Carolina Panthers Predictions: 8 Keys to 2011 Season

Ryan KennedyAnalyst IISeptember 1, 2011

Carolina Panthers Predictions: 8 Keys to 2011 Season

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    The Carolina Panthers are looking for a quick turnaround on their recent investment.

    Cam Newton, Greg Olsen, Charles Johnson and the rest of the Panthers offseason movement will be highly scrutinized. The Panthers made some questionable calls in terms of personnel this year after seemingly taking the term "offseason" literally for the past two seasons.

    The Panthers and Ron Rivera do not have much time to turn things around. So what should we expect this year? Do the Panthers improve on last seasons 2-14? They have to, right?

    What do Cam Newton and Ron Rivera have in store for us? Let's take a look at what to expect.

Cam Newton's Progress

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    Cam Newton has looked like most of the NFL experts predicted he would in April at the NFL Draftinexperienced and inaccurate.

    Newton supporters will point to the fact he hasn't thrown an interception during the preseason. Newton detractors will point out his 40% completion percentage.

    Newton is likely the week one starter, but that doesn't necessarily mean he will follow in the footsteps of recent quarterbacks who have found success in their first year.

    Newton's progress and development will be a big part of the Panthers' success this season and next. How quickly he can get his accuracy and timing issues under control will be the biggest part of this.

The Trenches

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    Rather than breakout of the offensive and defensive line, let's kill two birds with one stone.

    Defensive tackle is still an issue. Ron Edwards was supposed to provide a veteran presence. Sione Fua and Terrell McClain have not been spectacular when on the field. It's so bad that Ketwan Balmer has been used as a last resort.

    The offensive line has not looked much better. Both Cam Newton and Jimmy Clausen have been rushed all preseason and the news that Geoff Schwartz will be out for the season is even more worrisome.

    Luckily, teams have to cut down to 53 players by Saturday. Odds are, out of nearly 900 players who will be on the waiver wire, the Panthers can find someone to help out.

Steve Smith's Mouth

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    Steve Smith had some time off this offseason to reflect on what was important. Depending on who you believe, Smith was either looking fora trade or missing for a large part of the Panthers' offseason workouts due to a family issue.

    Now that he is back and content with his role on the team, it will be interesting to see if the normally disruptive Smith can keep his mouth in check.

    Smith has not only been openly unsupportive of the rebuilding process, specifically Jimmy Clausen, but he also has been known to throw a punch or two.

    Some view his actions as a competitive fire and something to be admired. Others see it as disruptive. It certainly might be the latter if it effects Newton, the second rookie quarterback to start in two years.

Greg Olsen

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    It looks like the pick up of Greg Olsen (and to a lesser extent, Jeremy Shockey) will pay huge dividends this year.

    While the Panthers have not had a true pass-catching tight end since Wesley Walls, Ron Rivera and Rob Chudzinski look determined to change that. The tight end will be an intergal part of the offense.

    With Cam Newton likely starting and no true second receiver emerging, Olsen will likely be one of Newton's top targets.

    Despite being under used in Chicago, Olsen has great pass-catching ability. His contribution has been felt all preseason and should continue throughout the year. There is a possibility he could be a Pro Bowler this year.

Jon Beason's Achilles Injury

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    In a previous article about the Panthers' defensive struggles, Jon Beason's absence was a contributing factor to the Panther's ability to make Reggie Bush look like the USC version of Reggie Bush.

    Jon Beason is going to miss the first week of the regular season, at least. As the heart and soul and play caller, Beason has more influence on the defense than anyone.

    While Dan Connor is certainly no slouch and has looked good all preseason, Beason is the man in the middle and is the undisputed leader of the defense. It will be easier to replace his production than his leadership.

The Second Wide Receiver

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    It was presumed coming into the season that Steve Smith and David Gettis would be the starting wide receivers.

    David Gettis ruined that by getting injured and being put on injured reserve for the season. Now it is likely up to second year wide receiver, Brandon LaFell to step into that role. Legedu Naanee is also a real possibility. Keoloha Pilares has looked strong for a rookie receiver, but is a better fit for the slot.

    LaFell has shown glimpses of being ready, but the stats do not reflect it. In fact, no receiver is showing that they belong starting.

    Blame it on Newton's inaccuracy or lack of time to develop chemistry and timing, but if the receiver spot continues to be a problem, the Panthers will never get out of the NFC South basement.

Left Defensive End

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    Charles Johnson is firmly cemented as the right defensive tackle. After receiving a huge contract this offseason, he will be expected to produce off the corner.

    The opposite side of the field is a bit more convoluted. Greg Hardy and Eric Norwood have both shown the ability to come off the edge. The question is whether one or the other will consistently line up or if they will rotate.

    The defensive line is in constant flux. This was mentioned in a previous slide. Ron Rivera needs to settle on a defensive front so that the defense gets some consistency.

Ron Rivera's Composure

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    Ron Rivera has shown a ton of composure so far since taking over as head coach.

    Think of the things he has had to deal with: A rookie quarterback, a disgruntled wide receiver he could not talk to, installing a new offense, and having a very short offseason to get everyone on board.

    This year will be one small step toward getting back on top of the NFC. There will be bumps, but there should also be improvement. Rivera needs to keep pushing for improvement, but needs to ensure he is celebrating the wins, wherever they may find them, to keep the team on track.