I have stated on several posts that my biggest reason for believing in this team is that we have more overall talent than the 2008 Panthers. The 2008 Panthers went 12-4 and won the division. What I'm gonna do is compare the 2011 projected roster (based on keeping all important FAs) to the 2008 team.
QB - Newton vs. Delhomme
The most important position on the field is the QB position. In 2008, we had Jake Delhomme. He had a QB rating of 84.7, and threw for 15 TDs and 12 INTs, and also ran for 2 TDs. That was Jake's year after his Tommy John surgery. Remember that he completely stunk it up against the Raiders and Lions, but we won due to the other guys. Those two games were the two following the bye week. For the rest of the season, he played pretty well. He provided the leadership and work ethic, and confidence, for our offense. I think Cam will be much better than that, as a rookie. Cam has already won over many players. I think it's not to improbable for him to throw for 15 TDs. I definitely expect more than 2 rushings TDs. I think he'll be more accurate than Jake, has a stronger arm and quicker release. He's gonna make some rookie mistakes, but in the end, his talent and work ethic will overcome that.
Advantage: 2011 QBs
RB- Williams/Stewart/Goodson/Fiametta vs. Williams/Stewart/Hoover.
The 2008 team saw Williams run for 1500 yards, and score 20 total TDs. The rookie Stewart ran for 800 yards and 10 TDs. They became the first RB duo ever with both guys getting 800 yds and 10 TDs. The following year, they were the first to get 1100 yards a piece. In 2011, the running game will be better because Fiametta should be a better blocker than he was last year, and Goodson is also very talented. What we really need to keep an eye on is play calling and if Fiametta really is better at picking up the blitz. He's still no Hoov, though.
Advantage: 2011 RBs
WR/TE - Smitty, Gettis, LaFell, Edwards, Shockey vs. Smitty, Muhammed, Jarrett, Rosario
In 2008, Smitty averaged over 100 yards a game. Moose finished with over 900 yards as well. This happened with Jake throwing. I think we'll be better this year because we'll have three solid receivers instead of two. The real difference in the receiving corps is going to be how these young guys block downfield, and on certain outside running plays. Moose was a really good blocker. I think Cam's ability to run and the other weapons on offense open the door for Smitty to have another dominant season. King and Rosario combined for 39 catches in 2008. I think Shockey and Rosario will be closer to 70.
Advantage: 2011 WRs/TEs
OL - Gross, Wharton, Kalil, IDK, Otah vs. Gross, Wharton, Kalil, Bridges, Otah
I call this one draw. I don't know who's going to start at RG. Otah was a rookie in 2008, and should be better as a veteran, but we haven't seen him play in over a year. The OL in 2008 was pretty good. Jake was only sacked 20 times. Part of that was our dominance runnign the ball, and also Jake's decision making. It will be hard to match the quality of the 2008 OL, but since 4 of those guys are still here, it's doable.
DL: CJ, McLain, Fua, Brown vs. Peppers, Kemoeatu, Lewis, Brayton
I think it's going to be difficult to match the Panthers DL from 2008. Peppers had 14.5 sacks that year. CJ could equal that number. I think Brown will win the other starting job, but it could be Brayton, Hardy, or someone else. Lewis and Kemo played good football that year, too, except when Derrick Ward ran for 200 yards against us. So my 2011 DL roster includes three guys who have never been starters. Think about that for a minute.
Advantage: 2008 DL
LBs - Davis, Anderson, Beason, Connor vs. Davis, Beason, Diggs
Diggs was a solid tackler, but a guy many people considered a solid back-up player who shouldn't start. Adding some 3-4 schemes, Anderson and Connor to the mix makes the 2011 LB squad a real strength. All four guys have the talent and skill to be Pro Bowlers. I expect big things from this squad. The key is going to be how close they have to play to the line to make up for lack of experience on the DL. If we get good leads, though, then our defense should spend less time on the field overall.
Advantage: 2011 LBs
DBs - Gamble, Godfrey, Martin, Munnerlyn vs. Harris, Gamble, Lucas, Godfrey
The 2008 team struggled down the stretch. Martin and Godfrey showed last year that they are a solid pair of starting safeties. Harris was good at making big plays, creating turnovers, and run support. The key is going to be Munnerlyn. Munnerlyn will be lined up on #2 receivers like Julio Jones. I'm hoping we bring in a vet FA and Munnerlyn can be the nickel. I think our 2011 secondary is going to be better, though, because of better play from Martin and Godfrey. We have moved on from bend but don't break. We will be attacking more, and reacting less.
Advantage: 2011 DBs
There you have it. I've decided not to get into special teams and coaching. We still have Baker and Kasay. Ryne Robinson was returning kicks in 2008. I think there is a consensus about the coaching staff in Carolina as well. If you look at our 2008 team compared to 2011, though, you see so many familiar faces, and the talent is in place. We were never in a rebuilding stage, and I think we all better get used to winning every year, not every other year.