There have been few changes to the Carolina Panthers as a whole this offseason, but the few minuscule changes that were made should make an immediate impact.
The biggest addition to the Panthers this offseason was the hiring of defensive coordinator Ron Meeks and the release of former defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac.
With Trgovac, the Panthers defense was looking stale. He ran a very conservative style of defense and the Panthers looked to have lost their aggressive defensive play from the 2003 Super Bowl season.
The Panthers had a pedestrian defensive secondary a lot of times during the 2008 campaign. The defensive front, while powerful, had problems closing the gaps to stop good running teams.
Under new defensive coordinator Ron Meeks, look for the Panthers to employ a more aggressive style of attack on the defensive line, and more tight coverage in the secondary. Ron Meeks knows how to build a solid defense and make it perform well.
Other issues addressed by the Panthers in the offseason were the re-signing of offensive tackle Jordan Gross to a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract, making Gross one of the highest paid offensive linemen in the NFL.
Gross played a big part in the strength of the Panthers offensive line in ‘08. With the club re-signing him in the offseason, they all but assured continued success in the running game and pass protection for quarterback Jake Delhomme.
The question for the Panthers is, will they be able to add any depth to the offensive line?
They have their starting five on the line and they drafted Duke Robinson from Oklahoma. But he, like last year's picks (Mackenzy Bernadeau and Geoff Schwartz), has no NFL game experience.
Another order of business addressed by the organization was the releasing of cornerback Ken Lucas and fan favorite, running back Nick Goings.
Lucas, who underperformed a lot in 2008, was somewhat of an expected departure. His age and lack of consistency weighed heavily on the Panthers front office.
With talent like Chris Gamble, Richard Marshall, and Dante Wesley waiting to move up on the depth chart, the Panthers could afford to let Lucas go, while also freeing up much needed cap space.
In the 2009 draft, the Panthers also added depth to the defensive backfield, with talented corners Sherrod Martin of Troy University and Captain Munnerlyn of the University of South Carolina. Martin could very easily make a case for being second or third on the depth chart.
Nick Goings, a solid special teams player and reliable backup running back in 2005, was not foreseen by most fans as a potential candidate for the Panthers’ unemployment line. But as fate and the lack of salary cap space would have it, we saw Goings get released this year.
The Panthers drafted running back Mike Goodson, who could get some looks at the slot receiver position, or be used in kick return or punt return duties among receiver Ryne Robinson and Sherrod Martin.
The Panthers also negotiated with quarterback Jake Delhomme on a new five-year contract to assure the position would be occupied by an experienced and accomplished individual who has been a strong leader and competitor for this team since he first took over the position in 2002.
The biggest question mark for Delhomme will be whether the chip he carries on his shoulder and the lingering bad taste he's held in his mouth from his atrocious performance against the Cardinals in the playoffs translates to his playmaking abilities on the field.
Now two years removed from Tommy John surgery, Delhomme, with new quarterbacks coach Rip Scherer, should show a vast improvement in accuracy, ball handling, and decision making.
The elephant in the middle of the room that is Julius Peppers, is the Panthers last matter of major importance right now.
Peppers, a first round draft choice in 2002, a fan favorite, and native North Carolinian, was placed under the team’s franchise tag just before the start of the free agency period.
To this date, he has still not signed his franchise tender of $16.7 million, leaving the Panthers to make alternate plans by drafting defensive end Everette Brown out of Florida State.
Until Peppers signs his franchise tender, don’t look for him in training camp, on the practice field, in uniform on Sundays, or on another team’s roster. Most likely, Peppers will sit out the 2009 season, though there remains a slim chance he may sign his franchise deal and play in 2009.
Everything else looks to be in place for the Panthers this season, which are returning 21 of last year’s 22 starters. This season looks to have a difficult schedule with formidable opposition. Carolina needs all the talent it can get.
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