Panthers have line issues as season begins

Carolina Panthers offensive guard Taylor Hearn (62) and tackle Adam Bisnowaty (78) lines up in the second half against the New England Patriots Aug 24.Photo: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Panthers need the production levels to remain solid.

The Carolina Panthers had a smoother training camp than last season and won three preseason games until they had a miserable outing in the last one at Pittsburgh.

But the bulk of the work had been done and if it had not been for a rash of injuries to the offensive line there would be little to be disappointed with.

Of course, training camp work doesn't necessarily translate to what happens once the real games begin. Despite last summer's disruptions regarding quarterback Cam Newton's rehab from shoulder surgery, the Panthers began the 2017 schedule with a 4-1 record.

The Panthers begin the 2018 regular season Sunday at home against the Dallas Cowboys.

This preseason went well -- if Newton has formed connections with his receivers and with new offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Turner was brought in to help upgrade an offense that has been erratic at times despite Newton's natural abilities.

The Panthers got quite a bit out of running back Christian McCaffrey as a 2017 rookie, but they are likely to give him more opportunities, particularly in terms of getting him the ball in the passing attack. Plus, McCaffrey has a chance to be featured more now that franchise rushing leader Jonathan Stewart is no longer around. The Panthers tried to fill that gap by bringing in proven ball-carrier C.J. Anderson.

If Newton is on the mark with some of his new targets, it could be a nice beginning because the Cowboys had trouble defending the pass last year.

All this planning could go haywire if the offensive line is in shambles. Already, there has been shuffling along the front. The Panthers developed versatility among some of their linemen, and soon they will find out if there is a payoff for that.

The transition on defense might be smoother if only because new coordinator Eric Washington was already on the staff. The defense got a boost with defensive end Julius Peppers staying for another season, but he rarely practices and at some point that might become an issue.

The Panthers need the production levels to remain solid for players such as kicker Graham Gano and McCaffrey.

SERIES HISTORY: 12th regular-season meeting. Cowboys lead series, 9-2. The teams haven't met since Carolina won a 2015 Thanksgiving meeting in Dallas, though the Cowboys won the previous five matchups - with four of those in Charlotte. The Panthers have won the two playoff meetings (1996 and 2003 seasons).