Panthers Offseason Update 1-6

After a disappointing season in which they finished 8-8 and failed to make the playoffs, the Panthers will definitely be making some changes this offseason in all three phases of the game.

On offense, they will need to upgrade the line. The unit was never able to control the line of scrimmage and dominate a football game except for wins against St. Louis and Atlanta. Carolina is in dire need of a tight end that can catch the ball and an offensive coordinator who can devise ways to get it to him.

Defensively, Carolina's unit looks pretty, but it needs help at middle linebacker and at weak-side linebacker as well as both safety positions. The team could make a move with Ken Lucas at cornerback.

On special teams, the Panthers very simply need to invest big money or a high draft pick in someone who can return punts and kickoffs. Steve Smith doesn't want to return punts, and Chris Gamble simply isn't any good at it. DeAngelo Williams hasn't excelled on kickoff returns.

COACHING CAROUSEL

Head coach John Fox is not considered on the hot seat, but the same can't be said for offensive coordinator Dan Henning.

With the offense struggling all season, there's plenty of talk that Henning, 64, may be shown the door, although if it does happen, it could be written off as him "retiring." Still, the Panthers like to judge a coach on his entire body of work and not just one season, so if that plays into the decision, then Henning might stay.

Another coach who could come under fire is special teams coach Danny Crossman, whose return units did absolutely nothing all season. Crossman may be given a pass because the number of injuries the Panthers had on offense had a trickle-down effect to special teams.

FREE AGENT UPDATE

The Panthers have no free agents who are considered indispensable, although they would like to have unrestricted free agent LB Chris Draft back for another season to provide depth. S Shaun Williams and TE Mike Seidman are two starters who are UFAs, but neither is expected to command much interest in free agency and the Panthers probably would like to upgrade at both positions anyway.

One player the Panthers believe they have to keep is promising young WR Drew Carter, a restricted free agent.

FEELING A DRAFT

The Panthers select 14th overall in the draft, and they have plenty of needs to fill. The most glaring are middle linebacker, safety and tight end. At some point Carolina may look for a big power running back, something that former second-round selection Eric Shelton failed to become.

TEAM NEEDS

Middle linebacker: The Panthers can't trust that Dan Morgan will make it through the season after suffering through his fifth concussion. In fact, there's a chance the team will release Morgan.

Safety: The Panthers got little to nothing out of last year's free agent pickup Shaun Williams, and Mike Minter, who turns 33 this month, isn't making a lot of plays. Look for two safeties to sign this offseason, perhaps one in free agency and another in the draft.

MEDICAL WATCH:

DE Mike Rucker will have surgery this week to repair a torn ACL in his knee. Rucker went down in Week 15 against the Steelers, and the injury raises some question about his future with the team. It's unclear if Rucker will be ready to go by the start of next season.

--Another former Pro Bowl player, G Mike Wahle, is likely to have surgery on his shoulder after missing the last three weeks.

--C Justin Hartwig is recovering from surgery a couple of months ago to repair a groin injury.

--T Travelle Wharton is recovering from surgery in the fall to repair a torn ACL in his knee.

--QB Jake Delhomme will not need surgery to repair his sprained right thumb, which should heal fine in due time.

-- MLB Dan Morgan was medically cleared to play last week. Morgan missed nearly the entire season after suffering two concussions in quick succession.


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