2007 season recap
Down goes Delhomme!: The Panthers began the season 2-1 with starting QB Jake Delhomme in a groove. In three starts, Delhomme threw for 624 yards and eight touchdowns, while throwing only one interception. The Panthers appeared ready to take off with Delhomme and get back to the playoffs after a disappointing 2006 season. That is when Delhomme went down with an elbow injury and missed the remainder of the season. The Panthers then had a revolving door at the quarterback position, going through David Carr, Vinny Testaverde and Matt Moore. Carolina ultimately finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs for the second straight season.
Key camp questions
Will Delhomme make it through training camp healthy?
During offseason practices, Delhomme claimed to be feeling great and was enjoying throwing to newly signed wideout D.J. Hackett, formerly of the Seahawks. Delhomme also welcomed back veteran receiver Muhsin Muhammad, who was one of his favorite targets before he defected to the Bears in 2005. A healthy Delhomme means the difference between the Panthers looking forward to contention in the NFC and the Panthers settling for another non-playoff season. If Delhomme can stay healthy in training camp and work with his new receivers it will give the Panthers confidence heading into the season.
How will Julius Peppers respond after his worst season?
Peppers entered last season as one of the premeir defenders in the league and finished last year as a question mark. He stayed relatively healthy and started 14 games, but tallied a career-low 2 ½ sacks. He also notched only 38 tackles and five passes defensed, also among career-lows. He has reportedly been working out hard in the offseason and will come into training camp in great shape. He is in a contract year and his quest to return to his Pro Bowl form begins on the practice fields of training camp.
Can the rebuilt offensive line gel in training camp?
The Panthers have shuffled players on their remade offensive line and added two new players on the right side. Ryan Kalil takes over full-time at center after spending most of last season on the bench, Jordan Gross moves back to left tackle after spending last season at right tackle and Travelle Wharton shifts from left tackle to left guard. Free agent addition Keydrick Vincent mans the right guard spot after he started just once last year for Arizona and rookie Jeff Otah will take over at right tackle. Training camp will be pivotal for the offensive linemen to adjust to one another and get prepared for their first season together.
Key position battle
S Nate Salley vs. S Terrence Holt: For now, the Panthers are giving the nod to the young Salley. In his third season out of Ohio State, Salley has never started a game, having missed his entire second season with a knee injury. Holt, on the other hand, is very experienced, having started 31 games the past two seasons for the Lions and Cardinals. While Holt may have the edge in experience, the Panthers are hoping that Salley develops into long-term solution at the position as they signed Holt to just a one-year deal.
RB Jonathan Stewart: With mainstay DeShaun Foster having signed with the 49ers in the offseason, Stewart is being counted on to step up immediately in the backfield for the Panthers. DeAngelo Williams will certainly get his share of carries, but the Panthers do not want him to be a workhorse feature back and plan on giving Stewart plenty of opportunities to rush the ball. If Stewart can replicate the kind of success he had at Oregon and Williams can continue playing as well as he did late last season, the Panthers could have one of the league's more potent backfield tandems.
Player on the spot
WR Dwayne Jarrett: At one time, Jarrett was the darling of college football, having starred for Southern California. A slow 40 time leading up to the 2007 draft caused him to fall to the second round, where the Panthers picked him. He proceeded to have a disappointing rookie season in which he had only six catches and suited up for only seven games. Then, this offseason he pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated and received a 30-day suspended sentence. With the offseason moves to bring in Hackett and Muhammad, Jarrett suddenly finds himself fighting for a roster spot.
WR Steve Smith: Smith was a bit of a disappointment last season, but the return of Jake Delhomme is a real positive for the wideout's current draft value. In fact, Smith has a shot to post 100-plus catches in 2008 and should still be seen as a valuable No. 1 fantasy receiver.