Yes, Jake Delhomme is still the man in Carolina. Some questioned whether the Panthers had soured on Delhomme when they signed Carr this off-season, but coach John Fox is committed to Delhomme as his starter. Delhomme has gotten the Panthers to the NFC title game (and one Super Bowl) twice in the last four years. Both previous appearances were in odd-numbered years (2003 and 2005). However, Carr gives Carolina a significant upgrade over Chris Weinke if Delhomme were to struggle early in the season or get injured. Carr seems content being a backup for now while regaining his confidence after getting sacked 249 times in five years with the Houston Texans. Delhomme is coming off a season in which he threw for 2,805 yards with 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. However, he had a pair of late fourth-quarter interceptions against Cincinnati and Philadelphia that cost the Panthers two crucial games. The Panthers like Basanez who, like Delhomme, was an undrafted player. However, they kept just two quarterbacks on the roster last season and there's a chance they could do the same again in 2007.
Foster led the Panthers in rushing last season, but he still hasn't posted a 1,000-yard season since joining the club as a second-round draft pick in 2002. Foster, who stayed healthy for the most part last year after missing just two games, will share carries with Williams, a first-round pick in 2006 who played well as a rookie even though he seemed out of place in the Panthers' power running attack. Now that the Panthers have gone to a zone-blocking scheme up front, Williams could really blossom. He also figures to play an important role in the passing offense as new offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson plans to utilize more screen passes than his predecessor, Dan Henning. Some believe Williams will be a better fit in this offense than Foster and could become the every-down back. Either way, expect both to see significant playing time. Goings is reliable, although not the guy you want to build your running game around. Shelton, a second-round pick in 2005, really needs to prove himself to earn a roster spot. Hoover has been a reliable fullback the last seven years, but his body has to be wearing down. Don't be surprised if the Panthers keep Jackson around as an insurance policy.
The tight end was a huge weapon in Cleveland for Davidson, but he doesn't have a weapon like Kellen Winslow in Carolina. Kris Mangum retired, leaving Gaines, King and rookie Rosario to battle it out. Gaines is the most experienced of the bunch with 15 catches for 146 yards last season. However, he has yet to have a breakout season. King has looked solid in minicamp and has a chance to emerge as the starter.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Steve Smith, Drew Carter. Backups -- Dwayne Jarrett, Ryne Robinson, Keary Colbert, Taye Biddle, Chris Horn, Jason Gilmore, Julius McClellan, Justin McCullum, Kevin Youngblood, Josh Davis.
The Panthers tore up Smith's contract earlier this off-season and gave him a six-year contract worth $44 million. He's earned it. Smith has turned into one of the top five receivers in the league, recording 83 receptions for 1,166 yards with eight touchdown grabs in 2006 despite missing the first two games of the season with a hamstring problem. With Keyshawn Johnson gone, Smith should have no problem reaching 100 receptions and returning to the Pro Bowl for a fourth time providing his hamstring problems don't resurface. Smith is now the veteran receiver of the bunch. Carter and Jarrett, a second-round pick from USC, will battle for the No. 2 receiver spot. So far Carter is working with the starters. Jarrett has shown a knack for the end zone with an amazing 41 touchdown catches in three seasons with Southern Cal. Robinson should also figure into the offense as a slot receiver. The Panthers are high on Biddle, but Colbert could be on his way out unless he steps up in the preseason.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Travelle Wharton, LG Mike Wahle, C Justin Hartwig, RG Jeremy Bridges, RT Jordan Gross. Backups -- T Rashad Butler, C Ryan Kalil, C/G Geoff Hangartner, T/G Evan Mathis, C Will Montgomery, G D'Anthony Batiste, G Nathan Bennett, T Eric Graham, T Bobby Harris, G Rueben Riley, T Theodric Watson.
The Panthers' offensive line was decimated by injuries last season as they lost Wharton and Hartwig in the season opener. That forced major changes, with Gross moving over to left tackle and Hangartner having to handle center duties. The Panthers signed Bridges off the street and he came in right away and started at right tackle. This year, those injuries may be a blessing in disguise as now they have some reserves with solid experience like Hangartner and Mathis, who started last year at right guard. This line is trying to grasp the zone-blocking scheme, but they've been eager for changes. You get a sense this is what the Carolina players wanted to use all along. This isn't an overly big group of guys, but they are athletic so the zone blocking may play to their strengths. The Panthers allowed 32 sacks last year, but Carolina averaged just 3.9 yards per carry and scored just seven rushing touchdowns.