NFL Preview: Carolina Panthers

Home: Bank of America Stadium – Charlotte, North Carolina

Owner: Jerry Richardson
Head Coach: John Fox
Offensive Coordinator: Jeff Davidson
Defensive Coordinator: Ron Meeks
Special Teams Coach: Jeff Rodgers

Schedule:

Sunday, September 12: @ New York Giants
Sunday, September 19: Vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sunday, September 26: Vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Sunday, October 3: @ New Orleans Saints
Sunday, October 10: Vs. Chicago Bears
BYE WEEK
Sunday, October 24: Vs. San Francisco 49ers
Sunday, October 31: @ St. Louis Rams
Sunday, November 7: Vs. New Orleans Saints
Sunday, November 14: @ Tamp Bay Buccaneers
Sunday, November 21: Vs. Baltimore Ravens
Sunday, November 28: @ Cleveland Browns
Sunday, December 5: @ Seattle Seahawks
Sunday, December 12: Vs. Atlanta Falcons
Sunday, December 19: Vs. Arizona Cardinals
Thursday, December 23: @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday, January 2: @ Atlanta Falcons

Projected Offensive Starters

Left Tackle: Jordan Gross
Left Guard: Travelle Wharton
Center: Ryan Kalil
Right Guard: Mackenzy Bernadeau
Right Tackle: Jeff Otah
Wide Receiver 1: Steve Smith
Wide Receiver 2: Dwayne Jarrett
Tight End: Jeff King
Fullback: Tony Fiammetta
Running Back: DeAngelo Williams
Quarterback: Matt Moore

Projected Defensive Starters (Base 4-3 Defense)

Left Defensive End: Tyler Brayton
Left Defensive Tackle: Ed Johnson
Right Defensive Tackle: Louis Leonard
Right Defensive End: Everette Brown
Weakside Linebacker: Jon Beason
Middle Linebacker: Dan Connor
Strongside Linebacker: James Anderson
Left Cornerback: Chris Gamble
Strong Safety: Charles Godfrey
Free Safety: Sherrod Martin
Right Cornerback: Richard Marshall

Projected Special Teams Starters
Kicker (FG and KO): John Kasay
Punter: Jason Baker
Long Snapper: J.J. Jansen
Holder: Jason Baker
Kickoff Returner: Tyrell Sutton
Punt Returner: Captain Munnerlyn

Key Offseason Pick-Ups

Much like the Bucs, the Panthers surely didn’t do a lot to help their cause in the free agent market. I guess you could count linebacker Jamar Williams as the one decent offseason acquisition, but nothing else of note.

Key Offseason Losses

Have you got as minute? Quarterback Jake Delhomme, defensive end Julius Peppers, linebacker Na’il Diggs, wide receiver Muhsin Muhammed (retired), fullback Brad Hoover, defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu, defensive tackle Damionne Lewis, and safety Chris Harris. Some of these can be gotten around such as Delhomme’s departure since he’s been a shell for about two years now, but the loss of Peppers is going to hurt. When that guy had his mind right and actually “wanted” to play, he was and is a beast. He’s going to be hard to replace.

Rookie Watch

Two really stand out in the class and they really do stand out. If Matt Moore doesn’t play up to par and the Panthers end up at 3-3 or maybe 2-4 after six games, then you can bet that Jimmy Clausen will get his shot. The rookie out of Notre Dame has a lot of talent and plenty of potential. Moore better make sure that he has his team in check and gets some early victories, but that could be a problem. The Giants, Saints, Bears, 49ers, and Bengals are five of their first six and it’s going to be difficult for this team to pull out at least two from this stretch. Clausen better stay warmed up on the sideline.

Now the next rookie to watch is wide receiver Brandon LaFell, and no this is not because of my LSU bias. I’ve watched him in every single collegiate game he has ever played in and he can fly. Once he finally learned how to hold on to the easy passes (what is with former LSU receivers and easy drops? See: Devery Henderson), LaFell was hell to cover. Once he gets out into open space, you can forget about it because he’s going to show that SEC speed and he’s gone. Dwayne Jarrett needs to step up his game much like Moore and finally show his worth or the rookie is going to race right into the number two wide receiver slot opposite Steve Smith.

Season Expectations

So there is a little bit more out of Charlotte that is positive than out of Tampa Bay, but still not a lot. John Fox has got to do everything in his power to squeeze a winning season out of this team and most likely a playoff spot in order to keep his job. His main thing here is making the offense more balanced because Delhomme got them in such a hole last year that everything hinged on running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Moore looked much better in the pocket and threw a lot less interceptions so as long as the pass and rush balance is sort of equal then they won’t be playing from behind as much all season.

One of their strong points is the defense and it ended up finishing ranked eighth overall in the league even with all the injuries they suffered. They’ve really got to show that exact kind of fortitude and production, but if they stay healthy than it can be even greater. Dan Connor leads a tremendous team of linebackers that would instill fear into the hearts of any opposing running back or quarterback. Carolina needs to have their defense play as one solid unit though and that especially holds true with explosive offenses like the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints sitting right in the NFC South with them.

Oddly enough, I’m looking forward to seeing the special teams of the Panthers maybe more than anything. Rookie quarterback Armanti Edwards is going to be a transplanted wide receiver/kick returner who could provide a giant spark. He’s a fast kid with great agility that was shown while he was playing quarterback so he could be a lot of fun to watch. I have but one question though for the Panthers, how old is John Kasay now??

The talent really is there for the Carolina Panthers, but Foxy better hope that it shines through and the players play to their potential or else he’ll be inquiring about new cities next year. If the offense can get full production out of their starters and the defense can stay healthy, the Panthers are a team that will contend big time for at least a wild card spot. I almost want to go out on a limb here and give them a ten win season, but that is not the easiest schedule in the world. If they can squeeze out that tenth victory, then they’ll be in the playoffs. Time to play it safe though and go with my gut.

Record Prediction: 9-7

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