Big Changes needed for the Panthers

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It was just 8 months and a week ago that the Carolina Panthers were flying high in the NFC as the number two seed and set for a deep playoff run. That was before they ran into the high powered offense of the Arizona Cardinals, and Jake Delhomme threw five interceptions and fumbled the ball once.

Since that dreadful game, the Panthers have they have gone 0-5, including four preseason losses which were only highlighted by back-ups like fumble happy Mike Goodson, Kenneth Moore, James Anderson, and Dan Connor.

Their lone regular season game went exactly like their January meltdown versus Arizona. In the playoff game, return man Mark Jones brought the ball to mid field, and three minutes later, Jonathan Stewart ran the ball for a 9 yard TD run. In last Sunday’s game, the Panthers marched down the field versus a tougher, more physical defense and scored on a 11  yard DeAngelo Williams misdirection run in eight minutes. Both games when downhill from then on out and Delhomme had 11 count them 11 turnovers in just over six quarters of play, thanks to John Fox finally pulling the incompetent quarterback for back-up Josh McCown, who hurt his knee just a few plays later.

After two straight games of awful play and five years of mediocrity (not counting the 2003 Super Bowl year and 2005 NFC Championship year), it’s painfully obvious that something has to be done to fix this “Delhomm-a”. The Panthers had a perfect opportunity to replace Jake with a capable quarterback since Jeff Garcia was granted his release by the Raiders. Last season, Garcia led the vastly untalented Tampa Bay Buccaneers to within one win or an Eagles loss of the playoffs, won the NFC South the year before, and the year before that, he took over for an injured Donovan McNabb to lead the Eagles to the playoffs. But because of salary cap problems, Fox’s infatuation with Delhomme, and lack of timing, they failed to snatch up the quality QB before the Eagles signed him. Ironically, Philly only needed to bring in Garcia because McNabb was hurt when he was tackled at the end of a touchdown run by Panthers’ linemen Damione Lewis and Tyler Brayton. With Garcia off the market, Carolina opted to go with career back-up A.J. Feeley over former starters like Joey Harrington, Andrew Walter, and talented youngster Brian Brohm. So this off-season, if the Panthers can find a QB of the future, Delhomme needs to be released.

The next big move that needs to be made by the Panthers is to ship out All-Pro Defensive End Julius Peppers before the Week 6 Trade Deadline. Peppers has been one of the strongholds of the Panthers’ defense since his number 2 overall selection in the 2002 NFL Draft. But over the off-season, Pep said that he wanted out of Carolina, preferably to a contending team with a 3-4 defense so he could play outside linebacker. The Panthers did not honor his request and slapped the franchise tag on him, so he had to come back and play for at least one more year under Fox. At this point, Peppers likely still wants out of Carolina, and probably won’t sign an extension once he hits free agency this summer, assuming the Panthers down slap the Franchise Tag back on him which will pay him over $20 million. So why not ship him to a team who is willing to part with several draft picks.

In a similar trade, the Chiefs sent All-Pro Defensive End Jared Allen to the Vikings for a first-rounder and two thirds. Peppers is older, but he didn’t have the baggage that Allen did at the time of the trade. Allen was coming off alcohol probation and received three DUI, including twice in five months. Other teams will have an upper hand on the Panthers, though since they know Julius wants out of Carolina. So if any teams offer up a first-rounder and maybe more, the Panthers should jump on the offer immediately. The Panthers aren’t going anywhere this year with or without Pep, so we might as well get something back for him before he leaves. The Panthers do have two solid young defensive ends in former second-rounder Everrette Brown and former third-rounder Charles Johnson, along with veteran former first-rounder Tyler Brayton.

A last move that should be made is to fire Head Coach John Fox, Offensive Coordinator Jeff Davidson, and General Manager Marty Hurney. Fox, like Delhomme, was brought in for the 2003 season, and were a hit success. But Fox’s run and control the line of scrimmage strategy no longer works now. Despite what Coach Fox thinks, it normally doesn’t work to well when you run the ball right up the middle on 3rd and 20, yet he seems to do it nearly every time the Panthers have third and long. Also, the pride of the Panthers used to be their defensive line, but that is no longer the case. Gone are the days when opposing teams feared Carolina’s front line of  the Pathers’ great leader Mike Rucker, behemoth Kris Jenkins, steady vet Brenston Buckner, and young stud Julius Peppers. Now they are down to just Brayton, Lewis, Louis Leonard, and Peppers, who soon will leave. The last major flaw of Fox is his never ending love for Jake Delhomme. Through thick and thin, Fox has stuck with Delhomme since he finished out the Panthers first game of their 2003 season, where Jake came in at the start of the second half to replace Rodney Peete, and led Carolina to victory. Fox needs to know when Jake is rhythm and when he is 2009 Playoff Jake.

There is one very good former head coach without an NFL job that has lots of connection with Carolina. That man is Super Bowl winning coach Bill Cowher. Cowher attended N.C. State for college and currently lives in Raleigh, North Carolina. During a 2009 Carolina Hurrincans playoff game versus the Pittsburgh Penguins, Cowher spun the ‘Canes’s siren, showing that he’s not all about Pittsburgh anymore and still likes Carolina sports teams. If the Panthers lose their next two games heading into their Week 4 bye week, which they certainly could seeing as they play at Atlanta and at Dallas on Monday night, Fox certainly needs to be fired. Carolina could then implant Cowher’s system over their bye week and be ready to play by their Week 5 game versus the Redskins. This is a match made in heaven for the Panthers, and they have a perfect opportunity to utilize it.

When the Panthers fired current Miami Dolphin’s Offensive Coordinator Dan Henning, it was because their offense was flat and they needed a new spark. They hired Jeff Davidson to be their new OC to implant his new zone blocking scheme, but it all reality, Davidson is just a son to Henning. The Panthers run the same run first and run often offense they always have, and it’s just not working. The Panthers have to replace Fox with Cowher or another Head Coach before hireing a new Offensive Coordinator because the plays have to go through Fox before the Panthers can run them. Two coordinators who could replace Davidson are former Chargers’ Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer and former Buc’s OC Jeff Jagodzinski. Schottenheimer knows how to run a good offense, especially after leading the high-powered Chargers to a 14-2 record in 2006. He knew how to work with and keep happy great offensive stars like LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates, Philip Rivers, and Vincent Jackson. However, Schottenheimer never has held the position of an NFL Offensive Coordinator, but rather has twice been a Defensive Coordinator and three times a Linebacker Coach. Jagodzinski is more of an offensive minded coach than Schottenheimer. He taught Matt Ryan at Boston College and was the Offensive Coordinator for the Buccaneers until he was fired a week before their first game, which they lost to Dallas. Jagodzinski also knows the NFC South well because he coached Matt Ryan for four seasons and was Tampa Bay’s OC, although only for a month or so. His insight into the offense of teams Carolina plays a combined four times a year would really help.

Like John Fox, General Manager Marty Hurney’s time has ran out with the Panthers. The Panthers made no off-season moves until training camp, and have traded future first-round picks the past two seasons. Perhaps the trades were in an attempt to keep his and Fox’s jobs an extra year, rather than make the team better in the future. The first-round pick that Carolina sent to the 49ers in this year’s NFL Draft netted picks that became Brown and Goodson. The first-rounder that San Francisco received could likely land them a very top-flight quarterback such as Sam Bradford or Jevan Snead, since the Panthers could easily be a bottom 15 team. The Panthers desperately need a quarterback of the future since Matt Moore, although he has had flashes of success, will ultimately never be a starter in the NFL. Along with making no off-season acquisitions, Hurney made another big mistake by signing Delhomme to a 5-year/$42.5 million extension as a gesture of faith. But how much faith can you really have in an aging quarterback who single-handedly killed your season in the playoffs? There is no logical fit for a new GM, but a suggestion would be to take front office personnel from the best run organization: the New England Patriots. Two names of people who could fit the job of Panthers GM would be Nick Caserio, Director of Player Personnel, and Floyd Reese, Senior Football Advisor.

The last move that needs to be made soon will happen in the 2010 NFL Draft. The Panthers need to draft a quarterback of the future, which will be a big prroblem if their top pick is around pick number 40. The top group of QBs entering the draft will be Heisman winners  Bradford, Tim Tebow, along with Colt McCoy,  Snead, Zac Robinson, Jacorry Harris, and Jimmy Clausen. Unless Carolina can acquire a first-rounder for Peppers, the Panthers will probably have to settle for Robinson, Harris or Clausen with their second round pick, but the last three quarterbacks are no where as talented as Bradford, McCoy and Snead.

The Panthers have several holes to fill, and these are only some suggestions that will help them. You have some serious problems at quarterback, defensive line, and on the sidelines. So take my advice, Panthers, and maybe, just maybe, you will be relevant later this year, or the year after.

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