During NFL training camps and the preseason, we'll be taking some looks at the local reporting to see what stories the hometown papers and fan blogs are saying about their teams. Today, the Carolina Panthers and the guys who catch Cam Newton's passes.
Cam Newton had one of the best rookie years for a quarterback in the history of the NFL last year, throwing for 4,501 yards and 21 touchdowns. But no QB does that kind of work without capable wide receivers. Newton not only has vet Steve Smith to count on (79 catches, 1,394 yards, 7 TDs), but Brandon LaFell had a great season as well.
LaFell had 36 catches grabs last year for 613 yards and a healthy 17.0 yards per catch. Smith averaged 17.6 per catch. LaFell, now in his third season, tells the Charlotte Observer that he feels the Panther's WRs are the best in the league.
According to Joseph Person of the Observer, this is how LaFell responded when asked how the Panthers receivers ranked with the rest of the NFL.
We've got guys that can compete with anybody," LaFell said. "I don't feel like there's a secondary that really can stop us because we've got as many guys as anyone else has that can get open and make plays.
Charlotte is also hoping third year man David Gettis will be ready to go. He tore his ACL in last year's training camp and missed all of last season recovering from surgery. His knee is better, but he's now struggling with a hamstring issue this year.
The Panthers also had a couple quality tight ends who teamed up for nearly a thousand yards in 2011, Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey. Shockey's gone now, but that doesn't mean Newton will stop throwing to the TE spot. Slate Schwertner of CatCrave.com points at that Olsen could be (other than Smith) Newton's main target.
Olsen was the No. 3 receiver in terms of yards, and No. 2 in terms of catches last season. Without Shockey present, Olsen will be Cam Newton's go to guy. He was never frequently used in Chicago, due to the offense run there, but he has the potential to be a top 7 TE in the league.
Newton has developed in the offense at the same speed as Olsen, and that makes Olsen a favorite for Cam. Expect Olsen to play about 95% of the snaps for all the TE's. He will split time with Barnidge, but nothing significant.
Prediction: 80 Catches for 950 yards and 7 TD's.
Those are some lofty expectations. But after having the year Newton had last year, the fans in Carolina have to be pretty pumped up. They'll improve on their 6-10 mark from last year, but I'm not convinced they'll make the playoffs.