The Detroit Lions face a short week coming off their Monday Night Football season opener and do so with a road trip to take on the Carolina Panthers.
To get a feel for the Panthers side of preparations for the 2014 season, I got together with Bryan Palmese of Cat Crave for a Q&A. Here are my questions followed by his answers.
1. How would you assess the team’s offseason? Did they do what they needed to do through the draft and free agency?
"I would rate the offseason as a solid, but unfinished offseason. Due to cap restraints the Panthers had minimal wiggle room to completely fill the roster in free agency, though they signed some timely veterans. They grabbed a huge target at wide reciever with a ton of upside in the draft in Kelvin Benjamin. Kony Ealy is a very athletic DE that will fill in nicely as a rotational DE/DT in ’14, and be looked to as a starter in ’15 as the Panthers probably can’t keep both of veteran DEs past ’14. Trai Turner was my favorite pick of the draft as he helps fortify the interior. Keep an eye on 6th round pick out of Stanford, Tyler Gafney in the future. The hole at OT scares me the most.I’m pretty confident if there was more dough to toss around, they would’ve secured a LT to protect Cam Newton. Carolina wasn’t built in a day, so we will sort out the rest by 2015."
2. Which Rookie are you most excited to see play in 2014 and why?
"Trai Turner. He’s not the sexy answer that Kelvin Benjamin would have been, but Turner is a mean OG that intrigues me. He was a third round pick out of LSU and is still relatively young. Lots of upside, but he will enter camp with a veteran’s body and attitude. The tackles are weak, but Turner will help keep the inner trenches solid all year. He, Ryan Kalil and Amini Silatolu will make a strong interior unit. Carolina is looking to pound the ball more this year, so Turner will be counted on to contribute opening up holes."
3. What is the biggest question that still needs to be answered heading into training camp?
"Who is starting at LT and who is starting at RT. It’s down to Nate Chandler and Byron Bell for both spots, but not sure who will play which position. My gut says Chandler at LT and Bell at RT. Regardless of who it is, it’s vital that the right guy is at the right position to protect Cam. As a Lions fan, I’m sure knowing how important it is to keep your franchise QB upright is crucial to the success of the Lions. There could still be the outside shot that a veteran tackle gets cut before the season starts, but with it would have to be an upgrade over what the Panthers already have, as well as fit under the $5 million they have left to spend."
4. What are your expectations for the team in 2014?
"I don’t expect 12-4 this season, so let’s get that out of the way first. I do however expect a playoff-caliber team and see them going 10-6. The Panthers have a favorable bye this year which has been an issue the past few seasons. I also think with a defense as stacked as it is, they will always be in games.I believe Cam will make another leap in his progression into the tier right below the elite QBs in ’14 and the offense will be equally as good as ’13. There is a lot of new blood on our offense, but change is often a good thing, and we will not slip down the rankings like many are predicting.I see another stellar season for Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Charles Johnson. I see both of our sophomore defensive tackles emerging onto the national spotlight as well. I think a return to the playoffs as an underdog and use the ’13 experience as fuel to go further in the playoffs in ’14."
5. Right here, right now, are you marking down the game against the Lions as a win, loss or toss-up?
"I say toss-up. I think the teams are very evenly matched and it should be a very eventful game. I think the Panthers defense will neutralize Stafford and Megatron, so we will have to pay attention to Tate and Broyles. Not too scared of the backfield because, in my opinion, Bush takes a major step back this year. With fast LBs and a front-four that will push the line so dump-offs, check downs will be hard to come by.I do think the Lions defense will step up and force the Panthers to beat them through the air. Cam will have to be on his game and show that he is better than Stafford in order to pull out the win. Since it is the Carolina home opener, I think the Panthers pull away late and take it 24-16."
For more on the Panthers, check out Cat Crave.