Panthers mailbag: Questions or answers?

August, 24, 2014
8/24/14
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The Carolina Panthers left Friday night's 30-7 exhibition loss at New England with more questions than answers.

Will the bruised back to quarterback Cam Newton impact him moving forward? Coach Ron Rivera said after the game it wasn't serious, but it's something to keep an eye on.

Did the line's inability to protect the franchise quarterback have more to do with two starters being out and a lack of continuity, or is there a more serious problem? Maybe, but we don't know.

Is the defense so fragile that the absence of middle linebacker Luke Kuechly makes it vulnerable? That appears to be the case, based on what New England did with the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year on the field and off.

You have questions, too. Let's get to them for a Sunday mailbag:

@DNewtonESPN: Deserved isn't the right word, but it shouldn't have come as a huge surprise. I know coach Ron Rivera doesn't want to use the short week as an excuse, and he shouldn't. But preparing for a preseason game on a short week and a regular-season game are two different animals. You have almost twice the players to get ready and there really isn't much game-planning. Plus, bodies haven't fully recovered from the previous game. Not to mention the offense was without starting right tackle Nate Chandler (knee) and right guard Trai Turner (groin), and Kuechly played only three series defensively. With Kuechly on the field, even without starting end Charles Johnson (hamstring), outside linebacker Chase Blackburn (back) and strong safety Roman Harper (turf toe), Carolina held New England to 41 yards and three points. The breakdowns happened after he left. Add to that you're facing one of the best quarterbacks of all time in Tom Brady in his final tune-up for the season. It all kind of fell apart. It exposed some weaknesses as well, the biggest being the offensive line remains the most crucial question mark moving forward. It definitely sent a message to left tackle Byron Bell that he has to step up his game. I'll just say they got what perhaps should have been expected more than deserved.

@DNewtonESPN: A combination of both. The Patriots made a big push to improve defensively this season, and it was evident they have. The Carolina line, although basically set, remains a work in progress in that the group hasn't been together long enough to develop the continuity and total communication it takes to be effective. Having the starting right tackle and guard out didn't help. There also were basic mistakes. Running back DeAngelo Williams threw a chip block that freed end Chandler Jones for one of his two sacks over Bell. As I said weeks ago, the line has a chance to be good, but it's a fragile situation. There goes that word again -- fragile.

@DNewtonESPN: Possibly, but they really like their top eight and they won't keep more than nine at best on the 53-man roster. There's really not likely to be a more talented lineman released than what they have. But general manager Dave Gettleman loves his "hog mollies'' -- big linemen -- so he's always on the lookout for upgrades. The biggest upgrade after cuts should be at wide receiver/kick returner. I can still see that position filled by somebody who is on another roster now. The Panthers hoped some of the young players would step up after Steve Smith was cut. They simply haven't.

@DNewtonESPN: If you had asked me that two weeks ago, I would have said yes. Now I'm not so sure. Kelvin Benjamin continues to impress as the No. 1 receiver. Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant are clear-cut Nos. 2 and 3 -- or 2 a and 2b. Brenton Bersin simply as a wide receiver would be No. 4, but the fourth receiver right now could be undrafted rookie Philly Brown, just because he appears to be the punt returner and the team might only activate four in a game. Brown had a nice return that was called back, then really didn't get another opportunity. Watching the way the tight ends are playing, it might be more beneficial to keep five at that spot and only five wide receivers, which could make Tavarres King the odd man out.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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