SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Peter King of Sports Illustrated and MMQB.com stopped by Wofford College on Saturday as part of King's annual training camp tour.
Panthers.com caught up with him to discuss the state of the Panthers entering the 2015 season.
First, King commented on the culture general manager Dave Gettleman and head coach Ron Rivera have worked to establish in Carolina:
"The one thing I like about both of these guys is that they want to do what they do well. They are going to set up a culture that they believe works.
"It was funny, I was talking to Dave Gettleman and I said, 'Hey, I was kind of critical of the reaches for Shaq Thompson and Devin Funchess.' And he said, 'That's fine. I know a lot of people were critical of us. But that's the job. That's the business.' There is a real maturity with the leadership here – ownership, management, head coach and the team leaders. It shows.
"When I look at it, I think the Panthers are there in terms of building a culture. I don't think they are on the way. I think they've already built it."
King on how he views the expectations for the Panthers as they aim for a three-peat in the NFC South:
"People look at the NFC South as being this stepchild division right now. Nobody views it as one of the best divisions in football, even though those things change so quickly. Because people know how explosive the Saints are, because they know (Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan) is good and that (new Falcons head coach) Dan Quinn comes in with a really good pedigree as a defensive coordinator – I think everybody says those guys will take their rightful place and Carolina will be a 7-9, 9-7 type team.
"Last year was such a freaky year in this division. Totally weird. But if I were trying to pick this division, I would say those three teams (Carolina, New Orleans and Atlanta) are going to be extremely close to each other. I might pick Atlanta, but I don't know.
"The other thing I'll say about expectations in the NFL: In every offseason, every team appears to have improved, and everybody is optimistic. Honestly, you just look at how reality sets in during the first few weeks of the season. I think Carolina certainly could do it. I think the guys they drafted, notably Thompson and Funchess, are really going to have to contribute early."
In regards to Carolina's long term prospects, King believes 2015 top draft picks Shaq Thompson and Devin Funchess will be hugely important:
"There are a couple of things that are really important for this team. Dave Gettleman basically has made defensive speed and linebacker speed a priority. He also believes in big targets for his quarterback. This is going to be a very telling season for Carolina long term because I think both Funchess and Thompson are really important to the long term aspect of what they want to do. Thompson needs to become a keystone linebacker the way that Thomas Davis is. Funchess needs to take his place on the opposite side of Kelvin Benjamin. They need to be effective, consistent forces.
"I think Gettleman has his eyes on the long term while still trying to protect the team in the short term."