I am going down to TC next week, but based on feedback so far, here is where the position groups are trending:
QB: = / + Cam is looking solid for the most part, and Anderson looks like a capable backup. Clausen has improved but still will never be starter (or even high-end backup) quality. Colby Cameron is a camp arm (and not a particularly strong one at that. I think this may be the end of the road for Clausen though given Gettleman's history and the value of keeping a 7th WR or DB for ST's instead of a 3rd QB that isn't going to see the field.
***Bottom line, if Cam continues playing like he did down the stretch, the arrow is pointing up
RB/FB: = / + DeAngelo seems to be having a solid camp so far. Barner seems to be a dynamo and a steal in the 6th round that the coaching staff will have to find a way to see the field some- hopefully we have found our "Sproles." Tolbert seems to be getting more looks as a true lead blocker, and Brockel may still have a role given his versatility. Stewart's health remains question mark but unquestionable depth
***Bottom line, very talented & deep group (and the obligatory "but they're overpaid and underutilized). Could be even better than last year if commitment to (fundamentally) sound run game is there and offensive line can open holes.
WR: =/++ I think the WR group could be better than anyone outside of true fans and the organization knows. I think Ginn, Jr. can be a difference maker in this offense outside of being a return man, and I think the emergence of Armanti as a legit WR and Hixson give the Panthers true versatility in the return game. I think Pilares and Joe Adams still have a shot at the roster. So wanted to see the reemergence of Gettis but it looks unlikely
**Bottom line, Smitty can still put up big numbers, especially if the plan is to feature him more in the slot. LaFell may only put up #3 WR numbers for fantasy, but in this offense he is still dependable #2 WR and that is enough if we devote what we should to the run game and get Smitty and Olsen the ball like we should. Ginn, Jr., Armanti, and Hixson are a better supporting cast than they have had over the past few years.
TE: = / - I think Olsen is still going to be solid, if not underappreciated nationally. The big question is whether Hartsock can actually provide a true receiving threat beyond his above average blocking ability. Need to see what Nelson Rosario & Brandon Williams can do in preseason. If this group can even replicate last season's, it will be good.
**Bottom Line, while not a great season record-wise, 2011 may have been the benchmark for the Panthers TE play with Olsen & Shockey, but this group still has the makings to be respectable, and still a vast improvement over the neglect of the Fox years
O-Line: - / -- Too early to panic b/c the defense always looks better early on (and I want to believe our D-Line is going to make any O-Line look bad), but this is in my opinion the biggest concern on the team. Overestimating the ability of the O-Line last year when Chud wanted to make the read-option the base of our running attack was perhaps the dumbest decision of the year. And so far, this year's group isn't inspiring confidence. Veteran depth is badly needed, and I think Travelle Wharton would be a great addition. From what I've read, though, it seems like he is waiting until he gets the best offer. And with injuries, how can blame him for holding out. Hope he ends up here, but he doesn't owe the Panthers any favors. I think Gross will ultimately be serviceable, and it sounds like Silatolu is the one bright spot so far. Hopefully Kalil will return to form, but the right side of the line is awful. I have a bad feeling this will end up being a red-shirt type year for Kugbila, and Hangartner just doesn't have the physicality needed anymore at RG. Byron Bell will never be anything above average. Sucks Bruce Campbell can't get the hang of RT. As bad as I feel about the starting right side, the depth is non-existing. Still can't understand why we let Geoff Schwartz go. Have to trust Gettleman to weigh options out there, but this line is going to get tested early on and a fast start is going to depend on how they do.
**Bottom line, got to trust in the people who make a lot of money to make these calls. There is a lot of talent on offense, but if the offensive line can't function, it's going to be more of all the weight on The Cam Show
D-Line: ++ / +++ No need to add a ton here, but this group has the potential to be one of (if not the best) D-Lines in the NFL in my opinion and the best in the history of the Panthers. And I say that not as a homer and with true deference to how good the D-Lines were in 2003 & 2005
**Bottom Line, I bet Cam is glad to wear the red jersey
LB: = / + Again, undeniable talent and depth here, but this group ended up playing very well last year so an equal wouldn't be bad. Kuechly, a healthy TD, and James Anderson was a solid group last year. A healthy Beason to the mix could be an improvement, but I do not have hope Beason will ever be healthy on an ongoing basis again. I truly hope I'm wrong. Regardless, Blackburn & A.J Klein could help round out the group with Jordan Senn giving good depth and a good presence on ST.
**Bottom Line, the more time that passes, it appears Hurney's drafting was not near as bad as people thought, but the extensions may have been worse. And the return on Beason's is the absolute worst right now.
DB: = / - Not as concerned here as I am with the O-line simply b/c I believe in Rivera in regards to being a defensive strategist and the ability of the front 7 to cover some of the deficiency. This group really hasn't been a strength since 2009 (teams ran at will during 2010 & 2011 which masked some of it). Don't see how this group will be much worse than last year since Gamble was gone most of the year, but there is a desperate need for someone to step up. I have faith in Drayton Florence starting one of the spots, but how many times do we have to see Munnerlyn out there to know he's not a starting CB. I'm still holding out hope for one of the Josh brothers (hopefully Norman) to claim the other spot. Don't know what to think at safety. I think Godfrey can be average at FS (which is fine with the front 7), but no idea at SS. Hard to have faith in a Raiders cast-off (Mike Mitchell) or an UDFA (Lester). Hope they sign Quinton Mikell even though it is only a 1 year fix b/c there is little long-term potential here outside of Josh Norman is he develops.
**Bottom Line, secondary has been issue since Rivera has been here and he has done decent job masking it. Finally fixed Front 7 into formidable group, hope secondary can benefit from it and good coaching to be passable (pun intended)
ST: ++/+++ Really only one way to go, although this group got better along with the rest of the team down the stretch. Team finally has top-end return talent (Ginn, Jr, & Barner) along with depth. Hopefully the results bear out. Gano & Nortman seem ok, and Nortman seems to have the talent to be an above-average punter. Gano didn't really move the needle one way or the other last year in limited time.
**Bottom Line, expecting a much better performance by ST this year, which has cost the Panthers dearly the last several years.
Coaching: = / + I think Rivera has learned and gotten better as a HC, especially last year. Sucks his learning on the job has cost the team some wins, but it's in the past. I think him and McDermitt are going to have a top notch defense on the field this year, with the potential to be top 5 if the secondary can perform. An offense with Cam Newton should be formidable, but I don't think Mike Shula is the offensive mind Chud was, so that is a question mark. I do think Shula is going to be more conservative, which could be good or bad. If the defense plays well, it will be good b/c we won't see stupid 3rd Quarter drives that are over in 1:30 of game time b/c of 3 pass plays but we probably aren't going to see An Annexation of Puerto Rico either.
**Bottom Line, they all know their jobs are on the line, and not just at the end of the season. Hopefully they will rise to the challenge.