I was talking with a friend recently about the 2003 Super Bowl team. We talked about the NFC Championship Game, the Super Bowl, obviously, and about how good that team was, and about the way they won games.
A lot of it was remembering just how good of a running back tandem Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster were. More of it was how good the defense was. You remember. It was Rucker/Jenkins/Buckner/Peppers on the line. Dan Morgan and Will Witherspoon were prowling behind them. And then there was… well, behind our linebackers was… Neither of us could remember. I remembered Mike Minter, of course. I remembered Deon Grant, and Ricky Manning Jr. only because of the three interceptions he had against Donovan McNabb in the NFC Championship Game and because he beat up a guy in a Denny’s.
Neither of us could remember who the starting corners were. I couldn’t for the life of me remember their names. It was Terry Cousin and Reggie Howard. How could I have forgotten those household names? The Kings of Coverage was their nickname. But seriously, we knew their names when they were here, and I think that Reggie Howard went on later to play for the Jacksonville Jaguars. I could be wrong.
Anyway, the point that I’m trying to make is that that defense was built from the line back. For a number of years, until they were disbanded, our front four was the best in football, and our front seven was top five. Our defensive linemen attacked relentlessly and played smart football. Our secondary’s ability to cover was directly related to the success that the defensive line had. Don’t believe me? Think back to the second half of the Super Bowl. Our defensive line couldn’t touch Brady. Couldn’t sniff him. Our corners paid the price. Their’s did, too, but you understand what I’m saying.
I could take a poll of casual to more rabid NFL fans and I’m certain that the majority of them would be able to identify three, if not four, maybe even five, defensive linemen on the Panthers roster. They would know Luke Kuechly, and they may know Charles Godfrey, and they would probably say “And the Captain Morgan Guy.” At this point in the offseason I have no idea who our starting corners are going to be. I don’t even think our starting safeties are locked in to place.
I can tell you who our starting linemen and linebackers will be. And that’s what makes me think back to that 2003 Carolina Panthers defense. Because of the way it’s built. There is a very real possibility that we could have the best front seven in the National Football League. I think our secondary will benefit from hurried quarterback throws. I see us getting more turnovers, and for the few yards we allowed at the end of the season to decrease even more.
Everyone’s all in a panic over us being in the NFC South and not taking a cornerback. I can understand it. We face Matt Ryan and Drew Brees twice a year. Logic and reason would state that we need people back in coverage to defend these two great passing attacks. That is logic that I understand and appreciate. Logic I like even more is how can either man throw the ball if they are on their backs, or getting pressured, or getting hit. Do they take a half-second too long making a decision and take a sack, or take half-second less and make a mistake?
It’s worked here before and I think it works again. Keep in mind that the 2002 Carolina Panthers were 7-9. The 2012 Carolina Panthers were 7-9. Could this be a case of history repeating itself? The 2002 Carolina Panthers were a team that was trying learn how to win, the same as the 2012 Carolina Panthers were and are. I can’t shake the feeling that very good things are coming for this franchise.