We’re no longer forced to wait for Carolina Panthers Training Camp. It’s here! The Panthers began camp on Thursday, but we still need to preview the special teams after previewing every offensive position and every defensive position.
With as much coverage as the Panthers’ second ranked defense received in 2013 (and deservedly so), the special teams were as good as any in the NFL. Punter Brad Nortman was fifth in the league in net punting average, forcing teams to go the length of the field to put points on the board. That was a big reason the defense gave up as few points as it did last year.
Graham Gano had a career season, hitting 24 of 27 field goal attempts, including a 55-yarder for his longest of the year. That meant the offense wasn’t as reliant on scoring touchdowns to score points. If Cam Newton and co. got the ball inside the opposition’s 40-yard line, it was likely that Carolina scored.
Of course, it was much easier to get the ball into scoring territory with Ted Ginn Jr. returning punts as he was sixth in the league in average yards per punt return. Ginn is now gone and it’s likely up to second-year running back Kenjon Barner to fill that void. Barner was an effective return man at Oregon but it remains to be seen if he can do it well at the NFL level. Either way, it seems likely that there will be a drop-off in that area.
Nortman should perform at a pretty similar level to 2013, but it’s definitely fair to assume that Gano will not be as good in 2014. Gano made 88.9% of his field goal attempts last year. His previous career high in a season that he played in all 16 games was 75.6%. That’s the difference between making 20/27 and 24/27 field goals. Seven of the Panthers’ games in 2013 were decided by 5 points or less so those 2-4 extra missed field goals will likely cost Carolina at least a game or two in 2014.