So what did we learn in preseason?
Special Teams could continue to be special in the wrong direction. Hope not.
We learned that you can pick up backs off the street and they can have a level of success in the right situation. Tauren Poole and Armond Smith were fantastic by the end of preseason. I love Jonathan Stewart, but I worry about the overall monetary commitment. Is Stewart that much better? Absolutely. Would a scatback type like Poole that can hit the seam well enough and catch a ball or two do fine enough in a massive emergency? Probably. Actually, i don’t remember seeing Poole or Smith block, or do much in the pass at all, so who knows if either can.
Which, between the level of contribution that the 2012 draft has provided, and some of the talent Carolina picked up as undrafted free agents, their scouting department is hitting on a much higher level than, for instance, 2009 (which was a disastrous draft) or 2010 (potentially obsolete, minus Brandon Lafell and Greg Hardy). It doesn’t hurt to have a full offseason, to know what you already have (an issue in 2011) or even just stability in coaching (09-10’s issue). Hopefully that’s a good sign for the future.
From my perspective, I saw growth from the defense, which was necessary. It’s hard to say how much of it’s legitimate growth, and how much of it’s just the addition of new guys (including injury return guys). Obviously, Luke Kuechly’s as good as advertised. Jon Beason will make a huge difference. Ron Edwards looks like he can penetrate well, hold at the point of attack well. Josh Norman seems legitimately as good as advertised – good, since on night two of the draft I was legitimately interested in him in round 2 and he went in the 5th (yikes). Haruki Nakamura should make a difference in simply getting to the right spot at the right time, adding some fire to a lackadaisical secondary (Norman adds some swagger that’s been missing, too). At least four of them bring a level of experience and ability to communicate that should improve the team IQ, and limit the mistakes.
So, five new starters. Is that enough? It can’t hurt. But what about the existing pieces? Luckily, those pieces did well for us last year, and those other 6 seem to have better depth behind them than this time last year. But will there be more production, more ability, in those six? It’s hard to say, still. James Anderson, for instance, might get freed up, but he’ll have no real shot at the tackle numbers he had – will he be more effective with a smaller load?
The ends, hard to say as well, and more blitzing won’t affect their numbers positively. More depth might mean a little more overall production, and certainly options. Chris Gamble might get more targets if he’s working on the left side more, and he’ll have to earn his low QB ratings all over again. Charles Godfrey might get more time off the line, instead of playing close to the TE. He’s more comfortable playing back, so that may help.
Two new specialists? Thomas Davis was fantastic as a nickel LB. It’ll be interesting to see how he’s used and who with – I can only hope for some 3-3 nickel – and maybe Sherrod Martin will be used in some big-nickel alignments in a more focused role. Hopefully, that matters.