Panthers still have handful of open offseason issues

The team may have a few moves left before camp starts this month

Brian Burns will continue to be a primary pass rusher for the Panthers as the team switches from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4. (Erik Verduzco / AP Photo)

Now that the calendar has flipped from July, we can say that the NFL returns this month. Training camps will open in two weeks, officially transitioning us from the offseason to the preseason.

The Carolina Panthers will be closing the books on a very successful offseason that saw the team bring in a new coaching staff and aggressively fill holes and improve the roster in free agency and the NFL Draft. The Panthers traded up, dealing a key player in receiver DJ Moore, to acquire the top overall pick, then chose their quarterback of the future in Alabama’s Bryce Young.


Carolina also signed a large group of veterans expected to contribute at key positions, including receiver (Adam Thielen and DJ Chark), tight end (Hayden Hurst), running back (Miles Sanders), safety (Vonn Bell) and both lines (Justin McCrary, Shy Tuttle, DeShawn Williams). The team also focused on those areas in the draft, adding receiver Jonathan Mingo, edge rusher DJ Johnson, lineman Chandler Zavala and safety Jammie Robinson.

It’s hard to find flaws with the team’s offseason accomplishments, but it’s not quite over yet. There’s still time to make a few more additions and upgrades before the team hits the practice field.

Here are a few dangling threads that could be pulled before training camp.

Quarterback transition plan

Whenever an NFL team brings in a highly drafted rookie quarterback, the front office and coaching staff preach patience. Handing the keys to the offense to a newcomer before he’s ready could lead to disaster. It’s better for a team to bide its time, let the rookie develop behind a veteran and wait until he is far enough along in his NFL career to take over the highest-profile spot in the franchise.

Frequently, those teams are then unable to follow their own advice, making faster-than-expected switches to the new quarterback.

The Panthers seem to be planning the wait-and-see approach, bringing in veteran Andy Dalton, who has plenty of experience starting in Cincinnati and Dallas, to run things until Young is ready.

Of course, on day one of rookie minicamp, new coach Frank Reich had this to say about the rookie: “Bryce made a great impression. Obviously, mentally and physically, looked the part in every way. Threw the ball exceedingly well. You could tell he was in a good space mentally. Really had a firm grasp on everything we asked. I think he’s going to progress quickly in anything he does.”

At the start of June, Young was moved to the QB1 spot on the depth chart, although Reich has held off on naming him the starter. It was enough for Dalton to say last week that he still views himself as an NFL starter.

The team will likely still expect Young to win the job in camp, but that road seems to be tilted in his favor a little more than expected.

Pass rush help

As the Panthers move from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4, the team still seems a bit thin at edge rusher, whether he’s coming from a defensive end spot or linebacker. Brian Burns gives the Panthers an elite young player who can produce sacks and pressure, although he’s still recovering from an ankle injury that required surgery. He’ll still be recovering at the start of camp. Draft pick Johnson and veterans Marquis Haynes, Amare Barno and Yetur Gross-Matos are the options to line up opposite Burns currently on the roster.

Rumors have linked the Panthers to former University of South Carolina star Jadeveon Clowney almost from the outset of the offseason. The Browns free agent is 30 years old and has had just 11 sacks in the last three seasons combined, so the production may not match the name at this point. Still, he could be a high-profile addition on the eve of camp to help solidify one of the remaining soft spots on the roster. For his part, Clowney has been talking about the Texans and a return to the Browns as ideal landing spots.

Receiving help

The Panthers sent away a potential game-breaker in Moore to land the top draft pick. Thielen and Chark are proven but aging contributors at the position, and tight end Hurst and running back Sanders give the team playmakers elsewhere to take on some of Moore’s production.

The biggest name still on the board as the offseason ends is former Clemson standout DeAndre Hopkins. He has visited the Titans and Patriots in recent weeks, and his most likely landing spot is probably in New England. But ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio said recently that Carolina is still “lurking” as an option. Most of the team’s beat reporters seem to be leaning away from a Hopkins-Panthers connection, however, as Reich and the coaching staff seem content with the team’s depth chart at the receiver unit.