Bradley Smith of our sister site, Cat Scratch Reader, was kind enough to sit down with us an answer all of our burning questions about the Panthers in advance of tonight’s preseason opener. We talked about everything from rookie sensations, to front office firings, to the one singular shoulder injury that all of Charlotte is watching like a hawk. Take a look at what Brad had to say below:
1. How are Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel looking during training camp? Do you expect them to have a big role in this offense as rookies?
Christian McCaffrey looks amazingly good. He's showing himself as a dangerous weapon in space, juking people left and right (including Luke Kuechly). He's going to be a star in this league if he keeps it up.
As for Curtis Samuel, he hasn't practiced due to a sore hamstring, but hopefully he's ready to go soon. Samuel and McCaffrey are expected to be a dynamic duo for the Panthers and bring some much needed versatility to the offense. Provided Samuel can get healthy and put some work in, he should see plenty of action this year.
2. What are your thoughts on the front office shakeup that the Panthers just endured before camp started? Was it the right move?
In a word, no. I think Dave Gettleman is a good football guy and should still be the GM of the Panthers. If ownership wanted to fire him, for whatever reason, they probably should have done it sooner than the week before training camp started. We had our Assistant GM, Brandon Beane, leave for Buffalo earlier in the year, so we didn't have a replacement in-house, requiring the team to bring back the guy Gettleman was hired to replace. Not letting Beane go would have been a wise move if a change needed to be made.
3. This team was a Super Bowl favorite heading into the 2016 season, but they ended up not even making the playoffs. What happened?
Injuries derailed the Panthers in 2016. In the opening game of the season, the Broncos took several shots at Cam Newton's skull (without really being punished for it) and it messed with him for most of the year. He also suffered a concussion against Atlanta and injured the rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder towards the end of the season. We were also pulling fans from the stands to play on the offensive line. Ok, not really, but our O-Line was banged up towards the end of the year, requiring us to play our RT at LT, our 3rd string C, and our RG at RT (it did not go well, as one would expect). Despite all the issues, the Panthers finished 6-10 but were a few missed field goals and untimely interceptions from being 8-8 or 9-7.
4. Do you expect Cam Newton to play at all in this preseason? And with his injuries becoming more and more worrisome as his career progresses, do you expect him to run the ball less on the goal line this season?
I expect to see him play in a limited role this preseason. They'll probably hold him out for the opener against Houston, but I do expect to see him get a series in the second game, and probably a quarter or half in the third game. They'll probably wrap him in bubble wrap and lock him in Jerry Richardson's suite for the final preseason game, though.
As for running less, that's the game plan. The Panthers drafted McCaffrey and Samuel in part to add some dynamic weapons to the offense so Cam has options other than QB Power straight up the middle. He'll still run, but hopefully not as much as he has in the past.
5. What are your overall expectations for the Panthers in 2017?
I think the 2017 Panthers will be closer to the 2015 team than the 2016 team. Provided they can stay healthy, I see them winning 11-12 games and winning the NFC South. If the ball bounces their way in the postseason, they could make another run at the Super Bowl, but I don't want to get my hopes up too much. They have weapons on both sides of the ball and added some quality rookies to the roster, so it's all up to Cam being healthy, the rest of the team being lucky with injuries, and the players executing their assignments. If all those things happen, the Panthers will be a dangerous team in 2017.
I would like to extend a big thank you to Brad on behalf of all of us at BRB for taking the time to answer our questions. If you’d like to see how I answered Brad’s questions, click here. You can find his and others’ excellent work on all things Panther over at Cat Scratch Reader.