Are we there yet?

“Are we there yet?”

I must confess. I remember two years ago at one of the forums I haunt, posing the question: “Are we on the tail end of an era or starting a new one?”

Turns out, I got my answer. Not long after that, general manager Marty Hurney was making deals with the Philadelphia Eagles to obtain offensive tackle Jeff Otah, in a deal that would eventually land defensive end Everette Brown a year later. It ended up that he was, knowingly or not, crafting the beginnings of a new era of Panthers football.

Let me give you my take on this past Monday.

First the revelation that wideout Steve Smith had broken his arm somehow over the weekend. Definitely not good news in any way and as big a fan as I am of the NFL’s most tenacious player, (Yes I said it, he is not supposed to be that good and he has defied all doubters) not a good move on his part. With all the admiration and respect, I would look at him directly and say, “Dude I wish you would not have done that”. But I have already forgiven him because of everything he has given this team.

Case and Point and a large part of what I am getting at.

January 10, 2004

Saint Louis.

Any true Panther fan can put that together and there is no need to elaborate on that any further.

I just cannot find the right analogy to express what an epic night that was in the short history of the Carolina Panthers. Short history though it has been, another thing occurred to me as I watched this game Monday night. What a long time ago that was!

True that some things remained….well really just one. John Kasay is till a rock. But other than that, I was just in disbelief at what I watched and how far we have been away from those heady times. I think what shook me into that realization was Smitty making a pass to Moose. Seriously. Can you imagine that happening now?

The rest of the night was like some strange dream. Punter Todd Sauerbrun quickly stepping through a punt. Hearing about the “Running back Committee” of Stephen Davis, DeShaun Foster, Rod Smart, and Nick Goings. Some guy named Brian Allen, wearing No. 52. Jake Delhomme was making some insane passes and COMPLETING them. The broadcasters were constantly going on about Delhomme needing to get the ball to Moose or Ricky Proehl. And yes, I did giggle at that saying “You just do not know what is about to hit you, but it was nice seeing Mike Minter lay down some hits.

Just made me think about where we are right now.

The defensive line isn’t the same bunch that struck terror in the hearts of men.

Even stranger still is knowing the man we will look to for the “steely-eyed veteran leader” on the defense, was drafted only four years ago (for the record I say “Release the Beas and let him create havoc.” I have confidence). The cast of Minter, Morgan, ‘Spoon, Ruck, Buckner, And that Pe….or whatever his name was (yes I am still kinda mad with him)…..they are gone.

Where are we now?

By most accounts we are a team of untested youth and inexperience. This offseason has given us all in the Panther Nation reason to pause and ask questions. I still have a few myself.

So I guess it would be an understatement to say the new era has begun. the real question is like the kids in the car on the long trip. “Are we there yet?” I guess we will find out.

I will say this. I look forward to it. Not only that, I am actually truly more interested in the upcoming preseason games than I ever recall being in any preseason.

I will go a step farther.

Keep an eye on receivers coach Tyke Tolbert. More and more I feel like he will impact this receiver-needy offense more than anything else that happens. I am convinced he was given a mandate to produce. Just look at the draft. Can it be said that the Panthers have ever put this much emphasis on wide receivers?

That can be debated I am sure, but I don’t think so.

Watch Tolbert and this group of young receivers, and yes…Steve Smith, too. I just know he will be back. And pray that some of the NFL Network talking heads who are content to underestimate this team during times like this make some comment doubting Smith’s ability and desire to play some ball and do what only 89 can do. When you challenge Smith….Wonderful things happen.

I think Tolbert will grant him what he asks. I think he will get some results and that will open doors for others as well.

For me it will be all about what Tolbert can accomplish this season. The pressure is certainly on him.

Watch what Tyke Tolbert does! I think this will be a critical part of this new era we find ourselves looking ahead to.

Then maybe “we are there now!” will materialize.

As I watched to “NFL Classic: Carolina at Saint Louis” finish out this past Monday night, one final thing stuck out to me. The camera zoomed in on The Big Cat himself, and he turned and gave us a big smile and a thumbs up.

I want to see this again very soon.

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Tags: Brian Allen Carolina Panthers DeShaun Foster Everette Brown Facebook FanSided Jake Delhomme Jeff Otah John Kasay Marty Hurney Mike Minter NFL NFL Network Nick Goings Philadelphia Eagles Ricky Proehl Rod Smart Stephen Davis Steve Smith Todd Sauerbrun Tyke Tolbert

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