The blazing hot days of summer haven’t arrived. In fact, spring hasn’t even reached its peak but that never stops the large brain pans of the media from starting with their predictions, rankings and generally trying to act like know-it-alls. (Don’t they always? They’re reporters! They’re supposed to know more than us, right? I’m just a lowly blogger! What do I know, anyway?)
So, Peter King thinks he already knows how the teams will finish. He’s boldly updated his power rankings to include the draft from a little over a week ago. Here’s what he said about the Carolina Panthers:
"10. Carolina. Surprise. Take your leap-of-faith pill and follow me. Jake Delhomme threw 35 balls with some velocity the other day at mini-camp, his first good throws in a team drill since he wrecked his elbow last year. Jonathan Stewart and his surgically repaired turf toe should be ready to pound defenses by Labor Day. Julius Peppers can’t be as bad this year as he was last year. (This team had 23 sacks last year. Peppers should contend for two-thirds that number himself every year.)So I’m counting on the offensive line, fortified by the deal for rookie tackle Jeff Otah, to be better, and I’m counting on Peppers to put significantly more pressure on the quarterback. There is no way a John Fox team should give up 30 points five times, as it did last year, and I expect a more competent offense to possess the ball more this year. It has to for Fox’s team to grind out some wins, and it will with the brawny Stewart in the backfield."
That’s right! Peter King has the Panthers ranked tenth in the league right now. I appreciate the vote of confidence and everything, Pete, but let’s not jump the gun too soon, okay?
I’m not trying to be the voice of gloom and doom here but I am attempting to be realistic. Going by King’s rankings the Panthers would be rated as the fifth best team in the NFC and the best team in the NFC South. I think the team could win – that’s could – win the division title but I’m not ready to go shout that from the rooftops just yet either.
Isn’t the season still four months away? The Panthers have questions to answer before we can start handing them any hardware or any division titles.
Jake Delhomme – Jake threw at mini camp. His rehab seems to be going well. But there’s no reason to start throwing around all the superlatives just yet. He threw what…35 passes in the morning drills at mini camp? Easy there, boy! Jake is coming along in his rehab. That’s the news we wanted to hear desperately but can this continue? And will his elbow hold up? I think it can but we’ll only know the answer to that question when the bullets start flying for real in September.
Offensive Line – Just as critical, if not even more critical, as Jake’s rehab progress, is this unit. Jeff Otah wasn’t drafted to sit on the bench. (We hope.) He’s going to get a very large payday from the team as a first-round pick. So, pencil him in as the starting right tackle. Put Keydrick Vincent at right guard, Ryan Kalil at center, Travelle Wharton at left guard and Jordan Gross at left tackle. Now count the number of players on that unit who are still playing the same position they ended ’07 playing. Answer – zero. (Gross has played left tackle before but not last season.) How quickly this group gets on the same page will determine the fate of Jake and the entire offense.
Wide Receiver – This is one that has been beaten to death. But why not beat it again? Steve Smith – check! Number two receiver – Muhsin Muhammad, D.J. Hackett? Who knows? It should be easy for Moose and Jake to get some rhythm since they’ve been there and done that. But questions remain with Hackett. My guess is that he’ll be the number three guy behind Moose and play in the slot. But how many receivers does the team keep? Does Jason Carter make the team? Does Dwayne Jarrett step up his game and prove his worth as a second-round draft pick? This is an area where answers need to come and come quickly. Timing is everything in the passing game and someone has to step up their game and be ready when opening day arrives. There isn’t much time to prepare and that’s why I think Muhammad is the odds-on favorite to win out at the second receiver spot.
Julius Peppers – What happened last year? Who really knows? A comment from Mike Rucker on NFL Network the other day hit the nail on the head. He said that sacks tend to be overrated and that pressure on the opposing quarterback is underrated. However, I’m still convinced that we didn’t see the real Julius Peppers in ’07…or was that the real Julius Peppers? Will the real Julius Peppers please stand up? Whatever happens, it’s absolutely paramount that this defense gets pressure up front to help out the secondary. This defense is built on pressure. Julius is likely moving to the right side with Tyler “The Nutcracker” Brayton on the left. Peppers could find a lot of double teams if Brayton doesn’t perform well. Let’s hope it’s a good pairing. If not, it could be more of the same on defense next year.
Free Safety – Wow! The team left a stone unturned last season and had to fill a spot with a discarded veteran. This year, it’s probably a rookie – Charles Godfrey. He was holding down the position in mini camp even wearing number 30 (Mike Minter’s old number). Sounds like a message is being sent to us fans! I had that feeling when they took the kid in the draft. So, watch for him to be the starter in September. How well the secondary plays could be a direct result of how well this kid does his homework and how well he plays. I mean, who else is going to play the position who would give us a warm fuzzy feeling?
Running Back – We already know what DeAngelo Williams can do…or do we? The guy’s played so well that he still doesn’t get to be the clear-cut starter! The team goes and drafts Jonathan Stewart in the first round. It’ll mean a nice one-two punch and should keep both backs fresh all season…we hope. With Stewart’s toe healed and Williams ready to do his thing, this might be one of the strongest positions on the team. If that toe gives Stewart trouble and Williams has to carry the load it could become a problem since we don’t know whether he can hold up to the beatings he’ll take. We do have LeBrandon Toefield as a backup so that should help us all rest easier.
Full Back – Just how old is Brad Hoover, anyway? At 32 years old and after 9 seasons, you might think that the team would want to hedge their bets a little and get a guy to back him up. Not yet. I have to think that someone will be added before the season starts unless they are counting on using Nick Goings as the backup and he’s not a prototypical fullback.
Coaching – Mike Minter told me recently that John Fox “knows how to win in this league.” He’s won some games and taken this team deep into the playoffs twice. The problem is that he’s best when he has a physical team, pounding the ball on the ground on offense and a defense that pressures the hell out of opposing quarterbacks. I’ve had some issues with defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac and his lack of aggression. It seems that he wants his defenders to lay back too much. Where has that killer instinct been with this defense that we saw during those deep playoff runs? Seemed to me that it left when Jack Del Rio left for Jacksonville. If there’s some semblance of balance between aggression and solid tactics then I think the team can go far. I like John Fox and I think that offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson will be okay when he gets a healthy offensive line and a healthy Jake Delhomme to work with.
Depth – If coaches have a buzz word, this is it (okay, there are others but this is a big one). Injuries happen in this league. It’s a given. It’s even expected. And when it happens at a critical position (see Jake Delhomme last year) you get a losing season and a lot of frustration. Depth will be a critical piece of the puzzle. Guys like Matt Moore, Terrence Holt, Charles Johnson and a host of others could hold the fate of the team in their hands should injuries occur…and they will. Every team wants depth and it can be the deciding factor between the playoffs and a losing season.
Fans – I’ve made it a point to avoid being critical of the fans. Without you guys there is no Cat Crave. Yet, I just have one request for all of you – when you’re in Bank of America Stadium next season screaming your heads off and some stuff- shirt tells you to be quiet so they can enjoy their wine and cheese – tell them where they can stick their over-priced California-French-POOPOO wine bottle! I’ve been to BofA and I was disgusted each visit. Once, I found that Dolphins fans outnumbered Panthers fans in one end of the stadium. It appeared that they outnumbered Panthers fans overall outside the gates. I know it’s easy to get down and start feeling like the team may never win the big one but we have one of the classiest organizations in the league, a good head coach (despite the feelings of many fans), some damned good players and we’re playing in a winnable division. Take heart! This thing could turn on a dime! Go to the stadium and scream your butts off. I assure you, if I’m there, the wine and cheese crowd will hate me! So, go make some noise – scream until you’re out of breath, until you can’t talk and security is threatening to throw you out. Then BofA will sound like it’s intended to sound. If we let the wine and cheese crowd control it, then it’ll sound like the cemetery it’s appeared to be in the past.
That’s ten questions. Does this team have answers to all of them? Not at all. Can the team have answers to them before September? Yes!
I’m just not ready to hand out any rings, trophies or titles…not until we get the answers we need.