Draft answers some questions for Panthers, raises others
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) The NFL draft answered some questions for the Carolina Panthers, while raising plenty of others.
One of the biggest issues the team faces is how effectively offensive coordinator Mike Shula can use his new personnel after the team dramatically upgraded its speed and versatility.
Carolina used its first two picks on a couple of the draft's most versatile players in Stanford's Christian McCaffrey and Ohio State's Curtis Samuel. Both played running back, wide receiver and returned kicks in college putting up mind-boggling all-purpose yardage numbers.
That gives Shula a host of options in terms of formations and plays as the Panthers look to take some of the pressure off quarterback Cam Newton. Shula has shown in the past he's willing to find ways to utilize a player's strength. In 2011 he integrated the read option that Newton ran at Auburn into Carolina's offense and it was a smashing success as the Panthers won three straight NFC South championships and Newton won league MVP honors in 2015.
Coach Ron Rivera said the increased ''position flexibility'' will allow the Panthers to run more diverse packages, thus keeping defenses guessing at times. Rivera expects McCaffrey and Samuel will line up at multiple positions and be used in a variety of ways.
''It's going to be something else,'' Rivera said. ''What we've got in terms of tools and weapons is great. It's going to be interesting because it is different. The thing our guys will have to understand is that you have to do your job to the best of your ability and you may not get the ball.''
Some other questions heading into OTAs:
WHO'S THE KICKER? The Panthers put veteran Graham Gano on notice when they drafted Georgia Tech kicker Harrison Butker in the seventh round. Gano is coming off his worst season with the Panthers, missing eight field goals including three in the season finale at Tampa Bay. Butker offers an option if Gano can't rebound from his first season in Carolina where he failed to make at least 80 percent of his field goals. ''At the end of the day we're going to keep who is best for us on this football team,'' Rivera said.
RUNNING BACK ROTATION: Obviously McCaffrey will see plenty of action being a high first-round pick, but it will be interesting to see how much it impacts veteran running back Jonathan Stewart and his starting role. Stewart has been the team's featured back since the departure of DeAngelo Williams three years ago. Carolina still has confidence in Stewart as evidenced by signing the 30-year-old Stewart to a two-year contract extension earlier this offseason. It's expected Stewart will still be a key figure in the offense, but that McCaffrey will take some of the load off his shoulders.
WHAT ABOUT OHER: Michael Oher's future with the team seems more unsettled than ever after the Panthers drafted right tackle Taylor Moton from Western Michigan in the second round. Oher missed the final 13 games in 2016 with a concussion and, seven months later, remains in the league's protocol. The Panthers signed free agent left tackle Matt Kalil this offseason with the idea of moving Oher to right tackle. But the addition of Moton, who never missed a game at Western Michigan, raises the questions of whether he's simply an insurance policy or if the Panthers are beginning to think Oher might not make it back next season.
BENJAMIN'S FUTURE: After the draft Rivera revealed third-year veteran wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin reported to offseason conditioning workouts ''a little heavy.'' Rivera acknowledged that the weight is concerning. The Panthers had said earlier this offseason they would pick up the fifth-year option on Benjamin's contract, but that hasn't happened yet. Benjamin struggled at times last year in his first season back from a torn ACL, but finished strong. However, weight has been an issue for Benjamin in the past and Rivera questioned in 2015 if the wide receiver's excess weight might have contributed to some offseason hamstring issues.
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