The dust has settled on the 2011 NFL draft, and teams are getting into their preparations for the coming season, if there even is one ahead of us.
Regardless whether the lockout prevents football, teams will be in full flow with the new toys acquired in the draft and looking to re-tool with free agency. Perhaps more than any other team however, the Carolina Panthers have the most difficult preseason ahead of them.
There are numerous question marks across nearly every aspect of the team, not to mention the ever-popular topic stemming from the quarterback situation. Yet, Carolina and its fans should not admit defeat so readily.
These are the four things that, I think, Carolina should look into before the season starts in order to have the most fulfilling year possible.
Whatever Steve Smith says following his comments about wishing to be traded are going to bring unnecessary strain to the Panther's organization ahead of the new season. Getting this sorted is a priority because the coaching staff will know what they have to work with coming into training camp.
Any time someone sees a potential trade occurring it's easy to forget that the team in possession of the talent in question has to jump through the necessary hoops in order to keep the remaining players occupied. This is a distraction that the Panthers would do well to stay out of and focus on the game instead of other aspects.
Whichever way the Smith situation works out, as long as it is done swiftly, and of course if it benefits the Panthers current season, then they have done well to come out of it with credibility intact.
This might seem a little obvious, but it's nonetheless a significant aspect if the Panthers are to have any success throughout the season. There's a great deal of ambiguity surrounding the position with the suspect play of Jimmy Clausen in unfortunate circumstances last season and the drafting of Cam Newton.
Fortunately, Carolina isn't short of options. With two young and unproven quarterbacks in Newton and Clausen waiting to show their value to the team, as well as Matt Moore who can step in to provide some veteran leadership to the team.
But without a clear favorite for the starting spot, the Panthers coaching staff must select their quarterback early on in order to fully prep him ahead of the season.
The selection of Newton suggests that the coaching staff isn't confident in either Moore or Clausen but nevertheless, if either of them is the man under center come opening day, the more confidence you can bestow them with, the better.
I doubt any media outlet is going to give the Panthers a chance this season, and any negative attention the media will give will have a detrimental effect on the players. If they can stay out of the spotlight, and sort out any issues swiftly and discreetly, then the attention will be somewhere other than Carolina this season.
It's fine for other teams who are winning and are capable of maintaining a balance in their squad to be able to deal with media pressure, but the Panthers in particular are a young team, and they will be swayed by any negative energy coming from the media.
With the focus of cameras away from Carolina, the team can focus on what is most important about the game of football: winning. And the Panthers would do well to do some of that this season, instead of having a list of excuses and missed opportunities when discussing who they should select first in the 2012 NFL draft.
There is something lacking with the Carolina Panthers that goes beyond the realm of talent: belief. Absolutely nobody is giving this team a chance, and admittedly, I'm a little sceptical of their ability to win a few games during the season.
But we have seen it plenty of times that belief can win the game in the fourth quarter throughout the season, and assuredly Carolina is going to need a whole lot of it in the coming months. Where better to gain that belief that in the preseason?
To the teams that will likely finish with a playoff spot, their attention will be lapse in the preseason, testing out new lineups and players. This is the Panthers chance to win some games and get the winning feeling going in Carolina.
If it kick-starts their season and the motivation stemming from the preseason games is carried through to the regular season, then it can only help the players and the team.