That aside, the first thing that pops to my mind when it comes to the 2012 Carolina Panthers is this: are we there yet? I'm not going to lie or sugarcoat it -- we aren't there yet. We weren't in 2011, even amid some of the cries of playoffs solely due to Cam Newton's presence -- we went 6-10. We expected more in 2012: we aren't going to get it, guys. Sorry. If you still want to cling to your 13-3 and 12-4 predictions, feel free, but know ye that thou art doomed to disappointment.
Are we 10-6? 9-7? Maybe, but I think even 9-7 is pushing the limits of our capabilities. I'm suspecting 7-9, perhaps 8-8 at best. The days of hoping Rivera could suddenly pull off a miracle repeat of John Fox history and take us from 2-14 to the Superbowl in two years aren't going to happen -- not now, possibly not even next year. But we will see the Superbowl again... someday.
So why not? Why are the 2012 Carolina Panthers not there yet?
Let's start with the obvious: we have holes in every facet of the game. The WR corps, aside from Smitty, suffer from a case of lacking an identity, though to his credit LaFell is starting to really show some promise. The offensive line has an aging LT, and very little quality depth. The defense is where the holes start to really crop up: DT needs help, especially quality depth (though if we can keep shifting Hardy over to UT on certain downs like we did to great effect yesterday, it might not be quite so much of a problem). Kuechly is beginning to look like a precognitive pick, especially the way Beason has played these last few weeks. The secondary needs serious help, because Gamble cannot do it all. And special teams... well... I think enough has been said about special teams and we'll leave it at that.
So, I have to be realistic in my assessment: I don't see the Panthers being ready for the playoffs in general for two years, and being potentially Superbowl-bound for at least three years. We have to patch the holes, we have to establish a rhythm and a groove. Most importantly, though, we have to give the players time to grow and mature, to develop into the NFL players we hope and pray they can be every time we start a new season. Last year, this year, quite possibly next year, will be the trials and tribulations for the Panthers -- it's in how they respond to those challenges that will define them as players and forge their identity as a team.
Likewise for the coaches: last year, everyone was screaming for McDermott's head on a pike because we couldn't field an aggressive defense due to injuries, and his make-do-with-what-we-have-on-hand plan didn't work out very well at all; couple that with Ron Meeks' running a conflicting secondary coverage, and that's definitely a recipe for disaster. This year, McDermott's seemingly being given a reprieve, only for Chud and Rivera both to be the new victims for having their heads on a pike. Like with the players, the coaches have to have time to find their own rhythm and get their groove on. Rivera's still new to being a head coach. Chud is outsmarting himself and having Jeff Davidson moments of relying on the read-option (hopefully Chud's playbook doesn't have doughnut glaze fusing the other pages together).
And then, there are the fans...
Kalil's Superbowl ad was a nice way of firing up the team and the fans, but I think it backfired on him and the team, if only due to just how heightened those fan expectations became. As fans, we are an extraordinarily fickle lot, prone all too easily to lynch-mob mentality at the slightest provocation. It's been no small amount of shame and sadness to see that it's affected us even here on CSR -- there are some who are bound and determined to second-guess every possible playcall, every possible player contract, etc. Fine, we get it, but please quit beating a dead horse at the slightest provocation to hammer home your point. It's not only annoying, but tends to actually detract from the argument when you spend every waking moment on the blog griping and complaining about it.
I tend to be fairly quiet for the most part, save draft time because I love looking at all the possibilities. But when I get to the point where I'm ready to unleash a Dennis Miller rant that's pushing the limits of moderator patience and indulgence for the potential (and quite probable) profanity-lacing diatribe that would ensue, then I know at least for myself that a boiling point has been reached. And in case you were wondering... yeah, I was at that point a week or so ago when everyone was screaming for everyone else's head following the Giants debacle in that Thursday night game where, as BW put it on the radio show, "some JV team showed up to play the Giants on national TV".
In short, gang, relax and enjoy the ride. The trials and tribulations that still lie ahead may drive us all batty and insane, but believe me when I say that the journey will be well worth the wait once the Panthers are well and truly firing on all cylinders.