1. Luke Kuechly is going to win Defensive Player of the Year this season, right?
We sure hope so! Honestly, the only thing working against Kuechly is flash -- there's not a lot of it. Outside of last week's preseason game he's not a guy who moves the needle for the average fan. I think most people see Kuechly and don't understand the small aspects to the game, or why he's any better than other 'tackling machines' who have entered the league.
I don't wholly blame them, after all the Panthers aren't on national TV a whole lot. His instincts are off the charts. Kuechly's first step is almost always right, and that's what allows him to be everywhere at once.
2. The Steelers and Panthers play each other in the fourth preseason game every year. Any thoughts as to why that is?
I've always assumed it's an octogenarian cocktail party for Jerry Richardson and Dan Rooney. It's safe to say those two are NFL owner BFFs, and the Panthers have made no bones about idealizing the way the Steelers do business.
3. Kuechly aside, the Panthers defense looks very fast. Perhaps there are some concerns in the secondary, but is this the year Carolina becomes one of the best defensive teams in the game?
There is that potential, even with a terrible secondary. New GM Dave Gettleman comes from the Giants' tradition of "secondary be damned, we'll rush you to death". The Panthers' defensive front is good enough this year that they can help mitigate the issues with the defensive backs. Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy are legitimate 20.0 sack defensive ends, while the additions of Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short at defensive tackle makes this unit fearsome.
4. What kind of year can fans expect from Cam Newton?
It's so difficult to tell. The Panthers' offensive line is the worst it's been in over a decade, and that could really limit what he does. What Cam needs to do is study Ben Roethlisberger, if I'm being honest. You guys have offensive line issues too, but Ben is adept and avoiding the rush and resetting his feet. Too often Cam will dodge the rush, and either run or throw off his back foot -- resulting in a boneheaded play.
Statistically I think there will be a slight regression this year, only because he doesn't have the tools.
5. Do the Panthers have any fringe roster guys who you feel will need a strong performance in this game to make the team? Who will stand out in this game?
Plenty. Every fringe offensive lineman could be replaced with another team's castoff, so they'll need to play well. Also, there's a weird depth chart situation at TE right now where behind Greg Olsen there's a series of untested players, and h-backs. Some of those guys will pop loose. In terms of who will stand out: I wont pick Kuechly, because he'll barely play -- so I'll say Kenjon Barner. The Panthers' rookie has some fumble issues, but has also shown glimpses of being a series running back -- especially in open space. I'll be watching him closely.
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