Welcome to the 2020 edition of Step UP or Step OUT, a series on CSR that is intended to look at players who are playing well and highlight a few that need to step their game up. Think of it as a heat index for the Carolina Panthers; guys who are playing well are stepping up and those who aren’t need to improve their game or. . . step out.
This week being the first week of the season, things are going to go a little differently. We haven’t seen anyone play any real football yet in 2020. We have no sense at all of what is going to happen on Sunday. Worse yet, most of our known quantities are no longer with the team. This Sunday is the REAL wildcard Sunday, and it is very hard to even have a modicum of expectations.
Who needs to Step UP?
This could quite frankly be the longest diatribe in the history of sports journalism, because the answer is everyone. Every person standing on the Panthers sideline this season, even those who aren’t actually players, will have an opportunity to assert themselves as leaders of this very different team.
Of utmost importance are two people standing in critical positions. New head coach Matt Rhule, making his first ever NFL coaching debut in front of a completely empty home stadium, and starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater who might be pretty relieved not to have to stand on a field in front of a bunch of fans just yet and try to fill the shoes of Cam Newton. Both men have been given a daunting task, captain and first mate of a ship that thanks to the pandemic has not even been made totally seaworthy.
The word of the day on Sunday will be competency. It’s not even necessarily about winning quite yet. Without a preseason of any kind, and a severely crippled offseason and training camp, the Panthers are going to have a hard time playing the ultimate team sport right now. Most of this team hasn’t played together before, and playing against your teammates in camp is hardly real preparation.
The Panthers need leaders, and leaders are crafted first and foremost on the field. No one can fill the Luke Kuechly sized hole on defense, we may never see a football mind like that ever again, but someone has to try. I think Shaq Thompson and Tahir Whitehead can get the front seven together and organized with time, but I have a lot of fears about the secondary. Tre Boston had a career best season last year, and he is the outspoken type, can he step up and make himself the field general on the back end?
This is sure to be the most interesting week one in NFL history. Let’s hope the Carolina Panthers show enough to give us something to cheer for as this strange season unfolds.