unit is much improved through the additions of Drayton Florence and D.J. Moore. In this scenario Josh Norman retains his starting job, and it's largely for no reason other than size. Rivera and Gettleman have talked about the need to play big, and here I think they'll rely on the two largest corners on the roster -- especially with the cadre of NFC South receivers.
Johnson and Hardy are one of the NFL's best pass rushing duos, and now they're supported with quality depth. Frank Alexander has a lot of room to improve, but showed flashes in his rookie season. Pair that with late-season pickup Mario Addison, and Thomas Kesier -- both of whom have had moments, and ultimately this is a group of pass rushers who look like they can make an impact.