Playoffs or Bust For Carolina Panthers' Jake Delhomme and John Fox

Eddie GriffinSenior Analyst IJune 24, 2008

Perhaps no coach-quarterback tandem in the NFL has their futures more closely tied together than Carolina’s John Fox and Jake Delhomme.

Delhomme went down in Week Three last season with a season-ending elbow injury, and the Panthers went down with him, to the tune of missing the playoffs for a second straight season.

Without Delhomme, who is 37-26 as Carolina’s starter since 2003, the Panthers were forced to trot out 23-year-old undrafted rookie Matt Moore, former No. 1 overall bust David Carr, and 21-year veteran Vinny Testaverde. No wonder the offense was ranked No. 29 in the NFL.

Fox said fixing the quarterback position was his top priority after the season. But the good news is that Delhomme has recovered quickly from Tommy John surgery. He has been throwing since April, and he is on track to be nearly 100 percent when training camp starts next month.

In fact, he says his rebuilt arm might be in better shape now than in several years. He has gotten all of the work with the first team in minicamp.

“The ligament is great,” he said.

Fox agreed, to a cautious point: “His arm is strong; it’s as strong as ever. He’s rehabbed it well, and I think he’ll be as good as new when we start camp."

“(But) we’ll be cautious,” Fox said. “We don’t want to go through what we did last season, so we’ll be cautious. Again, it’s in medical people’s hands. They understand it a lot better than us coaches. They’ll give us the go-ahead, and we’ll do things as they tell us he’s capable of doing them.”

Carolina will need a healthy Delhomme, because team owner Jerry Richardson, without actually saying it, has made it known that an overhaul will be coming if the Panthers miss out on the playoffs again. And the team didn’t bring in any veteran QBs to back up Delhomme, meaning Moore will be the likely No. 2.

Carolina did, however, bolster the receiving corps by bringing back Muhsin Muhammad and signing free agent D.J. Hackett away from the Seahawks.

“We needed more than just Steve (Smith),” Delhomme said. “We got some more weapons.”