Carolina Panthers: 4 Things We Learned in 2011 NFL Season

Zayne Grantham@ZPGSportsContributor IIIJanuary 6, 2012

Carolina Panthers: 4 Things We Learned in 2011 NFL Season

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    The Carolina Panthers' season is over, and it is time to think 2012.

    The Panthers will have a lot of work to do in the offseason, but it is actually all very good. Carolina does not have to worry about hiring an entire coaching staff or evaluating who they should take with the No. 1 overall pick, like they did the previous year.

    There is a chance that the Panthers will have to replace offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, and that could cause problems. However, Carolina does not have any glaring need for the 2012 NFL draft. Instead, the Panthers can look at a couple different positions but ultimately take the best player available in the first round.

    Looking forward, the Panthers have a bright future.

    Before we get too far into the next season, let's take a look at four things we learned from the Panthers in the 2011 NFL season.

Cam Newton Is Going to Be a Great Quarterback in the NFL

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    If nothing else, we learned that Cam Newton is the real deal.

    The 2011 season showcased how a rookie quarterback cannot only start in this league but also take it by storm. That is exactly what Newton did this year. He broke the single-season NFL records for passing yards by a rookie and rushing touchdowns by a quarterback.

    Not only did Newton show great athletic ability and talent but he also showed his team that he can lead. The Panthers drafted one of the best leaders I have seen in recent years. Newton is great at pushing his teammates and evoking the best out of them.

    Newton has led the Panthers in a revolution this season. He showed that he does not put up with losing or average, and by the end of the season, his teammates were completely on board.

    The Panthers of old did not show near the amount of frustration in losing games but instead accepted it as part of the game. Newton strives for perfection and he wants the same out of his team. This is the factor that will make Newton and the Panthers so good for years to come.

    Newton will be able to lead his team to success with his arm, legs and attitude. 

The Culture of the Panthers Has Been Rocked

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    This is the most encouraging fact about the Panthers' 2011 season.

    No more is their attitude of second best or average in the Panthers' locker room. Head coach Ron Rivera and rookie quarterback Cam Newton did not just come to play football. They wanted to rock the entire Panthers organization with a new mindset.

    The Panthers have had players like Steve Smith, DeAngelo Williams and Charles Godfrey for years, and these guys have always carried some swagger with them; but this year it showed even more. Newton came into the locker room with the idea that they could be the best, and it took a while for the team to accept it. But they definitely have.

    On the first day that Newton was at the Panthers organization, he challenged—and beat—every player on the team in wind sprints. How is that for setting the tone?

    The Panthers may have finished 2011 at 6-10, but the more important victory was in the locker room when the entire mindset of the football team shifted from mediocre to confident.

Panthers Need More Depth on Defense

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    The Panthers suffered many key injuries on defense in 2011, and it showed.

    No team can be expected to lose guys like Jon Beason and Thomas Davis and be perfectly fine. But the Panthers defense may have been the reason that they lost a few games. Carolina missed these guys terribly, and they have to prevent this kind of situation from happening in the future.

    The Panthers have gone through this in the past at the defensive tackle spot, and they honestly do not have that completely fixed. It would be very beneficial to the Panthers to add some depth with defensive linemen and linebackers.

    Teams with quality depth are often times the ones that go on to win the Super Bowl. The Packers and Saints are the two most recent champion teams, and they both had to fight through injuries to get to the big game.

    It is impossible to avoid injuries completely for an entire season, but depth creates a great backup plan. If the Panthers want to compete for a Super Bowl, then they need to add some depth defensively.

The Panthers Can Be Very Good Very Quickly

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    The most important thing we learned from the Panthers in 2011 is that they are on the verge of being a very good team.

    It may be another year or two down the road, but Carolina has the talent to compete in the NFC, both offensively and defensively. The trend in today's NFL is to have a lights-out offense and decent defense. Carolina has both of those components.

    The factor that will help this young Panthers team get better is experience. That is the one area that is lacking for this team. As they continue to play, they will continue to get better and learn from their mistakes.

    A Super Bowl for the Panthers could be within grasp in a year or two, but they will have to mature some before being able to reach that goal. Carolina has talent in just about every starting position, and that is a great sign. The fact that they can go into 2012 with no glaring needs and just pick up good, quality depth is huge.

    That is how all championship teams get started. I look for Cam Newton and the Panthers to get their first winning season under Ron Rivera in 2012, and the limits after next year are invisible.

    The Carolina Panthers could be one of the best teams in the NFL in a very short amount of time.