5 Carolina Panthers Who Underperformed in 2011, Need to Step It Up in 2012

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5 Carolina Panthers Who Underperformed in 2011, Need to Step It Up in 2012
Mike Coppola/Getty Images
Several Carolina Panthers need to get on Cam Newton's level in 2012.

2011 was a year of firsts for the Carolina Panthers (6-10).

It was Ron Rivera's first year as an NFL head coach, and he guided a moribund, 2-14 Panthers team from 2010 to a six-win season and out of the NFC South cellar.

It was Cam Newton's first year as an NFL quarterback and he established several NFL firsts at his position along the way to NFL Rookie of the Year honors.

2011 was also a year of worsts for Carolina.

The Panthers fielded arguably the league's worst overall special teams when they surrendered three returns for touchdown, finished 30th in punt return average and had a field goal kicker who seemed to choke whenever the game was on the line.

Despite Rivera's defensive pedigree, the injury-riddled unit that is paid to stop the opposition ranked among the NFL's worst defenses in every major statistical category, finishing in the bottom 25 percent of the league in points, rushing yards, passing yards and total yards allowed.


Room to improve

The Panthers improved by leaps and bounds offensively in 2011 with the addition of Newton and under the direction of offensive coordinator Rob "Chud" Chudzinski.

Rivera and general manager Marty Hurney are looking to the 2012 NFL draft to shore up weaknesses on the defensive side of the ball just as well.

As Newton famously said in his 2011 interview with ESPN The Magazine, there are several Carolina players who need to "get on [his] level" in 2012 if they and the Panthers are going to have a successful season.

Here's a look at five guys who need to step it up in 2012...or get to steppin'.

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