So, it’s now time to repeat one of the most overused cliches in all of sports – you must have a strong kicking game in order to win in the NFL consistently.
The Carolina Panthers’ special teams really weren’t so special in ’07. The team finished the season allowing 23.8 yards per kickoff return and 10.5 yards per punt return. That’s just not going to get it done. The kick coverage has to improve.
Their own return stats weren’t much better – 19.1 on kickoffs and 8.4 on punts.
Once again, let’s break it down.
K – John Kasay : The last remaining “original” Panther, Kasay was fairly solid when trying to put the ball through the uprights (24-28 and 2 for 2 on kicks of 50 or more). But there were times that he seemed to slip (6-9 from 40-49 yards). And to compound the problem, Kasay struggled on kickoffs sending five out of bounds. If Kasay wants to remain a Panther he’ll have to fight his way onto the team in training camp.
K – Rhys Lloyd – The rookie is the kickoff specialist and was just signed to a two-year deal after being brought in during week 17. The question is this – is the team really going to use two roster spots on kickers? Sure, playing a game of field position is important but I’m not sure it’s important enough to use two roster spots and prevent yourself from keeping depth at another critical position. If Lloyd is kept around to kickoff, so be it. But I gotta wonder why it takes two guys to kickoff and put the ball through the pipes.
P – Jason Baker : Not to repeat myself here but…if a team is playing field position, they can’t help themselves too much in that area if their punter averages 37.7 yards per punt. My guess is that Baker was tired by season’s end seeing as he punted 90 times on the year. But making matters worse was that he had only 22 punts inside the 20 out of those 90. I would be shocked and awed if the team didn’t bring in another punter to battle with Baker during camp.
KR/PR – Ryne Robinson : The rookie was given nearly all the return duties. And didn’t have the best stats (kickoffs – 26 for 23.0 yards per return; punt returns – 30 for 8.7 yards per return). He finished last in the conference in returns. Sure, he improved as the season wore on but the team really needs to get him some help back there especially since there’s absolutely no way we see Steve Smith return kicks very often. And maybe this is a matter of the blocking on kickoffs and returns. The team definitely didn’t impress many people with their special teams last season.
LS – Jason Kyle : Why is there not more attention payed to long snappers? I mean, there should even be stats for this position particularly a stat for bad snaps. But the best thing that can be said for a long snapper is that the holder on field goals and the punter didn’t have to eat the ball very often because the snap was off line. In Kyle’s case, they weren’t. Really? What else can you say?
It was a shock that the Panthers didn’t make a change on their coaching staff. Danny Crossman will return for ’08 to coach special teams. Sure, he got bailed out because the team suffered some injuries last season and that can always be to blame for a poor showing. But these units just didn’t play well. With healthy special teamers, Crossman can be graded more crtically as if the fans aren’t already being critical of the job he’s done in the last couple of seasons.
There will be no shock to anyone if John Kasay’s run in Charlotte comes to an end this offseason. And more changes are needed. At the very least, the team needs to add a playmaker to return kickoffs and punts. Afterall, with this team’s conservative approach, field position is critical and they’ll need every yard they can get.
With our position by position breakdown of the team complete, and with the free agency signing period approaching fast, our next assignment will be to break down all available free agents. Stay tuned!