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32 in 32: Carolina Panthers a talented but flawed team

"NFL Total Access" has launched its "32 in 32" series, breaking down the biggest subplots of every NFL team as the 2013 season approaches. Around The League will follow along and offer our own take. Up next: The Carolina Panthers

  1. It was revealed this week that running back Jonathan Stewart underwent surgeries on both ankles this offseason. (We previously only knew about one.) Listening to coach Ron Rivera this week, there was a sense Stewart might not be ready for camp. It's a shame Stewart never has fully lived up to his potential.

Following DeAngelo Williams' re-done contract and the drafting of Kenjon Barner, it's very possible Stewart won't be with the team next year. This group is wildly deep at running back with Mike Tolbert in the mix.

  1. Look for more of a focus on the traditional running game this year. ESPN's Pat Yasinskas noted that the read-option has been far less of a focus in the offseason, which is no surprise with former offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski now with the Cleveland Browns.

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  1. Cam Newton doesn't have enough weapons. Greg Olsen is a nice player, but he's not a top-10 tight end. Steve Smith is an outstanding starter, but he needs more help behind him. Brandon LaFell isn't developing into a quality No. 2 wide receiver, and the depth behind him is poor.

It's never a good sign when the coaching staff starts talking up Armanti Edwards as a realistic option at wide receiver or hope that Ted Ginn Jr. can be more than a specialist. From top to bottom, Newton's set of receiving weapons rate as below average. It's not a group that can consistently win one-on-one matchups. An injury to Smith would be devastating for this offense.

If Newton is going to take the next big step in his development, he'll have to make the other players around him better. 

  1. Rivera's defense quietly improved from awful to average in his second year as head coach. There is a chance to make the leap to a top-10 unit this season because of their front seven. Few teams have a better set of pass rushers than Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy. A healthy Jon Beason (crossing fingers) paired with a maturing Luke Kuechly at linebacker could be scary. There still are questions at defensive tackle, but Rivera should be able to generate pressure and stop the run. That's good because ...
  1. The secondary is as talent-poor as any group in the NFL. The most talented player at cornerback or safety in Carolina is ... Charles Godfrey? Not a lot of options.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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