Panthers: One big question

Can the defense be as good as the offense?

Quarterback Cam Newton and coordinator Rob Chudzinski arrived last year and instantly gave the Panthers the most exciting offense in franchise history. It could have been a special season. It wasn’t, though, and that’s because the defense was dismal.

That had to be hard to take for coach Ron Rivera, a former defensive coordinator. The offense remains pretty much intact, and it has added fullback/running back Mike Tolbert, so there should be plenty of points again next season. But the Panthers have to stop other teams from scoring so much if they really are going to contend in the NFC South.

They took a big step by drafting middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, who should start right away. But this offseason wasn’t as much about rebuilding the defense as it was getting key components healthy. Defensive tackle Ron Edwards, whom the Panthers signed last year to fix their run defense once and for all, is expected back at full strength after missing all of last season with an injury.

Linebackers Thomas Davis and Jon Beason also are coming back from injuries that kept them out most of last season. Beason should step right back in as the leader of this defense. Davis is a question mark because he’s coming back from his third torn ACL. Anything Davis can give this defense will be a plus.

But adding Kuechly and getting Beason and Edwards back means the Panthers should be able to put a respectable defense on the field on a consistent basis.