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Five Burning Questions for the Carolina Panthers

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COMMENTARY | With the season looming, every fan has questions about their team. Every fan wants to know things like who looks good in practice, who's hurt, who's going to start and where, did this player look better than that player, and so on. Well, I've put together a list of five burning questions that fans might want to know and I'll give you my opinion on them. Here we go.

1. Will Cam Newton finally lead the Carolina Panthers to the playoffs?

Quick answer, yes. Newton is entering his third year with the Panthers and I believe he'll get over his sophomore slump and finally lead the Panthers to the playoffs. He spent the first season of his career setting personal records. He spent his second season trying to get a better connection as a winner. Newton has all of the pressure on his shoulders. Fans expect him to live up to his "Superman" personality and lead the Panthers to victory, and Newton has taken that pressure personally. Now, though, in his third season, Newton is more team oriented. According to Panthers.com writer Bryan Strickland, the Panthers offense is taking a more simplistic route. This can only help Newton, who ran a simple style of offense at Auburn which led to a national championship and a Heisman Trophy. So this season, look for Newton and the Panthers to run a fast-paced offense that propels them into the playoffs.

2. Will the running game live up to its expectations in 2013?

Not exactly. The Panthers have talent in the running back department but ever since DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart each rushed for over 1,100 yards, the expectations have been out of the roof. Williams and Stewart have both battled injuries throughout their career and Stewart may not even be ready for camp this summer after having surgery on both ankles. The Panthers have weapons, but not consistency in the backfield. What they do have, though, is depth. They may not have two 1,100 yard rushers but they could have four guys rush for 500 yards a piece. Crawford Rundlett of Cat Scratch Reader shared this sentiment in an article earlier this summer, saying, "It is highly unlikely that the Panthers reclaim the success of 2011."

3. Will the Panthers secondary be any better this season?

Yes. They can't be much worse than last season, right? This secondary won't be great, per say, but they'll be better than last season, despite the departure of Chris Gamble. Now you might say, "But look at the names in this secondary! Tell me who is going to be good." But having big names in your secondary doesn't exactly make your secondary good (looking at you Philly). This Panthers secondary will be better for one reason: the defensive line. Another Cat Scratch Reader writer, Edgar Salmingo, Jr, feels the same. He wrote, "Luckily, since the Panthers' front 7 appears to be strong, the defense does not need to rely on the cornerbacks as much as other teams."

4. Will this be Ron Rivera's defining season?

Of course. Fans were calling for Rivera's head on a platter at the start of last season. He turned it around in the second half, saving himself for another year. With the Panthers bringing in a new general manager, fans may be realizing that Rivera wasn't the problem. Rivera also has some new coordinators surrounding him, including the promotion of Mike Shula to offensive coordinator. Shula might be the complete opposite of former OC Rob Chudzinski. Chud had a playbook of thousands of plays with intense names. Shula has since revamped the offense to make it simpler and more fast paced. This matches Rivera's aggressive style. If Rivera doesn't have a winning season, fans will be right back on the offensive. So is this his defining season? Yes.

5. Who will step up in the passing game in 2013?

Brandon LaFell. There's no doubt who the number one receiver is in Carolina. Steve Smith and Newton need to get back on the same page that they were on at the end of the 2011 season when they both made the Pro Bowl. After that, you have Greg Olsen at tight end who is a solid weapon. But who's left? The competition at receiver will be highly contested this season with the additions of Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon. LaFell will likely be the number two guy, but he'll need to prove to fans that he can produce. The competition might just be what LaFell needs according to Strickland. "I like what LaFell brings to the table and expect his trend toward better numbers each season to continue. I also like the addition of Ted Ginn and Domenik Hixon, a pair of veterans that surely will push LaFell."

The Carolina Panthers have plenty of new faces this year but most of the same questions as they do every year. The good thing? The Panthers know they have to face these questions and they'll be looking to get the monkey off their back and work their way into the playoffs.

Matt is a graduate of WVU. He currently covers the Washington Wild Things and Division II sports for Pittsburgh Sporting News, WVU football for Ohio Valley Athletics, and anything WVU related for Pros Report / WVU Pros. You can follow him on Twitter @Welch1048.

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