The Carolina Panthers organisation has had a bitter taste in its mouth since January 10th, 2009. In case you have forgotten - and I wouldn’t blame you if you have - that was the night that changed Jake Delhomme’s career forever and saw the team’s season crumble amidst a plethora of turnovers and overall offensive inefficiency.
In front of 73,695 fans at Bank of America Stadium, the Panthers went belly up, leaving more questions than answers heading into 2009.
When a new season dawns, the optimism of the football fan is at an all-time high.
Hey, that rookie wideout we drafted could step up to fill that need behind our number one target.
Maybe this year we’ll be able to run the football better and close out games.
This hopeless optimism can be quelled so quickly in a league as ruthless as the National Football League as the 2009 Panthers found out. The season, as most fans will tell you, had more low moments than high ones. When people watched their team play they saw a quarterback at the helm of the offense pushing the wrong buttons, making the wrong calls and more often than not, putting the team in dire positions from which recovery was doubtful.
John Fox has been the head coach of the Carolina Panthers since 2002. In the past, he may have let his loyalty to veteran players cloud his judgement and keep Jake Delhomme in as the starter until the end of the season, but logic prevailed.
On December 6th, 2009, John Fox made the long anticipated decision to make third year pro Matt Moore the starting quarterback. I don’t need to tell you what happened next, but some fans don’t realise truly how much a fresh face at the position turned the offense around.
At this time, the Panthers had basically nothing to play for. The playoffs were all but out of the question. Injuries to star running back DeAngelo Williams and starting offensive tackles Jordan Gross and Jeff Otah left the Panthers in far from ideal circumstances.
Despite these obstacles, the team went on a 3-1 streak to end the 2009 season, a prelude to what the team hopes will be a successful 2010 with new faces at many positions on both sides of the ball.
It is clear that the Panthers brass is changing their modus operandi regarding the team’s direction. Youth is the buzz word behind closed doors at Bank of America Stadium, but even general manager Marty Hurney admitted recently that the uncertainty over the league’s labour situation was a major factor in releasing so many veteran players on the roster.
True leaders of the team like Jake Delhomme, Brad Hoover and Muhsin Muhammed were allowed to move on, making way for the young guns – Matt Moore, second year fullback Tony Fiammetta and third round draft pick Brandon LaFell.
Make no mistake: no decision made by an organisation comes without an inherent risk to their future prospects. These moves could backfire, but Fox and Hurney know that with so much uncertainty surrounding the Collective Bargaining Agreement, investing in their young players is a sound strategy.
Only four players on the current roster are over the age of 30. It is time that Panthers fans like me face the facts – this team has many talented players, but an abundance of young players on a roster can be a double-edge sword. As long as talent shines through in what could be John Fox’s final season in charge, the 2010 Panthers may surprise you.