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2014 NFL Preview: Carolina Panthers

by Photo of Sam Cohen

CHARGED asks The Charlotte Observer’s Jonathan Jones about what to expect from the Panthers.

2014 NFL Preview: Carolina Panthers

In this article…

The Carolina Panthers are coming off one of the best seasons in franchise history, going 12-4, winning the NFC South and making the playoffs. Led by star quarterback Cam Newton, the Panthers will now look to build on their great 2013. That being said, Carolina won't have it easy this year. They lost many key pieces along the offensive line and at wide receiver, so the offense will not be as scary as it was last season.

The team will have to rely on Newton and their great defense to carry them to the playoffs again, which will be a tall task given that they play in the same division as the Saints, Buccaneers, and Falcons. It will be very interesting to see how the season plays out for this Panthers team and few follow the team as closely as Jonathan Jones of The Charlotte Observer. We had a chance to ask Jonathan about what the 2014 season has in store for the Panthers.

The team enters the preseason with one of the weaker wide receiving cores in the league. Additionally, the offensive line and secondary are not as strong as they were last season. Which area do you believe the Panthers are most concerned about heading into the season?

The offensive line. They lost a Pro Bowl left tackle [and] a stalwart at guard [Jordan Gross, to retirement]. They're starting one left tackle that's never played left tackle in the NFL [Byron Bell] and a right tackle that's never played tackle [Garry Williams]. That said, they went into last year with question marks at the exact same position groups and ended up winning the division.

Is there a receiver that you believe will surprise people this season?

I think [Jason] Avant will. Obviously [Kelvin] Benjamin will be huge in the red zone, but Avant is coming off a year where he disappeared in [Philadelphia Eagles head coach] Chip Kelly's offense. Now that he's back in a pro style offense, I think he'll be a pleasant surprise.

How do you think Cam Newton will play following his offseason ankle surgery?

Just fine. He'll be able to make every throw and scramble that he did before. But he won't do it in the preseason. It's just not worth it. His ankle will be fine come Week 1. Don't expect him to rush for 700 yards this season, though. No one on the team wants that, whether his ankle [is] healthy or not.

Defensive end Greg Hardy was amazing last season, but has had a tumultuous off-season and is now facing a lengthy suspension from the league. What would his loss mean for the Panthers?

I don't see Hardy missing any games this season. The team has said it will go with what the league decides, and the team's impression [is that] the league will wait until the legal process is complete. Hardy won't have a jury trial until after the season, likely. So he'll play every game this year.

Which rookie do you believe will have the greatest impact in year one?

Benjamin, no question. His play in the red zone will make him worth his weight in gold. Don't be surprised by [offensive lineman] Trai Turner, either. He's grasping the playbook well for a 21-year-old rookie.

What are your predictions for the Panthers this season?

Ehhh, not really into predictions, especially this early.

For more from Jonathan Jones, make sure to read his articles for The Charlotte Observer and check out @jjones9 on twitter.

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