What to Expect From the Carolina Panthers Special Teams in 2012
The Carolina Panthers look to be improving across the board. Their defense landed stud rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly and is getting a healthy Jon Beason and (hopefully) Thomas Davis back.
The offense should only be better under Cam Newton in his second season, and the addition of explosive receiving threat Louis Murphy via a trade can’t hurt, either. Neither can the addition of versatile fullback Mike Tolbert, who can run, catch and block – all at a high level.
The offense and defense have made the necessary adjustments and look to be on the upward swing. But what about the special teams?
Carolina hasn’t been able to field a great special teams unit in a few years, with some bad missed field goals and inconsistent coverage fresh in the memory. Their return game has improved, but they still have some major weaknesses, as well as some general changes to monitor.
Starting kicker Olindo Mare was decent in 2011, converting on 22 of 28 field goal tries (78.6%) and knocking in 44 of 45 extra point attempts. But his season performance has left the coaching staff seemingly wanting more, as they’ve brought on Justin Medlock to push the 39-year old Mare after he missed several crucial kicks.
Another reason could be that Mare has hit just one 50+ yard field goal in the past three seasons. Medlock brings youth and excitement to the position after nailing an insane 49 of 55 field goal attempts in the CFL in 2011, and something the coaching staff feels Mare could use: some competition.
With Medlock on board, Mare is far from guaranteed to be the starting kicker when week one comes.
Kealoha Pilares was the team’s top return man a year ago, as he averaged a rock solid 25.7 yards per kick return and actually finished as the #8 overall kick return man among returners with at least 20 run-backs. He also took one of his kick returns 101 yards to the house in a game against the Detroit Lions – an explosive play the Panthers had been lacking in recent memory.
Rookie Joe Adams is the other return man in Carolina you need to get excited about – STAT. He showed exceptional explosiveness and return ability at Arkansas, and is pretty popular for this sick return against Tennessee last season. He’s no threat to the number two receiver role and will be used exclusively in the slot as a rookie, so he could find it tough to find a real role in the offense. Because of that, he’s a near-lock to begin his career as the Panthers’ top punt returner.
Armanti Edwards figures into the mix to a certain degree, as well, but he’ll need to secure a roster spot, first. If he does, he’ll likely help out on kick returns behind Pilares, and could even backup Adams on punt returns. Freshly added Louis Murphy could also get into the mix, but he’s also not a lock to make the final roster, and he’s always had trouble staying healthy.
Competition at kicker and some real talent on returns should help the Panthers take a considerable positive step once again in 2012.