The beginning of the upcoming NFL season has a shroud of mystery and anticipation. Will there be a season and when will it start? For the Carolina Panthers there is a need for the NFL lockout to end more so than most other teams.
After an embarrassing 2-14 season that saw a never ending carousel at QB, injuries all up and down the offensive line and a gaping hole on the defensive line that could never quite be fixed, the upcoming season brings promise more than anything.
With a group of rookies last year that performed admirably if nothing else, this years group of rookies should bring solutions more than anything.
The Panthers took a couple high-risk, high-reward players in Cam Newton, Terrel McClain and Brandon Hogan and took a couple safer picks in Lee Ziemba, Lawrence Wilson and Sione Fua. Where the Panthers should see immediate improvement is at defensive tackle.
There is tons of hype surrounding Cam Newton. Either you love him or you hate him. Many Panthers fans would have him start from Day One. Some would rather have him sit and develop. Most would just care not to watch Jimmy Clausen work his magic for the opponent causing turnover after turnover.
Cam Newton may not be the right fit for the Panthers at quarterback from day one. His college offense does not resemble anything like that of what a pro-offense looks like. Coach Chudzinski will have some work to do to get Newton up so speed and able to read NFL defenses.
With the regular season looking more and more like it will be shortened due to the lockout, this poses a problem for the Panthers especially Cam Newton who may not be up to speed in time to start the regular season. This likely means another rookie will have the biggest impact next year.
Terrell McClain comes from South Florida, not exactly what one would call a football powerhouse and played in the Big East Conference, by far the weakest of the six Automatic Qualifiers in the BCS.
McClain showed that he is able to handle playing against high-caliber opponents when he filled in admirably in the East-West Shrine game for the injured Stephen Paea. McClain will likely find himself as a starter on Day One but is not the defensive tackle who will have the biggest impact.
Sione Fua comes from a BCS conference playing at Stanford. While the Pac-10 may have been the second weakest division of the Automatic Qualifiers, behind the Big East, playing his way onto the All-Pac-10 Second Team. What Fua brings to the table is consistency and the ability to get in the backfield.
His actual tackle numbers are fairly low but that is something that is usually expected out of the defensive tackle position where your main goal is to hold blockers to free up the linebackers.
What makes Fua standout is his ability to get tackles for loses and sacks, something the Carolina Panthers were in desperate need of. Fua over four years was able to make nine sacks.
While McClain has very similar numbers, Fua was able to get these number while playing against opponents who were often trying to throw the ball to catch up to Andrew Luck and Jim Harbaugh's high scoring offense. Fua did not face a lot of run scenarios which makes his tackle count a little more impressive.
With a motor that doesn't really stop, Fua could turn out to be the steal of the draft class for the Panthers, showing immediate return on their investment. Cam Newton may turn into the superstar the Panthers hoped for down the line but expect to hear Fua's name called out far more often next year over the loud speaker.