Carolina Panthers Offseason Blueprint: Part 2 of 5

Head coach John Fox coached what many believe was a Coach-Of-The-Year season. Decimated by injury, Fox was forced to work unknowns and rookies into the lineup as well as the associated disruptions such things cause. It took the team eight weeks to find their feet, but under Fox's leadership and steadfast refusal to use injury as excuse, the Panthers rallied for five straight wins and a legitimate shot at the playoffs in the final week.

Not to be overlooked are Offensive Coordinator Dan Henning and Defensive Coordinator Mike Trgovac.

Henning is one of the most experienced offensive minds in the game and his use of replacement parts late in the season was nothing short of brilliant. Some questionable calls along the way should not diminish Henning's value beyond the season, nor his ability to make things hum when he has weapons at his disposal. If the fan base can convince Henning to strike the draw play from his third down playbook, all will be well in Carolina.

Trgovac isn't known for his tactical genius or his indomitable leadership. What he does do with excellence is evaluate talent within his defensive schemes. Trgovac is a Fox disciple and follows the Fox defensive philosophy with religious zeal. The downside is that the defense often lacks imagination and breaks down too easily.

Trgovac's lack of trust in his young secondary, for example, was obvious in the early going – which led to an unbalanced defense reliant on the health and effectiveness of the defensive line. When the line began to experience injury, Trgovac was slow to adjust his schemes. Experience will help him overcome his reticence. Another season as coordinator, his third, should allow Trgovac to finally assert his own personality on the defense and return the Panthers to the top of NFL rankings.

Carolina's position coaches are some of the best in the league. Richard Williamson's work with Colbert and the resurgent Muhsin Muhammad was outstanding, as well as Mike Maser's miracle job with yet another patchwork offensive line. Scott O'Brien had a down year as special teams coach, perhaps due to his extra duties as Assistant Head Coach and the fact that he publicly stated before the season that he wants to retire. O'Brien's departure led to new special teams coach Danny Crossman, a solid replacement with a known philosophy – since he was an internal promotion.

Sam Mills' struggle with cancer this season was transcendent of the game. He also did a fine job coaching, too, bringing Mark Fields back into form from Fields' own cancer battle, as well as filtering Vinny Ciurciu in at MLB while Morgan recovered from concussions. Outside linebacker Will Witherspoon continued to show improvement under Mills' tutelage.

All up and down the roster, the hands of Carolina's coaching staff can be seen. Sal Sunseri took on the recovery job on the DL after Jenkins went down. Dave Magazu, an underrated tight ends coach, seems to get the most out of Kris Mangum every season while continuing to develop sub-par talent. Jim Skipper sent in six starting tailbacks this season. That's yeoman work. Rod Perry worked the college fuzz out of Chris Gamble's head while challenging Colin Branch to do more than he was capable because there was no one to replace him.

And then there was Jerry Simmons, Strength and Conditioning coach. If there were a Pro Bowl spot for a Strength and Conditioning coach, Simmons would be going to Hawaii. Ryan Vermillion and his crew from the Trainer's Room, whose work may earn even greater awards, would join him.

So the whole management team, from ownership to front office to coaching staff, is about a solid a group as you're likely to find. It's a championship-quality organization.

To be continued later this week in part 3 of 5;

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