After the veteran purge that has just finished within the Carolina Panthers organization, many fans are wondering who will come in and fill the shoes of the departed veterans. Which young players will step up and make the difference that will ultimately bring the team back to the playoffs?
Plenty of names have been thrown around in the offseason thus far. What follows is my list of the five players who I believe must step up and improve in 2010.
This big, athletic tight end out of Louisville is a chess piece on offense that the Panthers have not exploited enough in my opinion. Barnidge is entering his third season with the team, but his ability is undeniable. He has soft hands, presents a big target for a quarterback to throw to with his large frame (6’ 5’’, 247 lbs) and although his blocking needs refinement before he can seize the starting job, Barnidge is not far away from making a positive impact on this offense.
Barnidge faces competition from the reliable if unspectacular Jeff King and the favourite pass catching tight end on the roster, Dante Rosario. Rosario played almost twice as many snaps on offense as Barnidge in 2009. The Panthers are very fond of the two TE set on offense, and with improved play from the quarterback position, expect to see Barnidge incorporated more frequently into the offensive gameplan as a threat down the seam of the defense.
The second year full back out of Syracuse is firmly in the limelight now after the release of longtime Panther Brad Hoover, who occupied the full back position consistently for ten seasons.
The entire league knows how much the Panthers love to run the football. This mantra of “pound the rock” and beating your opponents into submission, peppering in a few passes here and there, has magnified the role of the full back. Fiammetta will already have learned the ropes from Hoover last season, but his roster spot is by no means secure. Remember that John Fox chose to play undrafted rookie Tyrell Sutton at full back at times last season over Fiammetta.
Fiammetta was the top rated player at his position in the 2009 NFL Draft. In his second year with the Panthers, he has to come into training camp ready to play with the physicality that the Carolina running game requires and seize that position.
Let’s be honest here. Has any one player drafted by the Panthers been more disappointing in recent history than Dwayne Jarrett? Taken with one of the Panthers second round choices in the 2007 NFL Draft, the excitement surrounding the former USC star was palpable. At last the Panthers had a legitimate option behind All-Pro WR Steve Smith.
That optimism was quelled in a flash when reports surfaced about Jarrett’s inconsistency in practice, struggles to learn the playbook and being called out by Smith for his lack of a good work ethic. Add in a two year Muhsin Muhammed comeback and all signs point to that ugly four lettered word that no player wants to hear uttered about them – bust.
Jarrett’s career with the Panthers is truly on its last legs. If not for the inexperience at the WR position, I believe he would have already received his marching orders. His performance in the final game of 2009 simultaneously excited and angered fans. Where had that been for the past three seasons?
The fourth year pro needs to beat out rookie Brandon LaFell for the #2 receiver spot in order to keep a place on this team. If he doesn’t, we could be chalking Jarrett up as just another four lettered word.
The Panthers have always been aggressive on draft day under John Fox and Marty Hurney. During the 2009 NFL Draft, they gave up 2010’s first round pick to trade back into the second round and draft undersized Florida State defensive end Everette Brown. When a team gives up that kind of capital to acquire you, you know you have pressure on you instantly to perform at a high level.
Brown took to the Panthers defense quickly and his playing time increased steadily as he absorbed the playbook. He finished his rookie season with three sacks, seven quarterback hits and thirteen quarterback pressures. Brown reminds me of Indianapolis defensive end Robert Mathis – undersized physically, but with the combination of quickness, leverage skills and a non-stop motor to overcome even the best offensive tackles.
With the departure of Julius Peppers, undoubtedly one of the best players in franchise history, via free agency, Everette Brown must break out this year. Brown played less than half the snaps of Julius Peppers in 2009. Projecting Brown’s numbers out over a whole year and you could have a potential Pro Bowl defensive end.
In a league where pass rushers come at a premium, Everette Brown has to grow up fast in this defense and bring the heat if the Panthers are to be a playoff contender.
There is no disputing that in football the position of quarterback is the most difficult to play. An individual must possess the mental acumen to absorb the complexities of a playbook, the confidence to make throws against the fury of a relentless pass rush, the athleticism to make the plays on paper come to life in practice and in games. And that is only the tip of the iceberg.
Matt Moore, as Panthers fans will tell you, has demonstrated each of these qualities on numerous occasions during the stints as the starter in 2007 and 2009. He possesses the kind of toughness that you need to see out of your leader. His arm strength is more than sufficient for the offensive scheme of the Panthers’ offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson.
This year will be different.
Moore enters 2010 as the unquestioned starter. Yes, you could argue that Jimmy Clausen has an outside shot, but that’s it. In fact, the drafting of Clausen was a stroke of genius by the front office if you examine it closely. Competition can only bring out the best in players. When Moore heard Clausen became a Carolina Panther, you can bet he was heading straight to the team complex to get back to work, if he wasn’t there already. A motivated Moore bodes well for Carolina’s offense in 2010.
I can’t deny that I have reservations despite my gushing of praise for Moore. Can any Panthers fan amongst us honestly say that we don’t? One thing is for certain – Matt Moore is a confident young man with bundles of ability and a great supporting cast.
He knows 2010 has to be great for him and for this offense.
And he will not disappoint.