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Carolina Panthers

Defense aggressive, LaFell impressive


Every time I watch the Panthers play, the commentators mention the defense's "bend but don't break" mentality. As a fan I want to see dominance by my defense or at least the ability to get three-and-outs. Is that the true defensive mindset, that they don't mind giving up first downs and chunks of yards as long as they don't give up big plays and touchdowns? – James in Newton, N.C.

In some ways, the concept of a "bend but don't break defense" is just a cliché used by commentators during a given game and by coaches after a game breaks a certain way.

Yes, some defenses take a more conservative tact than others, hoping that the offense makes a big mistake before the defense does. That's not exactly the Panthers' plan of attack.

Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and head coach Ron Rivera both were heavily influenced by former Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson's attacking 4-3 style. The Panthers also are pushing the envelope when it comes to trying to force turnovers.

But when the defense does yield 70 yards on a given drive before holding the opposition to a field goal attempt, you'll undoubtedly hear "bend but don't break" mentioned.

How long is Cam Newton's initial contract with the Panthers? – Chris in Cary, N.C.

Newton signed his four-year rookie contract before the 2011 season, with the Panthers holding an option for a fifth year. Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, that's the contract structure that all rookies drafted in the first round receive.

Can you quantify the improvement in chemistry between Cam and wide receiver Brandon LaFell? Are you optimistic he can step into the No. 2 wideout role for the upcoming season, make it his own and have a breakout year? – Mark in Melbourne, Australia

Newton and LaFell had a good rapport last season, and it's only improved in the preseason. They almost always seemed to be on the same page during training camp, with Newton often locating LaFell on intermediate routes. The two hooked up for a 25-yard gain against the Dolphins, a sign of things to come in my mind. It's mathematically unfeasible for the entire offense to double its numbers as LaFell and Steve Smith suggested early in camp, but I certainly could see LaFell doubling his reception (36) and touchdown (3) numbers from a year ago.




Do you think Joe Adams has the potential to be as productive as Steve Smith was in his rookie year? – Darryl in Charlotte

It isn't out of the realm of possibility. Recall that Smith was used primarily on special teams as a rookie in 2001 and had just 10 catches for 154 yards. He was truly special on special teams, becoming the only rookie to make the Pro Bowl that year thanks to a punt return and two kickoff returns for touchdowns. Adams might be more balanced in his contribution, with perhaps a few more chances at wideout but fewer on special teams, where he's only the punt returner at this juncture.

From what you have seen, do you think the defensive line is going to be better? Do you think Greg Hardy is ready for a breakout season? – Brenton in Spring Hope, N.C.

You share a hometown with Jerry Richardson and a first name with Panthers wide receiver Brenton Bersin, who grew up in Richardson's neighborhood. Pretty cool.

The defensive line certainly flashed its capabilities against the Dolphins, and given the youth of the group (and Hardy), I fully expect it (and Hardy) to be better. How much better is up for debate. The Dolphins were far from the sternest test the Panthers will face, but defensive line coach Eric Washington is doing a great job of getting his group ready for the regular season.

Is "Triple Threat" the official nickname for running backs DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert, and if it is, who came up with it? – Fabian in Calipatria, Calif.

For those who may have missed it, we at recently used "Triple Threat" as a headline on a feature about the team's running back trio. Staff writer Max Henson wrote the headline, but it's far from official. Tolbert has said he hasn't proven yet that he's worthy of infiltrating the "Double Trouble" fraternity. If he does, my vote is for simple but fitting: "Triple Trouble."

Which Carolina Panther RB is going to have the best season? – Josh in Valdese, N.C.

Coming off a season in which Williams and Stewart - as well as Newton – all rushed for more than 700 yards, it's a tough question. It's one I'll do my best to answer in a fantasy column later this week. Thanks for setting me up for a shameless plug.

I've just got one question: Will we back up Ryan Kalil's prediction and take it all the way? – George in Ayden, N.C.

I have a ball answering fans' questions, but I don't have a crystal ball. Still, who am I to question a three-time Pro Bowl center? It sure is going to be fun watching this team try.

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