Everywhere I look, I end up reading about how the Panthers don't have a No. 2 receiver behind Steve Smith. So my question is, what is the definition or the qualifications for a legit No. 2 receiver? – Trace in Tampa, Fla.
Smith and Muhsin Muhammad formed a formidable duo for about half of the last decade, spoiling Panthers fans a bit. The reality is that 1-2 combinations like Smith and Muhammad – who both rank in the top 25 in NFL history for career receiving yards – don't come around often. The situation the Panthers will enter training camp in, with Smith and Brandon LaFell, is a more typical one, and it's a more than adequate one.
There are a few NFC teams currently with 1/1A type of situations. The Falcons feature Roddy White and Julio Jones, the Giants have Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, and the Cowboys have Dez Bryant and Miles Austin. The Packers appear to have three interchangeable weapons in Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones.
But even with players like the Joneses and Austin putting up big numbers as second options, second receivers in the NFC averaged just 53 catches for 715 yards and five touchdowns in 2012, only slightly ahead of LaFell's 44 catches for 667 yards and four touchdowns (and keep in mind that LaFell missed two games with injuries). Add to the equation that Panthers tight end Greg Olsen (69 catches, 843 yards, five TDs) far exceeded the average NFC tight end last season (56 catches, 567 yards, four TDs), and LaFell is right where he needs to be as a No. 2 receiver.
Numbers are one thing, but what you observe on the field is quite another. And as I look around the NFC at the other No. 2 wide receivers - guys like Earl Bennett, Brandon Gibson and Mike Jennings to name a few – I like what LaFell brings to the table and expect his trend toward better numbers each season to continue. I also like the additions of Ted Ginn and Domenik Hixon, a pair of veterans that surely will push LaFell.
The Panthers have been getting very little respect this year. They have gotten a lot of players healthy now and fixed things up front defensively through the draft. Analysts are not satisfied because they consider the cornerback talent to be mediocre. Why didn't the Panthers use their second-round pick on a cornerback rather than a defensive tackle? – Nate in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Because, to put it simply, the Panthers took the best available player in their mind, one that happens to have the goods to help the secondary. Defensive tackle Kawann Short easily could have been a first-round pick, so the Panthers pounced when he still was sitting there midway through the second. Paired with first-round selection Star Lotulelei, Carolina seriously upgraded the interior of its defensive front overnight, and that push up the middle will help the secondary as much as anything – including another secondary player.
The Panthers could have considered a safety like Shamarko or Phillip Thomas in the fourth round (they didn't have a third-round pick), but they instead went for help on the offensive front with Edmund Kugbila and then picked up a steal after the draft when the scooped up undrafted safety Robert Lester.
Who is projected to be the fourth defensive end as we currently sit? Is a free agent in the works here or do they like someone that is already on their roster? – Mo in Charlotte
Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy are firmly entrenched as the starters, and second-year end Frank Alexander is solidly in the rotation. As for the fourth guy, the Panthers like Mario Addison, who has been with four teams through his first two NFL seasons. Every time a team has tried to stash him on their practice squad, he has gotten poached. He showed enough late last season after joining the Panthers that the team parted with defensive end Thomas Keiser, truly opening the door for Addison to stick around.
You'll be able to read more about the defensive end position next week when Panthers.com turns its attention to that side of the ball in the continuation of a series previewing each position group heading into training camp.
Would you support the notion that the NFL should hold a Week 9 bye for all teams? A midseason bye would seem to be the fairest equation, giving all teams the ability to mend injuries and make any roster adjustments on equal footing. It also would allow us fans to catch up on our "Honey-Do" lists. – Craig in Omaha, Neb.
It's a nice notion, but I don't see it happening. People can't get enough of the NFL, and a week without it around Halloween just isn't going to fly. The reality is that not everything about the NFL schedule can be completely fair – you just have to hope the inequities balance out over the course of time. The Panthers have the toughest schedule entering the season based on opponents' winning percentage for the second time in three years and had the second-hardest in 2009. I obviously hope that corrects itself over time.
As for the dreaded Honey-Do list, that's for midsummer and midweek. Football is for midseason.