Position-by-Position Breakdown

QUARTERBACKS

Despite the fact that Chris Weinke is the oldest quarterback on the roster, he has been tabbed as the Quarterback of the Future for the Panthers. The loss of Steve Beuerlein is a big one from a leadership standpoint. The guy was a warrior, and Weinke may have some of his characteristics. But, it will likely take Weinke the first quarter to half of the season to get a full understanding of the NFL game. Jeff Lewis wasn't much better as a back-up than he was as a starter. The Panthers are the first team since the 1977 New York Giants to start the year with no quarterbacks who had attempted an NFL pass. For the short term, the loss of Beuerlein will be felt. CAT TAIL FROM 2000: DOWN

RUNNING BACKS

William Floyd is the big loss from this unit, but as of the end of last year, he'd lost his job to Chris Hetherington. Tshimanga Biakabutuka is still around (despite the urgings from fans) and is still unwilling to go where plays are designed to go...and having trouble hanging onto the ball. Richard Huntley was brought in from Pittsburgh to try and push Biakabutuka, but has spent the entire pre-season sidelined with a hamstring problem. The pleasant surprise was the pre-season performance of Nick Goings. But, as of this moment, it's hard to see any upgrades here. CAT TAIL: EVEN

WIDE RECEIVERS

This is one of the club's strongest units. Muhsin Muhammad is a Pro Bowl receiver and Donald Hayes is capable. The two questions center around a veteran and a rookie. Patrick Jeffers continues to struggle in his return from a knee injury and it remains to be seen whether or not he can come back this year. Keep an eye on the other question; rookie Steve Smith from Utah. He has shown great speed as a kick returner and could become quite a deep threat if the Panthers choose to add him to the rotation. CAT TAIL: SLIGHTLY UP

TIGHT ENDS

Wesley Walls is showing no ill-effects of the knee injury that cost him the last half of last year, and could well return to Pro Bowl form. Kris Mangum is capable, Casey Crawford has shown some ability, and Luther Broughton is back after a stint in Philadelphia. This is the deepest unit on the team. CAT TAIL: UP

OFFENSIVE LINE

This is the "you don't know the players without a program" unit. Start with a new coach, in Paul Boudreau, then look at four either new players or players in new positions. Right Tackle Chris Terry is the only returner to a unil that gave up a league-high 69 sacks last year. The saddest thing is that Steve Beuerlein is not around to enjoy the better protection this unit should give. Original Panther, Matt Campbell and center Frank Garcia, who was picked up in the club's first draft, left via free agency after Carolina made no effort to re-sign them. The new faces are veterans Todd Steussie (from Minnesota), ex-Dolphin Kevin Donnalley and center Jeff Mitchell (from Baltimore). Jamar Nesbit (right guard last year) won the battle to start at left guard. CAT TAIL: UP (as if there was anywhere else to go)

DEFENSIVE LINE

Reggie White, Eric Swann, Chuck Smith: all gone. Three words describe what happened here: younger and quicker. There's also an addition here that should help what has been a weak pass rush, that's Chris Slade. He has been brought in to play the elephant position, as a pash-rushing specialist. CAT TAIL: UP

LINEBACKERS

This is the area the Panthers chose to address with their first round draft pick, taking Dan Morgan from Miami. He is a guy who loves football and loves to hit. Once again, this is an area where the Panthers have improved their speed. The downside, it's a young unit. The most veteran of the starters: Hannibal Navies, who is in his third year. CAT TAIL: UP

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Once again, the Panthers have gotten younger. Former Pro Bowler Eric Davis is gone having registers 5 or more interceptions in 5 straight years, and Eugene Robinson is gone as well. Cornerback Doug Evans is the veteran of this unit, now in his 9th year. Strong Safety Mike Minter is clearly the leader of this group. Also starting, their first two draft picks of 2000, Rashard Anderson at left cornerback and Deon Grant at free safety. There could be a tremendous upside down the road, but out of the box, there's a lot of unproven talent there. CAT TAIL: SLIGHTLY DOWN

SPECIAL TEAMS

John Kasay is back, hoping to regain the form that had him headed to the Pro Bowl in 1999 before he suffered a knee injury making a tackle on a kickoff return. The knee went again in camp in 2000, but he has shown enough leg strength in the pre-season to just miss a 60-yard field goal attempt in Jacksonville. His accuracy hasn't been what Panther fans have been used to seeing, but, part of that can be attributed to the fact he has a new snapper and holder. The holder is punter Todd Sauerbrun who has never held for a left-footed kicker before. Speaking of Sauerbrun, he has been very impressive in the pre-season, taking the place of inconsistent Ken Walter. As for the return game, the club let perennial Pro Bowler Michael Bates go through free agency after drafting Steve Smith out of Utah. He has shown in the pre-season the potential to be the most electrifying player in Panthers history. He had a kick return for a touchdown, a punt return for a touchdown called back on a hold (on himself according to the replacement officials) and a reverse for a 52-yard touchdown. The inconsistency Kasay has shown could be a detriment, but the performance of Sauerbrun has left some believing that, if the offense can't move, he could be the team's most valuable player. CAT TAIL: UP.

So, with the club up in most catagories, why do most believe they'll struggle to match last year's 7-9 mark? I generally believe that the Panthers rebuilding effort has the club going in the right direction, but there is a lot of youth out there, especially on defense. There is also a great deal of concern at the offensive skill positions of quarterback and running back. There is the potential there for this club to really struggle to score, at least in the early part of the season.


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