Hi, Bryan. How do you think we will manage the wide receiver role next year? Will Funchess be the No. 2? Or will we have somebody entirely different paired up with Kelvin? – Xander in Indianapolis
More than thinking about whether Funchess will be the No. 2 wideout across from Kelvin Benjamin, I find myself salivating about having Benjamin back (of course) and on the field with both a developing Funchess and speedster Ted Ginn, Jr. at the same time. What are defenses to do?
Ginn (and Philly Brown for that matter) should be able to stretch defenses to the point that both big guys often get one-on-one matchups, and don't get me started about Benjamin and Funchess in the red zone. For the short time Benjamin was on the field last preseason before his knee injury, he looked like an unstoppable force in goal-to-go situations, and Funchess became a factor down there late in his rookie season.
Regardless of who officially lines up at starter, the sky is the limit for an offense that led the NFL in scoring last season without Benjamin.
With the draft approaching, do you think the team will look to bring in additional WR talent (either draft or free agency), or is the team looking to give more opportunities to Norwood, Bersin, and Hill? – Joey in Charlotte
My pat answer is that the Panthers will draft a wide receiver if value presents itself, but they don't have to draft a wide receiver. Carolina often had just four receivers active for games last season, and Benjamin, Funchess, Ginn and Brown is a good place to start.
As for the other guys you mentioned, Stephen Hill and Kevin Norwood were active for just one game combined last season, but the Panthers were in position to be patient with them and could see that patience rewarded.
"Stephen was with us in '14, an entire year on the practice squad, and he did a really nice job. We brought him back, and then he blows the knee (and misses the entire 2015 season)," general manager Dave Gettleman said. "Kevin came in late, and you have to learn the system. We do a ton of stuff at the line of scrimmage, and there is a learning curve there. Kevin really finished the season strong – the last six weeks of practice he did some really nice things."
Bersin does everything well and remains a reliable option. The current roster also includes speedster Damiere Byrd – who spent all of his rookie year on the practice squad – and an interesting "future" signing in Cobi Hamilton, a former sixth-round draft pick in 2012 who set an SEC record with 303 receiving yards in a game as a senior at Arkansas in 2012. The Panthers are in good shape at the position.
I know the safety position is one the Panthers might look at in the draft. What is the possibility they resign Kurt Coleman to an extension this offseason? – Bryan in Asheboro, N.C.
One year ago tomorrow, the Panthers signed the free agent to a two-year contract.
"Whatever role they want me to play I am willing to do," Coleman said that day. "But I think I have worked my way to be a starter. I know I can play as a starter and be very productive."
Indeed. Coleman came to Carolina with a reputation as a ball hawk – averaging an interception about every three starts but having started less than half the games his first five NFL seasons. He started 15 games with the Panthers and shattered even that pace, setting a franchise record for interceptions by a safety with seven and adding two more in the NFC Championship.
I don't know if there are any plans to extend his contract, but he of course will be back in 2016, and I could certainly see Carolina targeting the position this offseason. With Roman Harper not re-signed, Tre Boston is penciled in as the other starter. Colin Jones is a veteran who played slot more than safety last season.
The Panthers thought enough of rookie Dean Marlowe to leave him on the 53-man roster rather than the practice squad all of last season, but he saw very limited action. Two interesting prospects – Marcus Ball and Ras-I Dowling – ended last season on the practice squad. Gettleman is a big believer of the notion that the answer is often on your roster, but I could see an offseason move being made here.