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At an average age of 25 years, the Carolina Panthers are the youngest team in the NFL. And while that means their future is promising, it doesn’t say the same about the present.
Last year, they suffered having to rely on such inexperienced players.
Before NFL drafts and combines, we always talk about the vast differences between college and professional football, and for the Panthers, that discrepancy was only further intensified by the lockout scare and shortened preseason of 2011.
Players were unable to reap the benefits of their very first training camp, and quite possibly even more concerning, first-year head coach Ron Rivera couldn’t communicate with his brand new roster.
Rivera, who has served as a defensive coordinator in the NFL for six years, was never able to polish his defensive unit before the season kicked off. It was evident Carolina was lost.
The Panthers’ defense ranked 24th in passing and 25th in rushing in 2011, but with injured players Jon Beason, Ron Edwards and Thomas Davis returning, Carolina has room (and more importantly time) to improve the weakest aspect of their game.
Recently, running back Jonathan Stewart told Bryan Strickland via the Carolina Panthers website of the difference in training camp between 2011 and 2012:
This is a definite advantage. We're able to grasp things quicker now and help the young guys grasp them, and it's an opportunity to get to know your teammates and develop chemistry.
It's been real productive, especially compared to last year when we weren't able to be out here with the players and coaches. It's definitely a step forward.
Unlike the incoming class of 2011, rookie LB Luke Kuechly will be able to experience a normal NFL offseason. Kuechly, who was the ninth overall pick this year, was the NCAA’s 2011 Defensive Player of the Year and should be of great value in helping Rivera’s cause this upcoming season.