Think it can’t get any hotter?
Just wait until Spartanburg’s summer kicks in.
The wait is nearly over, with training camp at Wofford College set to begin later this month. The heat will rise literally and figuratively, with position group battles truly heating up in terms of who will make the regular season roster and where the survivors will fit on the depth chart.
Leading up to camp, we'll set the stage for each position group, starting with position No. 1 – quarterback.
1) Is Cam Newton ready to roll with the changes?
Newton certainly has experience dealing with offseason upheaval. Four of the last six offseasons, he’s either been slowed by surgery or challenged by a coordinator change. This year it’s the latter, with Norv Turner now the new man calling the shots. Newton and the rest of the offense appeared to respond well to its spring spent with one of the league’s most accomplished coordinators, but the introduction of pads at practice and then the first preseason game before camp concludes will further tell the tale.
Turner wants to help Newton become the best version of himself, working toward an offense that both improves the accuracy and the deep-strike ability of the quarterback’s arm. Of interest is how Turner plans to use Newton’s legendary legs coming off a season that started with talk of curbing Newton’s running and ended with him setting a career high in rushing.
2) Can Newton and the new-look offense look good out of the gates?
The first quarter of the schedule includes three home games against teams that didn’t make the playoffs last season. The five subsequent home games include just one opponent that finished under .500 last season. Carolina needs to get off to a good start, which means Newton needs to get off to a good start.
In addition to a new coordinator, Newton has new playmakers to incorporate into things, first and foremost first-round rookie receiver DJ Moore. It’s also almost a second rookie year for receiver Curtis Samuel.
Newton isn’t known for getting off to fast starts. Over his career, he’s thrown 1.36 touchdown passes for every interception over the first quarter of the season, versus 1.82 touchdowns to interceptions from the fifth game on. With so many new parts, it could be hard to buck that trend, but don’t bet against the Newton-Norv pairing.
3) What’s the plan behind Newton?
It’s too early to say, but training camp could provide the answer. Garrett Gilbert has been called the leader in the clubhouse to back up Newton heading into training camp, but many wonder whether the Panthers will invite someone else to join the club.
Gilbert and Taylor Heinicke – who worked with Turner for two years in Minnesota – enjoyed solid springs. They won’t provide the veteran presence that Derek Anderson did from Newton’s first day with the Panthers, but they know Turner’s system and are developing. Time will tell if Carolina is content with a younger Plan B or if they plan to bring in a veteran.