Cam Newton dominated all storylines surrounding the Carolina Panthers last season.
Newton preformed admirably in his rookie year, setting records and landing the Panthers a top 10 spot in total offensive yards.
A closer look at offensive statistics reveals a top-five rushing attack and an above-average passing attack. The Panthers offense is moving in the right direction.
Brandon LaFell is quickly emerging as a great complement to future Hall of Famer Steve Smith. The Panthers' rushing attack looks promising as always, especially with the addition of Mike Tolbert, who can line up anywhere on offense.
Barring injuries, the Panthers will have one of the most well-rounded offensive attacks in 2012.
But defense wins championships.
The Carolina defense suffered critical injuries to their linebackers, preventing a legitimate playoff bid.
Jon Beason is attempting to return to Pro Bowl prominence, while Thomas Davis is trying to claw his way back from a third straight ACL injury. Beason will undoubtedly anchor the middle. Davis will probably come off the bench, relinquishing the outside to James Anderson and first-round draft pick Luke Kuechly.
There is no reason to be concerned about the middle of the Panthers defense. The Carolina linebacking corps is going to be one of the best in the NFL, barring injuries.
Next we move to the defensive line, anchored by Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy. Don't expect record-breaking statistics from the line. The defensive line is far from the days of Julius Peppers and Kris Jenkins but maintains a talent level that is good enough to get things done.
The real questions come from the secondary, where the Panthers surrendered nearly 4,000 passing yards in 2011. Chris Gamble is a lock on one side with eight years of experience. The rest of the secondary is a toss-up.
Sherrod Martin and Charles Godfrey started at safety last season, but frequently let receivers get behind them. The Panthers allowed a league-worst 8.4 yards per pass attempt last year.
In an attempt to shore up the secondary, Carolina brought in several new faces, including rookie Josh Norman and former Baltimore Raven Haruki Nakamura. The Panthers also added five-year veteran Reggie Smith at safety.
None of these additions are extremely noteworthy. These new faces simply create competition among several subpar players. Although the Panthers have a soft grasp on who will start at each position, every spot is up for grabs. The preseason will be vital in shaping Carolina's defensive depth chart.
The most important preseason game is August 11 against the Houston Texans. The Texans will provide a worthy test for the secondary, with Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson. The front eight will also be tested by Arian Foster.
Stopping Robert Griffin III is important. But Griffin is a rookie. Holding a subpar offense led by a rookie quarterback is insignificant.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are the final game on the preseason schedule. The Steelers are not an offensive juggernaut, but will test every facet of the Carolina defense. If the Panthers can hold their own against Pittsburgh's starters, positive results will carry over into the regular season.
Pay close attention to the defense during the preseason, especially during the first few drives of each game. The preseason will provide a glimpse of what Carolina's defense will ultimately become.
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