Much has been made about the early season struggles of the Carolina Panthers—their offensive ineffectiveness, their defensive woes and Cam Newton.
While there is no doubting its performance this season has been less than stellar, the team has had its share of failures all across the board. Unfortunately for him, Newton has had to bare the brunt of the criticism.
An article by Gil Brandt at NFL.com talked about the reasons why Newton has struggled this season, and one explanation stood out: the Panthers decision to not re-sign and bring back tight end Jeremy Shockey.
This was interesting because the decision has been one of the sorer subjects for the Panther fanbase, which felt Shockey was an asset. For fans, it still raises questions about whether or not Carolina made the right decision. Shockey put up decent numbers in his lone season with the Panthers, catching 37 balls for 455 yards. He also proved to be an effective blocker.
However, would have re-signing him made a difference to the success of the offense?
Carolina decided to go in a different direction and signed running back Mike Tolbert instead. The offensive philosophy changed, as the Panthers are not running two-tight end sets nearly as much this season, preferring to line up in a spread-shotgun formation to move the ball.
Having said this, Greg Olsen has done a great job of stepping up and is producing at a level that many projected him to when he signed last year. Currently, he is among Carolina's receiving leaders. The only knock against him is that he is not as accomplished as a blocker.
Before the season started, the Panthers attempted to trade right tackle Jeff Otah and, after a failed physical, released him. Carolina opted to go with the young Byron Bell at the position and placed rookie guard Amini Silatolu on the offensive line. With all of this youth at critical positions in the Carolina offense, wouldn't it have been wise to bring back Shockey?
Not only has Newton been struggling, but the running game has suffered as well. After five games, none of Carolina's vaunted running backs have rushed for a 100 yards and there seems to be a missing cog that is keeping the offense from breaking out.
Unless something happens to Olsen, it's doubtful the Panthers will even look to bring back Shockey this season and even further unlikely he will be re-signed in the offseason. There is no telling if his presence in the offense would have made a difference in Carolina's fortunes this far into the season.
For now, they will have to play the hand they were dealt and make necessary adjustments if they are to get the offense back on track.