Season in Review: Unit by Unit Analysis

Coming off a 2-14 season, the Carolina Panthers have holes across the board. But some units clearly performed better than others, giving new coach Ron Rivera something to build on in his first campaign. Here is a unit by unit look at the roster he inherits.

QUARTERBACK: Starter -- Jimmy Clausen. Backups -- Matt Moore (IR), Tony Pike (IR), Brian St. Pierre, Keith Null.

Clausen struggled all season, leaving the door open for another starter to take the job next year. Granted he didn't have much to work with in the passing game, but he seemed timid and slow in his decision-making. The Panthers will have to look to bring in competition this offseason. Moore is a free agent and likely won't return. The same goes for St. Pierre and Null, who were brought as extra bodies when injuries piled up. Pike's future remains uncertain, but he certainly wasn't popular with former coach John Fox.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- DeAngelo Williams (IR), Tony Fiammetta (IR). Backups -- Jonathan Stewart, Mike Goodson, Tyrell Sutton, Rashawn Jackson (FB).

Williams went on IR midway through the season and he's expected to be a free agent. The big question will be if the team decides to bring him back. Stewart is more than ready to be the starter. Goodson showed promising flashes with a string of 100-yard games but fumbling is an issue. Sutton can play but is buried on the depth chart. Fiammetta improved as a blocking back as the season went along.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starter -- LT Jordan Gross, LG Travelle Wharton, C Ryan Kalil, RG Geoff Schwartz, RT Garry Williams. Backups -- RT Jeff Otah (IR), G/C Mackenzy Bernadeau, G Chris Morris, G C.J. Davis, OT Rob Petitti, RG Duke Robinson (IR).

Otah never could get on the field after a minor knee injury, forcing the Panthers to make switches to the line. Schwartz started at right tackle for awhile, then moved inside to guard after Bernadeau struggled. That left an opening at right tackle for Williams, who played well in that role. Gross went to another Pro Bowl and Kalil will be there as well as an alternate, but overall this group underachieved this season. Still, there is a base and a foundation for the future.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Jeff King. Backups -- Dante Rosario, Gary Barnidge.

All three should be worried about next season after new coach Ron Rivera said those guys each have something to offer but that he wants a tight end who can do it all. Rosario led the group with 32 catches for 264 yards and is the most likely of the three to develop into a receiving threat.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Steve Smith, David Gettis. Backups -- Brandon LaFell, David Clowney, Armanti Edwards, Wallace Wright (IR), Charly Martin (IR).


WR Brandon LaFell
Michael Zagaris/Getty
Outside of Smith, this was a very young group. Smith had a down year with 46 grabs for 554 yards and only two scores, both coming in the first two games of the season. Gettis, a sixth-round pick, and LaFell, a third-round selection, showed promise and could be a big part of the future although both need to develop. Edwards still has a long way to go but might wind up being a bust. Wright was poised to see action but injured his shoulder in the preseason finale and was lost to injured reserve. Overall, this group needs an upgrade. The big question will be if the team decides to trade Smith, 32, while they can still get something for him.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- DLE Charles Johnson, DLT Nick Hayden, RDT Derek Landri, DRE Tyler Brayton. Backups -- DLE Greg Hardy, DLT Ed Johnson, DRT Andre Neblett, DRT Corvey Irvin, DRE Hilee Taylor (IR).

Johnson had a huge year replacing Julius Peppers in the lineup with 11.5 sacks. His contract is up so he will be a priority to re-sign. Brayton went the entire season without a sack and there's little chance the Panthers bring him back at his salary of more than $3 million. Also, the Panthers have two young players they want to get more on the field in Hardy and Brown. Carolina needs to beef up their defensive tackle position and they could take Auburn's Nick Fairley with the No. 1 pick.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WLB Nic Harris, MLB Jon Beason, SLB James Anderson. Backups -- MLB Dan Connor (IR), WLB Thomas Davis (IR), SLB Jamar Williams (IR), SLB Eric Norwood, SLB Jordan Senn, MLB Abdul Hodge.

Davis could never make it on the field after re-tearing his ACL back in June. That forced the Panthers to move Beason out of position to play on the weak side for the first half of the year. Connor was playing well inside but then broke a bone in his hip and Beason moved back to the middle. Anderson had a breakout year on the strong side but his contract is up. If everyone can get healthy this isn't a bad linebacking corps. Harris was just another fill-in at weak-side linebacker.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Chris Gamble, RCB Richard Marshall, FS Charles Godfrey, SS Sherrod Martin. Backups -- LCB Captain Munnerlyn, RCB Robert McClain, CB C.J. Wilson, CB R.J. Stanford, SS Marcus Hudson, FS Jordan Pugh, FS Gerald Alexander.

Marshall has already said he won't be back next year, while Gamble was in the doghouse and was benched late in the season. Gamble has a big contract and his status for next year remains uncertain. Munnerlyn is small, but plays tough. Clearly the Panthers need a cornerback and expect them to go out and get one in free agency. The safeties aren't bad, but look for Pugh to challenge for a starting job next season. Godfrey led the team in picks, but occasionally finds himself out of position.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K John Kasay, KO Rhys Lloyd, P Jason Baker, KOR Mike Goodson, PR Captain Munnerlyn, LS J.J. Jansen.

Kasay and Baker remain solid on special teams, but Lloyd had a down year as a kickoff specialist. Goodson and Munnerlyn showed promise in the return game but both need to take better care of the football. Carolina's coverage teams were strong until late in the season.



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