Panthers Hope to Return to the Playoffs in 2008.

12 08 2008

It was a long 2007 season for Jake Delhomme, but his health is a key in 2008.

It was a long 2007 season for Jake Delhomme, but his health is a key to the Panthers success in 2008.

By Michael Gill

If the Carolina Panthers want to return to the NFC playoffs this season, they are going to have to stay healthy.  The Panthers went out and made some noise in free agency this off season and really believe that they can return to the playoffs this season.  “Everyone is thinking playoffs,” said Panthers radio voice Mick Mixon. 

The Panthers haven’t been to the post-season since the 2005 campaign but have what they think is a good mix on offense and defense to return.

One thing is for sure, Jake Delhomme is a big key to the Panthers success.  “The biggest thing with Jake is his leadership,” said Mixon.  “When Jake gets hurt, its like Godzilla breathing on this team.”  Delhomme has only beenable to play in 16 games over the past two seasons and will have to lead this team at least a couple of games without the services of talented wide out Steve Smith.  Smith has been suspended the first two games of the season for punching teammate Ken Lucas in the face during mini-camp.  “It’s definitely a different offense without Steve Smith,” said Mixon.  “But the stated goal here has been to run the ball and without Steve they will get that chance early.”

The running game hopes to get a shot in the arm from first round pick Jonathan Stewert.  The rookie from Oregon will compete for carries with DeAngelo Williams.  “Stewert has looked very good,” said Mixon.  And Williams is much bigger this season.”  

While Smith will miss the first two games, the team also learned today that Bobby Engram will miss the next six-to-eight weeks, and according to Mixon, this means the newcomers Hackett and Muhammed will have to pick up the slack of losing their top two wide outs.  “The key for Hackett is he needs to be healthy and Muhammed looks very fit and looks good.”  

Carolina also added first-round tackle Jeff Otah in the draft and thus far, he looks well worththe trade they made with the Philadelphia Eagles for the 18th overall pick. “Otah looks like a man, he looks like he is worth it for sure, he is a starting tackle for years in this league,” said Mixon.

On defense, the Panthers are as Mixon puts it “very good at linebacker and in the secondary.”  However, the defensive line is a big question mark, and Mixon wonders “if they can stop the run.”  One member of the defensive line who hopes to rebound is Julius Peppers.  Last season Peppers struggled with just 2.5 sacks.  “Pepper looks fit, he has had a real good camp,’ said Mixon.  As a team the Panthers had just 23 sacks, that was an all-time low for the franchise.

But to make the playoffs, the key is Delhomme. 

 “The draft was good, free agency was good,” says Mixon.  “But the key is that Jake is back.”  “This division (NFC South) is interesting, but I think this is a playoff team with Jake.” 

I have a hard time seeing this Panthers edition making it to the post-season with or without Delhomme.  Missing Smith and Engram for the early portion of the season might be to much for the Panthers to overcome – time will tell, but I don’t see the playoffs in the cats future.

Next up : Indianapolis Colts

This is a series called “2-A-Days” that will preview two teams per day every day this month, where Mike Gill will interview a beat writer or radio personality who covers the team on “The Mike Gill Show” on ESPN Radio 1450 , weekdays from 3-6pm

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