How many changes?

When a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations like the Panthers finishes the season 8-8 and fails to make the playoffs, you can almost bet there will be some personnel changes. The big question is: How many changes?

The Panthers aren't likely to start over, but their roster certainly needs tweaking.

Like many of the team's fans, wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson said he thought the Panthers were going to the Super Bowl this season.

"Obviously, being 8-8, I guess you took a step backwards," Johnson said. "For whatever reasons, we didn't get the job done the way we were supposed to. I don't know what they're going to do. For all I know, they may clean house to two people."

It won't be that many.

The Panthers are a talented team with the entire core of their team under contract next season.

In fact, the names on Carolina's list of free agents-to-be aren't likely to send NFL owners scurrying for their checkbook.

But some of the familiar names could be gone.

The Panthers have to make tough decisions on longtime defensive favorites like linebacker Dan Morgan, defensive end Mike Rucker and safety Mike Minter. Several other role players are likely to be replaced, as well.

Along with personnel changes, offensive coordinator Dan Henning and special teams coach Danny Crossman are on the hot seat.

Henning, in particular, is getting beat up on talk radio shows and in newspapers in Charlotte after the Panthers took a huge step back this past season, scoring more than 30 points in a game only once this season. Carolina also ranked last in the NFC in third-down conversions and had troubles staying on the field in the first half of the season. That, despite the addition of Johnson to complement Steve Smith at wide receiver last offseason.

Carolina's offense has been predictable at times, and the running joke around Charlotte is that Henning's favorite play on third-and-long is the draw.

The Panthers want to be a running team, but then they rarely show the commitment to becoming one. It seems Henning hasn't made adjustments to the personnel he has on the roster. For instance, the Panthers are still running power plays for running backs DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams although neither is considered that style of back.

Some of the problems can be traced back to losing starting left tackle Travelle Wharton and center Justin Hartwig in the season opener. They later lost guard Mike Wahle.

Quarterback Jake Delhomme and Smith both struggled at times and the running game was non-existent much of the year, but Delhomme feels that's not a reflection on Henning.

"You have to understand, it ain't Dan Henning," Delhomme said. "And I'm not just protecting him. I like him and I think he's a great coach, but we didn't make plays as players this year. These are the same plays that we won an NFC championship and went to the Super Bowl with.

"We didn't perform the way we normally perform. I don't think we played with the opportunities we had this year. We played with a lot of long fields this year, and that's something you have to overcome. But I'm sorry, I'm in Dan Henning's corner all the way. I see it. I see the film. I promise you I see the film, and the problem is not what Dan is calling or not calling."

Carolina's special teams simply aren't what they were under former coach Scott O'Brien, who left after the 2004 season to join the Dolphins as more of a personnel guy. The Panthers got very little from their return game this season.


Panther Insider Top Stories