A lot has been made by the media about the Panthers' personnel situation. We lost our longtime LT Jordan Gross to retirement. We released our all-time leading WR, Steve Smith. We allowed the other 3 WRs who caught passes for us to leave in FA. And we're still staring $18 million in dead cap space for 2014, limiting what we could do in FA.
The X-factor in all this is our QB, Cam Newton. With the time missed because of his ankle surgery, the media is painting the narrative of us struggling on offense because of lack of talent around Cam and lack of time to develop chemistry.
Of course, I disagree.
There is very little consideration about the fact that our passing game ranked 29th in the NFL, but Cam was still voted to the Pro Bowl in large part by his peers in the league. That means the players in the league knew how sub-par our WR corps was... but respected Cam's performance enough to warrant the selection.
Think about Ted Ginn for a second. With Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick at QB, Ginn was 5th on the 49ers depth chart behind Crabtree, Manningham, Randy Moss and Kyle Williams. He caught 2 passes on 2 targets for ONE yard in 2012. He comes to Carolina and earns his way to the WR3 spot, getting 556 yards on 68 targets (a very respectable 8.2 yds/target). As someone has previously said on the site.... Cam made Ginn a lot of money this off-season.
In his press appearance this past week, Cam acknowledged that he has had to compensate physically for his left ankle injury since 2010 and just dealing with the pain in the process. While he still has to get more consistent with some of his throwing mechanics, I have to believe that having a healthy left ankle to plant on will make it easier for him to step into throws, meaning that we should see less balls air-mailed and some more completions.
As far as timing with the new WRs and TEs goes, Eric Davis made a very good point on NFL Network this week. He basically said that timing really can't be developed in OTAs because there's zero contact. His point was that timing isn't truly developed until you get the pads on and the WRs/TEs are dealing with the physicality of the defense in training camp... and pretty much saying that he wasn't worried about Cam missing OTAs.
The upgrade at the TE2 position is key. Having a viable receiving threat at the TE2 spot allows quick flexibility in the passing game as well as extra assistance for our green OTs in blocking/chipping of DEs and LBs both in the run and passing game. We've already documented how we've upgrade the WR2-4 spots. OL help is on the way via the draft.
But really, this is about Cam. How well he improves his control of the offense, reading of defenses, getting the ball to the right read quickly by anticipating the routes and dumping the ball off in order to not take unnecessary sacks will determine how well this transition works this year.
There's no doubt that he made the OL and the WR corps better than it was last year. I believe that the mental exercise of participating in OTAs from the sideline AND the mental exercise of working hard to complete his degree will only help him improve his mental approach to the game and take the next steps toward being an elite QB.
Consider these examples, too.
Drew Brees was 25 years old in his 4th season when the light came on for him and he had his first really good season in 2004.
Cam will turn 25 in May heading into his 4th season beginning in August.
I believe we'll look back on this season, being able to remember that the OL was in flux, we cut Smitty, changed all the WRs, had Cam missing OTAs..... and Cam having a very good season despite all that, leading us to our first back-to-back winning seasons in franchise history.
My prediction for Cam:
Passing: 288 of 450 (64%), 3700 yds, 28 TDs, 12 INT, 35 sacks, passer rating of 98.8
Rushing: 65 rushes, 400 yds, 5 TDs,
Overall: an 11-5 record and the season that really puts Cam on the map as a winning QB because of all the uncertainty.
This is the legacy that I hope Cam can leave for 2014 as a building block for 2015 and beyond.