The Panthers are cutting costs left and right, but they might need to spend some money to add bibs and pacifiers to their uniforms in 2010.
This year's version will be defined by youth, with a slew of the team's recent draft picks expected to take on larger roles.
Every expendable veteran was let go this offseason—including some who weren't expendable—which makes this year a challenge for coach John Fox in the last year of his contract.
Because of the turnover, it's hard to imagine the Panthers contending for a championship. At the same time, there are enough quality pieces—particularly in the running game and the back seven of the defense—to keep the bottom from falling out this year.
Offense: The Panthers' offense has always been run-heavy, but expect them to lean even more on rushing this year, given the change under center. Coordinator Jeff Davidson (a former NFL offensive lineman) calls plays the way he played. It's a physical, no-nonsense style built around one of the league's top lines and best pair of running backs, which should keep Matt Moore from having to do too much in his first full year as a starter.
Moore excels at a few things, including moving the pocket and throwing deep, but there's still the matter of inexperience.
Second-round pick Jimmy Clausen will be able to push Moore right away because the offense he played in at Notre Dame is similar to Carolina's. If Moore can hold up to the pressure, the Panthers have a chance to survive his growing pains.
However, it may be difficult to fully measure Moore's performance because of problems at wideout. Steve Smith, the team's only threat on the outside, broke his arm in an offseason flag football game and will miss all of training camp, though he is expected to return for the start of the season.
Former second-round pick Dwayne Jarrett will get one more chance to seize the No. 2 role because of the lack of experienced options behind him. The team might need significant contributions from rookies Brandon LaFell and Armanti Edwards.
Defense: The defense is an unusual position, having long been defined by its line and now not knowing if that group can even play. Three of the four starters are gone, highlighted by end Julius Peppers' departure to Chicago. Carolina also cut its starting tackles, putting some crucial jobs in the hands of untested youngsters.
The Panthers received a big blow this offseason when they learned weakside linebacker Thomas Davis had torn his ACL again.
They have two replacement options: 1) Move middle 'backer Jon Beason outside and plug 2008 third-round pick Dan Connor into the middle. 2) Leave Beason inside and use trade acquisition Jamar Williams on the weak side.
"The biggest question I have about them is their run defense. When you replace Peppers with Everette Brown, you give up a good bit there, and who are their guys inside going to be? Jon Beason's good, but he needs a clear shot, and it's hard to say how he's going to react if the guys in front of him aren't taking up blockers. The big guys they've had there before (Maake Kemoeatu and Hollis Thomas) helped him a lot, because he needs to be able to run to the ball to make plays. …
"Obviously, they're going to be able to run the ball. Those two backs (DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart) are just great players, and the line is about as good as you'll see. But teams are going to stack it up on them and make Moore make some plays, because you saw last year what happens when there's nobody besides Steve Smith for him to throw to."
Charles Johnson, DE. He has hinted at his potential, but now Johnson must deliver. As the first in line to replace Julius Peppers, Johnson will have to hold up as a run stopper on early downs and build on his sack total (10 over the past two years). Johnson doesn't have a quick first step, but he's strong and is learning how to use leverage and pass-rush moves to get into the pocket.
"Charles is one of those guys who's going to have to step up for us this year. Obviously, no one man is going to replace Julius, but we've got a lot of young guys who are going to have opportunities, and this is his. He's a big, strong guy who can make things happen, and we need him now." —LB Jon Beason
The reliance on young talent gives this team an aggressive, energetic edge, but it's hard to know whether that's going to be enough to make up for the tangible lack of sacks, receiving touchdowns or experience at quarterback.
QB: Matt Moore, Jimmy Clausen
FB: Tony Fiammetta, Tyrell Sutton
RB: DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart
WR: Steve Smith, Armanti Edwards WR: Dwayne Jarrett, Brandon LaFell
TE: Jeff King, Gary Barnidge
LT: Jordan Gross, Garry Williams
LG: Travelle Wharton, C.J. Davis
C: Ryan Kalil, Steve Justice
RG: Mackenzy Bernadeau, Duke Robinson
RT: Jeff Otah, Geoff Schwartz
DE: Charles Johnson, Everette Brown
DT: Tank Tyler, Corvey Irvin
DT: Louis Leonard, Ed Johnson
DE: Tyler Brayton, Greg Hardy
SLB: James Anderson, Eric Norwood
MLB: Dan Connor, Jamar Williams
WLB: Jon Beason, Jordan Senn
LCB: Chris Gamble, C.J. Wilson
SS: Sherrod Martin, Aaron Francisco
FS: Charles Godfrey, Aaron Francisco
RCB: Richard Marshall, Captain Munnerlyn
K: John Kasay
P: Jason Baker
KR: Mike Goodson
PR: Captain Munnerlyn
LS: J.J. Jansen
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