Every team has to find an identity. Last year's team had to find its
confidence, and in their own words, become relevant.
The offense has to build from the run, obviously. The toughness needed
for those yards inside were there greater than before, and Carolina gets
more pieces to make that work. You have to hope for Jonathan Stewart to
be available, Amini Silatolu is around again; rook Trai Turner looks
like the best RG Carolina's fielded in many years (since before Jeremy
Bridges went nuts on strippers). It has some issues at OT, mostly
unknowns. That's my issue right now, the spot I wish I could solve.
I know plenty of people are worried about receiver.
Those people don't know this team. The way last year's guys were used,
it looks like improvement to me. You have a whole group of receivers
competing for less money than just what Steve Smith would've cost - much
less adding the deals that Ted Ginn Jr and Brandon LaFell got. This
team could've spent twice what it did, to get no better.
Did they, in fact, get better with their current moves? That's to be
seen. Monetarily, the cost is lower; based on 2013 production, the cost
per TD and yard is lower, but production is up. Jerricho Cotchery won't
catch 10 TD this year, but he's still got a lot of value. Tiquan
Underwood had a strong '13 for a guy with no quarterback; 24/440/4 TD
from a specialist is pretty good. Jason Avant didn't fit the '13 Eagles
O, but there's no doubting him as a player in the slot. Kelvin Benjamin
appears, as raw as he is, to have the makings of a touchdown machine.
Related to the metrics and value, it appears Carolina bought low on
every player. Benjamin had some questions that brought him lower than
his talent; Cotchery was just a matter of age, I guess. Avant was used
poorly in an offense that seemed to provide a boost to every one else.
Underwood's year might'be been much greater with good QB play.
This is the part where I mention that Carolina was 30th in attempts, and
that the greatest amount of targets went to a returning player, TE Greg
Olsen. Olsen deserves his targets. Ron Rivera put up the sabermetric
argument about only needing 10 catches a game, underlining the idea that
Carolina doesn't ask a ton of their receivers.
What they needed was more of their attempts to become fruitful. By
running a good route and fitting the offense, and catching the ball when
it got there. Outside Benjamin, they have that, and I don't feel they
would've picked Benjamin if the drops (mostly off catch-and-run where he
didn't secure it) were a problem.
So, offensively, they're underdogs. Unsung heroes. The Unappreciated.
Greg Olsen, too, based on some recent comments. It's amazing nowadays
you can have a 75 catch TE fly under the radar. Please, please, please
sleep on this Carolina offense. With worse players last year, they
still put up 30 points on a number of teams before settling into a heck
of a Time Of Possession spree.
Defensively, you can't play the disrespect card. This is a unit that's
gotta have discipline - they have the talent, and the experience.
Discipline is the only hole I'm concerned with.
It's going to be a big year for pass interference, and so it's going to
be a big year for WRs. Seattle ruined the party - and refs let them
hold throughout the full season only to decide that 2014 was a new day.
So the new set of DBs - where, somehow and suddenly 2nd year Melvin
White is the incumbent player in the secondary who isn't new or moving
to a new role - have to have that discipline to not hold, no illegal
contact, no pass interference.
Otherwise, that identity is in place. Carolina is certain that you will
not run on them - or, you won't want to. You can pass, and you'll have
to pass, but they'll want to hurt you for that, too. Being 2nd in
defense might be a motivator, but most years, this is a team that
would've been first in run, pass, and scoring defense.
I would have a little concern about leadership - no Jordan Gross means
that Cam Newton, Greg Olsen have to be more vocal to match Ryan Kalil.
But that's OK. And honestly, without Gross, you also get no Steve
Smith, nobody on Carolina pulling that dirty nonsense we all loved, but
to be truthful as much heart as that provided, it was a distraction,
So, I feel a bit of heart coming on. An identity of toughness, of
breaking wills that are unfortunate enough to be wrapped in enemy
colors. I just hope it comes early enough.