Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 8/3/12

The Carolina Panthers surprised a lot of teams due to the leadership of 2011 NFL Rookie of the Year, quarterback Cam Newton. Newton shaped the defensive-minded Panthers into an unlikely offensive force despite having a 6-10 record.

Can lightning strike twice for Newton, as he gets into his sophomore season as an NFL starter? Here are three questions heading into training camp.

How can you sustain Newton?

The last time the NFC South has seen such a running force from the position was former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, now currently with the Philadelphia Eagles. Newton set the single-season record for most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 14 while amassing 706 rushing yards.

Newton's arm is as dangerous as his legs. While Vick's tenure with the Falcons was marred with criticism from his lack of passing accuracy, Newton set the NFL record for most passing yards by a rookie with 4,051. He also achieved a 21:17 touchdown-to-interception ratio and made the Pro Bowl.

The issue with Newton isn't his talent. It's his adaptability to teams who have an entire year of film to study on him. His true worth and meddle as an NFL quarterback will be determined from his ability to produce from the pocket. If Newton has to put the team on his back this year again, expect similar or worse results.

How is the defense?

The defense should be better under second-year head coach Ron Rivera. Much of his success as defensive coordinator didn't translate well in his first year as the defense gave up an average 26.85 points a game. You can credit their performance as the primary reason for Newton's success last year because of how often they had to play from behind.

The addition of ninth-overall selection in Boston College's Luke Kuechly should provide the Panthers with a versatile linebacker who has demonstrated his abilities to stop the run as well as defend against the pass.

Winner of the Dick Butkus and the Bronko Nagurski Awards, Kuechly's addition is a welcome one since the Panther's defense lacks the depth to make up for the absences of often-injured Thomas Davis and Jon Beason. The Panthers front office did little to address the defensive line issues, but perhaps the return of tackle Ron Edwards should bring some stability that hasn't seen since the days of Kris Jenkins.

The Panther's third selection in fourth-rounder defensive end Frank Alexander might be someone to look out for since he led the Oklahoma Sooners with 19 tackles for loss and seven quarterback pressures.  

Rookie Josh Norman, Brandon Hogan and Captain Munnerlyn will all compete for the starting cornerback position opposite starter Chris Gamble. It may not matter who starts among the three if the defense continues to struggle on both ends. The Panthers were 24th (246.8 yards per game) and 25th (130.8 yards per game) in passing and rushing yards given up, respectively in 2011 



How is the offense?

There is no doubt, three-headed running beast of Newton, DeAngello Williams and Jonathan Stewart will keep opponents in respecting the run. But there are a number of question marks on who can help receiving outside of projected starters in receivers, the ageless wonder Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, and tight end Greg Olsen.

Third-year wide receiver David Gettis is on the PUP list. Armanti Edwards has been nothing short of a disappointment his entire tenure and will be playing to stay on the roster. Receiver Joe Adams could standout if his receiving abilities caught up to his punt return abilities, which he was drafted for. The other footnote on the offense is receiver Jared Green, son of Hall of Famer Darrell Green, who despite his namesake had an unremarkable college career.

Despite the question marks, they very well have a shot at going to the playoffs given how wide open the NFC South is and why not? Center Ryan Kalil already has dreams of a Super Bowl.

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