Five Players Face Make-or-Break '11

With a new coaching staff comes new life for several players who failed or flailed under the old regime. However, for some of these players the new clock is already ticking. We analyze five Carolina Panthers players who enter make-or-break seasons in 2011.

DE Everette Brown

When the Panthers traded away yet another future first-round pick to move up and take Brown in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft, they hoped he would average more than three sacks per season in his first two years in the league. Unfortunately, that middling production is all Carolina has received for its steep investment.

Brown should be helped by the arrival of new coach Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, both of whom know the importance of pressuring the quarterback. Also, it will help if Carolina's offense shows signs of life in 2011. Pass rushers make their livings when playing with a lead, something the Panthers rarely did last season.

WR Armanti Edwards

No one hopes Carolina trades former Pro Bowler Steve Smith more than Edwards. Fellow 2010 draftees Brandon LaFell and David Gettis figure to be primary targets for the foreseeable future, so Edwards needs for Smith to move aside before he can crack the heavily featured part of the rotation.

Edwards rarely saw the field last year; when he did the results were underwhelming. It would help if he learns how to properly field punts this offseason so the Panthers can find a way to get the ball to him consistently. He already knows the assignments of all three of the receiver positions -- now he must make it happen on the field.

TE Gary Barnidge
Nick Laham/Getty
TE Gary Barnidge

It is never a good sign when an incoming head coach singles out your position in his introductory news conference. Coach Rivera wants a do-it-all tight end that can be a factor in the passing game. Barnidge has the skills to stretch the middle of the field and become a safety valve for his QB; he just needs to improve his blocking -- a lot.

While the Panthers figure to add a tight end via free agency (perhaps Randy McMichael, who performed well as Antonio Gates' stand-in last season), Barnidge figures to get one more look since he is the only tight end on the roster under contract for next season. However, Barnidge's deal expires after next season, so it's time for him to step up or step aside.

QB Tony Pike

Jimmy Clausen could just as easily take this spot on this list, but Pike gets the nod because of his chance to impress a new cast of evaluators. Coach Rivera has no ties to Clausen or the regime that picked him, so there is no egg on Rivera's face if Pike leapfrogs a player that was selected four rounds ahead of him.

Carolina figures to add a veteran quarterback this offseason via trade or free agency. Also, with Andrew Luck returning to Stanford, it seems unlikely the Panthers will invest the No. 1 overall pick in a signal caller. That gives Pike a chance to work his way up to No. 2 on the depth chart, get some meaningful practice reps and perhaps perform well enough to earn the precious "quarterback of the future" label.

CB R.J. Stanford

Stanford was in no way a disappointment as a rookie. However, he was the only member of Carolina's 2010 draft class not to make the opening-day roster, which has to leave at least a small chip on his shoulder.

There are two things working in Stanford's favor this season. Firstly, Coach Rivera is placing an emphasis on special teams, an area where Stanford would be expected to earn his keep as a reserve defensive back. Secondly, starting CB Richard Marshall is a free agent who won't return, creating a roster spot for Stanford. As a fringe player, the time is now for Stanford to start climbing the ladder of release the rungs entirely.

Which Panthers players are on the hot seat in '11? Discuss in the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a member of Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. His work has been published by NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports.

Panther Insider Top Stories