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News » Carolina Panthers Strategy and Personnel 2008-07-18


Carolina Panthers Strategy and Personnel 2008-07-18


Carolina Panthers Strategy and Personnel 2008-07-18
With less than three weeks before the start of training camp, the Carolina Panthers have signed three of their nine draft picks, the highest being fifth-round pick Nick Hayden, a defensive tackle from Wisconsin.


DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED

--LB Dan Connor (3/74): $2.509M/4 yrs, $789,000 SB; 2008 cap: $492,250.

--TE Gary Barnidge (5/141): Terms unknown.

--DT Nick Hayden (6/181): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

--DE Hilee Taylor (7/221): Terms unknown.

--OG Mackenzy Bernadeau (7/250): Terms unknown.

DRAFT CHOICES UNSIGNED

--RB Jonathan Stewart (1/13).

--OT Jeff Otah (1/19).

--S Charles Godfrey (3/67).

--OT Geoff Schwartz (7/241).

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

QUARTERBACK: Starter -- Jake Delhomme. Backups -- Matt Moore, Brett Basanez.

Jake Delhomme had a QB rating of 111 last year before going down in Week 3 with an elbow injury. He had Tommy John surgery and appears to have fully recovered is the team's undisputed starter. He's looked very sharp in minicamps and his arm strength appears better than ever. Moore, who went 2-1 as a starter over the final three games of last year, turned some heads as an undrafted rookie. Basanez, who spent last season on IR with a wrist injury, is the team's No. 3 quarterback. Even though they've been tied to some of the Brett Favre rumors, the Panthers have resisted bringing in a veteran quarterback because they want to develop Moore and Basanez, making sure they get enough reps in camp.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- DeAngelo Williams, FB Brad Hoover. Backups -- Jonathan Stewart, Nick Goings, LaBrandon Toefield, Alex Haynes.

Williams averaged 5.0 yards per carry last season as DeShaun Foster's backup, but it's pretty clear the Panthers want to get back to a power running attack, which is why they drafted Stewart in the first round (13th overall). He put up gaudy numbers at Oregon last year. With Foster gone, look for Stewart and Williams to split carries with Stewart getting more reps as the season progresses. At 5-foot-10 and 235 pounds, Stewart has 16 pounds on Williams is considered more of a power style back than Williams who is more finesse. Goings is the cagey veteran but he could wind up competing for a roster spot with Toefield and Haynes.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Jeff King. Backups -- Dante Rosario, Gary Barnidge, Chad Upshaw.

King turned out to be a solid weapon in the passing game last year, finishing second only to Steve Smith in receptions with 46. He scored two touchdowns. However, the guy to watch here may be Rosario, who came on strong at the end of last season and looks to have good NFL talent. Rosario has six grabs last year for 108 yards and two scores and both he and Barnidge offer more game-breaking speed than King. All in all, this is a very young tight end corps with King, entering just his third year, the veteran of this group.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Steve Smith, Muhsin Muhammad. Backups -- D.J. Hackett, Dwayne Jarrett, Ryne Robinson, Jason Carter, Travis Taylor.

Smith was victimized by poor and inconsistent quarterback play last year following the injury to Delhomme, but still finished with another 1,000-yard season and led the team with seven TDs. He seems primed for a huge year with Delhomme back in the fold and other teams forced to pay more attention to veteran receivers Muhammad and Hackett. They represent a significant upgrade over Keary Colbert and Drew Carter, both of whom left via free agency. The last time Muhammad was with Smith he caught 16 TDs in 2004, so the two have great chemistry. Hackett should be the No. 3 guy, although he could replace Muhammad at some point. Jarrett, a high second-round draft pick in 2007, is the wild card in all of this. He was immensely successful at USC, but had only six catches last year and clashed with the moody Smith. Robinson should make the roster as a return man, but if there's a sleeper in this punch its Carter. He spent last year on the practice squad but has an outside chance of making the roster.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Jordan Gross, LG Travelle Wharton, C Ryan Kalil, RG Toniu Fonoti, RT Jeff Otah. Backups -- G Keydrick Vincent, T/G Jeremy Bridges, C/G Geoff Hangartner, G Milford Brown, T Geoff Schwartz, G Evan Mathis.

The Panthers' starting line has different players in all five positions. Gross moves to left tackle while Wharton moves inside to guard. Look for the Panthers to run to the left side quite a bit this year. Kalil takes over for Justin Hartwig at center and big things are expected from Otah, the team's first-round pick. The right guard spot is still up in the air with the team's three free-agent pickups -- Fonoti, Vincent and Brown -- expected to battle it out. The Panthers put an emphasis on adding beef up front and even most the guys returning from last year added weight. Gross is the team's franchise player, so he's playing for a new contract.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LE Tyler Brayton, LT Maake Kemoeatu, RT Damione Lewis, RE Julius Peppers. Backups -- DE Stanley McClover, DE Charles Johnson, DT Darwin Walker, DT Gary Gibson, DT Ian Scott, DE Hilee Taylor, DT Nick Hayden.

After averaging better than 10 sacks per season over his first years in the league, Peppers had a horrible season in 2007 with just 2.5 sacks. As the team, the Panthers had just 23 sacks in '07, way down from years past. Peppers was barely a factor at all and was routinely handled with one-on-one blocks. The good news for the Panthers is Peppers is in a contract year, so he should be highly motivated. The Panthers hope that moving Peppers from left end to right end will help free him up. The Panthers may struggle to replace Kris Jenkins, whom they traded to the New York Jets for a third- and fifth-round draft pick. Lewis is a former first-round pick, but he doesn't have Jenkins' bulk, and opponents will run right at him. Brayton, a first-round bust in Oakland, hopes to resurrect his career in Carolina and will have first crack at the starting lineup. Walker and Scott provide veteran leadership in the middle coming off the bench. The Panthers really need young DEs McClover and Johnson to take the next step and generate some pass rush. Taylor, an undersized DE, could see some action on passing downs if he makes the roster.

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

The Panthers gave Johnson a three-year, $10 million contract this offseason -- the highest they handed out to any free agent -- but he's yet to crack the starting lineup with Diggs holding him off so far. Beason is outstanding and set a franchise record for tackles in a season as a rookie with 156 after taking over for since retired Dan Morgan. Davis, a former first-round pick, really needs to go from being a good player to a great player this year. The Panthers drafted Connor even though they more pressing needs at other positions. But they felt like they couldn't pass on him when he was still there in the middle of the third round. Anderson, a former third-round pick, could be the odd man out in what should be a fierce battle for positions between him, Shaw, Jamison and Curry.

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

Right now Lucas and Gamble remain the starting corners, but clearly Marshall is as good as either of those two vets. Marshall could develop into one of the better corners in the league over the next few years. Overall, this is a very reliable cornerback trio. Harris had a terrific season after being acquired in a trade last summer with Chicago. He finished with a franchise record eight forced fumbles and earned a four-year contract. He brings some aggressiveness to the secondary. Godfrey, a third-round pick out of Iowa, was thrown into the starting lineup right away and hasn't let anyone down. He could be a great sleeper pick. Teal showed some promise last year at safety and Holt is a veteran backup who could be kept around if only to entice brother Torry to join the Panthers down the road. Salley, Wesley and Deloatch are all coming off injuries last season.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K John Kasay, K Rhys Lloyd, P Jason Baker, LS Jason Kyle, KR Jonathan Stewart, PR Ryne Robinson.

Kasay was a reliable 24-for-28 last year on field goals, but really struggled with kickoffs. The Panthers brought in Lloyd to handle that role last year and he did well in his one outing. He could make the team as a kickoff specialist. Baker is as solid as they come and seems to have more hang time this year. Robinson improved on returns at the end of last season after a shaky start to his rookie season. Even though Stewart is a high first-round pick, the Panthers will give him the first crack at returning kickoffs this year. Carolina's return teams, in general, were abysmal last season.


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Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: July 18, 2008

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Brad Hoover Name: Brad Hoover
#45
Position: FB
Age: 31
Experience: 9 years
College: Western Carolina
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