Are Panthers Destined For Mediocrity?

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer ISeptember 5, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 17:  Head coach John Fox of the Carolina Panthers looks on against of the New York Giants on August 17, 2009 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Giants defeated the Panthers 24-17.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

If the pre-season is any indication, then the Carolina Panthers are in trouble. They finished up their practice season 0-4, and may have left more questions than when training camp began.

One of my biggest questions is what happened to the Panthers' fundamental skills? It seems as if during the off-season that they forgot how to tackle and block.

Panthers linebacker Jon Beason, recently said that the Panthers weren't tackling very well, and eluded that it could be because they are learning a new defensive scheme. He said that once the players become comfortable in that system, that the instincts will come back.

I hope so, because watching the Panthers whiff on so many tackles in the final game against Pittsburgh was awful. Tackling is tackling, just because you install a new system doesn't mean that you have to learn one of the basic tenets of the game all over again.

The loss of defensive tackle Makke Keomaatu was huge, but teams lose players all the time and you have to adjust. The Panthers have added a free-agent pick-up at the time of this writing, but this position has to scare you, because when Keomaatu went down last season the Panthers were gashed by the running game.

The New York Giants put up over 300 yards alone. This preseason isn't looking much better, as other teams have seemed to run on the Panthers at will. Carolina better find a solution soon, because if you can't stop the run you can't win games.

The new scheme that the Panthers will employ is the cover-2, a system made famous by Monte Kiffin and Tony Dungy. It would seem that this type of defense would play into the hands of talented cornerback Chris Gamble, but there have been some disturbing signs.

In the cover-2 cornerbacks are expected to help a little more than usual in run support, and for Gamble this has been a problem. Gamble has never been known for his tackling skills and in this defense that nuance is magnified. Gamble has whiffed or been run over in more games this preseason than I can remember. Although this is bad there is something that is more bothersome about Gamble.

In the offseason Gamble signed a 50 million plus contract extension with the Panthers, making him one of the best paid corners in the game. The Panthers paid him money to be a shut-down corner and in the preseason Gamble has been anything but.

Baltimore punished Gamble, testing him from the outset and continuously throwing to his side of the field. Gamble responded by being burned on two of the biggest pass plays of the game. One by a player who has been on 6 teams in 6 years, and the other by a player who was contemplating retirement.

Gamble said that those mistakes were a matter of technique, and for his sake I hope he is right because the secondary was the part of the defense that was thought to be the anchor for the rest of the injured unit.

Quarterback Jake Delhomme said that the offense couldn't carry the Panthers, that it would have to go in cycles. What Jake doesn't seem to realize is that this year the offense may have no choice. The offense is the bright spot for the team this year and will be responsible for how far they go.

The only reason that the Panthers' offense won't carry the Cats would be because Delhomme can't handle the job. The offensive unit is laced with performers like Deangelo Williams, Steve Smith, Jonathan Stewart, and the newly discovered Mike Goodson.

Jake has at times, proven to be his own worst enemy, making terrible decisions at the most inopportune times. In order for the Panthers to escape the envelope of mediocrity Jake will have to step up and provide leadership for a team, whose defense will likely be under the gun all season. I hope he's up for it.