Grading every Panthers positional group from Week 1

Mark J. Rebilas—X02835
Sep 8

We handed out grades in our Sunday edition of the North State Journal for every positional group on the Panthers roster. Here they are:Quarterback: BCam Newton did everything imaginable to earn a win, but was barely able to stand by the end of the game. Despite being pummeled with constant helmet-to-helmet hits — I counted five, but only one was called during offsetting penalties — Newton still finished with two total touchdowns. His numbers weren’t gaudy, going 18-of-33 for 194 passing yards and 54 rushing yards, but Newton put his team 50 yards away from a win. He surpassed Steve Young with his 44th rushing touchdown in 90 less games than the former 49ers quarterback. However, he still hasn’t surpassed his most dastardly hurdle: the Broncos defense.Running Backs: C+Jonathan Stewart ran with authority, power and speed. Unfortunately, he didn’t go very far. His 64 yards on the ground were only 10 more than Newton, but Stewart did so on four more carries. Fozzy Whittaker tacked on another 17 total yards while Mike Tolbert had just seven. It was actually an improvement for the running back corps after compiling just 73 rushing yards in the Super Bowl. The ground game can get right facing a weak 49ers team next week, but will need to rise to the task against the Vikings before starting the NFC South slate.Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B+Five words that will make Panthers fans happy: Kelvin Benjamin is officially back. The monstrous wide receiver came out hot, scoring on the opening drive. Benjamin finished with 91 yards, leading all receivers by a huge margin — Philly Brown was next on the list with 11 yards — but one drop on a simple out route also looked oddly familiar. Greg Olsen was sparsely used at times in the passing game, but still had seven receptions for 73 yards. Olsen needs to be a bigger part of the game plan moving forward after a stellar season in 2015.Offensive Line: CMuch like the rest of the offense, the offensive line crumbled in the second half. Michael Oher was easily shed by DeMarcus Ware for a sack in third quarter. Ryan Kahlil, despite having a strong game overall, had a facemask penalty that turned a huge gain from Jonathan Stewart for first down to eventually a third-and-30 and stalled out drive. After looking like a turnstile in the Super Bowl, Mike Remmers looked much improved until Von Miller broke through for a huge sack on the final drive. Life will get much easier for this group after facing Denver’s front seven.Defensive line: CThe line had some big plays, particularly early in the game. First-round draft pick Vernon Butler, who struggled in preseason games, came to play. He recorded his first NFL sack and had several other plays where he had penetration in the backfield. Charles Johnson forced a fumble. Star Lotulelei tipped a pass that was intercepted, and Kony Ealy prevented a touchdown by batting down a pass at the goal line. Denver averaged 5.1 yards per rush, however, as an offensive line with two rookie starters was able to open gaping holes and control the line of scrimmage. Lotulelei, Ealy, Johnson, Kawann Short and Butler combined for just five tackles in the game.Linebackers: ALuke Kuechly had a game-high 10 tackles, including a wrap-up of running back Devontae Booker that allowed Johnson to strip the ball loose. Thomas Davis had four tackles, including one in the backfield. He also caught a tipped pass for an interception. Shaq Thompson managed three tackles, including one in the backfield, and recovered a fumble.Defensive backs: C-After starting all preseason, rookie corner Daryl Worley was benched for the opener. His only impact play was a holding penalty on a punt return. Fellow rookie corner James Bradberry had five solo tackles and a pass breakup on Denver’s final drive of the game. He also was flagged for pass interference and defensive holding and missed a tackle on a 28-yard run play. Safety Tre Boston had four tackles and a sack on the final Denver drive, but he missed a tackle that allowed a 22-yard gain. Safety Kurt Coleman also missed a tackle on a Denver touchdown run, but his quarterback hit on a safety blitz helped cornerback Bene Benwikere get an interception.Special teams: B+Kicker Graham Gano missed a 50-yard field goal at the end of the game, but he hit his previous two attempts. He also sent every kickoff through the end zone, including an impressive 80-yarder after a post-touchdown penalty. Punter Andy Lee had a huge day in his Panthers debut. The Panthers weren’t able to produce any big plays on punt and kick returns.