View Full Version : Offseason Primer: Carolina Panthers

02-24-2008, 02:25 PM
2007 was a disappointing year for the Carolina Panthers. Much of it was the injury of Jake Delhomme who had, coming into 2007 had four straight good years for the Panthers, really become a decent quarterback in the NFL. He led the Panthers to the playoffs twice in those four years, once to the Super Bowl and the other a loss in the conference championship game.

So, 2007 looked like it could be a good year. But Delhomme went down in Week 3, and the Panthers struggled for any consistency at quarterback, starting with David Carr and ending with the ageless wonder Vinny Testaverde. A healthy Delhomme in 2008 should solve this problem. Carr is under contract for 2008, and should serve as a decent backup, as long as Delhomme doesn’t go down for an extended period of time.

DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams are a good one-two punch. Foster is the power back who grinds out the yards, while Williams is the change of pace back. Both will be back next season, and with a healthy Delhomme, that makes for a talented backfield in Carolina. Williams’ carries went up this year, though Foster carried the load, and so did his yard per carry numbers. Williams’ carries will probably go up again in 2008, as the Panthers slowly turn him into the full-time guy. Fullback Brad Hoover is an unrestricted free agent, and I would imagine the Panthers will want to try and sign him. Nick Goings is also there, and the Panthers could utilize both next year, if Goings is healthy next year.

Jeff King will be entering his third season next year, and he really turned into a go-to guy for the Panthers in 2007, catching 46 passes, two of them for touchdowns. He’s a good, young tight end, who is tough to cover for safeties and linebackers alike. The Panthers had several other options at tight end, with Dante Rosario and Christian Fauria both scored two touchdowns for the Panthers.

Steve Smith suffered through a few injuries in 2007, but still played in 15 games, and still went over 1,000 yards, but he was not his dominant self that he was in 2005. Part of that was because the Panthers didn’t have a sure, proven complement on the other side of the formation. Deciding to let go of Keyshawn Johnson in favor of drafting Dwayne Jarrett proved out to be a mistake in 2007, though it could pay off in the future. Jarrett has loads of talent, but was inactive the first half of the season and he only got into six games, catching six passes. Meanwhile Keary Colbert only had 32 catches, which is not enough. At best, he’s a third receiver, and he was forced into the second starting position. Drew Carter caught 38 passes as the third receiver, a role he’s accustomed to, and pretty good at. Ryne Robinson caught four passes, but he’s clearly on the roster as a return specialist.

Jeff King was a solid tight end in 2007, just his second year in the league. A fifth round pick in 2006, his emergence this season with 46 catches for 406 yards and two touchdowns was a pleasant surprise for the Panthers, who had their share of problems at wide receiver. He should be a decent tight end for the Panthers heading into the future. Dante Rosario was their second tight end, and he is more of a blocking option for the team. He did have six catches, two of them for touchdowns. King makes this a solid unit heading into 2008, if he can continue with the production.

Carolina’s offensive line was middle of the road in 2007, and they gave up too many sacks. Of course, David Carr has been noted for hanging onto the ball for way too long in the past, and I’m sure that was part of it.

Travelle Wharton was originally drafted as a guard out of South Carolina in 2004. He started 11 games his rookie season and all 16 in 2005. He spent much of the 2006 campaign injured, and then came back to start all 16 games this past season at left tackle. He’s a solid tackle, though his natural position may be at guard. He still has the ability to protect Delhomme’s blind side heading into the future. The Panthers ranked third in yards per carry off the left edge, and Wharton is a big reason why.

At left guard, Mike Wahle is solid. After seven years in Green Bay, the last four as a starter, Wahle came over to Carolina before the 2005 season, and has been an anchor on the line ever since. Wahle has missed just three games in three years, all three in 2006. The Panthers have a solid left side of the line to help protect Delhomme.

After an injury plagued 2006, Justin Hartwig came back to start 15 games in 2007, and is a solid center. He was a free agent signing in 2006, and was somewhat of a disappointment with his injury status. But he’s a solid center and proved that he’s got a lot more left in 2007. He will turn 30 before next season, and is in the prime of his career.

The Panthers struggled to find a full-time right guard in 2007, with second-round draft pick Ryan Kalil, Evan Mathis and Geoff Hangartner all sharing time at the position. The Panthers would probably like Kalil to win the spot for 2008, as long as he stays healthy. Kalil was a highly-touted center coming out of USC last year, and the Panthers took him with the 59th pick. With Hartwig as the full-time center, the Panthers are hoping Kalil can be the full time right guard.

Jordan Gross has been one of the most consistent tackles in NFL. He was a first-round draft pick in 2003, and hasn’t missed a game in his first five seasons. He’s played on both the right and left sides of the line for the Panthers, but seems to be more suited to the right. He would have been one of the more prized free agents this season, but the Panthers slapped the franchise tag on him, guaranteeing that he’d be in Panther teel, silver and black for at least one more season.

The Panthers’ defense has been one of the more solid defenses in the last five years, but they slipped a little in 2007, finishing in the middle of the pack.

Much of that was the injury plagued season that Julius Peppers had. He’s one of the biggest forces in the NFL when healthy, but his production was way down in 2007, as he played through those injuries. The Panthers will need him to return to form in 2008. If he can return, the line will be its same old solid self.

Mike Rucker most likely will return, but he is an unrestricted free agent. He’s stated that he wants to return, now we’ll see if the teams can get a deal done. Rucker’s sack total went way down this past season, and he will be 33 next season. Though he’s most likely going to be back, he may actually have a reduced role, as the Panthers search for the next defensive end. The two current possibilities are 2007 third round pick Charles Johnson, and 2006 seventh round pick Stanley McClover. Both have played sparingly since arriving in Carolina, but as Rucker gets older, they will get a chance to play a bigger role.

Maake Kemoeatu and Kris Jenkins are solid at defensive tackle. Both are in the prime of their career and will anchor the defensive line for at least 2008. Again, the healthy return of Peppers makes them all the more effective.

First round pick Jon Beason was everything the Panthers wanted when they took him at No. 25 last season. Beason started all 16 games, had 140 tackles, six pass deflections and one interception. He’s the perfect fit at middle linebacker for the Panthers. He’s not big, 6-0, 237, but he’s fast and with Kemoeatu and Jenkins muddying the waters in front of him, it allows him to sniff plays out and make a play. The fact that he’s only going to be 24 next season is icing on the cake.

On the weak side, Thomas Davis has been solid in his first two years starting. Originally drafted in the first round as a safety, the Panthers have used him in a rover type role up near the line of scrimmage. He’s recorded 88 tackles in each of the last two seasons, and had three sacks this past season. He’s also still young as he will enter next season at the age of 25.

The Panthers have struggled with consistency on the strong side. Na’il Diggs was supposed to be the guy, coming over from Green Bay before the 2006 season, but he’s struggled with injury and consistency. Diggs is also an unrestricted free agent. He’s only 30, but he’s got a lot of mileage on him. The Panthers may look to free agency or the draft to find a strong-side linebacker. They’ve had success drafting Davis and Beason, and wouldn’t be too surprised if they went that route.

Chris Gamble has been a solid cornerback for the Panthers over the last four seasons, though maybe not the playmaker they expected them when they drafted him in the first round in 2004. He’s not a superstar, but he’s solid. It gives the Panthers an anchor at one corner. Ken Lucas is also a solid corner on the other side. Neither are interception machines, and neither are flashy players. But they don’t have to be when the Panthers front four are getting pressure. Richard Marshall had solid numbers in his third year as the third cornerback for the Panthers. Marshall had 89 tackles and three interceptions, one returned for a touchdown. He should get a great chance to beat out Lucas at the cornerback position.

Free Safety Deke Cooper is a bit of a journeyman, but he came in and started 15 games, garnering 59 tackles and three interceptions. He’ll be 31 next season, and he’s not a superstar, but he was OK for the Panthers. Again, if the front four are getting pressure, the Panthers don’t have to have superstars in the defensive backfield. He should get a shot at starting again next season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they bring in some competition, whether through the draft or free agency.

Just before the 2007 season, the Panthers sent a fifth-round pick to the Bears for hard-hitting Chris Harris. Harris didn’t disappoint in 2007, recording 96 tackles, one interception and one fumble recovery. Harris is young, but he does have a propensity to draw flags with his hitting. He does provide an extremely physical safety that can cover both the run and the pass. He was a sixth round pick by the Bears in 2005, and is a hard worker.

John Kasay is a solid kicker, and Jason Baker is a solid punter. The Panthers don’t have any problems there. Nor do they have any problems with Ryne Robinson, who is their full-time return man. A fourth-round pick last year, Robinson should be the return man for the Panthers for at least the next couple of years.