The San Francisco 49ers have entered a dead period, with a little over four weeks left until the team reports for training camp. Since we know the schedule, and most 90-man rosters are just about set, now seems like a good time to start previewing each of the 49ers opponents heading into training camp. With the help of the other 31 SB Nation blogs, we’ve come up with preview content breaking down where things stand for each team on a variety of issues. We’ve got a template looking at key additions and departures, big storylines and under-the-radar storylines heading into camp, and injuries to consider. The plan is to look at this for the 49ers 13 opponents, and then more than likely look at the remaining 18 NFL teams as a sort of broader NFL preview.
We’re going to run down the schedule, but I will be saving the divisional opponents for the end. And so, we start with the 49ers Week 2 opponent, the Carolina Panthers. The 49ers travel to Charlotte to face the defending NFC champions. Carolina finished the 2015 season with a 15-1 record. Football Outsiders ranked them No. 8 in offense, and No. 2 in defense. They had some notable additions and departures, but the big “addition” is the return of wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin. Tight end Greg Olsen was their leading pass catcher, with Ted Ginn leading among wide receivers. It’s safe to say the return of Benjamin is kind of a big deal.
Here is what our friends at Cat Scratch Reader had to say about their Carolina Panthers.
Notable free agent additions
- DT Paul Soliai - Expected to back-up Star Lotulelei
- C/OGGino Gradkowski - versatile back-up for the interior o-line
- P Mike Scifres - coming off a leg injury
Notable free agent departures
- CB Josh Norman - Panthers rescinded franchise tag and he signed with the Redskins
- DE Jared Allen - retirement
- CB Charles Tillman - he is still a free agent as he heals from an ACL injury; says if he plays again it will be for the Panthers only
- P Brad Nortman - Jaguars overpaid for his services
- S Roman Harper - Panthers did not offer; now back in New Orleans
Ha! As if Dave Gettleman would trade a player away. He did make a draft pick trade to move up in the draft at one point.
Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies
- DT Vernon Butler - Should be in the rotation at some point
- One of the rookie CBs (James Bradberry, Darryl Worley, Zack Sanchez) should get significant snaps if not start; currently Bradberry has the edge
Biggest offseason addition
At 345 lbs that would be Soliai. Impact-wise the Panthers didn’t add a veteran starter besides the punter.
Biggest storyline heading into training camp
The return of WR Kelvin Benjamin. Though statistically the Panthers didn’t seem to miss Benjamin don’t tell Cam Newton that. Benjamin’s 73 catches for 1,003 yards and 9 TDs as a rookie in 2014 was sorely missed at times in 2015.
Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp
WR Devin Funchess has turned heads at OTAs with his maturity (he’s only 22), route running and hands. While the Panthers top 3 WRs (Benjamin, Ginn and Brown) can certainly make great catches, all three are prone to drops. If Funchess can prove to be more reliable he can garner more targets.
Notable injuries heading into training camp
- RB Jonathan Stewart appears to still have issues from his leg injury in SB50. Though he is expected to be 100% by TC we will be keeping an eye on him.
- CB Bene Benwikere and WR Kelvin Benjamin have been declared 100% from their 2015 season ending injuries.