The Carolina Panthers made very few changes this offseason. Salary cap issues, the lack of available free agents that would fit well, and a general satisfaction with the current roster all contributed to the lack of movement made by the Panthers' front office as far as personnel is concerned.
They dismissed some older veterans in the secondary and at running back, but quickly replaced them through the draft. They locked down their stars, and added some depth on the defensive line through the draft. They lost a few players through free agency that they could no longer afford, but quickly noted that there were replacements on the roster, even though they were young and inexperienced.
When all was said and done, the 2009 Panthers looked a lot like the 2008 version. Maybe like a 2008 version with a playoff-sized chip on it's shoulder, but still, not a lot had changed.
They were solid at all of the skill positions, and their starting lineup was talented and played well together.
Depth was a concern though, particularly at defensive tackle, wide receiver, and on the offensive line. All three areas have young, unproven players as the primary backups.
Then, as fate would have it, 30 minutes into the first practice Ma'ake Kemoeatu ran into a slippery patch of air and popped his Achilles tendon. He's out for the year.
Was that catastrophic? Well, at first glance you would think so. Kemo is a big man who demands a double team from the opposing offensive line. He doesn't get pushed out of the way easy and can effectively play two gaps, closing the middle well against the run.
Interestingly enough, the players that the Panthers have been playing in his old position are all one-gap rushers, and Carolina doesn't seem to be in any hurry to replace him with another run-stuffing nose tackle.
In a way, this could work out okay for the Panthers. Ron Meeks likes a more aggressive, attacking scheme anyway, and preferred smaller and quicker defensive tackles in Indianapolis. Kemo isn't the best fit for that approach, although it is nice to have a guy like that around for short yardage situations.
But the best part of that injury, if there is one, is that it happened early enough to develop some of our younger talent and find a suitable replacement if none of them work out.
Since the defensive tackle position seems to be working out, fate decided to test the Panthers again when Steve Smith went down with what appeared to be a bad shoulder injury.
Pundits everywhere immediately declared that the season was over without Smith. Never mind that there are 21 other players who contribute on the field, Smith is Carolina's best player and apparently the Panthers are lost without him.
Never mind that they were 2-0 in games without Smith last year. Never mind that in the six games where he caught fewer than four balls, the Panthers were 4-2.
Sure the Panthers are better with him than without him, but they're not lost if he can't suit up.
Not that it matters anyway, Smith didn't suffer a serious injury, and will be available in the preseason, if need be.
In the meantime, it turns out that the Panthers will get Dwayne Jarrett more reps in the Z slot at receiver, while Moose slides over to Smitty's X spot. That's a good thing for a receiver who needs to show up this year.
The biggest beneficiaries though, may be Ryne Robinson and Kenny Moore. While Jarrett plays with the ones, they'll get more opportunities to make their cases for final roster spots.
Given the lack of depth at receiver, extra reps for those two now could have a big payoff late in the season.
According to Greek mythology, there are three Fates. And the Fates have tested Carolina twice, at two of their most vulnerable positions.
But Carolina has three of those, with the offensive line being the third.
Maybe bad news does come in threes, and the third test of fate will be an injury to that unit.
And maybe then Carolina fans will discover that Bernadeau is ready to produce inside, or that Schwartz is capable of spelling Otah, or that Robinson can immediately start in this league.
And in the end, that might be a very good thing indeed.
Maybe the Fates are testing the Panthers now, so that they will be prepared for a fateful day in February.
After all, Kemo didn't quite fit with Meeks' scheme. Smitty isn't going to miss a game, and really doesn't need the practice. And we still have one untested area.
So if you hear bad news about Vincent, or Otah, or Kalil, don't worry too much. Especially if it turns out that they won't miss games during the season.
It's just the Fates preparing the Panthers for a Super Bowl run.
And who are we to argue with fate?
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