Well, we are about 72 hours past the devastating news that Panthers' LB Thomas Davis is out for the year. It was especially difficult news on several levels. It was our 5th starter lost for the year, and only two games into the season. It was the second week in a row we lost a pro bowl quality LB to IR. Most importantly, as someone said, we lost the "Soul" of the Defense a week after we lost the "Heart" of the defense, Jon Beason. TD has always been a stand up guy, and had evolved into a high character vocal leader of our team. So, naturally, this news was really disheartening stuff.
If you're like me, you could use some good news about now. Well, I have some! I have good news, and I have lots of it! In times like these (0-2 start, 2 close losses, and all the injuries), we need to step back, breathe, and consider the big picture: And the big picture is:
There is every reason to be optimistic, right now, as a fan of the Carolina Panthers!!! Here's why:
1. Cam. I posted about this last week, and won't repeat myself except to say: We may very well have found the next great QB of the NFL in Cam Newton. Not just because of the yards, but because of So Many Other Things that we have seen the first two incredible weeks of his career. This effectively means that the days of scoring 10-19 points a game and hoping to win by a FG are over. We are going to have a good offense, that scores a lot of points, and leads us to a lot of wins, because of Cam. It is not unreasonable to say: we have a found a QB that can lead us to a Super Bowl victory!
2. We have a good, young, sharp, creative and committed coaching staff. While you never know how long coaches and assistants will stick around in the NFL, I can really see Coaches Rivera, McDermott, and Chudzinski sticking around for awhile, until we accomplish our goal: winning a Super Bowl.
3. We have a great amount of talent at the Running Back position. Stop worrying about the running game. Chud is no dummy. The talents of Deangelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, and Mike Goodson will be utilized well, and soon. (Who knew JStew could be a 100 yard pass receiver?) Look for the success of Weeks 1-2 in the passing game to open up things for the running game as the season progresses! This talent is a great strength of our team and it will be paying dividends soon.
4. Another tremendous byproduct of having a new QB and Offensive Coordinator is that we now can feel good about our options at Wide Receiver. Have you considered: We have learned in the last two weeks, that 1) Steve Smith has not lost anything, and it's very possible he can give us 3-5 more years of high quality play, and 2) Brandon LaFell, just a 2nd year player, is showing signs of being a quality #2 WR in this league! We can be hopeful that we will get better production from a third receiver, because either Naanee, Pilares or Edwards will improve their way into that role. And if they don't? David Gettis is coming back next year!
5. Tight End is another incredible strength of this team thanks to the additions of Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey. They have not only combined for several medium and long range receptions, but have opened up the field for the reemergence of Steve Smith as a star in this league. And I personally believe that, when Shockey is ready to retire, we have another great receiving option coming back next year, Gary Barnidge, who will step into his shoes nicely!
6. Our Offensive Line has been a mixed bag this year. Pretty decent at pass protection, giving Cam a lot of time to find his targets. Not so great so far on the run blocking. But consider this: Jeff Otah is quite possibly returning from injuries to establish himself as a great tackle in this league. Ryan Kalil will be a Pro Bowl Center for us for years to come. Pro Bowler Jordan Gross and Travelle Wharton still have some good years left in them. Our options at RG have improved a lot compared to last year. And we very well may have found a future starter in Byron Bell! Plus Geoff Schwartz is optimistic he will be back to form next year as well.
7. We have two young Pro Bowl quality Defensive Ends. I'm telling you, I've seen enough the first two weeks to say this with confidence: We may very well have two 10 sack per season guys in Greg Hardy in Charles Johnson for many years to come! They are hungry, great athletes, and hard workers. We have found our pass rush!
8. Our young Defensive Tackles are only going to improve. Look for Neblett, Fua and McClain the Dancing Bear to continue to improve every game as the year progresses. They are learning on the job, and that's going to pay big dividends in the years to come!
9. While you can't spin our losses of Beason and Davis at Linebacker, isn't it great to know that LB was the deepest position on our squad before the injuries? Kudos to Marty and Coach for adding Gaither, keeping Connor, and not cutting that preseason flash #46! So now guys like Connor, Gaither and the Williams boys can step up and show us the only reason they weren't starting already this year is because they were on the Carolina Panthers! Look for James Anderson to step up as a vocal, inspired leader of our defense now that his boys are on IR.
10. I love our corners! Coach Rivera knew exactly how to re-motivate Chris Gamble to become the quality #1 guy that he's been for us for years. I also believe I will be justified in my preseason argument that Captain Munnerlyn IS a legitimate #2 corner in this league. I mean, did you see him go up against that Packers TE in the end zone last week?? He has a vertical of about 5 feet and a heart that weighs 5 tons. And it's only his 3rd year! Also, it's starting to sound like Brandon Hogan might be able to give us some depth here by mid season, a very talented rookie who is going to help us at CB! Hopefully Butler will do the same.
11. Our safeties have had some missed assignments so far this year. But we have seen enough the past two years to know that Charles Godfrey and Sherrod Martin can play! So much so Godfrey has already had his contract extended. I believe Coach Rivera when he says Jordan Pugh is a player, and time will prove that out. Look for the poor performance the first two weeks to be proved more indicative of a new defensive system than the lack of talent at the safety position!
12. By the end of the year, we will know for certain that Special Teams are a strength of this team. We already know we have one of the most effective punters in the league in Jason Baker. Olinda Mare, replacing the irreplaceable John Kasay, has been and will continue to be a reliable FG kicker and great leg on kickoffs. Our return coverage teams, except for one play week 1, are showing signs of being much improved from last year. And if we are patient, we have big play ability in our PR Armanti Edwards and KR Mike Goodson. Look for scores from each this year, and more opportunities for Goody when the thermometer drops come November-December.
There are some holes to fill, some positions that lack some depth. But this is only year 1 of the RivEra! Those holes will be adequately filled through the draft and other key player acquisitions. Shoot, after this summer, we even have newfound hope in the ability of Panthers GM Marty Hurney!!
We are going to win more than two games this year guys! And next year, we will win more games than we did this year and the playoffs will be within reach! And the year after that, we will begin to establish ourselves as a perennial power in the NFC. And for the next 10 years after that, when the prognosticators talk about favorites to go to, and to win, the Super Bowl, YOU WILL BE HEARING THE CAROLINA PANTHERS!
AND YES, IN THE NEXT 3-10 YEARS, THE CAROLINA PANTHERS WILL BE WORLD CHAMPIONS!!!!!! QUITE POSSIBLY MORE THAN ONCE!
And that is why, I believe, you should feel great to be a Carolina Panthers fan, right now!!
Title borrowed/stolen/adapted from James' weekly column, the Monday Morning Optimist : )