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News » Carolina Panthers Strategy and Personnel 2009-01-30

Carolina Panthers Strategy and Personnel 2009-01-30

Carolina Panthers Strategy and Personnel 2009-01-30
Along with defensive end Julius Peppers, there are a number of players who could be headed out the door this offseason.

CB Ken Lucas: He got burned repeatedly this season and seemed to lack confidence after Chris Gamble got a contract extension. With Lukas set to count more than $9 million next season against the salary cap, look for the Panthers to cut ties with him. "I can't answer that question," Lucas replied when asked if he'd be back next year. "I'm not part of the personnel department. I just play. If they call my name, then I'll be back, but if not, I enjoyed my time here. That's how I look at it. You can't stress about stuff like that you can't control."

LB Landon Johnson: A hip injury (although not serious) in the playoffs should only expedite Johnson's release. At $10 million over three seasons, he was a big swing-and-miss this past offseason. The Panthers would be stupid not to free up some cap room by cutting him with two years left on his deal. Besides, Dan Connor should be back next year.

LB Adam Seward: Nobody wants out of Carolina more than Seward, who is frustrated over being deactivated for most of the second half of the season by Fox. He wanted to sign with New England last year and in a few weeks he'll be free to go where he wants as an unrestricted free agent.

OG Geoff Hangartner: Another unrestricted free agent, he played in a lot of games for Carolina and it wouldn't surprise me if he bolts for a place where he can start if the money is right. Somebody's going to offer him starter's money. Keydrick Vincent said he will be fine to go in minicamp, so Hangartner's chances of starting next year are nil with the starting five basically set in stone, providing Jordan Gross re-signs.

WR D.J. Hackett: Hackett contributed little for the Panthers this season with 13 catches for 181 yards and no touchdowns. He was deactivated for the playoff game. Remember when he was supposed to be the starter? That never worked out so well, did it? Look for him to get cut with one year left on his deal.

DT Darwin Walker: He's an unrestricted free agent and his career might be over with anyway. Walker injured his neck in a car accident this year and was never the same after that. Like Hackett, he was inactive for the playoff game. Look for Carolina to add more help at defensive tackle in free agency.

LB James Anderson: It's hard to imagine Anderson, a former third-round draft pick, coming back next year unless he wants to do so as a low-budget special teams guy.


QUARTERBACK: Starter -- Jake Delhomme. Backups -- Josh McCown, Matt Moore.

Delhomme was enjoying a super comeback from elbow surgery before a nightmarish game in the NFC divisional playoffs in which he threw five interceptions and committed six turnovers in a 33-13 loss to Arizona. As coach John Fox said, "He had a bad game. He didn't have a bad season. He's not a bad quarterback. He had a bad game. It happens." Delhomme has one year left on his contract, and the team could save $6.325 million by releasing him. They won't. Fox said he expects Delhomme will be the starter moving forward. The team is continuing to develop Moore and Brett Basanez, who is on the practice squad. At some point the Panthers may think about drafting a quarterback.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- RB DeAngelo Williams, FB Brad Hoover. Backups -- Jonathan Stewart, Nick Goings.

You couldn't ask for a better season from Williams and Stewart. Williams took a giant step forward in his third NFL season, running for 1,515 yards and a league-high 18 rushing touchdowns. He also averaged 5.5 yards per carry. If Williams were the full-time, featured back, we'd be talking about him as the league MVP. But he shared carries with Stewart, a first-round pick in '08. Stewart played extremely well while fighting off a toe injury. He set a team rookie rushing record with 836 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. Hoover seems to keep getting better with age and was valuable on third-and-short situations. Goings didn't do much other than on special teams. Don't expect any changes in the backfield this offseason.

WIDE RECEIVER: Starters -- Muhsin Muhammad, Steve Smith. Backups -- Dwayne Jarrett, D.J. Hackett, Mark Jones. Injured reserve -- Jason Carter, Ryne Robinson.

Smith was brilliant again in '08, going to the Pro Bowl despite missing the first two games of the season with a suspension. Smith averaged more than 101 yards per game and caught six touchdowns, although he did drop two in the end zone. He averaged a remarkable 18.2 yards per catch. At 35, Muhammad was voted a captain in his return to Charlotte and caught 65 passes for 923 yards and five touchdowns. He's still productive, even at his age, and his downfield blocking is second-to-none. Unless an off-the-field problem surfaces here, those two will return as starters next season. The Panthers brought in Hackett to compete with Muhammad, but he was always hurt and contributed little (13 catches, 181 yards). Jarrett didn't develop as much as hoped with only 10 grabs for 119 yards. Time is running out with him. Jones was an excellent preseason pickup by GM Marty Hurney and was a valuable return man. The Panthers have some competition here next year with Carter and Robinson returning from injuries.

TIGHT END: Starter -- Jeff King. Backups -- Dante Rosario, Gary Barnidge.

Rosario had a huge game in the season-opener, catching the winning touchdown pass from Delhomme as time expired to beat San Diego. But he had almost as many receiving yards that game (96) as he did the rest of the season combined (115). King led all tight ends with 21 catches. The Panthers really could use a tight end to stretch the field, which is what they thought Barnidge would be. He wasn't. At least not as a rookie.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Jordan Gross, LG Travelle Wharton, C Ryan Kalil, RG Jeremy Bridges, RT Jeff Otah. Backups -- C/G Geoff Hangartner, OT Frank Omiyale, G Mackenzy Bernadeau. Injured reserve -- RG Keydrick Vincent.

Carolina's offensive line made major strides in 2008 as the Panthers ran for a franchise-record 2,437 yards and 30 touchdowns. They allowed only 20 sacks in the regular season, and the offense was the second-highest scoring in franchise history. That despite a number of injuries up front. All five starters missed at least one game, while Vincent, a former starter, wound up on injured reserve. Otah, a rookie first-round draft pick, is a mauler at right tackle. Gross and Wharton really worked well together on the left side. Kalil settled in as first-year starter and did well in place of Justin Hartwig. Vincent was reborn with the Panthers at right guard, and Hangartner started so many games it's hard to call him a reserve. The good news here is if the Panthers re-sign Gross they will have all five starters back, although Hangartner may leave to become a starter elsewhere.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LDE Tyler Brayton, LDT Maake Kemoeatu, RDT Damione Lewis, RDE Julius Peppers. Backups -- DE Hilee Taylor, DE Charles Johnson, DT Nick Hayden, DT Darwin Walker, DT J'Vonne Parker.

This unit is going to need revamping this offseason, especially if the Panthers trade Peppers, which is a very real possibility. Peppers is set to become an unrestricted free agent, and said he will not sign a long-term deal. The Panthers could keep Peppers at $17 million under the franchise tag, or place the tag on him and attempt to work a trade. Either way, the Panthers have to find a way to get more pressure on the quarterback. They did have 37 sacks in 2008, but they failed to get pressure when they needed it. Kemoeatu and Lewis are solid up front and Brayton is a good player, but the team needs more speed rushers. They also need to add depth at defensive tackle with Walker unlikely to return.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- SLB Na'il Diggs, MLB Jon Beason, WLB Thomas Davis. Backups -- MLB Adam Seward, OLB Landon Johnson, OLB James Anderson, ILB Donte Curry. Injured reserve -- MLB Dan Connor.

Beason was named All-Pro and made the Pro Bowl in just his second season, although his play tailed off down the stretch. Davis is super-talented, and the Panthers have to find better ways to use him. Diggs is a solid veteran, but there is little in the way of depth behind him. The Panthers have Connor coming off IR next year, but Johnson will likely be cut and Anderson and Curry are viewed as special teams guys. Look for the Panthers to add depth here, probably one veteran and one draft pick.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Chris Gamble, RCB Ken Lucas, SS Chris Harris, FS Charles Godfrey. Backups -- CB Richard Marshall, CB Dante Wesley, CB C.J. Wilson, S Quinton Teal, S Nate Salley.

Gamble just received a $54 million contract, yet for some strange reason the Panthers didn't match him up one-on-one with Larry Fitzgerald in the playoffs. Lucas' salary cap figure is more than $9 million for next season, so look for the team to part ways with him. Marshall would likely start if the Panthers don't bring in someone to compete. They like Wilson and view him as a star in the making. Wesley is a special teams guy. Harris and Godfrey will be back as starters next year.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K John Kasay, KO Rhys Lloyd, P Jason Baker, LS Jason Kyle, KR
Mark Jones.

Kasay signed a contract extension this year, so he will be back next season. Lloyd, who led the league in touchbacks, will also return. Baker is solid. Look for the team to re-sign the reliable Kyle, who has never botched a snap in a regular-season game. Jones did well on returns, but he's a free agent and shouldn't overprice himself here because the Panthers have other options coming back in Ryne Robinson and Jason Carter.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: January 30, 2009

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