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2008 NFL Season Preview: #15 Carolina Panthers

August 7, 2008

Division: NFC South
Last Year's Record: 7-9
Head Coach: John Fox
Offensive Coordinator: Jeff Davidson
Defensive Coordinator: Mike Trgovac

Key Additions:
WR Muhsin Muhammad
DE/DT Tyler Brayton
G Milford Brown
G Toniu Fonoti
S Terrence Holt
DT Darwin Walker
RB Johnathan Stewart
G Keydrick Vincent

Key Losses:
DE Mike Rucker
WR Drew Carter
RB DeShaun Foster
C Justin Hartwig
DT Kris Jenkins
LB Dan Morgan

Just Because:
I have been waiting to write this post solely to share this clip of Jon Reep talking about the Carolina Panthers sound effects. Enjoy.

Breakdown of the Offense:
The Carolina Panthers are coming off of a down year, where they were expected to contend for the NFC Championship and instead missed the playoffs. Mainly due to a string of key injuries, but they weren't a team that deserved to be in the playoffs. They were blown out on several occasions. At one point losing five straight games and seven out of ten. The Panthers made their key point of interest this off season, the offensive line and the running backs. Adding huge guards Toniu Fonoti and Milford Brown in free agency, while drafting running back Johnathan Stewart out of Oregon with the 18th pick. Fonoti and Milford Brown fit in well with Fox's conservative run first offense, and Johnathan Stewart adds the power that should mix well with DeAngelo Williams speed. This offense will only go as far as the o-line and the running backs carry them.

Jake Delhomme, is a huge question mark coming into this season, he is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Delhomme is an upper echelon quarterback in the league, and the Panthers missed him greatly last year, inside the locker room and the huddle. Delhomme is a fiery quarterback and with him returning the Panthers automatically are two to three wins better then last years team. If Delhomme fails to regain his form or recover from injury, Matt Moore is waiting in the wings. An undrafted rookie free agent in 2007, he started the last three games of the season and led the Panthers to a 2-1 record in those games. He is somewhat mobile and has confidence in the pocket, he just needs to work on his consistency. Brett Basanez has the clipboard covered as the third stringer.

The Panthers finally got rid of their all-time leading rusher DeShaun Foster(he never reached 900 rushing yards in a season). The team will continue to use a two back system this season, featuring DeAngelo Williams and rookie Jonathan Stewart. Williams looks to become a 1000-yard rusher, getting a huge bulk of the carries this season. Stewart is most likely going to be used as a third down specialist, basically Stephen Davis 2.0.

Steve Smith is the best offensive player on this team, he may knock out teammates but he is the only home run threat they have. He has caught at least 80 balls for 1,000 yards in each of the past three seasons. Without Delhomme in the lineup to deliver him the football, his numbers tailed off some. Expect him to dominate secondaries again this season with Dwayne Jarrett getting used to the NFL defenses,Mushin Muhammad returning home, and DJ Hackett coming to town; this will help draw the defense away from Smith leaving him open to torch the defense.

The offensive line has undergone a major face lift after a disappointing 2007. Rookie Jeff Otah will immediately be put into the right tackle spot. Jordan Gross, Carolina's best lineman, will play left tackle to protect Delhomme's blind side. Travelle Wharton leaves left tackle to play left guard. Ryan Kalil is the center and is an undersized but nimble lineman. Keydrick Vincent and Jeremy Bridges will battle it out for the right tackle spot. The addition of Otah and moving a couple players around should drastically improve the line.

Breakdown of the Defense:
Julius Peppers had his worst season as pro last year, amassing a paltry 2.5 sacks, and as the star of the defense there is no excuse for such small output. The Panthers must have more productivity out of him. The worst part for Peppers, he will have even less help this year as the Panthers will likely be a little thin up front having lost starters Mike Rucker to retirement and Kris Jenkins in a trade. Tyler Brayton comes in from Oakland to help out Peppers, but he is still Tyler Brayton. Maake Kemoeatu and Damione Lewis will join Peppers as starters on the line, with Ian Scott and Darwin Walker coming into the rotation at tackle.

As Peppers output declined last year, Jon Beason came through in a huge way. As a rookie, Beason broke a franchise record with 160 tackles. Thomas Davis will join him on the strong side and three talented backers; including rookie Dan Connor from Penn State, incumbent Na'il Diggs, and Landon Johnson will duke it out for the starting gig on the weak side. This is the best unit on the defense and possibly even the team.

The Panthers' hope third round pick Charles Godfrey comes into his own and if he does, they'll likely start him at free safety. Carolina has three solid corners in Chris Gamble, Ken Lucas, and Richard Marshall. Ken Lucas is still recovering from a broken nose suffered from a punch by Steve Smurf Smith, this will likely hurt his chances at a starting gig and slot him as the third corner. Strong safety Chris Harris is a powerful hitter who forced eight fumbles last season but lacks skills in coverage, so the Panthers will be depending on Godfrey. Godfreys is the key to this units level of success.
Special Teams Breakdown:
Kicker John Kasay will return for his 18th NFL season and he is as reliable as they come(not to mention pretty clutch). Punter Jason Baker is very steady and gets great hang time on his kicks. Ryne Robinson was not great as a returner last season, but he started to improve late in the year which provides the Panthers with some promise.

Season Outlook:
The Panthers success will depend mostly on one thing, how will Delhomme recover from his injury. He will fire up the team and they will play better as a unit. The defense is okay, but if they want to win Peppers needs to be more productive.

They play in a division that has three possible division champions with the Saints, Bucs, and themselves. If they hope to make the playoffs, they will have to do it via a division championship. As the wild card surely will go to teams from the NFC East and North. They may have the toughest three weeks to start the season in the NFL, with games at San Diego, home against the Bears, followed up by a game at Minnesota. They could come out looking very strong, or more likely with an 1-2 record. But thankfully for them they have two games against Atlanta, so we know they will have at least two wins. I see them splitting games with the Bucs and Saints putting them at 4-2 in the division. The rest of the games could go either way, but I see them finishing with a 9-7 record. Missing the playoffs, because you don't find much success with as much turnaround as they have had. Next year they will be a good team, but that's next year.

Week 1: Sep 07 @ San Diego 4:15 PM FOX
Week 2: Sep 14 Chicago 1:00 PM FOX
Week 3: Sep 21 @ Vikings 1:00 PM FOX
Week 4: Sep 28 Falcons 1:00 PM FOX
Week 5: Oct 05 Chiefs 1:00 PM CBS
Week 6: Oct 12 @ Tampa Bay 1:00 PM FOX
Week 7: Oct 19 Saints 1:00 PM FOX
Week 8: Oct 26 Arizona 1:00 PM FOX
Week 9: Bye Week
Week 10: Nov 09 @ Oakland 4:05 PM FOX
Week 11: Nov 16 Detroit 1:00 PM FOX
Week 12: Nov 23 @ Atlanta 1:00 PM FOX
Week 13: Nov 30 @ Green Bay 1:00 PM FOX
Week 14: Dec 08 Buccaneers 8:30 PM ESPN
Week 15: Dec 14 Denver 1:00 PM CBS
Week 16: Dec 21 @ Giants 1:00 PM FOX
Week 17: Dec 28 @ Saints 1:00 PM FOX


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