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Online Panthers Lines & Predictions - Carolina Future Odds - Free NFL Betting Previews

2006 Carolina Panthers Season Preview

2006 Panthers NFL News - August 24th, 2006
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For the Carolina Panthers, the seventh time could be the charm. John Fox's team wants to run the football more than injuries have allowed in recent seasons, and that point was underscored when the Panthers used their first-round draft choice on Memphis rusher DeAngelo Williams in April.

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Williams will have to beat out oft-injured incumbent DeShaun Foster to be the starter, but if he does so in time for 2006, the former All-American could become the seventh player in as many seasons to lead Carolina in rushing.

The last man to lead the Panthers in rushing in back-to-back seasons was Tim Biakabutuka in 1999 and 2000, and since that time, five others - Richard Huntley (2001), Lamar Smith (2002), Stephen Davis (2003), Nick Goings (2004), and DeShaun Foster (2005) - have worn Carolina's rushing crown.

Williams becomes the latest figure to try his hand, or rather, his legs, at being the consistent back the franchise has long sought. Should he live up to his billing on a team that appears rock-solid throughout the remainder of its 53-man roster, Williams could find himself eluding tacklers in Dolphins Stadium on February 4th, 2007 - the date of Super Bowl XLI.

Below we take a capsule look at the 2006 edition of the Carolina Panthers, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:

2004 RECORD: 11-5 (t1st, NFC South)

LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2005, lost to Seattle, 34-14, in NFC Championship

COACH (RECORD): John Fox (36-28 in four seasons with Panthers, 36-28 overall)



OFFENSIVE STAR: Steve Smith, WR (103 receptions, 1563 yards, 12 TD)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Julius Peppers, DE (50 tackles, 10.5 sacks)

OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 19th rushing, 17th passing, 8th scoring

DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 4th rushing, 9th passing, 5th scoring

FIVE KEY GAMES: at Atlanta (9/10), at Tampa Bay (9/24), New Orleans (10/1), Dallas (10/29), at Atlanta (12/24)

KEY ADDITIONS: RB DeAngelo Williams (1st Round, Memphis), WR Keyshawn Johnson (from Cowboys), C Justin Hartwig (from Titans), T Rashad Butler (3rd Round, Miami (FL)), DT Damione Lewis (from Rams), DT Maake Kemoeatu (from Ravens), LB Na'il Diggs (from Packers), LB Keith Adams (from Eagles), OLB James Anderson, (3rd Round, Virginia Tech), CB Reggie Howard (from Dolphins), CB Richard Marshall (2nd Round, Fresno State), S Kevin McAdam (from Falcons), S Shaun Williams (from Giants)

KEY DEPARTURES: RB Stephen Davis (released), RB/KR Rod Smart (released), G Tutan Reyes (to Bills), C Jeff Mitchell (not tendered), DE Kemp Rasmussen (to Seahawks), DT Brentson Buckner (released), LB Will Witherspoon (to Rams), LB Brandon Short (released), CB Ricky Manning (to Bears), CB Dante Wesley (to Bears), S Idrees Bashir (to Lions), S Marlon McCree (to Chargers)

QB: Jake Delhomme (3421 passing yards, 24 TD, 16 INT) had another productive year in 2005, compiling a career-high 88.1 passer rating and managing to complete more than 60 percent of his passes despite the absence of a reliable second target. With the addition of Keyshawn Johnson, Delhomme will be expected to improve upon last year's success, even as, with the addition of DeAngelo Williams, he may be asked to do less. Chris Weinke (64 passing yards, 1 TD) saw meaningful playing time last year for the first time since 2002, leading a game-winning drive against the Lions after Delhomme got hurt. Weinke will likely be the No. 2 for another year, until second-year pro Stefan LeFors is ready for an expanded role.

RB: Fox has made no secret of the fact that he would prefer to run the football, but major injuries to the likes of DeShaun Foster (879 rushing yards, 34 receptions, 3 TD), Stephen Davis (549 rushing yards, 12 TD), and 2005 second-round draft pick Eric Shelton (Louisville) have hampered that ability. Those problems were the motivation for the Panthers' selection of DeAngelo Williams with the 27th overall pick in the 2006 draft. If Williams can prove more reliable than Foster, who has started just 10 games in four years amid constant injury turmoil, he'll wind up as the starter. With Davis now gone, the 6-foot-2, 245-pound Shelton, who missed all of last year with a broken foot, has a chance to fill the short-yardage role. Jamal Robertson (41 rushing yards, 1 TD) will likely be kept on in a reserve role, and fullbacks Brad Hoover (14 receptions) and Nick Goings (133 rushing yards, 14 receptions) should each make the team as well. Goings has started nine games at tailback over the past two seasons due to injuries to running backs.

WR/TE: Steve Smith (103 receptions, 1563 yards, 12 TD) had an absolute monster year in 2005, leading the NFL in receiving yards one season after he missed 15 games in '04 with a broken leg. Smith's Pro Bowl performance was all the more impressive given the fact that the Panthers lacked a credible No. 2 receiver, causing Smith to face almost constant double-teams. Smith's numbers figure to dip slightly this season, with better depth in the running game and the presence of Keyshawn Johnson (71 receptions, 6 TD with Dallas) having much to do with that trend. Johnson is 34 and in decline, but he still has terrific hands, is a willing downfield blocker, and will take the pressure off of Smith. Keary Colbert (25 receptions, 2 TD) has been relegated to No. 3 receiver after an almost invisible performance in 16 starts a year ago. Drew Carter (5 receptions, 1 TD) will be used in four-receiver sets, and veteran Karl Hankton will likely be kept on for special teams purposes. Efrem Hill , a first-year free agent from Samford and good return man, could also make the club. The tight end picture is crowded, as holdovers Mike Seidman, Kris Mangum (23 receptions, 2 TD), Michael Gaines (12 receptions, 2 TD) and rookie Jeff King (5th Round, Virginia Tech) are probably fighting for three spots.

OL: There are minor changes up front, where Tutan Reyes, a 16-game starter at left guard, defected to the Bills via free agency and Jeff Mitchell, a longtime staple at center, was not tendered amid (perhaps unrelated) allegations of steroid use. New to the starting lineup will be right guard Evan Mathis, a third-round draft choice out of Alabama in 2005, and center Justin Hartwig, a 16-game starter for the Titans last season. The holdovers from the starting unit are Pro Bowl left guard Mike Wahle, left tackle Travelle Wharton, and right tackle Jordan Gross, who each started the 2005 season in its entirety. Depth will be added by a couple of holdovers, center/guard Geoff Hangartner and tackle Todd Fordham, as well as a pair of draft picks, tackle Rashad Butler (3rd Round, Miami (FL)) and center Will Montgomery (7th Round, Virginia Tech).

DL: If this unit comes together as hoped, the Panthers' front four could be among the scariest in the NFL. Julius Peppers (50 tackles, 10.5 sacks) and Mike Rucker (44 tackles, 7.5 sacks) will remain at end, but the interior line figures to take on a much different look. Those changes begin with former All- Pro tackle Kris Jenkins, who has played just five games since 2003 due to shoulder and knee injuries. Lining up alongside what the Panthers hope will be a healthy Jenkins will be free agent pickup Maake Kemoeatu (40 tackles, 1 sack with the Ravens) with interior holdovers Jordan Carstens (35 tackles, 4 sacks) and Kindal Moorehead (23 tackles, 5 sacks) and ex-Ram Damione Lewis (34 tackles, 1 sack with St. Louis) all capable of spelling that duo. If the Panthers keep all five aforementioned tackles, there could be a battle between holdover Al Wallace (25 tackles, 5 sacks, 2 INT) and rookie Stanley McClover (7th Round, Auburn) for the top backup job at end.

LB: Changes are afoot at linebacker, where Will Witherspoon (81 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 2 INT) defected to the Rams as a free agent and fellow outside starter Brandon Short (60 tackles, 0.5 sacks) was cut loose. The lone holdover of the starting unit is Dan Morgan (75 tackles, 3 sacks) in the middle, with ex- Packer Na'il Diggs (35 tackles) expected to occupy the weak side and second- year pro Thomas Davis (38 tackles, 1.5 sacks) on the strong side. Depth will be added by holdovers Vinny Ciurciu (16 tackles) and Chris Draft (52 tackles, 2 sacks), both of whom were part-time starters last year, ex-Eagle Keith Adams (69 tackles with Philadelphia) and third-round draft pick James Anderson (Virginia Tech).

DB: There is not much turnover on this unit, as Chris Gamble (75 tackles, 7 INT) and Ken Lucas (69 tackles, 6 INT) will be back to make plays at corner and Mike Minter (62 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT) will again serve as the free safety. The one new face will be at strong safety, where Marlon McCree (88 tackles, 3 INT) jumped ship to the Chargers and ex-Giant Shaun Williams (19 tackles, 2 INT) was brought in to take his place. Colin Branch, who missed all of last year with a knee injury, fourth-round draft pick Nate Salley (Ohio State) and ex-Falcon Kevin McCadam (11 tackles) will provide safety depth, while ex-Dolphin Reggie Howard (48 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT with Miami) and second-round draft pick Richard Marshall (Fresno State) are slated to be the primary backups at corner.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker John Kasay (26-34 FG) and punter Jason Baker (43.3 avg.) both appear secure in their jobs, and should each return to the fold. Steve Smith (10.6 punt return avg.) and Chris Gamble (11.3 punt return avg.) both handled punt returns, but reserve receiver Efrem Hill will have a chance to unseat both if he makes the cut. Jamal Robertson (21.4 kickoff return avg.) is a leading candidate for kickoff returns, and DeAngelo Williams could be in the mix there as well unless he is installed as an every-down ball carrier. Jason Kyle begins his sixth season as the Panthers' long-snapper.

PROGNOSIS: The Panthers had some gaping holes last season, most notably at running back and wide receiver, and still managed to advance all the way to the NFC Championship. So it should come as no surprise, given the addition of Keyshawn Johnson and DeAngelo Williams, the return of Kris Jenkins, and the lack of major turnover elsewhere on the roster, that Carolina is a darling of NFL pundits in 2006. Fox's team joins Seattle and whoever you want to pick out of the NFC East as a leading candidate to represent the conference in the Super Bowl, and there's not a reasonable case to be made suggesting that the Panthers won't be very good again. The strength of the division means that Carolina won't coast, and that could have ramifications in terms of playoff seeding, but if the Panthers fall short of an invite to the postseason party, it will truly be a shock.

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