The Panthers made one tweak to their coaching staff, making a move coach Ron Rivera wanted from the beginning.
They replaced defensive backs coach (and former coordinator under John Fox) Ron Meeks with San Diego's Steve Wilks.
Wilks had worked with Rivera in both Chicago and San Diego, but the Chargers wouldn't let him out of the last year of his contract in 2011, so the Panthers let Meeks keep the seat warm for a year.
If nothing else, he's more of a schematic fit with Rivera. The two helped the Chargers bounce from 31st in pass defense in 2008 to 11th the following year, and tops in the league in both pass defense and total defense in 2010.
Meeks was a classic Tampa-2 coach, comfortable calling a more conservative style. That was fine when the Panthers were getting more pass rush, but last year things dipped in that area, with predictable results.
The Panthers ranked 24th in pass defense, allowing 28 touchdown passes (only six teams allowed more) with just 14 interceptions (third-lowest in franchise history).
The addition of Wilks could also help some of the high-ceiling young talent on hand. Free safety Sherrod Martin in particular looked lost at times, including a horrible misplay just before halftime of the finale at New Orleans that had team officials steamed.
But Martin has excellent range and has made big plays as well, so it will be interesting to monitor his progress under a new coach.
The Panthers are also expected to be in the cornerback market.
Chris Gamble had a bounce-back year, but there was little else to speak of. They think fourth-rounder Brandon Hogan (who missed most of the year after a late-2010 knee injury) has promise, but Captain Munnerlyn was overmatched at times. Former New England second-rounder Darius Butler also showed glimpses, but the Panthers could use at least one top-shelf cover player if they can't find another pass rusher early in the draft.
"Getting healthy will help us a ton. We're so banged up - 18 guys on IR -- and that's tough to…