2008 Season Preview

Julius Peppers

The Panthers feel that they've made the necessary changes to become a force in the NFC on both sides of the ball, reconstructing both lines and adding weapons on offense. For the first time in a long while, the Panthers actually have quality depth at just about every position.

OFFENSE


Steve Smith
The Panthers have nearly rebuilt an offense that underperformed last season, releasing G Mike Wahle, C Justin Hartwig and RB Deshaun Foster, and letting WRs Drew Carter and Keary Colbert leave as free agents. At receiver, former Panther Muhsin Muhammad and Seahawk D.J. Hackett should take the pressure off of Steve Smith. Second-year center Ryan Kalil and rookie Jeff Otah should become fixtures along the offensive line. Jonathan Stewart will step-in as the Panthers' feature back with DeAngelo Williams reprising his role as the change-of-pace back. Some national pundits thought the Panthers should have gotten another quarterback either via free agency or the draft, but the team feels like they have what they need with Jake Delhomme, who returns from Tommy John surgery, and promising sophomore Matt Moore, who won 2 of his 3 starts against playoff teams late in 2007.

QUARTERBACK

Starter -- Jake Delhomme
Backups -- Matt Moore, Brett Basanez

RUNNING BACKS

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

TIGHT ENDS

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

WIDE RECEIVERS

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

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

DEFENSE


Jon Beason
The Panthers finally cut ties with LB Dan Morgan, whom the team drafted in the first round of the 2001 draft. Morgan struggled to stay on the field during his tenure largely due to concussions. The play of rookie Jon Beason at middle linebacker last season assured the Panthers that Morgan's services were no longer needed. Kris Jenkins, the team's second round pick in 2001, was traded to the Jets for third and fifth-round picks. The team hopes that FA pickups Darwin Walker and Ian Scott can help fill the void that Jenkins left at defensive tackle. DE's Tyler Brayton, Charles Johnson and Stanley McClover hope to fill the void left by Mike Rucker, who retired. Julius Peppers should rebound from a lackluster 2007 season and regain his play-making ferocity on the field. Despite being stout at linebacker, the Panthers picked Penn State's Dan Connor in the third round of the draft. Connor will provide depth at middle linebacker and could push Beason outside eventually. Charles Godfrey was selected in the third round of the draft with a move to safety in mind. He will compete with former N.C. State standout Terrance Holt for the starting safety slot opposite of Chris Harris. Ken Lucas, Chris Gamble and Richard Marshall are entrenched at corner, but veterans Ricardo Colclough and Dante Wesley will fight for a roster spot.

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.

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.

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.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Punter Jason Baker will be back, but 2008 could be the last season for long-time Panther John Kasay. Kasay, who turns 39 in October, will be pushed by 25-year-old Rhys Lloyd. Lloyd, a native of England, led NFL Europe last season in scoring and tied the league record for longest field goal made with a 56-yarder against Cologne. Kasay has lost a great deal of his power on kickoffs and long field goals, but remains accurate at shorter ranges. Will the Panthers find a spot on the roster for both until Kasay, the last remaining original Carolina Panther, decides to retire on his own terms?

SPECIALISTS

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

COACHING

Despite many speculating that John Fox was on the hot seat and that former Steelers coach Bill Cowher was waiting in the wings, owner Jerry Richardson gave Fox and his staff a vote of confidence in the offseason. As a result, the staff remains the same and has another season to prove they can win.

Rookies


Jeff Otah
The Panthers made an uncharacteristic bold move this year, trading a 2009 first-rounder and 2008 2nd and 4th-rounders to the Eagles for the 19th pick overall and selecting OT Jeff Otah. A few picks earlier, the team selected bruising Oregon running back Jonathan Stewart. In the third, the team nabbed S Charles Godfrey and LB Dan Connor -- players who they feel will be contributors right away. TE Gary Barnidge was selected in the fifth round and should provide quality depth. In the sixth round, Carolina selected DT Nick Hayden from Wisconsin. Seventh-rounders Hilee Taylor, Geoff Schwartz and Mackenzy Bernadeau are long-shots to make the roster.

Rookie Signings update - 7/20

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).

SEASON OUTLOOK

The Panthers feel that they've made the necessary changes to become a force in the NFC on both sides of the ball, reconstructing both lines and adding weapons on offense. For the first time in a long while, the Panthers actually have quality depth at just about every position. Despite having one of the most promising teams assembled during the John Fox era, they will likely fly under the national radar early in the 2008 season.

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