Carolina has a lot to be excited about come football season.
The 2012 NFL season will be here before we know it, and reasons for optimism exist for every team. In a lot of ways, the next few months leading up to the first official whistle is the most exciting time to be a pro football fan.
You're reading about your team's OTAs, preparing for your fantasy draft and thinking about reasons your team could make you happy heading into each of those Monday returns to the workplace
The Carolina Panthers find themselves with possibly the largest amount of encouraging signs they've had in a long time. If you're a fan of the Panthers, your expectations for the coming season are high for good reason.
Check out the next few slides to find out five encouraging signs heading into the Carolina Panthers' 2012 season.
Cam Newton might soon add the MVP trophy next to his Heisman hardware.
How many franchises enter the 2012 season with the ability to boast that they have the most exciting player in football?
There's just one.
Cam Newton has such rare ability. He's one of just a few players in history who jogs your memory across eras when attempting to think of someone who is this 'must see' every Sunday.
Newton will attempt to follow up his record-setting 2011 performance with an encore, and if he's successful in coming close to his 2011 numbers and the Panthers improve their record he'll be a candidate for the league's Most Valuable Player award.
Newton would say that the numbers and the hardware don't matter; that all that counts is the number of wins his team collects (editors note: he actually recently said this). However, the Panthers have never had a player win the MVP award, and the candidates to wear a Panthers uniform have been far and few between.
Newton has a chance to cement himself as one of the greatest Panthers ever if he can reach the heights of the NFL's finest and bring home the trophy, though most in Carolina would settle for playing in January.
Drew Brees has seen better times in New Orleans
It's no longer safe to assume that the NFC South goes through that neat-looking gold dome in the Big Easy.
Their marquee player Drew Brees recently compared the NFL's bounty investigation to the sensitive subject of weapons of mass destruction investigations. Mix in a contract squabble, a head coach who can spend the entire season playing Scrabble and a general manager who tapped into some phone lines that he shouldn't have, and you've got a full-blown mess in the form of an NFL franchise.
Anyone who thinks the Saints won't feel the ripple-effect of all this is being naive. Teams hand off their divisional crown from year to year for a variety of reasons, and this is the probable reason that the Panthers can pencil themselves in as the divisional favorite for 2012.
If you're following the Saints closely this year, get ready for a soap opera that continues to unfold week by week.
The return of The Beast, scheduled for Fall 2012.
If only the Panthers had one of the NFL's best players on defense as they do on offense.
Wait a second, you're telling me that they do? How could I forget 'The Beast'?
Jon Beason will be back and close to full-strength by week one, and it sounds like he's feeling good and has bought into the idea of the Panthers winning a title. Emphasis on the hashtag, you twitterfolk:
1st day of OTAs. It feels great to be back! #buildingAchampionship.— Jon Beason (@jonbeason) May 22, 2012
Panthers fans can breathe easy, as when Beason arrives at training-camp next month he will have all participation restrictions lifted.
“I’ll be full go, no limitations, getting ready for the first preseason game – whoever that is – and our opener,” said Beason, according to the Charlotte Observer, who underwent Achilles surgery in September.
Beason has played under the same stigma of many small-market players. Despite elite ability, he doesn't get the ESPN run-time he would if he played in New York or Chicago. I invite you to ask him if he cares, but if you dare it would be wise to keep your head on a swivel.
Don't count out Jon Beason posting an All-Pro or Pro Bowl season in his triumphant return to the league in 2012.
Ron Rivera is never satisfied, which is a good thing.
Ron Rivera's biggest accomplishment of 2011 may have been avoiding the big headlines altogether. Not one memory exists of his rookie head-coaching campaign where he made a truly bonehead decision. Thinking back over the landscape of time, how many NFL head men can we really say that about?
Rivera took stretched the talent as far as it could go in 2011, resulting in a very respectable 6-10 record. When mini-camp OTAs ended last week, Rivera said that the team was "way ahead of where it was" from a year ago.
And that figures to be obvious news to most.
"I'm excited about what we did defensively, but we still have a long ways to go," Rivera said. "Staying healthy, that is what it all falls back on — getting Jon Beason on the field, Thomas Davis on the field and Ron Edwards on the field. And the next thing is communication. We have to be able to communicate better and knowing exactly what each other is doing and feed off each other."
While I don't have the exact numbers, I would speculate that NFL teams often fare better in the second season of a new head coach's system than they do in their rookie campaign, assuming they made the right decision on the guy to begin with. Before you start typing about Jim Harbaugh in my comments, remember that he was an anomaly.
Rivera is a quiet leader. A coach who will motivate his men to play hard for. He does not boast on his prior accomplishments or rest on his laurels.
Expectations should not be tempered because in a few short years I believe that Ron Rivera will be one of the NFL's most respected head coaches. The 2012 season will be the first chapter.
Mike Tolbert will look good in a Carolina uniform
I'll need to ask you to remember back fondly if you can to the back of the Madden '94 video game box. The premiere team on the game at the time was the San Francisco 49ers, and it said something to the effect of:
"Steve Young. Ricky Watters. Jerry Rice. Brent Jones. William Floyd. John Taylor. Choose your weapon."
Granted, the Madden series was a lot better game back then. And I might not have nailed the phrase verbatim (bonus points to any commenter who owns the game and can look up the correct version). But my point is that I feel like the Panthers are in that mold offensively.
With their Ferrari of a quarterback, and Steve Smith, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Greg Olsen shouldering the heavy load, this could be one of the most exciting offenses in the history of the sport.
But those are just the weapons Newton already had. When you factor in the additions of Mike Tolbert, Joe Adams, David Gettis (returning from injury) and a year of seasoning for Brandon LaFell and Kealoha Pilares; the Panthers just might be fighting for bread to feed all of the troops.
The 2011 Panthers scored 406 points, good for fifth best in the league. I don't think there's any reason, barring injury, that the 2012 doesn't best that total.
Like a new car with four fresh tires on the highway, what could be more encouraging than a superstar quarterback with more weapons than he knows what to do with? This is going to be exciting.