The Carolina Panthers are coming off of a great regular season showing last year with a horror movie ending. Going into the preseason, many people, including Panthers fans, didn't know what to expect.
After a rocky offseason, where they were not able to sign any key free agents or have a first round draft pick, they have started the preseason 0-2. So, let's take a look at some good and bad surprises and happenings in Carolina's preseason and training camp so far.
One very pleasant surprise for the Panthers has been the sharp play of quarterback Jake Delhomme. The Panthers have played well with their first team offense and Jake Delhomme has been a very big part of that.
He is 10 of 16 on total attempts for just under 100 yards in limited action. He hasn't made any huge plays, but hasn't made any bad plays either, which is the key, and always has been the key, with a gunslinger like Delhomme.
Let me also say that I have not been as down on Jake Delhomme as everybody has been this offseason. I share the opinion with John Fox that the nightmare that was the Cardinals game was just a horrible night for Delhomme.
In each of those games the Panthers were put in positions to win the game (and did win the Chargers and Packers games), because of Delhomme's ability to lead his team in the fourth quarter. Don't think I don't worry about Delhomme a little bit, but I think he is still a very legitimate NFL starter.
Another pleasant surprise of the preseason has been the stellar play of rookie and second round pick Everette Brown. He has notched a sack in each of the Panthers' two preseason games and has warranted the Panthers' decision to trade their first round pick for next year.
Look for him to be a better version of former Panther Al Wallace, a situational pass rusher who can make big plays and sack the quarterback. Brown has also forced a fumble, just further evidencing himself as a very good pass rusher and play maker.
He has a lot of speed off the edge and should give the Panthers a big boost on the defensive line if he can continue his surprising success.
Despite the surprising play of Delhomme and Brown, the Panthers have had more than a fair share of bad surprises, and most of them involve injuries.
Before the preseason even started, big, run stuffing, defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu was announced lost for the entire year with a torn Achilles.
I cannot express how big of a blow this is to the Panthers' defensive line. He is the key to the run defense of the Panthers, and when he was not healthy last year, teams ran all over them.
Look at the Giants in week 16. Derrick Ward rushed for over 200 yards—200 yards. The Panthers cannot be giving up that much yardage on the ground. Period.
Another key injury the Panthers have suffered has been to Jonathan Stewart. He has had pain in his Achilles (a very common injury this preseason it seems), and has not suited up for any games.
While Stewart is not as crucial to the Panthers' game plan as Kemoeatu, it is important that he can spell star runner DeAngelo Williams (who hasn't escaped the injury bug totally, complaining of a sore knee earlier in the week).
Stewart and Williams may have been the most punishing run duo in the league last year and it would be good to have those guys together by the opening kickoff. Mike Goodson is a big step back from Stewart, who brings power to contrast Williams' speed.
Other injuries the Panthers have suffered have been to wideouts Steve Smith (who originally was thought to be out the entire preseason before returning to practice just a few days later) and Muhsin Muhammad.
Both have yet to suit up for games, which is a bit worrisome, especially for Muhammad who is the clear No. 2 guy and isn't getting any younger. Pro Bowl linebacker Jon Beason also strained his MCL, leaving him questionable for the opening kickoff against the Eagles on Sept. 14.
Starting free safety Charles Godfrey was also hurt and is out indefinitely with a broken hand, adding more uncertainty to a defense without its key run stuffer.
The other main disappointment as far as actual player performance has been the below average play of Dwayne Jarrett. There was much buzz of Muhsin Muhammad and Steve Smith really taking him in this training camp and Jarrett turning into a reliable target for Delhomme.
However, with Muhammad and Smith out, Jarrett has still only caught one ball for three yards. He needs to get as many reps as possible against top corners to prepare him for the real season or he will be a disappointment once more, following in the footsteps of fellow USC wide receiver Mike Williams.
The Panthers have suffered many tough breaks in the form of injuries this preseason. This is not good for a team in such a loaded division as the NFC South. They really need guys like Stewart and Beason to recover fully by the start of the regular season if they expect to make the playoffs.
Strong play from Jake Delhomme and Everette Brown has given some Panthers fans a little bit of hope that their season will still be a very successful one.
I don't think there is any reason to worry about the Panthers' 0-2 start. Their first unit has not lost the games for them; the second and third units have. We will just have to wait and see how the injuries and play of the Panthers' key players pan out to know whether the Panthers will be a team to be reckoned with this season.
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