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49ers-Panthers: Cam Newton presents early test for young defensive front

The 49ers won’t be facing the toughest offense they’ll face this season, but Cam Newton and the Panthers present an interesting test.

NFL: Denver Broncos at San Francisco 49ers Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers have a defensive front that looks, more than anything, fearsome. It’s unproven, too, and that cuts down on the fear a bit. Robert Saleh’s scheme will be important in the development of Solomon Thomas, Arik Armstead and the rest of the defensive line, but right out of the gate they’ll be facing an interesting test: Cam Newton.

Newton isn’t the best quarterback in the NFL. He’s not even for-sure the best dual-threat quarterback — I personally believe Russell Wilson’s vision on the run is unparalleled — but he can do some dirty, dirty things to an NFL defense.

He has the arm to hit a receiver anywhere on the field, and he has the legs to make any defender work overtime trying to keep him contained. He occasionally makes poor decisions and can sometimes leave the pocket too early, but he doesn’t make those mistakes often.

Last year, Newton had one of his most ineffective seasons to date, and he had it because he took an absolute beating. Opposing defenses put Newton in the dirt, officially, 36 times as far as sacks go. But he was hit a whole lot more than that, and as a running quarterback, he got a lot fewer calls on late hits and things like that.

This offseason, the Panthers took steps to improve what was a pretty poor offensive line overall. They forked over the big bucks for former Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Matt Kalil and the spent a second-round pick on Taylor Moton, the future starter at right tackle.

Kalil is solid on the blindside, and he will be a true test for the 49ers’ defensive front on his own. Moton won’t be playing, as the current starter is Daryl Williams, who could be a lot worse and looked good in the preseason. The guards are solid overall, and the 49ers should be looking at a much better line in 2017 than a year ago.

At the very least, Newton should present an interesting test for Reuben Foster on the outside. He’ll have to keep an eye on Newton and strike a balance between trying to keep containment and worrying about the other 10 players on the field at the same time. The defensive line should also get a workout on Sunday.