Behind Enemy Lines — Carolina, Part II

In the third of a four-part series leading up to training camp, Editor Matthew Postins and's Brad Thomas discuss provide analysis for 10 pertinent questions facing each team in the NFC South. Today is part two of the Carolina Panthers.

Q: Are head coach John Fox and GM Marty Hurney on the "hot seat"?

MP: If Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay is on the hot season, then Fox certainly isn't. The Panthers have been to a Super Bowl and a NFC Championship game in seasons. They were .500 last year, and 7-9 in between the Super Bowl appearance and the NFC Championship game appearance. It would take a Seifert-esque 1-15 to earn Fox and Hurney a pink slip this season.

BT: Anything less than a .500 record might cause Jerry Richardson to look towards Raleigh for his next head coach, where former Steelers coach Bill Cowher has made his home. Cowher is Richardson's type of coach. Fox is still revered in New York, and if Tom Coughlin is fired after another lackluster season, Fox could be the top name on their list. It could be a mutual parting, however, I can't see the Panthers letting Fox leave unless hiring Cowher is a sure thing.

Q: Will DE Mike Rucker return from a torn ACL in December to be an effective starter for the Panthers?

MP: That's a good question. Typically athletes are fully recovered after a year, though many come back and play effectively before that. Rucker has had six months to rehab the injury, so my guess is that Rucker will be in the starting lineup on opening day, but probably won't be himself until about midway through the season. His numbers will take a small hit as a result.

BT: All summer we've heard players and team officials say that Rucker was progressing well. Rucker is going to attempt to pass his physical on Friday and not miss any camp. Still, he's an aging defensive end coming off a major injury. The team is high on Stanley McClover, and he'll have an opportunity to steal snaps from Rucker this season, even if he is healthy.

Q: Will rookie WR Dwayne Jarrett be able to effectively replace Keyshawn Johnson?

MP: I thought releasing Keyshawn Johnson was one of the dumbest moves this offseason by any NFL team. The Panthers had an opportunity to have two legitimate No. 1 receivers on either side of Delhomme, and then a No. 1 draft pick working the slot and learning from Johnson. Key more than earned his money last year in Carolina. Releasing Johnson because Jarrett was the same type of receiver, instead of allowing Jarrett to benefit from Johnson's experience (which would also benefit the Panthers) will likely set back Jarrett's development as a receiver.

BT: I think so. From everything I've heard, Johnson wasn't exactly a choir boy during his tenure as a Panther, and was a staunch supporter of former offensive coordinator Dan Henning. Still, Johnson's talent won't be easy to replace, and I think that he could have taught Jarrett a lot. There were also rumors that Jarrett and Keyshawn did not get along all that well, stemming from Johnson's advice to Jarrett to stay in school and Jarrett ignoring that advice.

Q: Will Kris Jenkins hold out during training camp?

MP: How much money does he want? More importantly, why? He received an extension after the Super Bowl and has missed 27 games since. This looks like a case of a player trying to cash in on his Pro Bowl appearance last season. Let him sit. Kindal Moorehead has started there and is capable of doing the job. Jenkins will show up when he realizes he isn't getting paid.

BT: Jenkins says he's going to report. If he has another Pro Bowl year and cleans up his act, the Panthers more than likely will listen to his case. That would be much more effective than holding out.

Q: Will the Panthers rebound from their 8-8 record and make the playoffs this season?

MP: I think the Panthers are going to be one of several teams in the Wild Card hunt in a tight NFC playoff race. If so, that stretch run will be difficult. They have to go to Jacksonville, then host Seattle and Dallas (both of which should be in that hunt, or on their way to division titles). Finally, it's on the road at Tampa Bay, and we all know how that goes. I'm inclined to say no. I think there's actually a better chance the Panthers will be over .500 and miss the playoffs.

BT: I believe the Panthers will be over .500 and will win the NFC South. The Falcons figure to have a down year, the Bucs are rebuilding and the Saints will have to prove that last season was no fluke. The Panthers' defense will be better this year than they were last year, and I think the offense will really shine under new coordinator Jeff Davidson. Let's not forget that the Panthers were literally only a couple of fluke plays away from being 10-6 last season… and they've improved their team and are getting key starters back. 10-6 is my prediction.

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