CHARLOTTE – The Panthers have a new offensive coordinator and a bunch of new weapons for quarterback Cam Newton.
Is new going to equal better in 2018?
"Now is the time to see," tight end Greg Olsen said. "Practice and all those reps are obviously very valuable and they give you a good idea, but as we've said a lot, until the season starts and you get into live action, no one really knows.
"I imagine things will be different, but at the end of the day it's not so much being different as it is trying to be successful."
Offensive coordinators across the league are purposefully vanilla during the preseason. No one wants to tip their hand in a game that doesn't count.
The real stuff gets underway this weekend, with Carolina hosting Dallas at Bank of America Stadium, and everyone is eager to see what the Panthers offense looks like under the direction of Norv Turner, an experienced offensive mind known for balanced attacks that use the run game to set up big gains via play-action.
"We haven't played in a real game," Turner said Thursday. "We need to go prove who we are and what we are. That's the way this league is.
"I'm confident in our guys. I think we have an outstanding group. I think as we go through this thing we're going to have a very good offense."
With the regular season about to begin, let's take a look at what we know so far about Turner's plans for the Carolina offense.
Quarterback Cam Newton is being tasked with getting the ball out quick and spreading it around. Those objectives have been talked about since Turner arrived.
Newton has wanted to get his completion percentage up for several years now, and the hope is that Turner can finally help make it happen. So far, so good, as Newton produced a 68.4 completion rate during the preseason (his career completion rate is 58.5).
Spreading the ball around was something Newton did exceptionally well when he was named NFL MVP in 2015. The Panthers have surrounded him with a number of capable targets, and Turner wants to utilize all of them week in and week out to make sure defenses have a lot to think about.
"We've got a lot of guys that can make plays, and they know I want to get them all involved," Turner said. "A big part of getting everyone involved is the quarterback making good decisions."
Newton's running ability will continue to be a factor. Every year we discuss this part of Newton's game. Is he running too much? Are they not running him enough? Turner has never worked with a quarterback quite like Cam – few have in all honesty – but the veteran coach knows his 29-year-old quarterback's unique gifts can and will help Carolina.
"Coach Rivera and I have talked about this – you do what you have to do to win the game," Turner said when asked about running Newton, who compiled a career-best 754 rushing yards last season. "And after that game, if you're fortunate enough to win it, if you look back and say, 'We probably overdid it,' then you adjust.
"But when you get in the heat of the game, we're going to do whatever it takes. I like that about Cam, because he is certainly willing to do whatever it takes."
McCaffrey will play a bigger role, but we shouldn't necessarily envision a workhorse situation with the former eighth overall pick.
McCaffrey is a unique player – one that Turner will take advantage of in a variety of ways. His carries, both in short-yardage situations and everywhere else, will surely increase from his rookie year, and obviously Turner will look to create matchup problems with McCaffrey's route running and pass-catching ability.
Bottom line: Turner will look maximize strengths and minimize weaknesses, and that's how he'll approach the entire unit.
"He gets the most out of his players. That was the case back when I first met him with the Cowboys in the early 90s and then really at every subsequent stop sense then," said Dallas head coach Jason Garrett, who played for Turner. "He'll find out the strengths of each of the players on that offensive unit and he'll play to those strengths and minimize whatever weaknesses they have."
Said Turner back in training camp: "I keep telling our guys, what we want to do is look at a team, see what they do well, see what they don't do well, and match up what we do well against their weaknesses."
Turner likes variety. Every offense has its core plays, but he doesn't want to be predictable. There are ways to dress up a play to confuse or distract a defense, and it sounds like that's certainly part of Turner's plan.
"We're going to always try to vary it," Turner said, "and give (the defense) different formation looks and different personnel looks."
Lastly, Turner is prepared to adjust, and that's what can truly separate offensive coordinators at this level.
Take his response to scripting plays, for example.
"We've done a script where we've stayed on it the first nine plays," Turner said, "and we've done a script where we've gone off it the second play and gone in a completely different direction."
If the defense can't stop a particular play or player, expect Turner to take note. If a plan isn't working, he won't hesitate to change course.
"Each coordinator is different," Olsen said. "Play style, call style, getting into the flow of the game – play-callers have their own feel and rhythm."
We'll see what kind of stamp Turner puts on the offense, starting Sunday.
"I think there are things that will look different and I think there are things that will look very similar," Turner said shortly after he was hired. "One thing that hasn't changed is the teams with the best players and those that play the best are going to win."