By Colby Gable
As with many teams around the NFL, the preseason is a time to address the individual mechanics of certain players or evaluate those with little on the field experience. For the Carolina Panthers, these first three games before the start of the season have arguably prompted more questions than answers about how this team will function by Week 1, especially from that of the offensive side. This partly results because of a number of off-season changes for the offense, such as adding former Patriots Wide Receiver Chris Hogan, drafting Ole Miss Offensive Tackle Greg Little and West Virginia Quarterback Will Grier, as well two centers, Denver’s Matt Paradis and Appalachian State’s Parker Collins who played shortly in the AAF.
The offensive line, in particular, is something which Carolina has seemed to struggle with since their loss to Denver in the Super Bowl three years ago. Blocking for the rushing game has been decent as we’ve come to expect from years past, but the passing game is entirely different. Their second game versus the Bills featured a variety of quarterback play from Will Grier and Kyle Allen, both extremely inexperienced as Grier has yet to even see a regular-season game and Allen, who was signed as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Houston in 2018, has only summated enough time on the field for one start. The combination of quickly collapsing pockets versus Buffalo, and recently against New England, have made it difficult for the younger quarterbacks to transition into the much faster pace of the NFL comparatively to what they were used to in college.
Grier, who primarily made his living throwing vertical down-the-field passes at West Virginia resulting in high-volume passing yards, will now have to curate his style to match the more intermediate offense of Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner’s playbook. His Senior year, Grier was slinging the ball for 300+ yards every single game except one, and 400+ yards twice. But watching film from Grier at WVU shows a clear difference in his decision making while in the pocket, not only because play of the offensive line isn’t allowing as much time to get a pass off as at West Virginia, but because the pocket itself is much more condensed, and there is less space to be patient, look around, and wait for the longer vertical routes to reach their mark.
As David Newton of ESPN has noted, between the two of them, there has arisen room for improvement. Allen and Grier have two of the four lowest yards per attempt of any quarterbacks during the preseason, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Allen is averaging 4.4 yards per attempt and Grier 4.6. This last week’s loss to the Patriots exemplified the struggle, as Carolina only had two first downs and 29 total yards in the first half and finished with seven first downs and 99 total yards. They’re averaging 13.3 points and 208.7 yards in three games, and Cam Newton’s injury versus New England showed the importance of having a backup that Coach Ron Rivera can lean on in case Newton has to miss a series or two in real games.
These numbers aren’t great, to say the least, yet it should always be noted that this is still preseason, and the purpose here is to find out what needs to be diagnosed before the season actually begins. The chemistry among a young core of offensive weapons is understandably shaky at this moment in time, especially from an offensive line that is still discovering its identity and working to fix the issues of the past. The Panthers last preseason game is scheduled for August 29th at 7:00 PM versus the Pittsburg Steelers in Charlotte at Bank of America Stadium.