LAST YEAR: The Panthers struggled under journeyman QB Teddy Bridgewater, repeatedly losing tight games late in fourth quarter prompting an offseason trade for Sam Darnold. Carolina’s 2019 All-Pro RB Christian McCaffrey missed 13 games due to three separate injuries, limiting Carolina’s offensive potential. The team struggled at times with chemistry problems under first-year head coach Matt Rhule due to limited offseason practices because of the coronavirus pandemic. Although Carolina’s defense was young, DE Brian Burns and S Jeremy Chinn emerged as promising young stars.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: QB Sam Darnold, DE Haason Reddick, LB Denzel Perryman, WR David Moore, TE Dan Arnold, OT Cam Erving, G Pat Elflin, DE Morgan Fox, DT DaQuan Jones, LB Frankie Luvu, CB Jaycee Horn, CB A.J. Bouye.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: WR Curtis Samuel, QB Teddy Bridgewater, RB Mike Davis, DT Kawann Short, S Tre Boston, OT Russell Okung, DE Stephen Weatherly.
CAMP NEEDS: All eyes will be on Darnold at training camp. The Panthers will look to get the Jets castoff up to speed with coordinator Joe Brady’s offense quickly and give the fourth-year QB a boost of confidence. Darnold essentially has a two-year tryout with Carolina and a chance to claim its franchise QB spot after going 13-25 under center in New York. Darnold has plenty to work with on offense, including a now healthy McCaffrey, 1,000-yard WRs D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson, and TE Dan Arnold. Rhule has gone out of the way not to put too much on Darnold, asking only that he gets better every day in practice.
KEY CAMP COMPETITIONS: Left tackle continues to be a huge question mark. The Panthers added LT Cam Erving in free agency, but as many as five players are in the mix for the job including Dennis Daley, Trent Scott, Greg Little and rookie third-round pick Brady Christensen from BYU. There is also the possibility the Panthers could move RT Taylor Moton to the left side after signing a four-year, $72 million contract extension. … Dan Arnold will compete with Ian Thomas for the No. 1 TE spot. … David Moore and rookie Terrace Marshall will look to replace Samuel’s big-time production as the No. 3 WR.
EXPECTATIONS: Carolina isn’t considered a title contender and right now sustained growth is the No. 1 goal in Rhule’s second season. Carolina remains one of the NFL’s youngest teams and owner David Tepper has the patience to trust in the process. Much of Carolina’s success will be dependent on how well Darnold acclimates to the system. Defensively, Carolina’s secondary should be better following the addition of first-round pick CB Jaycee Horn, but the team needs last year’s first-round draft pick DT Derrick Brown to take the next step. Nine wins would be considered a successful season, but upending defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay in the NFC South would be monumental task.
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