Carolina Panthers 2009 Season Preview
In 2008 the Panthers established a dominating run game with Smash and Dash and look to continue that success and expand further upon it. DeAngello Williams and Jonathon Stewart will again be the workhorses of the offense, while Jake Delhomme will be counted on only to manage the game and get the ball in the hands of Steve Smith and the receivers when not running the ball. The running game will again be the basis of the offense and its success hinges upon it. With all of the starters returning, the offense will again be very strong, and a couple of new additions very well may make it even more dynamic
Although Jake Delhomme had a disappointing game against the Cardinals in the postseason last year, he will again be the starter. Although many Panther fans are down on Jake, he will be a solid quarterback and the Panthers are undoubtedly better with than without him. Jake will be counted on mostly to manage the game, inspire and lead the offense, get the ball to the playmakers, and gamble occasionally. Jake will be solid this year and throw somewhere between 15-20TDs and has the ability to come back and win close games. Josh McCown will provide a very adequate backup to Jake with starting experience. Matt Moore is another backup that displays promise, but will most likely be 3rd string QB.
For the Panthers conservative offense, Jake is solid QB and thrives in this system with these players. The backups are serviceable and can win the players around them.
The running back group is without doubt one of the strongest areas of the team. DeAngello Williams and Jonathon Stewart, if both healthy, will provide a dynamic and electric 1-2 punch that will drive defenses crazy and be the envy of the league. The offensive success hinges upon the effectiveness of the running game, so the ‘backs will take the Panthers as far as they are going to go. Mike Goodson, a newcomer via NFL Draft, is a dazzling running back and will be used significantly along with Smash and Dash. Goodson has breakaway speed and ankle breaking moves, and will probably be used as a 3rd down weapon and may see some time as WR. I have to think that Jeff Davidson will have a couple of plays and wrinkles up his sleeve in the playbook to get Goodson involved in the offense because he is simply too dynamic. Decori Birmingham is a great player, although he is on the fringe and may not make the team. Although he may make the practice squad, there is a good chance that he will be picked up by another team, but if he stays around, he makes this group very deep.
With Smash and Dash, Goodson and Birmingham, the Panthers have an amazing array of playmakers and runners unlike any other in the NFL. This group will be the focal point and the workhorse of the offense, to which all success will hinge upon once again.
The success of the running game is in large part due to the underrated Brad Hoover who provides good blocks for both the running game and Delhomme. Hoover is stout in his attack and is a great fullback. Newcomer Tony Fiammetta is very talented and versatile and will most likely make the team as Hoover’s down the line replacement. Hoover will start and play most of the downs, but Fiammetta may get in the rotation and play some of the FB/TE spots such as in the Philly Full House Formation.
The Panthers have two good solid FB’s here who can pave the way for the ground game.
The wide receiver group is not very deep, but does have some talent. Steve “Freddy Kruger” Smith needs no introduction and will continue to be a nightmare for defenses and d coordinators although will be double teamed much of the year. Just as Smith is normally double teamed, this should not bother Smith’s production as he finds ways to make plays. Occasionally, in tight circumstances, Jake Delhomme will be counted on to gamble and get the ball in Smith’s hands by whatever means possible. Although Muhsin Muhammad is now 37, he shows no signs of slowing down and will be a major contributor opposite Smitty. Despite fans impatience, Dewayne Jarrett will improve upon last season’s 12 catch performance, but is not ready to be the Muhammad replacement/#2 but may grow into it. I predict that Jarrett will be more of a contributor this year and will improve as the year goes on. Jarrett will make somewhere between 30-45 catches. Kenny Moore, a training camp and preseason star has emerged as the #3 or 4 receiver and may surprise! Ryne Robinson may stay or may get cut, but has not lived up to his potential. Jason Chery on the other hand has had flashes of ability, but may not make the team. If Larry Beavers makes the team, it will be because he is a KR/PR, but I do not expect him to make the team. Kevin McMahan and Marcus Monk have been okay in camp and with the backups, but will probably not make the team but may stay on the Practice Squad. I would not be surprised at all if the panthers cut everyone minus Smitty, Moose, Jarrett, and Moore and look for a fifth WR after the teams start to make cuts.
Smitty is outstanding, Moose is experienced, makes plays and solid blocks, Jarrett will improve, and Moore will contribute and may surprise. Overall, Jake has some playmakers here…
The tight end position is solid and has a variety of characters, and may be a position that is leaned upon if Jake cannot find an open receiver. Jeff King started last year and is a solid blocking TE and will occaisionally venture out into the field and make a catch. Second Year TE Gary Barnidge has improved and will play much more. Barnidge will be a deeper threat TE and is becoming a better blocker. While Dante Rosario can sometimes be a major target, he sometimes disappears and will play less with the other two TE’s. I’m not sure the Panthers will keep all 3, but they may. If one is cut, it will most likely be Rosario as he cannot block and can only catch.
These TE’s are solid, but not great. They will be asked mostly to block and occaisionally to make a play for a 1st down. Solid, but not great group.
Although the offensive line returns all of its starters, it has lost a great deal of depth in losing Frank Omiyale and Geoff Hangartner. Jordan Gross is an athletic tackle and an all pro, but occaisionally let a player get by him. Guard Travelle Wharton is a good run and pass blocker, and it is no coincidence that Smash and Dash ran behind/between Gross/Wharton more frequently than anywhere else. Ryan Kalil although short and undersized has developed into a solid Center with great technique and leverage, but may have trouble with mammoth 3-4 nose tackles and the unpredictable 3-4 blitzes. Keydrick Vincent is an experienced guard, but not great. Jeff Otah has proved to be a tremendous draft pick and worth the cost. Otah is a road grinder paving way for backs and can stand on his own in pass protection. This front five did exceptionally well last year, and they should continue to do well, but it is important to note that they are without their experienced backups, and this could be bad when all the nicks and scrapes and injuries start to pile up on these linemen as it surely will sometime this season. Backup G Duke Robinson is a roadpaver in the mold of Otah with a nasty attitude/mean streak also, and will get better but is inexperienced now. T Geoff Schwartz will be an okay backup, but will struggle against a good pass rush. Mackenzy Bernadeu and Justin Geisinger can play two positions and provide versatility, although not great versatility.
Some of the starters along this line are great and include Prowl Bowler Gross and Prowl Bowler to be Otah. This group is great in creating holes and okay in pass defense. Depth is the main concern here, and I’m not sure that these backups are ready for some of the great D-lines the Panthers will face this year.
After the 2008 season, in which the defense progressively fell apart, the Panthers overhauled their D coaches and Defensive Philosophy. New to the Panthers are D coordinator Ron Meeks who will replace Trgovac, D line coach Brian Baker, and secondary coach Ron Milus. Meeks’ system will employ a simpler zone and man coverage and will not blitz heavily. Instead, the front four will be counted on to provide a sufficient pass rush and the backers and secondary will rely on their speed and instincts. One point of emphasis for Meeks’ new D is speed, which will work well with many of our players. Although the defense has not been fully healthy nor impressive in the preseason games, in the regular season, I think that the Panthers will produce a solid D. It may take a little while for the D to adjust to Meeks, but this new defense will be a bend-but-not-break D and while it will not be the best, will not be the worst in the NFL and figures to be somewhere in between.
With Julius Peppers back for the 2009 season, the D-line looks formidable. Julius will be counted on to lead this group, and most likely will have another productive season (last season 14.5 sacks). Inside, Damione Lewis will provide a good pass rush and will be solid against the run. The question mark on this line is the starter for the DT beside D-Lew. As of now, it looks to be a rotation/mix of Marlon Favorite and Nick Hayden. I personally think that Fave has better size and skills for this position and will play more than Hayden, because Hayden is undersized and can get pushed around, and is simply not an adequate starter. Additionally, Rook Corvey Irvin will get in the DT mix behind D-Lew and is adequate and a future project. This interior may struggle against better running teams and will be a major target. One the other side of J Pep, Tyler Brayton will start and will be a solid end. Rookie Everette Brown has shown flashes of greatness in the preseason and will rotate with up-and-comer Charles Johnson for J Pep and Brayton. Occaisionally, the Panthers will get creative with these players and mix them around as J Pep and Brayton may play some inside while Brown and Johnson play outside on 3rd downs.
The Panthers D line is solid with Peppers, D Lew, and some promising younger players. The loss of Kemoeatu was big for the line, but the Panthers will manage with who they have and may acquire someone new before or during the season.
If Jon Beason and Thomas Davis are healthy this year, this group will be the strong point of the Panther D and a deep group of talent. Pro Bowler Beason is a force in the middle and makes this D a whole lot better. Davis has wonderfully grown into his position on the weakside and is great both in coverage and against the run. Nail Diggs is an experienced vet who will fill out the LB starting corps and is solid. Backup Dan Conner is not Beason, but is no slouch himself and will eagerly pick up slack in the D if called upon. Third year man James Anderson has performed wonderfully on the preseason and will also be a great backup. Landon Johnson and newcomer Jeremy Lehman will fill out the other backup spot, but Lehman has created waves of interest in the preseason.
The LB corps starting lineup is great with Pro Bowler Beason and Davis. Diggs, Connor, and Anderson could probably all start on other teams and Lehman may be a diamond in the rough. All in all, this group will be tested this year against fantastic running teams, but will not disappoint if fully healthy.
The Secondary should be okay this year, but will be tested. Much of the success of this group will be dependent upon the front four’s pressure and upon how quickly they adapt to Meeks new system, which should allow them to utilize their athleticism. Cornerback Chris Gamble is a shutdown corner and is athletic as they come and should thrive in this system. Opposite Gamble is CB Richard Marshall who has been waiting and training for his time to start. Marshall will be tested heavily this year as Ken Lucas was last year mainly because QBs won’t want to throw near Gamble often. Safety Chris Harris is a big hitting safety and often produces many turnovers. Harris is great in run support and solid in coverage. Second year safety Charles Godfrey performed okay last year, but looked lost at times. He should improve last season and be an adequate starter. C.J. Wilson and Dante Wesley are experienced, or at least more so than the rookies and will fill in during nickel packages and subs. Other backups safeties Capt. Munnerlyn and Sherrod Martin have shown that they can play, but are a year or two away from performing at a pro level. Backup safety Quentin Teal has been a playmaker in TC and in preseason and is a solid fill in. The other backup safety spot may be Martin’s.
CB Gamble is great, Marshall should prove adequate, and Harris and Godfrey are solid. Overall, this group will be a tested heavily and again much of their success will depend upon the front four and their ability to grasp Meeks’ D.
John Fox always seems to produce a good kicking game and this group should be no different. The only unsettled and unseen part of this group is that it does not have a proven KR or PR. RB Goodson will probably return the kickoffs, and CB Munnerlyn will most likely field the punt returns and the two will run some back and put the offense into a good field position frequently. Rhys Lloyd will yet again be counted on to handle the Kickoffs and will continue to lead the league in touchbacks. Field goal Kicker John Kasay is as steady a kicker as they come and Punter Jason Baker can avg punt of about 45 yds and stick the enemy inside the 20 consistently.
This is a solid group per usual and will consistently put the Panthers in good field position. I do not expect the Panthers offense to have too much trouble with making plays with the playmakers that we have, so John Kasay will not be counted on to win many games, but maybe a close one or two as usual.
Final Review/Intangibles/Season Outlook
Okay, now to what everyone wants to know…well how will the Panthers perform this season?
Well, here is the answer: Although the Panthers have previously fielded teams with strong Defenses counted on to keep the games close with an okay offense, the opposite is true now…The Panthers have a dazzling offense which will win the games and okay defense. The Panthers had a great year last year with a 12-5 record, but this season, the schedule is much tougher. 15 of 16 opponents have had +.500 records and most are consistent playoff contenders which will make it tough for the panthers to get a wild card into the playoffs. In the NFC South, the Falcons will be the greatest challenge for the Panthers this year and will make a serious run at NFC South Div champ. The Saints and Bucs will not be cakewalks, but are beatable for the Cats. As Kemo’s leg injury has commenced the domino effect of injuries so far, this team will suffer greatly if they lose any of their starters except for the RBs and LBs. Another thing going against the Panthers is that John Fox has been unable to field consistent winning teams. This history overall means little other than it emphasizes how extremely difficult it is to be consistently good in the NFL. At best, I figure that the Panthers will go 10-6 and win the NFC South, and at worst the Panthers will probably go 7-9 and miss the playoffs. The answer most realistically is that the Panthers will suffer some significant injuries and occasionally struggle defensively, but the offense may make up some of it with the offensive firepower that we have. So most realistically and subjectively, I see the Panthers going somewhere between 10-6 and 7-9, and probably losing the NFC South Title. Winning a wild card is anyone’s guess and is probably 50/50. With NYG and Philly being as strong as they are, I presume that one of them will win a wild card, and the other may be between the Panthers, Vikings or Packers (whoever is 2nd place in the NFC North) and the Cowboys and Saints
With that said…it will be extremely difficult for the Panthers to make the Playoffs this year. They have the offensive firepower to get there, now the question is: Will the Defense hold opponents? Or will our offense get held?
Predicted Depth Chart
QB Jake Delhomme, Josh McCown, Matt Moore
RB DeAngello Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Mike Goodson
FB Brad Hoover, Tony Fiammetta
WR1 Steve Smith, Kenny Moore, Mike Goodson
WR2 Muhsin Muhammad, Dewayne Jarrett,
TE Jeff King, Gary Barnidge, Dante Rosario
LT Jordan Gross, Geoff Schwartz
LG Travelle Wharton, Justin Geisinger
C Ryan Kalil, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Justin Geisinger
RG Keydrick Vincent, Duke Robinson
RT Jeff Otah, Mackenzy Bernadeau
RDE Tyler Brayton, Everette Brown
RDT Marlon Favorite, Nick Hayden
LDT Damione Lewis, Corvey Irvin
LDE Julius Peppers, Charles Johnson
WLB Nail Diggs, Landon Johnson
MLB Jon Beason, Dan Connor, Jeremy Lehman
SLB Thomas Davis, James Anderson
CB1 Chris Gamble, Dante Wesley, Captain Munnerlyn
CB2 Richard Marshall, C.J. Wilson, Sherrod Martin
SS Chris Harris, Quintin Teal
FS Charles Godfrey, Kevin Kaesviharn, Sherrod Martin
KR Mike Goodson, Captain Munnerlyn
PR Captain Munnerlyn,Kenny Moore
P Jason Baker
K John Kasay
LS J.J. Jansen