There will be five fresh new faces on the Carolina Panthers’ sidelines in the 2009 season. Following a successful 2008 campaign, several assistants were able to find jobs laden with more responsibility and higher recognition:
Mike McCoy, who spent nine seasons with the Panthers as a quarterbacks coach and offensive assistant, is headed to Denver to play the role of offensive coordinator under new head coach Josh McDaniels.
Ken Flajole left the team’s linebacker coach position to become the defensive coordinator in St. Louis after their defensive coordinator, Brian Baker, left to become Carolina’s defensive line coach.
Sal Sunseri left the team to become a linebackers coach on Nick Saban’s staff at the University of Alabama.
Secondary coach Tim Lewis left the Panthers to take the same job in Seattle under new coach Jim Mora, Jr.
Mike Trgovac turned down a contract extension as the Panthers defensive coordinator to become the defensive line coach for the Green Bay Packers.
Though the Panthers have experienced a high volume of turnover in their coaching staff this offseason, the replacements for those who have left are more than able to continue the team’s success from 2008.
The most notable addition is the team’s new defensive coordinator, Ron Meeks (pictured). Meeks was a staple on Tony Dungy’s staff during his time in Indianapolis, and has coached the likes of Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Bob Sanders, and many more defensive standouts.
He has also won a Super Bowl with the Colts in 2005. His elevated level of excitement and motivation will no doubt rub off on the Panthers defense as they look to fix the problems that caused them to give up over 25 points per game down the stretch last season.
Look for Meeks to employ a good amount of Dungy’s famed “Tampa-2” defensive strategy into his new scheme, with most of the pressure on opposing quarterbacks coming from the defensive line while the linebackers spend most of their time in coverages.
This will play to the benefit of Carolina’s Pro Bowl linebacker Jon Beason, who showed he has the ability to cover last year.
Replacing McCoy is former Cleveland quarterbacks coach Rip Scherer, who worked with the Panthers current offensive coordinator, Jeff Davidson, during Davidson’s tenure as offensive coordinator in Cleveland.
This hire brings a level of chemistry to the offense, and Scherer’s methods and tactics are different from McCoy’s—a quality that could lead to a rejuvenation of Jake Delhomme. Scherer was the wizard behind the curtain of Browns’ quarterback Derek Anderson’s breakout 2007 season.
Former Texans defensive coordinator Richard Smith takes over as linebackers coach after grooming DeMeco Ryans into one of the best linebackers in the AFC, and transforming Mario Williams from a top pick bust to an established defensive end.
Smith will have the task of taking Beason’s game to the next level, as well as finding a way to exploit Thomas Davis’ abilities to their full potential.
Ron Milus takes over in the secondary for Lewis, inheriting much of the same starting cast from 2008. The one key difference will be Richard Marshall presumably starting for the departed Ken Lucas. Marshall’s youth and ferocity should play well in the Panthers new defensive scheme.
Former Rams defensive coordinator Brian Baker will take over on the defensive line and will have the task of coaching Julius Peppers, should the disgruntled defensive end play for the Panthers in 2009. Baker will also be charged with grooming rookie Everette Brown, a player the Panthers expect to contribute right away.
While none of these names or even the positions they fill may ring a bell in the head of the casual fan, the changes outline the changes the Panthers will need to make to take their team to the next level following a successful but unrewarding 2008 season.
The defense will get a full makeover after scuffling towards the end of the season, Delhomme will get a new point of view on his mechanics and preparations, and the skill positions on defense will all have new voices leading them through the daily grind of the NFL season.
While John Fox still acts as a dictator of sorts in the play calling on both sides of the ball, look for Meeks to have a greater impact with the defense than Trgovac did. Meeks comes from a well-oiled machine in Indy and knows what has to be done to bring the greatest prize home to Charlotte—the Lombardi Trophy.
The offense, for once, is not the problem in Carolina, so much of the offensive play calling will look similar to that of 2008—a balanced rushing attack carried out with the dual threat of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.
Look for those two to pick up exactly where they left off after a full offseason together with most likely the same starting offensive line in front of them.
It takes only a winning formula of the right players and the right coaches to coach those players to experience success in the NFL.
We will see how the Panthers new combination pans out in 2009 as the team looks to solidify their place among the top teams in the league by capturing another NFC South title and continuing their quest for a Super Bowl ring.