Veteran Kurt Coleman did all he could to stabilize an inexperienced secondary last season. It wasn't enough to salvage the season as a whole, but his guidance was vital to shaping a secondary that gets to start over in 2017 with real reasons for optimism.
1. Will the safeties be better with age?
Beyond Coleman, a seven-year vet who leads the NFC with 11 interceptions since coming to Carolina in 2015, the Panthers' primary starters in the secondary last season entered the year with a combined six NFL starts. Those belonged to Tre Boston, who started alongside Coleman but didn't finish, with the Panthers deciding to move on from him in the offseason.
Enter Mike Adams, who is entering his 15th NFL season. If Adams has enough left in the tank, he and Coleman could prove to be the most stable safety duo the Panthers have produced in years. Yes, Adams is 37, but he'll enter the year showing no signs of slowing down: He's earned each of his two Pro Bowl appearances of the last three seasons, a stretch that produced 12 of his 25 career interceptions and three of his top four seasons in terms of tackles. Plus he's never missed more than three games in a season.
2. Is Dean Marlowe finally ready to contribute?
If the injury bug does strike, depth could be a real concern, but a young prospect coming off injury himself believes he's up to the task. Dean Marlowe, who made the 53-man roster as an undrafted rookie in 2015, is coming off a season lost to a hamstring injury. He's played just 12 defensive snaps in the NFL, but he was a ballhawk in college who flashed that very ability during offseason workouts (LINK). He's healthy and just as importantly, he's hungry. This could be a make-or-break year for Marlowe.
3. What if more help is needed?
This group wants to force turnovers, but turnover has been a theme of a different sort at safety of late. So, what happens if injury or ineffectiveness again strikes? Well, Charlotte native L.J. McCray was a playmaker on special teams for the 49ers in 2014 and 2015 and clearly has some ability. And speaking of special teams, stalwart Colin Jones always stands at the ready. It seems that every year there's some gnashing of teeth over what might happen if Jones has to be inserted on defense, and he usually calms concerns with solid showings.