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Packers 2020 Opponents Preview: Panthers have changed almost everything this year

Carolina has a new head coach, a new quarterback, and new coordinators this season.

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NFL: Carolina Panthers-Coach Matt Rhule Press Conference Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

This is the latest installment in a series that will examine each of the Green Bay Packers’ scheduled 2020 opponents, their offseason changes, and their statuses heading into training camp. We continue by looking at the teams in the NFC South, today examining the Packers’ week 15 opponents, the Carolina Panthers.

Rarely does a single NFL team change almost its entire identity and personel in a single season. However, that’s just what the Carolina Panthers did over the past eight months following a disappointing 2019 campaign.

According to The Athletic’s breakdown, the Panthers have by far — by a ridiculous margin — the least continuity of any NFL team from last season to 2020. With a new head coach, new coordinators, a new starting quarterback, and a lot of changes on defense, Carolina will look very different than they did a year ago, with the only consistent presence being running back Christian McCaffrey.

It’s no surprise that the Panthers made such drastic changes, either, after going 5-11 a year ago. Carolina’s defense was actually acceptable against the pass, but was one of the league’s worst run defenses (NFL-worst 5.2 yards per carry allowed) and finished the season 31st in points allowed. They held an opponent under 20 points only once all year long and allowed no fewer than 29 points in any of their last seven games.

As a result, the Panthers bring back fewer than 40% of their total defensive snaps from last season. Gone are key players like Eric Reid, James Bradberry, Mario Addison, Ross Cockrell, Gerald McCoy, and Bruce Irvin, all of whom were on the field at least half of the time a year ago. In the hopes of rebuilding that unit, the Panthers used every one of their seven draft picks on defensive players, including three picks in the first two rounds. They started up front with tackle Derrick Brown (#7 overall) and defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos (#38), then moved to the secondary for safety Jeremy Chinn (#64).

Here’s a look at the Panthers’ offseason and training camp from those who know at the SB Nation Panthers blog, Cat Scratch Reader.

Cat Scratch Reader

Notable free agency additions: QB Teddy Bridgewater, WR Robby Anderson, WR/KR Pharoh Cooper, CB Eli Apple, LT Russell Okung (trade), LB Tahir Whitehead, DE Stephen Weatherly

Over/under 10 wins? Under. This is a rebuilding team that will struggle in 2020, but should show signs of a positive future under new head coach Matt Rhule. The Panthers are likely to finish anywhere between 3-13 and 8-8 this season.

Rookie I’m most excited about: Safety Jeremy Chinn. The Panthers thought highly enough of him to trade a third round (69) and fifth round (168) pick to get back into the second round to draft him at No. 64 overall. He’s a freak athlete who can play multiple positions on defense, and the Panthers see him as a poor man’s Isaiah Simmons. If they’re right, it could end up being one of the biggest steals of the draft.

Best position battle heading into training camp: Every single one except starting running back. This is a rebuilding team under a new head coach who has said that no starting spot is guaranteed, so training camp should be interesting this year as guys fight for spots they may have thought they already had nailed down.

Biggest storyline heading into training camp: There are a lot of interesting storylines heading into training camp. The Panthers are probably more interesting than they’ve been since Cam Newton was drafted in 2011. A few notable questions are: What will the first post-Cam Newton training camp look like? Can Teddy Bridgewater make fans forget about Newton? Can the defense adjust to life without Luke Kuechly? Will Matt Rhule be successful, or will he be a complete failure?

Notable injuries heading into training camp: None that should be an issue by the time training camp rolls around.