Panthers mailbag: Golf and other stuff

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera had a question for several reporters as we waited for practice to begin on Wednesday.

"Why aren't you guys at the U.S. Open?'' he said.

Maybe it was more like a message. As in, don't you have anything better to do than watch football practice in June when players aren't even in pads?

For the bosses at ESPN.com, I wouldn't dream of being anywhere else on a hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, muggy day three months before the season opens watching 90 players, of which 40 percent won't make the team. For Rivera, I'll be at the Open today.

But before heading to Pinehurst, North Carolina, and the famous No. 2 course that's made my golf game look worse than the 90th-best player on the Carolina roster, let me answer a few questions:

@DNewtonESPN: While it will be tough to improve on the numbers from a year ago that had Carolina No. 2 in the league in defense, this unit potentially is stronger. Here's why. Defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short should be better and more consistent than they were as rookies, and they were pretty darn good as rookies. Rookie defensive end Kony Ealy adds another pass-rusher who can play multiple positions on the line like Greg Hardy. Hardy will be playing for a long-term deal and to make people forget his May arrest. Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. Enough said about the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year. I like the potential of Roman Harper and Thomas DeCoud at the safety spots. Remember, nobody knew who Mike Mitchell was this time a year ago. The corners have a chance to be better. Melvin White has a year's worth of experience and Charles Godfrey, if his Achilles is fully healed and he can make the transition back to cornerback, could be a force. @DNewtonESPN: I believe somebody asked me that recently and my answer was 9-7, perhaps 10-6 if the offensive line comes around. I'm not willing to go beyond that until I see them in pads, and most of the so-called experts would disagree with a winning record, arguing the offensive line is in shambles and the wide receivers are new. As I've said before, the receivers as a group are more talented than a year ago and the offensive line was in shambles a year ago at this time and turned out pretty good. Let's revisit this in August. @DNewtonESPN: Your assumption that Ed Dickson is the No. 2 tight end is spot on, although you could argue there's a 2 and 2a because Mike McNeil will be in there a lot when the Panthers need a true blocker at the position. Richie Brockel also is considered a blocking tight end, even though he plays fullback, too. As for the next receiving tight end, I'd go with Brandon Williams. At 6-foot-4, 250 pounds he had the physical tools of Vernon Davis. He just doesn't have the experience or refinement of Davis, yet. @DNewtonESPN: Kenyon Barner will be in the mix as a returner, and may hold the upper hand now. The Panthers want to find ways to get him on the field. I'd also look for wide receivers Marvin McNutt, Tiquan Underwood, Kealoha Pilares, Philly Brown and De'Andre Pressley to be in the mix. Carolina will be looking for ways to keep a young wide receiver that doesn't make the top six in the rotation, and this could be one way. @DNewtonESPN: Maybe both because their contracts make them basically untradeable and uncuttable. Both likely will have to restructure. Jonathan Stewart had his deal restructured in February to help this year's cap situation, but he's scheduled to count $8.3 million under the cap in 2015 and $9.5 million in 2016. His base salary in 2015 goes from $785,000 to $4,250,000. DeAngelo Williams will count $6,333,333 next season and will be 32. General manager Dave Gettleman said after the season he was two years away from being completely cap healthy. These deals are a big reason for that. @DNewtonESPN: The safeties appear set with Roman Harper and Thomas DeCoud. Free-agent acquisition Antoine Cason has looked good at corner, and starter Melvin White returns. But Charles Godfrey hasn't been on the field as he rehabs the Achilles injury and he'll figure into the mix at corner. Don't overlook Josh Norman, either. He continues to shine in practice as he has in the past. If he can play that way in games he'll be a factor. @DNewtonESPN: Definitely. The Panthers selected Trai Turner in the third round thinking he could step in and play right guard. In his favor is LSU ran pretty much the same offense and had much of the same terminology that the Panthers do. He's big, mobile and can pull the way Carolina guards are asked to do. Other than being 20, there's not much negative you can say. @DNewtonESPN: Normally, I would say keep it to one question per mailbag. But since I said ask anything, and I like this one, I'll answer. I'm kind of partial to the 1970s. Yeah, I'm aging myself now. And I thought disco would live forever. Boy, was I wrong. The Eagles are still classic forever. Not the Philadelphia Eagles, either. As for the intro song, how about "Get Down Tonight" by K.C. and the Sunshine Band. Either that or "Play That Funky Music" by Wild Cherry. Kind of gets your blood flowing. But in reality it probably should be "You Don't Have To Be A Star" by Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr., because there's no way I'd be a star.