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Panthers hope roster overhaul, switch to Moore lead to wins

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Gone are veterans Jake Delhomme, Julius Peppers and Muhsin Muhammad. The Panthers decided to tear apart the roster this offseason and start over.

Expect at least eight new starters, most of whom don't have much starting experience. None is more critical than the switch to quarterback Matt Moore, who is 6-2 as a starter and has thrown 11 touchdowns with three interceptions in those games.

As center Ryan Kalil said to me, "He earned it and deserves to lead this team."

That might be true, but he will need the continued support of Carolina's vaunted rushing attack. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, who became the first pair of teammates to rush for more than 1,100 yards in the same season, have provided the Panthers with 45 combined rushing touchdowns in the last two seasons. That kind of production will be crucial to Moore's -- and the Panthers' -- success.

Moore is going to open up the deep passing game, which should make Carolina effective if it can throw with a lead. If this young team has to spread it out and play from behind, things could be tough.

As for the defense, it only returns 18 sacks and must find ways to manufacture a pass rush without Peppers.


» Coach John Fox and his entire staff are in the last years of their contracts, but you wouldn't know it because everything around here is upbeat and intense.

Carolina practices in pads with a lot of contact, and none of the young players complain. In fact, as Jon Beason said, "We are building our new identity as a tough team, and these practices help get it done."

» Rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen is a good-looking prospect, but he isn't ready to threaten Moore for the starting job.


» The Panthers face the difficult task of having to replace six starters on their No. 8 defense from last season. The torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered by linebacker Thomas Davis -- for the second time -- is a big blow to the unit.

The secondary is solid, but trading safety Chris Harris to Chicago hurts because he lined everyone up and made the adjustments. It's time for defensive back Sherrod Martin, a 2009 second-round pick, to step up.

» I talked with injured offensive tackle Jeff Otah (knee) and wide receiver Steve Smith (broken arm), and they confirmed that they will be back for the regular season. In the meantime, OT Geoff Schwartz and rookie WR Brandon LaFell, respectively, are getting tons of experience and could both win starting jobs at other positions when the injured players return.


» Clausen works predominantly with the backups and demonstrates good football intelligence. He is focusing on his mechanics, especially on the slant route. He threw a few Monday that were on the receivers' back shoulders. Clausen will be a good player in time, but there's lots of work to do right now.

» LaFell is the talk of camp. He is threatening to start at receiver and has the ability to get off press coverage and snatch balls out of the air.

» Third-rounder Armanti Edwards is a very popular figure in the Carolinas after his exploits at Appalachian State. He is in the midst of transitioning from quarterback to wide receiver/return specialist. He's done neither before but has the athletic ability to thrive in both areas. Edwards will make the team, but he might not be active on game day's to start the year.

» Eric Norwood, who was selected in the fourth round, is a former college defensive end struggling to learn all of his pass drops. One thing he can do, though, is rush the passer and should probably get in on situational pass plays. Norwood reminds me a bit of Elvis Dumervil.

» Sixth-round quarterback Tony Pike is one of four quarterbacks in camp under 26, and he is getting the fewest reps in practice. That's a bad sign.

» Safety Jordan Pugh, taken in the sixth round, has a few coaches impressed with him enough to say he has a good chance to make the team because of his quickness, agility, balance, and speed.

A New Way to Watch senior analyst Pat Kirwan wants to help you watch football in a whole different way in his new book, "Take Your Eye Off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look." **


"Yeah, we see nine-in-the-box looks, especially if Steve Smith is not on the field. But we believe we can run it anyway."


I like the Panthers to build on their late-season success from a year ago, when they went 4-1 with Moore under center and averaged 23 points a game. Fox might do his best coaching job in years, but few will accept that when they wind up as a .500 team.

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