Writing a position preview for quarterbacks should be simple when a team has a franchise quarterback. Insert name, offer some flowery prose, then slot everyone else in -- but this isn't a normal year for the Carolina Panthers and Cam Newton's offseason surgery looms at the forefront of any discussion regarding the position.
In looking at the team's passers it's vital to include Newton's injury in the discussion. Not because it's likely he'll miss any time when September rolls around, but rather because the possibility is there. At this point we should be conditioned to expect the unexpected when it comes to lingering injuries, which is what makes the whole ordeal an upsetting conversation that needs to happen.
I'll wager that you didn't come here expecting to learn anything new about the Panthers' franchise quarterback. He's tremendous. While he is on the roster and starting the team's offensive success will forever be saddled to his ability.
In short: The team will only be as good as the freedom he's given. We've talked about it ad nauseum, but it's true. Newton will be the most dominant player in the league in the right offense, otherwise it's like putting low quality gas in a high-performance engine, sputtering and getting middling performance without harnessing the horsepower under the hood.
We got a glimpse of both sides in 2013. Early in the year he was working inside a restrictive offensive system that hampered his ability, but thankfully things opened up at the right time. The hope here is that we'll see a continuation of that ideal, rather than reverting back on old (and boring) habits. On paper this should be a fascinating season for No.1, one where he'll begin to work with (hopefully) a long-term franchise wide receiver without needing to satisfy the 5'9, 10,000 pound elephant in the room. This is Cam's team now, completely -- so it's time to see him take it.
In a perfect world I'd give a 100 percent chance to start, 100 percent chance to make the team proclamation, but there has to be some wiggle room. That's what happens when a player is recovering from surgery. If Newton can play he'll start, but you just never know what the rigors of training camp can do. That's why I'm leaving a five percent margin for disappointment.
95% chance to make the roster, 100% chance to start
Words I'd never expect to say: Thank God Derek Anderson is on the roster.
At this point the veteran quarterback is one of the most valuable players on the team, only because he represents the ultimate safety net. The funny thing with Anderson is that every time he's appeared in games he's shown an excellent command of the offense, the offensive principles and personnel -- he knows what he's doing.
It's a cruel twist of fate that Anderson might be the better quarterback to run Mike Shula's toned-down, ball control offense, only because there aren't the peaks and valleys Newton tends to display. No, he'll never bust a 65-yard run or leap over the pile like Superman, but he's also less attuned to throw that late-game pick-six that can seal a loss.
If worst comes to worst and Newton can't start I believe the team will be okay. Not good, not great, but okay. That's what Anderson brings to the table. A player simply doesn't last this long in the league without doing something right and he's shown a knack for being an excellent team player.
100% chance to make the roster, 5% chance to start
That's not a slight on the former Appalachian State quarterback, but rather an understanding that the college quarterback-turned wide receiver is a complete wild card. At this point he hasn't spent time under center in over a year, but there are plenty of fans in Minnesota who still believe.
Most years the Panthers would be comfortable rolling with two quarterbacks and play come-what-may, but Newton's injury could result in a third hanging around. Everything will hinge on training camp, but at a base level Webb brings at least some of Newton's athleticism and running ability to the position. He wont step in and perform as well, nor will teams respect his legs in the same way -- but he isn't a statue.
This is a story of redemption, but I don't see it having a happy ending.
35% chance to make the roster, 0% chance to start
The Panthers added Blanchard quietly and under the radar, to the point where it's easy to forget about him. If the name rings a bell it probably should because he played quite well against Carolina in the 2013 preseason. Obviously he showed enough that evening to be on the team's radar and now he'll have a chance to work in training camp and compete with Webb to see if he can earn that third QB spot that could become available.
Like Webb it's unlikely. Blanchard is young and has room to grow, but players this far down the depth chart tend not to develop because they don't get enough quality coaching or a chance to work with top-flight receivers. If there's room for three passers he has a shot, but it's a slim one.
35% chance to make the roster, 0% chance to start