Sunday, August 13, 2006

Panthers Preview

The Carolina Panthers started their 2006 season with a 14-13 victory over the Buffalo Bills in front of 62,000 fans at Bank of America stadium on Saturday. Jake Delhomme went 5-6 for 64 yards including a 14-yard TD strike to Drew Carter and two completions to newcomer Keyshawn Johnson. The Panthers' other TD came on a 23 yard interception return by Ken Lucas.

The Panthers are the "trendy" pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl this year, and since everyone in North Carolina has written pre-season Panther previews, I figure that I might as well join in.

Much has been made of Jake Delhomme's tendency to have tunnel-vision at key points of the game. With such a foursome of receivers as Smith, Johnson, Carter and Colbert, he will have a hard time justifying not looking to secondary routes. The focus of the passing game this year needs to shed a glance at the tight ends. Marty Hurney has always tried to utilize Kris Mangum and Michael Gaines in deceptive seam routes and late releases that take advantage of zone coverage. With secondaries focused on multiple threats on the outside, the middle of the field could be wide open for these tight ends. Let's hope that Jake can find them.

For the last several years, the name DeShaun Foster has been synonymous with potential, injury, explosiveness, and "maybe this year". With DeAngelo Williams lurking in reserve, the pressure will be on Foster to become a solid NFL running back. However, in this sense I am not using solid in reference to staying healthy. Foster is going to need to continue to hone his ability to be all types of backs in all situations. Last year, he demonstrated fantastic growth in not waiting to juke people in the backfield, but rather diving into holes to take the 4-5 yards that was created for him. If Foster can continue to commit to holes while utilizing his cutback ability on toss plays, the Panthers won't have to worry about bringing in the inexperienced Williams or Eric Shelton to diversify the running game.

On Defense, the Panthers just better not get hurt. The depth isn't really there at linebacker with Dan Morgan being the only remaining starter and Keith Adams being more fit to a special teams slot than a starting weakside linebacker. If Thomas Davis can learn the position the starters will be solid in the Panthers weakest defensive area.

Overall, this group of Panthers better lose some games and early on. The Panthers have never played well as the favorites. They have an underdog mentality. We aren't the Patriots or the Seahawks or the Colts. "We dont have quote stars," Delhomme famously states in the 2003 Super Bowl highlight video. With Steve Smith going first in most fantasy drafts and Keyshawn's "give me the damn ball" fame, this group isn't hidden anymore. Maybe this year they can learn to play as the favorites.

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