5 things we learned from Panthers preseason

James Dator
SB Nation

Let's look back on the preseason that was.

Preseason is in the books, now we have the layoff before the real games begin. We're not supposed to draw conclusions from preseason, right? These are supposed to be meaningless football games. On one level that's correct, trying to say a team is good or bad based on preseason is a dangerous business -- but there's plenty we can learn about the Carolina Panthers on an individual level.

In lieu of the MMO this week I thought we'd take a bigger look at the last four weeks and what we can expect in 2014.

1. Kelvin Benjamin is the real deal

Entering preseason Benjamin was the biggest question. Fans fell in one of two camps: Either they believed in his immeasurable upside, or felt it was a wasted pick that should have been spent on something safer. Over the last month Benjamin has been fantastic, leading the team in receiving with 12 catches for 173 yards, while showing reliable hands -- something he didn't at Florida State.

Look, Benjamin's not a finished product. Against the Steelers he had one easy drop, and there are times he's still not getting the YAC he should by over-extending to make his catches. That said, he performed well in all four preseason games.

Only one rookie had a better preseason, Allen Hurns of Jacksonville but in the grand scheme of things Benjamin was the best of the top-tier NFL rookies.

2. The defense is still really good

There was always a good chance the Panthers defense would be solid again in 2014, and preseason showed that it's almost identical. The losses of Mike Mitchell and Captain Munnerlyn don't seem to be too pronounced, but the secondary is still the team's weak point.

Everything will hang on the defensive front, much as it did last year. Kony Ealy had mixed preseason, but really came on against the Steelers. He'll be a work in progress, but showed enough flashes that he can become a reliable rotational piece.

The big picture here is that the pass rush will mitigate the problems in the secondary.

3. Wakka wakka wakka

Losing rookie Tyler Gaffney to a waiver SNAFU could be a blessing in disguise. It allowed for Fozzy Whittaker to emerge, and he quickly became the team's best preseason running back. Granted, he was working against 2s and 3s, but Whitaker showed a similar running style to Jonathan Stewart.

This is important on a team with offensive line issues. Strong North-South runners tend to fair better with poor offensive lines. Power running can allow for small gains, whereas East-West guys can get trapped in the backfield by a penetrating defensive line.

4. The offensive line has problems

The Panthers decided not to address their woeful offensive line this offseason, and in-game we're seeing many of the same problems as last year. Carolina allowed 10 sacks in preseason play, firmly putting them in the league's bottom-third.

Hopefully Dave Gettleman is monitoring the league's cuts. There will be veterans available who can play on one-year deals just to keep this thing afloat, and the Panthers realistically need better options at both tackle position. Start Byron Bell and Nate Chandler if you want, just have a veteran presence there if needed.

5. Brad Nortman is quickly becoming one of the NFL's best punters

An un-sung hero of the Panthers, Brad Nortman is incredibly valuable. Field position is everything on a defensive team, and a good punter is vitally important on a team without excellent special teams coverage.

This preseason Nortman is third in the NFL averaging 49.1 yards per punt, including seven within 20 yards. He's being let down with some sub-par punt return coverage, but that doesn't make him worse by association. When a team spends a draft pick on a punter he better be good, and Nortman has been just what you want.

More from sbnation.com:

What to Read Next