The 2009 version of the Carolina Panthers is very much going to resemble the 2008 one. They are loaded with talent and are expected to contend in the hotly contested NFC South once again. The Panthers are a team that did little in the off season in the way of free agents, and largely stood pat short of some great rookie draft picks in the NFL Draft. Still, they have most of the pieces in place to contend in the wide open NFC. Here is a look at how they stack up:
Carolina Panthers 2009 Offense
The Panthers offense in 2009 will center largely on the dynamic pair of running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. They are as good a one two punch as you will find in the NFL, and they are running behind an offensive line that is intact in Carolina for the first time in years. The Panthers did lose some depth on that offensive line when they lost Geoff Hangartner to the Bills, and back up Jeremy Bridges. Longtime Panther running back and special teamer Nick Goings is gone as well, but he will be felt primarily in the special teams. Wide out D.J. Hackett is gone after a disappointed tenure with the Panthers, and outside of that, the offense is unchanged.
Quarterback Jake Delhomme was rewarded with a huge contract extension in the off season, and will lead the Panthers under center. All world receiver Steve Smith, and old reliable Mushin Muhammed also return to give the passing game the needed push they will need to compliment that monster running game. Rookie Dwayne Jarrett is set to take over the number three slot, or maybe even the number two with a great pre-season.
Carolina Panthers 2009 Defense
The defense was all about Julius Peppers during this off season. Because he was demanding to be traded, the Panthers slapped the franchise tag on him. This forced the Panthers to really miss out on free agents, as all their money is tied up in Peppers. On the bright side, Peppers is back in the fold, though he will be earning a huge salary this season. Still, he brings incredible skills to the defense.
Also, the Panthers did draft Florida State DE Everette Brown as well. The thought of Brown on one side and Peppers on the other could be a nightmare for the rest of the NFC. The defensive line is solid and ready to go this season.
The linebackers are among the best in the NFL. Thomas Davis, Jon Beason, and Nai’ il Diggs, and Dan Conner hold down this group and will be solid once again in 2009.
The secondary is the one link on this Panther team that is suspect. They struggled throughout the year last year, and in particularly towards the end of the season. Ken Lucas is now gone, and Richard Marshall will be the man in Carolina to fill his shoes. There is some real talent here such as Chris Gamble and Chris Harris, but they will need to truly step up last year’s performance for the Panthers to make it to the Super Bowl.
Carolina Panthers 2009 Special Teams
The Panther’s special teams took a huge hit with the loss of kick returner Mark Jones and special teams ace Nick Goings. Fortunately, they have some pretty good replacements in draft picks Mike Goodson and Captain Munnerlyn. Also, they have one of the best kickers in the league in John Kasay and the best kickoff specialist in the league in Rhys Lloyd. Punter Jason Baker is one of the best at keeping the enemy inside the 20 yard line.
Carolina Panthers 2009 Coaching
Coach Jon Fox is about as steady as they come, but they still have not lifted that trophy yet. The Panthers have made it to the Super Bowl once with Fox, and been to a couple of NFC Championship games as well. The bottom line is that Carolina is loaded with the pieces to get there, and Fox needs to make a move in that direction now.
Carolina Panthers 2009 Prediction
The Panthers are picked first or second in the NFC South by most experts, but that is due to their bear of a schedule. The Panthers face only one team that had a losing record in 2008, and that means lots of quality games. Still, expect to see the Panthers win the NFC South by a few games over upstart Atlanta.