Delhomme: Let's get it going

It was the first official day of practice, and already there has been lofty expectations placed upon Jake Delhomme and the Carolina Panthers' shoulders. Four years ago, Delhomme entered camp as Rodney Peete's back-up and was eager to learn the offense and contribute where he could. Now, he's one of the leaders on a team that has a legitimate shot to win the Super Bowl.

"I think we have a really good football team," Delhomme told the press after practice. "But there are 31 other teams who probably have that same sentiment. I feel we have the right character and talent. Do we stay healthy? Do we make the plays? That remains to be seen, but I think we can."

Staying healthy will be a bit of a challenge. Already, All-Pro receiver Steve Smith was carted off with a hamstring injury, the severity of which is yet to be determined.

The importance of Smith can't be overlooked. "I think he's the best receiver and the most dynamic player in the League," Delhomme said of Smith. "I'm sure others feel the same way about their guys. Peyton (Manning) probably says the same thing about Marvin (Harrison). But I feel Steve is a great player and someone who can change a game. I'm glad he's on my side."

Last season, Smith WAS the Panthers' offense, however now there are other players ready to emerge.

"We have a lot of other weapons," said Delhomme.

Enter Keyshawn Johnson, Keary Colbert, Drew Carter, DeShaun Foster and DeAngleo Williams. All of the aforementioned players either missed time last year, were stuck behind other players, played with injury or simply weren't on the team last season. Those players will give Delhomme more weapons and an opportunity to open up Smith even more.

Even though it's early, Delhomme thinks Johnson will give them something they were missing last season.

"We hope he can come in and be that big possession receiver," Delhomme said of Johnson. "A big target in the red area on third down. But more importantly, that guy who can block a linebacker or a defensive end when he has to and things of that nature. He's going to help us, but we have two other ones who can play in Keary Colbert and Drew Carter. They're young, but Keary is going to be a different player this year. He was hurt last year and he fought through it. And Drew Carter is coming on."

Colbert had an injured foot, and that limited his speed and jumping and cutting ability. Carter simply was too far down the depth chart to even get a shot. This season, both are in position to help the Panthers excel on offense.

Perhaps the biggest improvement on the Panthers' offense will be in the backfield, where DeShaun Foster replaces Stephen Davis, and first round pick DeAngelo Williams adds the spark and sizzle. Davis was largely ineffective last season, which led to his benching late last season and his dismissal in theoffseason. Foster was drafted in 2002 to be the feature back, but injured his knee in preseason, requiring risky microfracture surgery -- the same surgery Stephen Davis never really recovered from in 2004. Now healthy, Foster has his shot to be the feature back that he was drafted to be, however, he'll have to look over his shoulder for rookie DeAngelo Williams, a player who many compare to Barry Sanders.

"It's nice to have him in the fold," Delhomme said of his rookie running back. "He's a learner. He WANTS to learn. He's a happy kid. DeShaun is in his fourth or fifth year, and he's getting smarter and he can help DeAngelo. It's great having everybody here and there are no excuses."

"Let's get it going."

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