By Nick Shook
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Dabbing is no longer hip, but don’t tell Dave Gettleman.
The Panthers general manager has rallied, feels great again and believes Carolina is back on track to win another NFC crown.
“Last year we were tired, and I think guys got carried away,” Gettleman said, via the Panthers‘ official site. “It’s hard — I’ve seen a Super Bowl hangover after you win it and after you lose it, and it ain’t pretty.
“There’s a different attitude this year. I feel like this is 2015 all over again with this group.”
The Super Bowl hangover claimed the Panthers in an unkind fashion in 2016, dragging Carolina through the mud to a 6-10 record. We’re not quite sure what he meant when saying guys got carried away, but it wouldn’t be the first time in human history for a successful person or people to get a little high on themselves and allow it to detrimentally affect ensuing performance.
There’s valid reason for optimism, though. Carolina retains much of the core of that 2015 NFC Champions squad, including quarterback Cam Newton, tight end Greg Olsen and linebacker Luke Kuechly. They’ve added two playmakers and matchup nightmares in Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel, and have attempted to solve their offensive line woes by signing Matt Kalil (we’ll maintain that the jury is still out on that one). And the Panthers went another step further, bringing back Julius Peppers and Captain Munnerlyn, and adding safety Mike Adams. It’s starting to look a lot like the veterans Carolina utilized in 2015 in Jared Allen, Roman Harper and Charles Tillman.
The question marks remain at receiver outside of Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess. Actually, Benjamin’s tendency to balloon on the scale can serve as an uncertain factor, too. The Panthers‘ biggest free-agent addition at the position was slot man Russell Shepard, who joins Carolina after catching 23 passes for 341 yards and two touchdowns in Tampa Bay last season. Carolina is also still relying on Jonathan Stewart at running back, though McCaffrey and Samuel offer plenty of new ways to mix it up in the backfield and split out wide. The offensive line has to protect Newton better, too, especially after the beating he took in 2016 and the resulting offseason shoulder surgery.
On the defensive side of the ball, Carolina needs a major leap to contend in 2017. The unit finished 21st in yards allowed per game and 26th in points allowed per game, and its biggest weakness came against the pass (29th in passing yards allowed per game), thanks in part to starting two rookies at cornerback in James Bradberry and Daryl Worley. The addition of Munnerlyn should provide the youngsters with a much-needed veteran presence, as should Adams’ arrival on the back end of the secondary.
Perhaps the biggest unknown of them all in Kuechly, who’s missed nine games over the last two seasons due to concussions. He’s drawing rave reviews from Olsen, but in shorts and helmets season, that’s not all that uncommon. Kuechly’s ability to remain on the field for all 16 games will go a long way toward Carolina making good on Gettleman’s intuition.