2014 DRAFT GUIDE
Panthers looking for fast start in 2013

By STEVE REED - AP Sports Writer
    2013-07-23 12:38

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - If the past two seasons have taught Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera anything, it's the importance of starting fast.

The Panthers stumbled out of the blocks the last two seasons, going 1-5 in 2011 and 1-6 last year. The slow starts cost general manager Marty Hurney his job.

By midseason the Panthers have been out of the playoff hunt, so it hardly matters that they've gone 9-3 in post-Thanksgiving Day games during that span or that they won four straight to close last season.

Rivera told Cam Newton and the rest of his players that they need to arrive at training camp with a sense of purpose, focused on being ready to go out and win the season opener at home against the Seattle Seahawks. On Sept. 8.

``I'm going to talk about starting strong,'' Rivera said. ``Because if you don't start fast, you have to make it up anyway.''

Five things to watch for:

1. CAN CAM IMPROVE? Newton has put up all sorts of impressive statistics his first two seasons in the league, but there are two numbers that don't work in young quarterback's favor: 13-19. That's his record as a starting NFL quarterback. The bottom line is Newton needs to find a way to help the Panthers win meaningful games. New offensive coordinator Mike Shula said he plans to simplify the play calling along with eliminating some of the verbiage from predecessor Rob Chudzinski's playbook. The good news for Newton is he'll still have his favorite weapon, the seemingly ageless Steve Smith, who had 73 catches for 1,174 yards last season. Smith turned 34 in May.

2. BACK TO THE RUNNING GAME: The Panthers restructured the contracts of running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart this offseason, a sign both plan to be in the mix this season along with fullback Mike Tolbert. Shula said he plans to use his backs more after Newton led the team in rushing a year ago. That doesn't bother Newton one bit. ``For us, the running game is key,'' Newton said during minicamp. ``In years past, success for the Carolina Panthers has meant getting our running backs involved in the game early and letting those guys do what they do. I feel like we have an unbelievable group.

3. MAN IN THE MIDDLE: The Panthers have one of the game's top young linebackers in Luke Kuechly, who led the NFL in tackles last season en route to AP Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. The 2012 first-round draft pick out of Boston College showed an incredible ability to sniff out the ball and was rarely was fooled. If the Panthers can keep outside linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis healthy - and that's a big if - they could have one of the best linebacker corps in the league. Beason has only played in five of the team's last 32 games due to injury. Davis capped a remarkable season by returning from three torn ACLs in as many years to play 15 games last season and record 105 tackles.

4. STAR IS BORN: The Panthers spent their first- and second-round draft picks on what general manager Dave Gettleman calls "hog mollies,'' adding defensive tackles Star Lotulelei from Utah and Kawann Short from Purdue. The move was done in part to allow Kuechly to run and make more plays and to help free up double teams on Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, who combined for 23 1/2 sacks last season giving the Panthers the most unheralded sack tandems in the league. The Panthers are hoping that a strong front seven takes pressure off a suspect secondary that lost Chris Gamble to a salary cap move.

5. LOOKING FOR GINN GAME ON RETURNS: The Panthers haven't gotten much out of their return game in recent years, but they added free agent Ted Ginn Jr. in hopes of giving them a boost. But Ginn will have a battle on his hands as several others are looking to compete in that area, including Kealoha Pilares and Armanti Edwards.

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Online: AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Fantasy Football Player Notes RSS FeedPLAYER NOTES

Ahmad DixonDec 21 11:52a

The Minnesota Vikings have declared SS Ahmad Dixon, LB Anthony Barr, OT Carter Bykowski, OG Charlie Johnson, TE Kyle Rudolph, CB Shaun Prater, FB Zach Line inactive for Week 16.

Devier PoseyDec 21 11:52a

The Houston Texans have declared WR DeVier Posey, TE Garrett Graham, LB Jason Ankrah, S Josh Aubrey, LB Mike Mohamed, QB Tom Savage, OG Xavier Su'a-Filo inactive for Week 16.

A.J. KleinDec 21 11:52a

The Carolina Panthers have declared LB A.J. Klein, OG Amini Silatolu, CB Carrington Byndom, OT David Foucault, RB DeAngelo Williams, DL Kyle Love, SS Robert Lester inactive for Week 16.

Charles GodfreyDec 21 11:52a

The Atlanta Falcons have declared CB Charles Godfrey, LB James Anderson, OG Jon Asamoah, CB Ricardo Allen, QB Sean Renfree, DL Stansly Maponga, LB Tyler Starr inactive for Week 16.

Jamarca SanfordDec 21 11:52a

The New Orleans Saints have declared SS Jamarca Sanford, DL Lawrence Virgil, LB Moise Fokou, WR Seantavius Jones, CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste, OT Terron Armstead, RB Travaris Cadet inactive for Week 16.

Justin BrownDec 21 11:52a

The Pittsburgh Steelers have declared OG Chris Hubbard, DL Clifton Geathers, CB Ike Taylor, WR Justin Brown, QB Landry Jones, TE Matt Spaeth, SS Troy Polamalu inactive for Week 16.

Clifton GeathersDec 21 11:52a

The Pittsburgh Steelers have declared OG Chris Hubbard, DL Clifton Geathers, CB Ike Taylor, WR Justin Brown, QB Landry Jones, TE Matt Spaeth, SS Troy Polamalu inactive for Week 16.

Carl BradfordDec 21 11:42a

The Green Bay Packers have declared DL Bruce Gaston, LB Carl Bradford, CB Davon House, C Garth Gerhart, WR Jeff Janis, TE Justin Perillo, QB Scott Tolzien inactive for Week 16.

Chris McCainDec 21 11:42a

The Miami Dolphins have declared LB Chris McCain, OT Dallas Thomas, RB Daniel Thomas, CB Don Jones, WR Matt Hazel, OG Nate Garner, WR Rishard Matthews inactive for Week 16.

Arthur BrownDec 21 11:42a

The Baltimore Ravens have declared LB Arthur Brown, DL Casey Walker, CB Chris Greenwood, C Gino Gradkowski, WR Michael Campanaro, OG Ryan Jensen, DL Terrence Cody inactive for Week 16.

Aaron MurrayDec 21 11:42a

The Kansas City Chiefs have declared QB Aaron Murray, RB Charcandrick West, WR Donnie Avery, C Eric Kush, OT Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, CB Marcus Cooper, DL Nick X. Williams inactive for Week 16.

Gary BarnidgeDec 21 11:42a

The Cleveland Browns have declared OT Andrew McDonald, TE Gary Barnidge, RB Glenn Winston, CB Joe Haden, DB K'Waun Williams, WR Rodney Smith, OT Vinston Painter inactive for Week 16.

Chris ConteDec 21 11:42a

The Chicago Bears have declared FS Chris Conte, QB David Fales, OG Kyle Long, PK Robbie Gould, CB Terrance Mitchell, DL Trevor Scott, DL Will Sutton inactive for Week 16.

Dakota DozierDec 21 11:33a

The New York Jets have declared OL Dakota Dozier, SS Jaiquawn Jarrett, QB Matt Simms, FS Rontez Miles, DL T.J. Barnes, WR Walter Powell, OG Wesley Johnson inactive for Week 16.

Alfonzo DennardDec 21 11:33a

The New England Patriots have declared CB Alfonzo Dennard, OG Dan Connolly, RB James White, OT Jordan Devey, WR Julian Edelman, CB Kyle Arrington, RB LeGarrette Blount inactive for Week 16.

Anthony CollinsDec 21 11:32a

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have declared OT Anthony Collins, FB Evan Rodriguez, CB Isaiah Frey, DL Lawrence Sidbury, RB Mike James, WR Robert Herron, WR Solomon Patton inactive for Week 16.

Kelvin BenjaminDec 21 11:22a

Carolina Panthers WR Kelvin Benjamin won't face Cleveland Browns CB Joe Haden (shoulder) Sunday, Dec. 21, who is out with a shoulder injury.

Joe HadenDec 21 11:22a

Cleveland Browns CB Joe Haden (shoulder) is out Sunday, Dec. 21.

Julio JonesDec 21 11:22a

Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones (hip) is active Sunday, Dec. 21.

Jay CutlerDec 21 10:22a

Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler is receiving trade interest from the Tennessee Titans. If the Titans landed him, it would alter the 2015 NFL Draft board dramatically.

T Y HiltonDec 21 10:22a

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DeMarco MurrayDec 21 10:12a

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Zach ErtzDec 20 07:42p

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Philip RiversDec 20 07:22p

San Diego Chargers QB Philip Rivers (back) is active Saturday, Dec. 20, for Week 16.

Ryan MathewsDec 20 07:22p

San Diego Chargers RB Ryan Mathews (ankle) is inactive Saturday, Dec. 20, for Week 16.

Ryan MathewsDec 20 07:12p

The San Diego Chargers have declared LB Cordarro Law, DL Damion Square, CB Greg Ducre, WR Keenan Allen, P Mike Scifres, DL Ryan Carrethers, RB Ryan Mathews inactive for Week 16.

Carlos HydeDec 20 07:12p

San Francisco 49ers RB Carlos Hyde (ankle) is inactive Saturday, Dec. 20.

Ahmad BrooksDec 20 07:02p

The San Francisco 49ers have declared LB Ahmad Brooks, OG Andrew Tiller, RB Carlos Hyde, OG Joe Looney, QB Josh X. Johnson, WR Stevie Johnson, CB Tramaine Brock inactive for Week 16.

DeAndre HopkinsDec 20 06:42p

Houston Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins (ankle) will be a game-time decision Sunday, Dec. 21, after not practicing all week.

Julian EdelmanDec 20 06:02p

New England Patriots WR Julian Edelman (concussion) has been ruled out for Week 16. Edelman didn't receive final clearance from the concussion protocol to play Sunday, Dec. 21.

Dennis KellyDec 20 03:32p

The Philadelphia Eagles have declared OT Dennis Kelly, WR Jeff Maehl, S Jerome Couplin III, OG Julian Vandervelde, QB Nick Foles, DE Taylor Hart, LB Trent Cole inactive for Week 16.

DeMarco MurrayDec 20 03:22p

Dallas Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray (hand) reportedly plans on playing this week despite a broken bone in his hand.

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