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News » Carolina Panthers Inside Slant 2008-08-28

Carolina Panthers Inside Slant 2008-08-28

Carolina Panthers Inside Slant 2008-08-28
The Carolina Panthers have put the Steve Smith training camp fight behind them and appear ready to open a promising season in 2008.

Although they will be without Smith, their top offensive playmaker, for the first two games as a result of the team-imposed suspension for his assault on teammate Ken Lucas during camp, the team has bonded nicely since the incident and has played extremely well in the preseason.

Carolina's starters have outscored opponents' starters 58-3 through three preseason games. They led Washington 41-0 this past weekend before removing their starters.

A lot of the optimism this season surrounds the return of quarterback Jake Delhomme, the addition of rookie running back Jonathan Stewart and a beefed up offensive line that should make it easier for coach John Fox's team to run the football.

Earlier this month at a Fan Fest intrasquad scrimmage in Charlotte, Fox admitted to standing on the sidelines with a wide smile on his face.

That's when it hit him.

"I'm sitting there watching the first offense and I got a smile and thought, 'Hey, this is really cool; I've got a quarterback!'" Fox said. "No offense to anybody else. But it's important to have a guy that's been there, that has the confidence of the team - not just on offense, but the whole football team - that's been with you for a long time, and is a great leader."

Delhomme played in only three games last year in his first season working under offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson. He was off to a great start at the time, throwing eight touchdown passes and only one interception through 101/2 quarters before going down with a season-ending elbow injury. He has recovered well from Tommy John surgery.

With David Carr and Vinny Testaverde at the helm, Carolina's passing game went in the tank, and the running game soon followed. This off-season, the Panthers feel they've bulked up on the offensive line, adding players like Jeff Otah and Keydrick Vincent.

"I really like this football team," Fox said. "We went out and made changes and found what we call 'our kind of guys,' guys that have high football character, that understand what it means to compete Sunday after Sunday."

Delhomme echoed his coach's words.

"I know I keep saying this, but I like this football team. We've got the right guys," Delhomme said. "We really do. We got better by addition, but mainly we got better by subtraction through this off-season. We're doing the right things."

Delhomme loves the addition of free agent wide receivers Muhsin Muhammad, who caught 16 touchdown passes from him when they were last together in 2004, and D.J Hackett. And he's excited about the emergence of wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett and tight ends Jeff King and Dante Rosario.

They, along with an improved running game, should take a lot of pressure off Smith, who remains Carolina's No. 1 receiving threat.

"I think we're a lot further along this year than we were last year at this point," Delhomme said. "Getting Moose back this off-season was huge not only for myself but for the running game and for Steve (Smith). For the last couple of years it has been a one-man show. It's very simple. Steve was a one-man show and we had to get on his coattails and let him take us as far as we could."

The optimism isn't limited to offense.

Safety Chris Harris, who spent two seasons with Chicago before coming to Carolina, has high hopes for the other side of the ball as well, even though that unit lost Kris Jenkins, Mike Rucker and Dan Morgan in the off-season.

The re-emergence of superstar defensive end Julius Peppers has been evident throughout the preseason. Peppers once again looks like the guy who went to three Pro Bowls earlier in his career.

"The potential on this defense is unreal," Harris said. "As y'all know, I came from Chicago, where we had a pretty good defense. I like this defense better than Chicago's."

Middle linebacker Jon Beason and offensive tackle Gross said Carolina's goal is to win the Super Bowl.

"If you don't set that goal, then what are you playing for?" Beason said. "I think this year it's our team goal and guys are working toward that."

Added Gross: "When I was a rookie in 2003 we went to the Super Bowl and the thing I remember most about that was the way the locker room felt and how comfortable it was ... We just had that cohesiveness to us, and that is something I really feel on this team. Knowing what I know about that team, I don't think there is any reason we shouldn't go as far we want to - all the way to Tampa."

COACHING: John Fox, 7th year, 7th with Panthers (56-47).

REMEMBERING: 2007 record: 7-9 (2nd in NFC South).

PREDICTING: 2008 regular season record 9-7 (2nd in NFC South); lose in NFC Divisional playoffs.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: August 28, 2008

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Richard Marshall Name: Richard Marshall
Position: CB
Age: 23
Experience: 3 years
College: Fresno State
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