While I can't say that I've religiously watched NFL football over the years, I can say that I am a Carolina Panthers fan, through and through, since their inception. I have always enjoyed watching the Panthers play, year in and year out, even when I've felt like smashing my television, yelling the occasional obscenities at the players for missing a block, throwing a pick-six, or what have you (under the classical, timeless belief that they actually can hear me).
As a franchise, we find ourselves at an interesting crossroads. We have a draft with no consensus #1 pick, a brand-new teaching-based coaching staff that can finally give Jerry Richardson a real shot at the "youth movement" he wanted -- something that I've revised my opinion on, as I'll detail below. We also have a very real chance of breaking out of the mold we've become all too set in since our inception.
When I first started posting here on CSR, I was critical of JR's youth movement. I believed it was a failure, and I can freely admit that upon reflection, most of that perceived failure was because of Jimmy Clausen's play at quarterback and the overall offensive mediocrity under Fox/Davidson. It's only been in the last day or two that I've come to revise my opinion: the youth movement isn't a failure. If anything, it was ahead of its time -- the problem, when all was said and done, was a combination of two factors: an inept offensive coordinator who got all the playbook pages stuck together from the doughnut glazing, and a head coach so intent on starting "his guys" (and sticking to a philosophy that was becoming increasingly clear wasn't working) that he refused to change with the times.
With Rivera and company now in place -- all of them capable teachers in their own right, from all the reports we've come across over the last few months in researching the hires -- we finally have the chance to give the youth movement the chance it deserves. However, Rivera and his coaching staff have their work cut out for them, because the Panthers have serious issues throughout the roster.
So, where do we begin?
Catch you after the jump...
Everyone talks about the quarterback, and it's become very difficult to remain objective when there is so much subjective rhetoric. Whether it's Delhomme/Moore, Moore/Clausen/Pike/BSP/Null, or even the draft possibilities in Gabbert/Newton/Mallett/Ponder/Stanzi/etc., none of us are able to escape it. At least, not so long as we continue arguing because of one simple, basic fact:
We don't have a franchise quarterback.
The closest we could really say to being a franchise QB is Jake Delhomme, and I have the distinct feeling that no one would call him an elite quarterback -- certainly not by today's standards of Big Ben, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady (I would add Michael Vick to that list, but only time will tell whether his 2010 Eagles season was an aberration or a taste of things to come). And it's telling that we keep having these discussions time and again. But then comes the question: why do we keep having these conversations?
Part of our problem has been due diligence at scouting for quarterback, I believe -- particularly over the last decade. Aside from picking up Delhomme in the offseason between the 2002 and 2003 seasons, and Matt Moore from Dallas waiving him during the 2007 preseason, Fox didn't do his due diligence and pretty much ignored the quarterback position (( Note: I say Fox, but this is as much an indictment on the Panthers FO as it is Fox himself )) in favor of continuing the strong defense/power-running schemes that we've run from the very beginning.
The result: while we've had serviceable (if not dependable) quarterback play over the last decade, we've suffered tremendously because of sticking to an outdated philosophy that passed us by several years ago with the changes to the NFL, particularly in the ever-growing importance of having a franchise quarterback who can stand the test of time. I believe that's part of why we were so desperate to make the reach for Jimmy Clausen, even after he went from being a top-10 lock to dropping into the second round -- because there was no more Jake Delhomme to rely on (and that's perhaps a generous estimation of his ability, given how far he plummeted from the 2008 playoffs against the Arizona Cardinals through when Moore finally stepped in the last four games of the 2009 season), and there was no real back-up to speak of for Moore.
So, what is our current situation? Let's take a look at last season's stats for our Moore/Clausen/Pike trifecta, as well as Keith Null and Brian St. Pierre for a complete picture (courtesy of NFL.com):
79/143 (55.9% completion); 857 yards (6.0 average); 5 TD; 10 INT; 13 sacks (90 yards lost); 55.6 QB rating // 5 rushing attempts; 25 yards rushing (5.0 YPA); 0 rushing TD; 4 fumbles (2 lost)
157/299 (52.5% completion); 1,558 yards (5.2 average); 3 TD; 9 INT; 33 sacks (223 yards lost); 58.4 QB rating // 23 rushing attempts; 57 yards rushing (2.5 YPA); 0 rushing TD; 9 fumbles (2 lost)
6/12 (50.0% completion); 47 yards (3.9 average); 0 TD; 0 INT; 1 sack (10 yards lost); 60.1 QB rating // 0 rushing attempts; 0 yards rushing (0.0 YPA); 0 rushing TD; 0 fumbles (0 lost)
No stats (did not play any games of the 2010 season after being signed by the Panthers)
Brian St. Pierre
13/28 (46.4% completion); 173 yards (6.2 average); 1 TD; 2 INT; 3 sacks (23 yards lost); 48.7 QB rating // 0 rushing attempts; 0 yards rushing (0.0 YPA); 0 rushing TD; 0 fumbles (0 lost)
I'm not going to go into bashing any of the quarterbacks -- even Clausen (though none can deny that he made a ton of mistakes, but there are reasons above and beyond that impacts QB performance). But one thing immediately leaps out to me: no veteran quarterback presence. No mentor (a role that Jake Delhomme could have filled admirably had we kept him, but I understand the reasons behind letting him go), no voice of experience for our quarterbacks to turn to. All Carolina had at the time was Rip Scherer as QB coach, who was destroying throwing mechanics in everyone he touched (like the Midas touch, except we were getting lead instead of gold).
The quarterback position for the Carolina Panthers has a number of interesting challenges to deal with. I wholeheartedly believe that we need a veteran presence on the team. We need a stopgap measure while bringing up our future quarterbacks, but more than anything else, we need the mentoring and valuable experience they can provide. So in that regard, we cannot ignore free agency. But given what Rivera has seen in performance from the Moore/Clausen/Pike trifecta, and his commitment to the need of a franchise quarterback, we also have to look at the draft and look to the future of the franchise.
Ironically, I think this is a situation wherein we should have four quarterbacks in the roster. One veteran, a slot to groom our potential franchise QB, and two back-up quarterbacks. Of the Moore/Clausen/Pike trifecta, I cringe to think of which one should be cut. Moore, being a free agent and coming off surgery for a torn labrum, seems to be the obvious choice, but his desire to stay with Carolina has a certain appeal. Clausen and Pike, I'm not sold on yet, but kicking either to the curb (Pike in particular, since he's still pretty much an unproven quantity at the quarterback position) seems premature -- but neither of them are in a position to be starters.
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First off, let's visit our veteran prospects. There are a number of veteran quarterbacks, several of them fairly big names. Of those, I'll bring up some names that I believe could make an immediate impact at the QB position, and potentially be a mentor's voice of experience to bringing up our future quarterbacks (stats courtesy of NFL.com):
337/561 (60.1% completion); 3,754 yards (6.7 average); 27 TD; 15 INT; 49 sacks (320 yards lost); 84.9 QB rating // 52 rushing attempts; 33 yards rushing (0.6 average); 2 rushing TD; 11 fumbles (6 lost)
Billy Volek seems a natural choice, in some respects -- mostly because he spent the last several years in San Diego with new offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski. My only concern with Volek is his limited experience and perennial backup play (aside from the 2004 Tennessee Titans, when he was starting for most of the season).
2,024/3,217 (62.9% completion); 22,694 yards (7.1 average); 154 TD; 100 INT; 160 sacks (1,116 yards lost); 86.9 QB rating // 179 rushing attempts; 316 yards rushing (1.8 average); 5 rushing TD; 42 fumbles (17 lost)
While Carson Palmer isn't a free agent, his difficulties and threats of retirement from an overall mediocre Cincinnati Bengals franchise is something to look at closely. If Cincinnati could listen to reason on a decent trade and allow us to pick up Palmer, then Carolina would have a bona fide starter with a wealth of experience, and new scenery to recharge his batteries. Unfortunately, the obstinate nature of the Bengals front office, coupled with the lockout, may make this a pipe dream at best.
3,076/5,218 (58.9% completion); 36,250 yards (6.9 average); 230 TD; 115 INT; 394 sacks (2,513 yards lost); 85.7 QB rating // 602 rushing attempts; 3,400 yards rushing (5.6 average); 28 rushing TD; 93 fumbles (46 lost)
If the chances of nabbing Carson Palmer are a potential pipe dream, the odds of picking up Donovan McNabb are not much better. Granted, there's still the possibility, given his contract status with the Redskins and his troubles with Mike Shanahan (specifically, Shanahan's own pipe dream of lightning striking twice and finding another John Elway). The change of scenery might help McNabb, and with twelve seasons under his belt, he's definitely possessing a wealth of experience from which our young future quarterbacks could draw from and benefit.
1,969/3,171 (62.1% completion); 22,814 yards (7.2 average); 122 TD; 93 INT; 254 sacks (1,863 yards lost); 84.4 QB rating // 118 rushing attempts; 300 yards rushing (2.5 average); 8 rushing TD; 42 fumbles (25 lost)
Bulger's looking for a new team to call home, since the Ravens seem to feel confident enough in Joe Flacco to release Bulger into free agency. Like Palmer, Bulger would be an immediate upgrade at quarterback for the short-term, and have experience to help mentor and guide our new quarterbacks at the next level. The question is whether he can be picked up before the Arizona Cardinals tender him an offer he can't refuse.
2,572/4,279 (60.1% completion); 29,579 yards (6.9 average); 176 TD; 128 INT; 309 sacks (1,896 yards lost); 82.2 QB rating // 306 rushing attempts; 1,139 yards rushing (3.7 average); 8 rushing TD; 56 fumbles (25 lost)
Of the quartet of names I've chosen as (in my belief) the best veteran prospects, Hasselbeck has the most experience at 13 seasons. Seattle wasn't able to get a contract done before the lockout, which gives Carolina a potential opening once things get settled and it's back to normal for the NFL and players alike. Like with Palmer and Bulger, Hasselbeck is an immediate upgrade at QB, though certainly in decline; his prospective mentoring and guidance for future quarterbacks, however, is unparalleled to my mind.
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When it comes to the draft, we're in a worse bind. Like I said originally, we have no consensus #1 pick since Andrew Luck chose to remain in Stanford for another year. There are question marks all around in regards to the quarterbacks in this draft, yet at the same time there's talent that could give the Panthers some possibilities for future quarterbacks -- even with the draft being seen in some ways as weak for potential NFL franchise quarterbacks. But who do we look at? So, a sampling of the quarterback stats for the 2011 NFL Draft (courtesy of ESPN College Football):
812/1,317 (61.6% completion); 10,314 yards (7.8 average); 71 TD; 30 INT; 50 sacks; 141.50 average QB rating // 413 rushing attempts; 1,611 yards rushing (3.9 average); 22 rushing TD
563/920 (61.2% completion); 6,779 yards (7.4 average); 40 TD; 18 INT; 42 sacks; 133.74 average QB rating // 215 rushing attempts; 436 yards rushing (2.0 average); 8 rushing TD
185/280 (66.1% completion); 2,854 yards (10.2 average); 30 TD; 7 INT; 23 sacks; 182.05 QB rating // 264 rushing attempts; 1,473 yards rushing (5.6 average); 20 rushing TD
588/947 (62.0% completion); 6,767 yards (7.1 average); 48 TD; 28 INT; 57 sacks; 132.79 average QB rating // 291 rushing attempts; 782 yards rushing (2.7 average); 10 rushing TD
740/1,271 (58.2% completion); 10,098 yards (7.9 average); 82 TD; 24 INT; 57 sacks; 143.12 average QB rating // 600 rushing attempts; 4,112 yards rushing (6.8 average); 59 rushing TD
542/903 (60.0% completion); 7,377 yards (8.2 average); 56 TD; 30 INT; 64 sacks; 141.37 average QB rating // 159 rushing attempts; -17 yards rushing (-0.1 average); 2 rushing TD
552/955 (57.8% completion); 8,388 yards (8.8 average); 69 TD; 24 INT; 61 sacks; 140.62 average QB rating // 135 rushing attempts; -141 yards rushing (-1.0 average); 7 rushing TD
I'm not as much of a college football fan, so I can't really comment too much here. However, assuming Carolina isn't able to trade away the #1 pick (or, as Richardson said back in January, we don't even try to trade it), I think we'll be looking between Gabbert/Newton, with Gabbert the safer pick with a lesser risk/bust factor and decent upside, while Newton is the higher risk/bust factor but higher reward/upside (James Dator gets credit for that one, but I won't deny I agree with the assessment, especially given Newton's apparent one-year-wonder status). If we do manage to trade away the #1 pick and we can get back into the 2nd round of the draft, then Ponder/Stanzi/Dalton should be looked at more closely (particularly Ponder and Stanzi).
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So concludes my breakdown. I do ask that this NOT become some ranting "my quarterback prospect is better than yours! // Nuh-uh! // Blah-blah-blah" like a lot of threads have lately -- there are plenty of threads already hijacked with how great Cam or Blaine are, and how all the others suck, for example. This, I want to keep on-task as being "what can we do to improve the Panthers QB situation" and be as constructive as possible.