Well, now that the regular season is over and the Panthers are resting and healing up from the season, the question begs to be asked... where do they go from here?
It would appear that Mr. Richardson has decided to retain Marty Hurney and Coach John Fox. I cannot really define my feelings towards Mr. Hurney. Not because they are bad, but because I've not really given it much thought. But I am happy that Coach Fox will be back. I do not proclaim to be an expert in all things NFL, but I like Coach Fox. I like how he's loyal to his players, and I like how he generally runs the plays.
Running backs... Carolina has really struggled to find a really good smash mouth RB - at least since Biakabatuka was around, and he struggled to stay healthy. A normal risk at this position. I like DeAngelo Williams, he struggles in the first half but seems to find his lanes in the 2nd. I don't know if it's because hte Panthers really play this role by commitee, or that's just the way he is. If he could just find those lanes in the 2nd quarter more often.
At Wide Receiver I am truly concerned. Steve Smith is an explosive player, but this is a team sport, and when the opposing Defense does not need to split time between him and someone else... it's almost impossible to be consistantly explosive. The lot from the 2007 draft seemed promising, especially at tight end, but we need the deep and middle threat that just wasn't there after the team released Keyshawn Johnson (a very bad decision in my opinion).
The Offensive line was decent. It's really hard to tell when they had to block for four different starters, but the running backs did OK. But when the team is playing from behind as much as they did the running game pretty much decreases.
On the defensive side of the ball... I thought the secondary took a step forward this year. They got burned, but so do most secondaries in this league. The rules just really favor the passing game.
My biggest concern was the front seven. I know the issues between the management and Kris Jenkins could not have come at a worse time. Jenkins, to his credit, did an admirable job. I especially appreciated his passion to call the team out and challange them to do better. Jon Beason was a very good addition, even if that spells the end of Dan Morgan with the Panthers. I love Morgan's passion and speed, but I am worried about his long term health and it may be best for him to seek opportunities outside of the playing field. I for one think he would make a good coach - if he is one who is able to share his passion. Julius Peppers has left most of the Carolinas wondering... what happened!
I for one think this is a long overdue "sophmore slump". I think the man is as talented and gifted as he ever was, but I think a combination of things really played against him.
1) It was rumored that a contract extension was in the works, one that did not get done in the off-season last year. Sometimes one can try too hard to prove their value, and as a result you are not playing as 'naturally' and you end up over thinking.
2) I believe an experiment was begun to move #90 around a little. There is always a learning curve when you have to be proficent at more than one position, and when that invloves more than two... the bell curve is not favorable in the beginning (see also item #1 above). In the long term though, this can be very beneficial.
3) The Kris Jenkins thing has got to play in the back of the mind, even a little bit. And then when the team owner calls you to his lakeside retreat for a pow-wow. It puts an even brighter spotline on you.
I have no idea how the Panthers will do next year, but I am as excited as I ever am. The key pieces are in place (in my opinion), but the management can ill-afford to sit still like they did last year.