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2 Carolina PANTHERS

Sept. 07, 2009
Sept. 07, 2009

Table of Contents
Sept. 7, 2009

LEADING OFF
Inside: THE WEEK IN SPORTS
NFL PREVIEW
Departments

2 Carolina PANTHERS

After earning the top seed last season, they sank to the depths in the playoffs. Now depth is their biggest concern

ON THE morningafter the worst game of his career, a game that fell on his 34th birthday, JakeDelhomme left his family, his friends and his presents at home and took adrive. He ended up at the Panthers' practice facility, where he watched areplay of the 33--13 loss to the Cardinals in the NFC divisional playoffs. Inthat game, Delhomme threw five interceptions and lost a fumble as the NFC Southchampions were humiliated on their home turf.

This is an article from the Sept. 7, 2009 issue

"I could havereplayed it in my mind, but I wanted to see it," Delhomme says. "Itried to do too much, especially in the second half. [The season] ended on abad note, and I had a large part to do with it, but I wasn't going to run awayfrom it. I'm embracing the challenge."

At first glanceDelhomme and the Panthers should expect nothing less than another strong runafter going 12--4 in 2008, tied for the best record in the conference. But evenwith one of the league's top offensive lines, a two-pronged running game and askilled defensive line, Carolina's depth will be an issue. That became clear inthe early days of camp, when veteran wideout Steve Smith went down with abruised right shoulder and defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu tore his Achillestendon. While Smith's injury was just a scare, Kemoeatu was lost for theseason.

His absenceplaces a burden on a unit with several young, untested players and a newcoordinator, Ron Meeks, formerly of the Colts. In particular two defensivetackles—Nick Hayden, a 2008 sixth-round pick who played in only two games as arookie, and '09 third-rounder Corvey Irvin out of Georgia—will have to get upto speed in a hurry. "[Kemoeatu] was a force in the middle," Haydensays. "We'll have to do the best we can with me and the youngerguys."

Hayden actuallyfits Meeks's preference for quick, athletic defenders better than the 345-poundKemoeatu did. Anticipating Meeks's arrival, Hayden lost 10 pounds beforetraining camp to get to 290 and spent much of the spring and summer working ongetting to the QB quicker. "I'm still learning every day," he says."I'm trying to improve my penetration and get upfield."

Says Meeks,"Where I came from, we relied on guys who were undersized, could controlthe running game and were quick playmakers. A lot of the guys [reported] under[last year's] weight. That's good."

Coach John Foxand the team's veterans have proved to be good teachers in the past—so much sothat other teams poached Carolina backups who were free agents in theoff-season, notably defensive tackle Gary Gibson (signed by the Rams) andoffensive lineman Geoff Hangartner (Bills). "We lost these backups becausethey played well," Delhomme says. "They got rewarded. But if you lookat our veterans, if you watch how these guys practice, that carries over to theyoung kids. Julius Peppers doesn't miss practice. Jordan Gross and MuhsinMuhammad, the same. If you have a young guy who's teetering on the fence andjust wanting to get by, if you get enough guys around him [working hard], he'sgoing to jump on the right side of the fence."

For his part,Delhomme doesn't appear to be suffering any lingering effects from his playoffperformance. He spent part of his off-season on his southern Louisiana horsefarm, clearing his head and preparing for the start of a new season.

In the aftermathof the playoff loss he fielded telephone calls for a week from friends worriedabout his state of his mind. "It became comical after a while,"Delhomme says. "They were pretty much in shock for me and feeling sorry forme. I had to cheer them up: 'Don't anybody feel sorry for me. I'm living, I'mbreathing, I'm fine.'"

As long as theydon't have to reach too deep into the depth chart, the Panthers should betoo.

PROJECTEDSTARTING LINEUP
WITH 2008 STATISTICS

COACH: JOHNFOX
63--49 in NFL, eighth season with Panthers

OFFENSE

Steve SMITH
POS WR
REC 78
YARDS 1,421
TTD 6

Jeff OTAH
POS RT
HT 6'6"
WT 330
G 12

DeAngeloWILLIAMS
POS RB
ATT 273
YARDS 1,515
AVG 5.5
REC 22
YARDS 121
AVG 5.5
TTD 20

KeydrickVINCENT
POS RG
HT 6'5"
WT 325
G 14

Jake DELHOMME
POS QB
ATT 414
COMP 246
PCT 59.4
YARDS 3,288
TD 15
INT 12
RATING 84.7

Ryan KALIL
POS C
HT 6'2"
WT 295
G 12

Brad HOOVER
POS FB
REC 6
YARDS 39
TTD 0

TravelleWHARTON
POS LG
HT 6'4"
WT 312
G 14

MuhsinMUHAMMAD
POS WR
REC 65
YARDS 923
TTD 5

Jordan GROSS
POS LT
HT 6'4"
WT 305
G 15

John KASAY
POS K
FG 28-31
POINTS 130

Jeff KING
POS TE
REC 21
YARDS 195
TTD 1

Jonathan Stewart(184 att., 836 yards) tied for rookie lead with 10 rushing TDs; third WR DwayneJarrett (10 rec., 119 yards) will push Muhammad for playing time.

DEFENSE

Na'il DIGGS
POS OLB
TACKLES 48
SACKS 1
INT 1

Chris GAMBLE
POS CB
TACKLES 93
INT 3

Tyler BRAYTON
POS DE
TACKLES 40
SACKS 4½

CharlesGODFREY
POS FS
TACKLES 59
SACKS 1
INT 1

Nick HAYDEN
POS DT
TACKLES 3
SACKS 0

Jon BEASON
POS MLB
TACKLES 138
SACKS 0
INT 3

Damione LEWIS
POS DT
TACKLES 43
SACKS 3½

Chris HARRIS
POS SS
TACKLES 69
SACKS 0
INT 1

Julius PEPPERS
POS DE
TACKLES 51
SACKS 14½

RichardMARSHALL
POS CB
TACKLES 55
INT 1

Thomas DAVIS
POS OLB
TACKLES 114
SACKS 3½
INT 0

Jason BAKER
POS P
PUNTS 73
AVG 44.1

Godfrey (brokenhand) and Beason (sprained knee) both were battling injury and could miss thestart of the season.

TTD: Totaltouchdowns

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2009 SCHEDULE
2008 RECORD 9--7
NFL RANK (Rush > Pass > Total)
OFFENSE 3 > 19 > 10
DEFENSE 20 > 16 > 18

SEPTEMBER
13 PHILADELPHIA
20 at Atlanta
28 at Dallas (M)

OCTOBER
4 Bye
11 WASHINGTON
18 at Tampa Bay
25 BUFFALO

NOVEMBER
1 at Arizona
8 at New Orleans
15 ATLANTA
19 MIAMI (T)
29 at N.Y. Jets

DECEMBER
6 TAMPA BAY
13 at New England
20 MINNESOTA
27 at N.Y. Giants

JANUARY
3 NEW ORLEANS

(M) Monday
(T) Thursday

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL Rank: 2

Opponents' 2008 winning percentage: .592

Games against playoff teams: 7

ANALYSIS

A four-game sweep of the AFC West helped Carolina winthe NFC South—and earn the league's second-hardest 2009 schedule. The Panthersare strong at home (8--0 in '08) but face a tough road slate with cold-weathergames against the Pats and the Giants. Week 8 offers Jake Delhomme a shot atredemption for his playoff meltdown against Arizona.

SPOTLIGHT

DeAngelo Williams, Running back

IN HIS third season out of Memphis, the 5'9",217-pound Williams was one of the breakthrough players of 2008, barrelingthrough defenders and blazing into the end zone to score a league-high 20touchdowns. Now can he keep it going?

Williams was slowed in his first two seasons byinjury—and by a less-than-sterling approach to the game. That changed lastyear. Says quarterback Jake Delhomme, "He changed his practice habits. It'snot that he didn't practice [before], but for some players it just takes timeto be a pro. The good ones want to be the best."

Williams might have gotten extra motivation fromCarolina's selection of Oregon's Jonathan Stewart in the first round in '08.But rather than have them compete for the starting tailback job, the Panthersturned Williams and Stewart into one of the best rushing tandems in theNFL—they combined for 2,351 rushing yards, with the veteran getting 54% of thecarries and the rookie 37%—and coach John Fox says he'll continue to use themthat way.

It's natural for young backs to want the ball, tocompile the eye-popping stats of an Adrian Peterson or a LaDainian Tomlinson,but the maturing Williams is fine with sharing the load. "If we keepwinning, do it," he says.

PHOTOBOB ROSATOFOR JAKE'S SAKE Delhomme has one of the NFC's more potent attacks—if everyone is healthy.PHOTODAVID BERGMANPHOTO