Carolina Panthers: What We Know so Far in 2010
Five losses, a rookie quarterback getting his first starts in the NFL, a defense that plays hard only for the offense to stink it up and a head coach on his last legs with the franchise.
Things could be a lot smoother right now for the Carolina Panthers, who are historically a team that has a knack for rebounding after tough times. The staple of a John Fox team, after all, is to keep fighting to the very end.
I don’t doubt that the 2010 version of the Panthers has talent. I simply worry about their short term prospects, considering the abundance of young blood on the roster. Young talent takes time to bed in, to pick up techniques and to appreciate what being a professional football player entails.
The National Football League is an unforgiving place sometimes, and right now the Panthers are getting a cold hard look at how hard it can be to be a kid in the man’s world of pro football.
Still, the Panthers haven’t been as poor as advertised. There have been a number of positives sprinkled into the 0-5 start, unfortunately overshadowed by the winless record the team carries with them. What follows is a list of things we know – both good and bad – about the 2010 Panthers after five games.
1. Jimmy Clausen Is Not Ready Yet
Any way you slice it, the 48th pick overall in the 2010 NFL Draft is not performing as well on the football field as most people expected. Fans have to give rookie quarterbacks a long leash and understand that the learning curve is steep for the most challenging position in all of sport. Clausen has shown some signs of his promise, most notably his clutch completion to David Gettis along the sideline in the Superdome in Week 4, but he has also been error prone on many occasions. Worryingly, he has fumbled on the center-quarterback exchange a few times. Fundamental things seem to fluster him, and as one friend of mine put it: “He holds the football like it’s a grenade with the pin pulled.” Clausen is a talented football player, but in my opinion he hasn’t shown enough to prove to the fan base that is ready to be the full time starter.
2. There Is No Problem with the Panthers Defense
I can’t even imagine how frustrating it must be to be a player on the Panthers defense right now. You get stop after stop, turning the ball over to give your offense with favourable field position time after time, only to see little or no points put on the board. I could argue that the defense has given us a chance to win in three of our five games. James Anderson has been a standout on the strong side so far, with Jon Beason adjusting quite well to his new home at the weakside linebacker position. Charles Godfrey has made some spectacular reads on his interceptions and has ball skills that are rare for a safety. Our pass rush hasn’t been stellar, but if you ask a team to play from behind as much as we have, your sacks are not going to be plentiful. I hope this defense keeps playing well, because right now they are the only thing separating us from being completely out of contention in games.
3. Wide Receiver Troubles
What we have seen in five games this season from the wide receiver corps has been the very definition of up and down. The change at quarterback instantly diminished Steve Smith’s role, and the mercurial wideout had some words to share about it following the Bengals loss. Smith’s high ankle sprain has given the opportunity to David Gettis and Brandon LaFell to step in. LaFell has shown inconsistent hands at times, like Muhsin Muhammad circa 1996-7, but he should come good eventually. Gettis’ swift development has been a pleasant surprise. I thought the addition of former Redskin Devin Thomas on waivers was an astute move by the front office to add some much needed veteran experience to the wide receiver corps. With Smith returning from his injury and Clowney and Thomas on board as well, I would expect to see less of Gettis and LaFell as the weeks go on.
4. Jeff Otah’s Return Can’t Come Soon Enough
The right side of the Panthers offensive line has been poor at times this season, and I can recall several occasions when a sack was given up by poor technique on the part of Mackenzy Bernadeau and Geoff Schwartz. I admire their body of work at the end of the 2009 season when they came in and performed very well to help the Panthers finish strong, but 2010 has not started well. Some of the sacks and pressures cannot be laid completely on the big shoulders of the offensive line; Jimmy Clausen’s lack of pocket presence has been a factor too. The Panthers could really use Jeff Otah at this time, not only to bolster the ground game, but to give Clausen more confidence back there.
5. A Win Can Change Everything
Not many fans would argue that being 0-5 is just not that much fun. Thoughts of what pick the team will have in the 2011 NFL Draft have already crossed the minds of many fans, including myself. While it may seem that all hope is lost for this season, a win can completely change the mentality of a team. Think back to the Tennessee Titans last season. They started the season horribly, but came back to have a good year. The Panthers are not far away from being a solid team. The bye can heal many wounds and solve many problems, and how the team performs against the 49ers on October 24th at Bank of America Stadium will give us a good look at the forecast for the remainder of this season.