Do you think Luke (the duke of defense) Kuechly will be Defensive Rookie of the Year? – Lynn in Dallas, N.C.
The Panthers had the unquestioned Offensive Rookie of the Year last season in quarterback Cam Newton, and I believe Kuechly could do the same on the other side of the ball in 2012. As the third defensive player taken in the draft, Kuechly naturally should be among the favorites before even taking his first regular season snap. Add to it the kind of instinctual play-making ability he's shown throughout the preseason, and you've got to put him on the short list.
As a resident of Dallas, N.C., did you know there are also towns named Denver and Washington in North Carolina? Not to mention Jacksonville, Cleveland and Baltimore. But I digress. Let's get back to you guys asking the questions.
Do you think the Panthers would be better off running a base 3-4 defense considering their depth at linebacker? – Seth in Indian Trail, N.C.
After the remarkable performance that Thomas Davis turned in against the New York Jets, with Jon Beason waiting in the wings, and with Kuechly and James Anderson continuing to do their thing, I've been getting this question a lot lately.
The quick answer is "no," because for the most part, the Panthers' personnel along the front seven are better equipped to play in a 4-3 base package. The Panthers do have some players versatile enough to play the 3-4 at times and plan to do just that, but the release of Eric Norwood is another sign that they'll be 4-3 at heart for the foreseeable future. When they do have a 3-4 look, it is more likely they'd have someone like defensive end Antwan Applewhite as the fourth "linebacker" rather than going with Davis, Beason, Kuechly and Anderson at the same time.
At the start of last season, Beason and Davis were playing better than I had ever seen either play, then both were knocked out for the year. Do you think either or both has recovered 100 percent? – Don in Bostic, N.C.
Fans got to see how far Davis has come against the Jets with a sack, pass break-up and crucial tackle in the nickel package that stopped a trio of drives. He's still being eased back in, though, while he inches toward 100 percent.
Beason is progressing every day from a hamstring injury. He didn't play at all last preseason because of an Achilles injury that went from bothersome to season-ending in the opener. The Panthers are being cautious with his hamstring injury and won't put him back on the field until he is 100 percent and can play like we've come to expect.
Dear Mr. Strickland, an injury-plagued season is inevitable, as we unfortunately experienced last season. If such a thing were to occur again, is there anything like the Major League Baseball farm system that the Panthers can look to, or are they just forced to hire free agents? – Robert in Los Angeles
There isn't a minor league system per se, but the Panthers aren't just feeling around in the dark when they need to make a roster move. Shortly after they set the 53-man roster for the regular season Friday, they'll sign an eight-man practice squad – a squad that produced defensive end Thomas Keiser among others in 2011. In addition, the personnel department constantly keeps tabs on free agents and even players on other teams' practice squads, and the Panthers already have a working relationship with players who were on the 90-man roster as well as invited players that took part in the rookie camp after the draft.
I just noticed that we released the center we picked up just a few days ago (Scott Mruczkowski). Is this because of the potential seen in Jeff Byers? I have also noticed that when we released a corner (Nate Ness), we didn't go looking for another. Is this because of the performance of Josh Norman? – George in Iron Station, N.C.
After a few days of practice, Mruczkowski decided to retire from football last week. With the first set of roster cuts looming, the Panthers didn't sign anybody to fill his roster spot. Mruczkowski had taken the place of Ness on the roster after Ness' promising preseason came to an end with a concussion, and the Panthers had some nicks at center in the preseason victory over the Dolphins.
With the New Orleans Saints missing their play caller (Sean Payton), the Falcons being the Falcons and Tampa Bay making vast improvements on both sides of the ball, realistically how do you see the Panthers doing in their division? – Jesse in Browns Summit, N.C.
Obviously, winning the division title has something to do with how the other teams in the NFC South perform, but the Panthers control their own destiny and are excited about where they could be headed. That being said, facing each division foe once over the first month of the season – including the season opener at the Buccaneers – will be a critical portion of the schedule if the Panthers want to maintain control of their destiny.
What is your favorite thing about writing for the Carolina Panthers? – Britney in Charlotte
That's a tough question because there are so many awesome things about having the honor of doing what I do. Perhaps above all, it's about being able to marvel up-close at both the talent and commitment level displayed by the Panthers players and coaches day after day, then getting to bring their individual stories and the story of the team to the fans.