As a group, the Panthers’ defensive backs totalled 11 interceptions on the year. That’s not such a good number considering their starters accounted for only 7 of those. Let’s take a closer look…
LCB – Chris Gamble : Where do we start? Gamble has been on a slide now for quite a while and he managed to come up with his worst performance in ’07 (1 int, 47 tackles, 6 passes defensed). Originally thought to be a stud cornerback, Gamble has not done enough in the last two years to warrant that honor. I think he’s capable of a lot more. Whether we see that out of him next year is the biggest question. He’ll likely be back in Charlotte so he will have the opportunity to prove himself.
RCB – Ken Lucas : Signed in 2005 as a free agent from Seattle, it looked like the Panthers had found the man who would transform their secondary. His first year with the team saw him rack up 6 interceptions, 15 passes defensed and 69 tackles. In the two seasons since then he’s managed only 5 interceptions, 22 passes defensed and averaged 53 tackles. His production has slipped and it’s possible the team allows him to leave. But if he can pick up his game he could be a valuable asset. More importantly, finding a solid replacement may be difficult. His future is a 50/50 proposition. I lean toward him staying.
SS – Chris Harris : It was a very strong year for Harris after being dealt to the Panthers from Chicago during training camp. He had only one interception but he tallied 96 tackles, one sack and eight fumbles forced. That ain’t too bad for a guy acquired for a fifth round pick. He’s definitely not going anywhere.
FS – Deke Cooper : If you’re looking to read some pretty negative stuff from Panthers’ fans, go visit just about any forum and you’ll find them saying some pretty bad things about Cooper. He did play well at times but he was far too inconsistent. He did post decent numbers with 3 interceptions and 59 tackles but he is a free agent this year. It’s highly doubtful the team brings him back next season.
CB – Richard Marshall : In his second NFL season Marshall put up some good numbers – 89 tackles, 1 sack, 10 passes defensed and 3 interceptions and he managed to do it as the team’s third cornerback. That ain’t too shabby. There’s no chance he’s going anywhere. It’s possible that he takes Lucas’ spot in the lineup.
CB – Patrick Dendy : He played in only 7 games last season and had only 16 tackles and failed to pick off any passes. Dendy is most likely a career backup. Any contributions as a dime corner or on special teams he can muster will keep him on the ’08 roster.
FS – Quinton Teal : It wasn’t a horrible rookie campaign for Teal who appeared in 15 games and had 19 tackles. The team seems to like this kid. Whether they like him enough to allow him to step in should Cooper be allowed to leave is still uncertain. At the very least, he’ll compete in training camp and may have to battle a veteran (or another rookie) brought in by the organization.
FS – Marquand Manuel : Back in September, the Panthers signed Manuel after he was released by the Packers. This came only 18 months after he had signed a five-year contract with the Cheeseheads worth $10 million. He had lost his job to Atari Bigby in Green Bay and became expendable. He should remain with the team as insurance.
SS – C.J. Wilson : Another rookie. Wilson got into only 4 games last year. If the Panthers are looking to open up the competition next year, Wilson may have a long shot – a very long shot. But he’ll probably return even if it’s as a reserve.
CB – Dante Wesley : After breaking his collarbone in the second game of the year, Wesley was place on injured reserve. He becomes a free agent this year so he is not expected to return.
CB – Curtis DeLoatch : Another player who ended the season on injured reserve and, like Wesley, is a free agent. His return is highly unlikely.
The real questions in the secondary this offseason surround Ken Lucas and Deke Cooper. The team brass will have to make some tough decisions. If either player is allowed to leave, that will mean that either guys like Richard Marshall or Quinton Teal will have to step up or other options brought in. My guess is that somehow, some way, there will be new faces in the secondary next year whether it’s a rookie or a free agent.
Regardless of who takes the field next year as the starting DB’s, the Panthers simply have to get some production – as in turnovers!
Coming tomorrow…Special Teams!