Getting to Know the Detroit Lions 2011 Opponents: Carolina Panthers

With the NFL draft behind us and a lockout raging on, the opportunities to talk about real football are becoming fewer and fewer. That being the case, I have sought out bloggers that cover teams that the Lions will play in the 2011 season to get a glimpse into what is going on with those teams.

Granted, this exercise presumes that no games will be lost due to the lockout. The good news is that the probability of lost games is starting to sounds pretty low. These Q&As aren’t meant to be any sort of game preview, it is obviously way too early for that. The subject teams may end up looking much different when the Lions play them compared to how they look now, but I anticipate this being a good introduction to each teams’ hopes, fears, needs, expectations, etc.

The NFC North’s scheduling matchup with the NFC South makes for one of the more difficult schedules due to the South strength from top to near the bottom. I say near the bottom because the Carolina Panthers are a ways off from the contender status of the Bucs, Saints and Falcons. The Lions will get their light NFC South game in week 10. I was able to send some questions to Dan Parzych, the man responsible for Red Zone Talk on the Rants Sports Network, to get a feel for what is going on with the Panthers and he was kind enough to provide responses. Here we go…

Zac Snyder: Was there much pushback from the Panthers fanbase when they selected Cam Newton or was everyone pretty much resigned to the fact that he would be the guy?

Dan Parzych: For the most part, everyone pretty much assumed the Panthers would end up going with Cam Newton at No. 1–simply because it was too risky not to take a chance on the Heisman Trophy winner. While it’s unfair to judge Jimmy Clausen this early in his career due to the inexperience at wide receiver beyond Steve Smith, the team still wasn’t convinced that he was the answer and knew they needed to bring in another quarterback to provide him with competition. Plus, if Newton does end up being a star, the Panthers won’t be looking back at the 2011 NFL Draft regretting their decision if they passed on him.

ZS: What is the consensus on the organization’s direction with their coaching situation? Is Ron Rivera viewed by fans as the answer?

DP: Panthers fans are excited to see what Ron Rivera can bring to the table during his first season as head coach. This is a guy who was in the running for a few head coaching jobs a couple of years ago and now that he’s finally in charge of calling the shots–it’s exciting to see what type of progress Rivera has this season. From what I’ve seen so far, Panthers fans have nothing but the utmost respect for Rivera.

ZS: With the NFC South currently one of the toughest in all of football, how do the Panthers need to approach their rebuilding process?

DP: After last season, the NFC South may end up being the toughest division in football in 2011. At this point, the main concern for the Panthers is their young players gaining experience–especially in the passing game. Other than Smith, the Panthers top two targets for Clausen were rookies David Gettis and Brandon LaFell–so it’s clear there’s still plenty of work left to be done in that area.

ZS: How do you think the quarterback situation will shake out?

DP: To be honest, I think the Panthers will end up going with Newton as their starter for the 2011 season. There’s a reason why Newton was taken as the top pick and he has the potential to bring plenty of excitement to an organization that saw just two wins during the 2010 season. Plus, when it comes down to selling tickets–Newton is the obvious choice over Clausen.

ZS: What are your expectations for the Panthers in 2011?

DP: The Panthers are still another year or two away from being considered “serious contenders” and with the Falcons, Saints, and Buccaneers expected to make a strong push for the playoffs once again in 2011–Carolina will have their hands full next season. You never know what to expect from teams at the beginning of the season, but I strongly believe 2011 will be focused on members of the Panthers gaining that experience to contend in the future. I’m going to predict four or five wins from the team during the 2011 season.

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Tags: Cam Newton Carolina Panthers Detroit Lions Ron Rivera

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