This upcoming season the Carolina Panthers will be in pursuit of their third straight division title. The team has brought in a number of free agents who should help them achieve this goal. There are four players that were on the roster a season ago that are ready to take the next step and be bigger contributors to the team’s success in 2015.
One player who would like to forget 2014 is defensive end Frank Alexander who only played one game last season. He missed most of the season due to two drug suspensions that cost him 10 games. By the time the suspensions were over, the rotation was pretty much set and there was not much playing time available for Alexander.
The 2015 season should be a fresh start for the fourth-year player and provide him a chance to earn some playing time and work into the Panthers’ rotation at defensive end. There is a void at pass rusher with Greg Hardy no longer with the team. The combination of Alexander and Kony Ealy on one side and Charles Johnson and Mario Addison on the other could be the answer to replacing Hardy.
Alexander coming out of the University of Oklahoma was a fourth round pick for the Panthers in the 2012 NFL Draft. He had six starts over his first two season with the Panthers and totaled 3.5 sacks. At 25 years of age, Alexander is ready to take that next step and become a key contributor to the team’s pass rush.
The Panthers signed Ed Dickson to a one-year deal prior to the 2014 season and this may have been a surprise to most fans. He did not have his first reception until Week 5 and only had seven receptions through the first 15 weeks of the season.
The final four weeks of the season he became more involved in the offense with 6 receptions, 116 yards and one touchdown. The team saw enough to bring Dickson back on a three-year deal and was the only contract offered by the Panthers this offseason that was longer than two years.
The fact that the team was willing to offer the contract they did to Dickson indicates they may have bigger plans for him in 2015 compared to a season ago. The former Baltimore Raven is still young (27 years old) and has shown he is a capable pass catching tight end.
In 2011 while with the Ravens, he caught 54 passes for 528 yards and five touchdowns. He is a great compliment to Greg Olsen and will allow the Panthers offense to be more versatile and use more two tight end sets.
The undrafted rookie stepped in for the injured A.J. Klein at linebacker towards the end of the season and started three of the last four games of the season. However he played less than 50 percent of snaps in those games with the team working primarily out of the nickel defense. The last two games of the regular season he had 11 total tackles and one forced fumble in the game against the Atlanta Falcons.
That experience should help Glanton in 2015 and give him a good chance of winning the outside linebacker starting position over Klein and even Jason Trusnik. The one area he exceled in, and should give him an edge, came in his pass coverage. According to Pro Football Focus, he was thrown at eight times while in coverage and surrendered four receptions but only allowed 13 yards. A strong offseason and training camp should set Glanton up for a big 2015.
What the Panthers do in the NFL Draft could affect just how big of a role Whittaker has in the team’s offense in 2015. Right now there is a major void that was left behind Jonathan Stewart when the team released DeAngelo Williams. Fozzy Whittaker seems to be the player to fill that role.
Last year, Whittaker rushed for 150 yards on only 34 carries and averaged over four yards a carry. He also had 6 receptions for 99 yards and two touchdowns. The big play of the season came against the Arizona Cardinals in the Wild Card game when he took a screen pass 39 yards for a touchdown.
While Whittaker would not necessarily be able to step in for Stewart as the team’s featured back, he possesses the tools to be a great change of pace back. He is not only able to run inside as well as outside but also is a reliable pass catcher. It would not be a huge surprise if Whittaker was averaging 15-20 touches a game this upcoming season as the primary backup to Stewart.