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Carolina is in the throes of rebuilding, though they have kept some basic foundations the organization has followed since their 1995 inception. Ron Rivera is the fourth head coach in team history, and all Panthers head coaches were former defensive coordinators.
The Panthers are hoping history repeats itself under Rivera. After going 1-15 in 2001, they hired John Fox as a head coach and reached the Super Bowl in his second year with the team. Fox was let go after the team went 2-14 last season, ushering in Rivera.
Rivera showed the team he is on a mission recently by cutting 2009 second round pick Everette Brown, a player once thought to have great potential. The team will have two rookies starting at defensive tackle, as Carolina will carry just eight defensive linemen with six having one or less years of NFL experience.
Cam Newton is the first pick of the 2011 draft. He will start right away and try to learn the game on the fly because the team has no alternatives in reserve better.
Newton has shown accuracy issues in preseason, but he is a behemoth of a man for this position. His athleticism should cover up a few mistakes as he progresses.
The tight end is typically the best friend of a young quarterback. Carolina went out and signed two productive veterans for their rookie franchise quarterback. Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen are both solid players that Newton will be very comfortable leaning on at times.
Besides wide receiver Steve Smith, Carolina knew they had to upgrade this unit in the offseason. They added two receivers fresh off the high-powered San Diego Chargers offense, a team Rivera spent the previous three seasons with, and second-year pro Armanti Edwards is a former college quarterback who showed flashes of being ready to contribute during preseason this year.
The offensive line has worked together a few years, so the Panthers are hoping their three-headed halfback can be better than last seasons injury plagued output. DeAngelo Williams was recently given a huge contract, so he is being counted on heavily. Jonathan Stewart and Mike Goodson are his more than capable reserves, and both should get many carries themselves in 2011.
The back seven of the Panthers defense is their strength. Led by Pro Bowl middle linebacker Jon Beason, the back of the defense did a solid job versus the pass last year. Carolina was dead last in scoring offense in 2010, as well as 26th in points allowed.
The offense should be expected to have a few hiccups this year with a rookie at the helm, so it will be the burden of the defense to keep the Panthers close in contests. If the star players stay healthy this year, which they were not in 2010, this team should show signs of progression as the rebuilding process begins.
Baby steps are needed here, because of a head coaching change in the middle of a rebuilding job, but Carolina feels they have the right young man at quarterback to lead the way.