I've posted a few times since the draft around my thoughts on the how the Panthers' is shaping up. I don't have enough time to go through every combination, but I have noticed a trend: This is becoming a big, athletic offensive unit in the passing game.... but particularly in the running game.
Let's start with my projections for the starting OL:
LT: Bell - 6'5", hopefully down to 325-330 lbs
LG: Amini - 6'4" 320 lbs
C: Kalil: 6'3", 295 lbs, best in the game
RG: Turner: 6'3", 310 lbs, 4.93 40
RT: Chandler: 6'4, 320 lbs, 4.92 40
Rivera has 3 years (Gettleman 1 year) of practice tape to know that Bell is a more natural LT than RT. No surprise there to me. That said, he should be working his tail off this offseason with the opportunity in front of him to make this a good season for himself. Chandler was forced into the RG position. I chalk that experience up as nothing more than trial by fire in the worst position possible for him.... and we still finished 12-4. The improvement that Chandler has made already this off-season combined with his athleticism makes me understand why they're projecting him to start at his more natural position of RT. Combined with big athletic OGs Amini and Turner with experienced depth behind them and Kalil running the show.... and I think we're in a better spot than we realize. Chandler gets to attack smaller DEs instead of bigger DT/NGs in the run game. Bell will probably never be Jordan Gross-2013 good in the passing game, but I expect him to be more effective in the run game than Gross. That may be the biggest benefit if we expect play-action to be a big part of our offense.
Now, I go to our next biggest players, the TEs
TE1: Olsen - 6'5", 250 lbs
TE2: Dickson - 6'4, 250 lbs
Olsen is Olsen.... a very good pass-catching TE who isn't that great in the blocking game. Olsen played last season with a bad ankle, so hopefully that will help him improve in that regard over 2013... but he could stand to improve his technique a bit. The big difference I predict will be from Dickson. We don't need Dickson to get 500 yards receiving.... really, between 300-400 would be fine. The key will be that Dickson will provide us with a big athletic TE2 who is an above-average blocker who is a THREAT to get behind a defense and make plays. Hartsock was a very good-blocking TE, but he was so one-dimensional that it was too easy for better defenses to load up and stop us when he was in the game (i.e. the playoff game). Dickson provides us that flexibility and strength to keep defenses off balance.... and on the cheap for this year.
Now, I'll look at our WRs...
WR1: Cotchery - 6'1", 200 lbs
WR2/3: Benjamin - 6'5", 235 lbs
Steve Smith was a tough hombre.... but Cotchery is no slouch... and he has Smitty by 4 inches and 15 lbs. In addition to being a savvy route-runner, I think that Cotchery may be more effective as a blocker than the 35 year-old Smitty we released.
Benjamin..... if he can get down 5-7 routes, I think there will be a combination set of plays that gets him on the field as a major contributor or possibly as a starter. If that is the case, his biggest contribution may actually be in the RUN game as a rookie. He's going to have to watch holding. Other than that, Benjamin present a major mismatch against CBs lined up against him in the run game.... and I'm sure LB/DEs won't be looking forward to crack-back blocks from KB.
We'll work our other WRs into the mix in 11 personnel groupings (particularly Underwood). The other WRs will get their chances as well.
But don't be surprised if we spend a good amount of time in the 12 personnel grouping with Dickson and KB on the field... and don't be surprised if we are very effective in the running game and the passing game when we do.