Come close, I have a secret to tell you. The Carolina Panthers are going through a youth movement, there are only 8 players with more than 5 years experience in the NFL, and there are only players 30 years or older left. I have another secret to tell you. Carolina can make every “expert” reconsider their career in sports and can make the playoffs.
The Carolina Panthers have two preseason games in the books now. Both were losses, but only on the scoreboard. The Panthers have only been mentioned as a “young” team or even a “rebuilding” team. In fact, the Panthers were just lying in wait, patiently preparing and they may shock the NFL world with how good they really are.
First, I want to bring to attention a few things from last season, in particular their losses. Their first loss was 100% earned. The Eagles were on their game and the Panthers left it on the bus. They lost to Atlanta in Atlanta by one score. In that game, Williams had a rare fumble on a game tying drive and Delhomme threw an interception at the Falcons’ 4 yard line to end the game. Against Dallas, the Panthers were winning at the half and had shut out the Cowboys. The Cowboys scored a touchdown on a miscommunication between Smith and Delhomme, and scored the rest because they started at midfield or in Panther territory.
The rest were even more questionable. They lost to the Bills because Delhomme thought Byrd was a receiver the whole game. They lost to New Orleans because they only scored 3 points in the second half and Williams fumbled on their 2 which was recovered for a score. They dominated the first half. They lost to the Dolphins by 2 points even though they only scored once in 4 opportunities in the Red Zone. They lost to the Jets because instead of Byrd it was Revis who Delhomme thought was wearing Carolina blue. Their final loss was sealed because Brown had a roughing the punter penalty which led to the game clinching field goal.
Other than the Eagles loss, there was not one game the Panthers weren’t out of until the end. The veterans couldn’t finish the job, so this year it will be up to the youth to carry the team.
I do believe Matt Moore is just shaking rust off and when it matters, he will show. What many do not seem to realize is that Moore just needs to manage the game. He will not need to carry the team. The burden is spread throughout the whole team. He is accurate, has a good arm, and will look like a Pro Bowler when Smith, Stewart and Otah come back (All 3 are Pro Bowl caliber players).
DeAngelo Williams and Jonathon Stewart have already set the record by both rushing for over 1,100 yards and earning the name “Double Trouble.” This is the best running duo in the NFL as Williams provides the quickness while Stewart just prefers to plow. These two will certainly carry their own share of the load.
Tony Fiammetta is replacing the beloved Brad Hoover at the all-important fullback position. Many teams do not use one, but in Carolina the fullback is just as important as the line. Fiammetta has proven he has hands and has shown he can stonewall blitzing linebackers (See Ravens game). Hoover taught him well and he is gearing to be the next great fullback in the league.
The three youngsters the Panthers are sporting on the offensive line are the core of the Panthers offense. Ryan Kalil has quickly established himself as one of the best centers in the NFL. Jeff Otah is just a full season away from being a Pro Bowl tackle. He is big, mean, and plows the road for his running backs. The final youngster is yet to be determined, but it is looking like Mackenzy Bernadeau or Geoff Schwartz and both proved their worth last season after a couple injuries to Otah and Gross.
The youths at the tight end position are the most overlooked anywhere. Jeff King is a great blocker and has shown this preseason that he is ready to be more of an offensive weapon. Dunta Rosario is in the same mold of Vernon Davis and will become a favorite target, especially if a second receiver does not stand out. Gary Barnidge is the eventual starter as he has shown what a great receiver he can be, but it is his blocking that is much improved. This trio may make all the difference this year.
Delhomme is gone, and no one has rejoiced more than receiver Dwayne Jarrett. People have written him off as a bust. This year is his final year as a Panther if he doesn’t produce, but more importantly he knows it. Already he has been consistently targeted during the preseason, but it is when Smith returns to the field people will see how good he is. Along with Jarrett, Brandon LaFell will lead this youth movement. He is a big target, blocks well, and will be another who will benefit with Smith on the field. Both of these players will explode this year.
The biggest question for the Panthers heading into the preseason was their defense. That question has been answered in both games so far with surprisingly big results. The Panthers have 11 sacks this preseason which was an area everyone thought was doomed. Jon Beason, James Anderson and Dan Connor will lead this young defense along with the guiding hand of Ron Meeks. They may even be better than last season. They shut down the Jets offense. They shut down the Ravens running game. Everette Brown and Greg Hardy are leading the defensive line into the new generation. Ed Johnson has shown good run-stopping ability. Eric Moore has made a tidal wave with his outstanding 4 sacks this preseason.
The only aspect missing is the special teams, which is nothing new. Just think, without the punt return fumbles, Carolina beats the New York Jets. WARNING TO THE NFL: This team is oozing with talent, and Matt Moore and the Panthers’ “Tenacious D” is just waiting to jump out of the bushes to pounce. This is a new pride, but they show no fear.