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This is the fourth post in a series of sponsored posts that cover the Panthers game changing offseason moves. In part one I described the release of long time Panther QB Jake Delhomme and the resulting ascension of back-up Matt Moore. The second feature looked at the departure of DE Julius Peppers and the potential impact on the Panther defense. The 3rd installment discussed the changes with special teams. This week we turn to the much discussed #2 WR position and the release of long-time fan favorite Muhsin Muhammad, or Moose as we love to call him.
For anyone not familiar with Moose, he was drafted by the Panthers in 1996 and spent his nine seasons in Carolina. He is most remembered for his NFL record 85 yard TD reception in the 2003 season and the subsequent 1,400+ yards and 16 TD's he parlayed in the following season in Steve Smith's absence. Alas the monster season brought a big payday from the Panther-snatching Bears and Moose went to the Windy City for three seasons. Yet that didn't go near as well and the Panthers were happy to bring him back for his most recent two seasons as our #2 WR. At age 37 though Moose, like many Panther veterans, got caught up in the Panther youth movement and remains unsigned by any team. Have no doubt though, Moose is still in great shape and can still play...more after the jump...
So the obvious question after this game changing offseason move is who will replace Moose? Replacing his 2009 production shouldn't be too difficult: 53 receptions, 871 yards and one TD. In that regard we shouldn't worry too much, well hopefully we shouldn't have to worry much. Yet Moose also provided many intangibles that will also be missed. He was a fierce blocker in the running game and was a big-time leader in the locker room. With the size of the veteran purge there might be some missing voices in the locker that leaves a motivational hole.
The obvious player in line to replace Moose is 4th WR Dwayne Jarrett. Yet Jarrett has been an enigma in Carolina, showing flashes of talent in practice but not getting results when it counts. In a recent interview with Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, he had this to say about the reason so many veterans were released:
JR: ...we have a number of younger players who showed promise at the end of last season and need to get on the field.
Is Jarrett one of those young players that simply need to get on the field? I think the easy answer is yes, but can he really fill the #2 role? That still remains to be seen. But if he falters even a little bit there are plenty of guys behind him who also want their shot to compliment Steve Smith. Most of us agree that guy is more than likely 3rd round draft pick Brandon LaFell from LSU. The guy is built in the mold of Moose and excels at the run game. Also like Moose (unfortunately) the only rap on him is a tendency to drop passes. Regardless LaFell is the odds on favorite to win the #2WR competition simply because of his blocking ability.
Fellow 3rd round pick Armanti Edwards is also vying for snaps and the coveted #2 WR role. Sure he is built more for the slot position but so was Steve Smith back in 2002. What a strange futuristic thought that just crossed my mind, #1 Panther receiver Armanti Edwards. As unlikely as it sounds the Panthers gave up a 2nd round pick in 2011 to draft this guy so they obviously think he is something special. If he does shine don't be surprised to see the Panthers start two small guys at WR or (perish the thought) we could see Edwards spelling Smith on the outside to preserve the veteran's career. Wow...is that a stretch or what? A lot can change over the course of a season.
There are a few other guys who will get their looks in the preseason such as Charley Martin, Kenny Moore and David Gettis but none of them have the promise or talent to replace Moose in 2010. Rest assured it will either be Jarrett, LaFell or Edwards that emerges from the 2010 season as the Panthers #2 WR in receptions. What is currently a question mark at #2 WR at the start of the season could very well become a strength down the stretch towards a possible Panther playoff run. Early indications show the Panthers focusing on the passing game in OTA's as they recognize the need for additional options beyond Smith. With so many talented options I'm thinking this offseason move does become a game changer, one that brings balance to the Panthers offense.
By the way, take away the hair and doesn't Edwards kind of look like Steve Smith?