Panthers' offensive outlook

Keyshawn Johnson

Knowing Pro Bowl wide receiver Steve Smith was receiving more double and triple teams as the 2005 season progressed, the Panthers went out and got him some help this offseason by signing receiver Keyshawn Johnson.

Johnson's presence as a possession receiver and the continuing emergence of deep threat Drew Carter should help free up Smith, who put up incredible numbers last season, leading the NFL with 1,563 receiving yards and finishing tied for first in receptions (103) and touchdown catches (12). Johnson has been a steady performer through the years, and if the two strong personalities can coexist in Carolina, it should improve Carolina's passing game.

"Keyshawn's not going to wow you in shorts and he knows that," quarterback Jake Delhomme said of working with Johnson during non-padded workouts. "He's not one of these burners. But it's the little things he does, the blocking ... He's strong and big and just today he made some catches in the red zone area. He's just a big body. He has great hands and if your throw it anywhere around him he's going to catch it.

"He will be a great addition for us, and especially for Steve Smith. We all know what we want -- we want one-on-one matchups for Steve."

Smith saw none of those in last year's NFC Championship game loss to Seattle. In fact, at one point a frustrated Smith walked off the field holding up four fingers, signaling to coaches that he had four guys covering him.

Smith was getting no help from No. 2 receiver Keary Colbert, who turned in a horrendous second season catching just 25 balls despite starting 16 games. Knowing Colbert couldn't hurt them, the Seahawks focused all of their attention on Smith.

This year, the Panthers hope Johnson takes that pressure off of him.

Colbert, meanwhile, is left to battle for playing time with Carter as the No. 3 receiver.

On the offensive line, the Panthers upgraded by signing center Justin Hartwig away from the Tennessee Titans, making him one of the top three highest-paid players at his position. That represents a significant upgrade over Jeff Mitchell, a heady player who appeared to be wearing down after eight NFL seasons. Hartwig has superior athletic ability.

Also, 2005 third-round draft pick Evan Mathis is ready to take over at right guard for Tutan Reyes, who left to sign a free agent contract with the Buffalo Bills. Teammates say Mathis is the strongest of the team's offensive linemen, but needs to continue to fine-tune his technique.

The only other big addition is first-round draft pick DeAngelo Williams from Memphis, who should get some carries when starter DeShaun Foster needs a blow. The NCAA's leading rusher last season, Williams is a shifty back who some compare to Barry Sanders. Providing he can make the transition, he'll also work on kickoff returns.

John Kasay, the lone remaining member of the Panthers' 1995 expansion team, returns for a 12th season with the Panthers.

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