As I sit here on a rainy Wednesday afternoon in central North Carolina I'm left pondering what has become of the Carolina Panthers in a few short months. 2010 was as abysmal a season as I can ever remember, even worse than 2001, because at least that group had exciting moments. From Beavers to Pickles to Diapers- last season could be summed up in one word- 'boring'. There was forever a sense of 'we're playing for next year' that affected the front office spending, the coaching ideologies, and we saw players like Chris Gamble get fed up with the whole situation.
"I don't know if the Carolina Panthers will be any good this year, but at least they'll be fun to watch"
That was yours truly speaking on CSR radio a week before the season started. None of us really knew what was going to happen in 2011, but I knew it could only go up from 2010. I wasn't sure whether Cam could be an NFL QB, but I knew he made plays, we had ample evidence of that from Auburn. If you told me back then that I'd be sitting here on a rainy Wednesday afternoon just before Christmas seriously believing we may have the next Peyton Manning I would have pinched myself, but looks what's happened.
Unfortunately due to injury Peyton's #18 wont be seen this season, but the number 18 has become equally significant to Cam Newton. He first spoke of wanting to emulate Manning's steadfast attention to detail, and now he just needs 18 short yards to set the NFL rookie passing record for a QB. As a player I want Newton to be everything Manning has embodied since entering the league 13 years ago, but as an organization I want to watch us handle a QB of that caliber a little differently.
More after the jump
When you have a player whose been to 11 pro-bowls, is a 6-time all-pro and a 4-time MVP you have no excuse to only have one Superbowl to your name 13 years later. In this same time span Brady has three rings, and Roethlisberger has two. The job the Indianapolis Colts did at surrounding Manning with talent was piss-poor, for lack of a better term. Personally, I think Bill Polian gets way too much credit for essentially getting 5-6 draft picks right during his tenure, other than that he's never put a successful team together and owner Jim Irsay has enabled his ineptitude solely because #18 was able to keep fangs on a paper tiger.
That being said, one area that Polian and company got right was keeping the WR shelves stocked with amazing talent for Manning to utilize. A good WR is to a QB what a good chisel is to a craftsman, someone without skill wont know how to use it, and while that artisan can use a lesser chisel it wont produce the same results and wont produce as polished finished result.
The Colts drafted Marvin Harrison in 1996 and he and Manning formed the perfect 1-2 punch, but like all good things it came to an end. With Harrison about to hit 30 years old the Colts decided they needed to find a replacement and took Reggie Wayne in the 1st round. When Wayne was about to hit 30 they took another 1st round WR in the draft, Ohio State's Anthony Gonzalez. Though he didn't pan out but the fact remains that they wanted to keep the shelves stocked for their artisan to work wonders.
The problem with Indianapolis is that they whiffed on so many other positions, since 2005 their 1st and 2nd round draft picks failed to make major impacts and what they were left with was an overcooked souffle; Manning was the heat keeping it afloat, but without him the entire team collapsed- welcome to 2011.
The Carolina Panthers need to watch Manning and the Colts as a cautionary tale of how to handle their team moving forward. While it's a shame Dan Marino never won a ring, it's criminal that Peyton Manning has only managed to win one. Cam Newton has that kind of potential, he has that ability to put the team on his back, make plays and carry the team to the top of the mountain, but he needs help.
Thankfully the defense will get a major boost off of IR when Jon Beason and Co. return, but that's not enough. Marty Hurney and the front office will need to keep the shelves stocked at WR for Cam, much like the Colts did for Manning while avoiding the pitfall of drafting poorly on the other side of the ball. This is far easier said than done, especially in a year where conceivably the Panthers will have to make a decision whether to take the draft's best WR, or get some help for the defense- it's a tough decision to make.
All we as fans can do is sit back and watch the show. Thus far I'm enjoying every second of watching Cam Newton begin to personify Peyton Manning, but I'll admit I'm waiting with bated breathe to ensure Hurney doesn't emulate Bill Polian.