Needless to say, the Carolina Panthers are one of the best teams in the NFC and a legitimate contender to reach the 2006 Super Bowl. The Panthers have made several wise acquisitions this offseason and will be primed to make another strong run at the Super Bowl.
They have a battle tested playoff team full of veterans and young talent alike – and should be a year wiser after last year’s playoff run. Now, all they have to do is stay healthy and focused.
Here is my 2006 preview on the Carolina Panthers.
I really like quarterback Jake Delhomme. Not only is he a fine quarterback, but he possesses the moxie that it takes to lead a team to victory in the NFL. If Delhomme is healthy, the Panthers always have a chance in almost every game.
Backup quarterback Chris Weinke is a solid quarterback who won’t make the big mistake to get his team beat, which is probably his best attribute.
Starting running back, DeShaun Foster is very good – when he’s healthy, which, unfortunately, never seems to be the case for very long. I don’t necessarily think he’s fragile, but Foster has suffered one injury after another.
However, the Panthers wisely went out and selected running back DeAngelo Williams with their first round draft pick this year. Even if Foster doesn’t go down with an injury this season, Williams will certainly get his share of carries this season.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
I predicted before last season began that wide receiver Steve Smith would have a breakout year and that’s exactly what he did. However, the Panthers found out last season, that they needed at least one competent wide receiver on the field with Smith to help take some of the pressure off of the mega-talented star and wisely went out and picked up free agent, Keyshawn Johnson who should be an excellent compliment to Smith. Keary Colbert, will be the Panthers third receiver but needs to get more consistent. The Panthers tight ends are a collective group of blockers who catch a pass about once a month.
The Panthers always seem to be able to move the ball on the ground for the most part, so I can’t badmouth this unit at all, although the Panthers have never had the cohesiveness that they’ve desired.
Carolina will have a new center this season in, Justin Hartwig, who will join veteran guards Evan Mathis and Mike Wahle as well as tackles Travelle Wharton and Jordan Gross in Carolina’s starting unit.
The Panthers have one of the best defensive lines in all of football – and one that got better this past offseason.
Defensive end Julius Peppers is a freak of nature that must be accounted for on every down. Defensive tackle, Kris Jenkins returns after missing two consecutive seasons and will be paired with new tackle, Ma’ake Kemoeatu, a 350-pound space eating run stuffer. Carolina’s other defensive end, Mike Rucker, is a fine player himself who is solid against the run and pass.
Middle linebacker Dan Morgan is the only starter who returns in 2006 and he is also injury prone himself. Carolina’s outside positions are tenuous at best. Three players, Thomas Davis, Keith Adams and Na’il Diggs will compete for two positions.
Ken Lucas and Chris Gamble may not have the big names of some of the other more publicized cornerbacks in the league, all the pair does is shut down opposing wide receivers on a weekly basis.
Veteran free safety Mike Minter, is still a big hitter even if he can’t move the way he used to a few years ago. Strong safety, Shaun Williams is going to have to fight to keep his starting position from Colin Branch, but should be up to the challenge.
Veteran Reggie Howard and rookie Richard Marshall should both see plenty of action in the Panthers’ nickel packages.
The Panthers have a solid kicking game with veterans, John Kasay, although he is aging, and punter, Jason Baker, who led the NFC with a net average of 38.9 yards in 2005. Kick returner, Jamal Robertson was solid last season but Carolina will need someone to step up and grad a solid hold of their punt returning position.
The Panthers wisely gave head coach John Fox a contract extension that will keep him in Carolina throughout the 2010 season. Anyone who knows me, knows I think very highly of Fox and the job he’s done since he took over as Carolina’s head coach. Fox always manages to get the most out of his teams, which is the sign of a great coach.
If Carolina can stay healthy on both sides of the ball, there is absolutely no reason this team can’t be a major factor in the NFC – and the last one standing when the dust settles.