The circus is back in town. And no, I’m not talking Ringling Brothers.
Over the next few weeks, the media circus will descend upon cities like Anderson, Indiana and Earth City, Missouri in order to get that first NFL training camp story that will make national headlines and captivate America. That is, at least until the preseason begins.
But who can blame them? We are all NFLaholics, ready to gulp down whatever tasty glass of NFL juice is poured for us that morning. We will read and talk about anything, just as long as we have football back in our lives. That’s why the stories that tend to capture the nation’s attention involve a shirtless Tebow running in the rain or how bad Maurice Jones-Drew’s fantasy football team will be without him on it. We will read about it. We will talk about it. And they know it.
Despite what the media wants us to believe, there are actual football stories coming out of training camps across the country. Teams will use these practices to help sort out quarterback battles, implement new defensive schemes, and figure out which rookies belong on the roster. After all, not every team has a quarterback who can double as a punt protector.
Therefore, despite what circus-like stories are reported from Panthers camp over the next few weeks, keep in mind that there are real stories that might be hidden. So, as you open up the Observer or turn on ESPN in August, pay most attention to these four storylines as they will have the most impact on what you really care about in 2012, winning games.
While last season the Panthers were probably not good enough to make the playoffs, it didn’t help that the team had more injuries than the Rocky movies. With camp opening, the Panthers are welcoming back Jon Beason, David Gettis, and Thomas Davis, among others, from serious injuries that cut each of their 2011 seasons short. It will be interesting to monitor the progress of these three players, in particular, as they are expected to play a large role on the team this year. If all three can make a full recovery by week one, the Panthers will be in line to do some serious damage in the NFC.
Carry My Pads, Rookie
As Panther fans, we were spoiled last year. Watching what Cam Newton was able to do for 16 games as a rookie is something that many fan bases will never have the opportunity to see. So, while we can’t expect to see another season like Cam’s—maybe ever—we do have a few guys who are expected to play a big role on the team this season, particularly on defense. Between linebacker Luke Keuchly, defensive end Frank Alexander, and corner Josh Norman,the team added three potential defensive starters at positions of great need. If all three guys can have a solid camp and emerge as starters, our defense will be much tougher and faster than it was last season. Throw receiver/returner Joe Adams into the mix, and the Panthers could potentially have one of their best draft classes ever.
Who Wants to Play Catch?
Death. Taxes. The Panthers are looking for a number two receiver. The revolving door at receiver continues to revolve as the Panthers enter another training camp with no clear cut favorite to catch passes along side of Steve Smith. Brandon LaFell is the most logical choice, but if far from a shoe-in. Competing with LaFell for playing time will be David Gettis, Seyi Ajirotutu, Kealoha Pilares, Armanti Edwards, Joe Adams, and newly-acquired Louis Murphy. Basically, if you can put on gloves, you’ve got a shot at this job. Training camp will go a long way to determine who will win the gig. Keep an eye on David Gettis. If he is fully healthy, he could be a dark horse to not only win the starting job, but also produce a big season.
The name Byron Bell does not strike fear in the minds of defensive coordinators. Not yet, at least. While Panther fans spent most of last season wondering when Jeff Otah was coming back from multiple injuries, Byron Bell was quietly developing into a steady and dependable right tackle. Now, after Marty Hurney has done everything short of personally fly Jeff Otah out of Charlotte, Bell comes into camp as the starter at right tackle without much competition behind him. Bell, signed as an undrafted free agent, will no longer fly under the radar as he will be largely responsible for protecting Cam Newton’s front side. Bell needs to prove he can protect in camp, as the Panthers are not looking to take any chances with Newton’s health.
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