|STATE OF THE PANTHERS (Part 2): Panthers will pattern offense after Chargers|
|Written by Steve Reed|
|Wednesday, 09 February 2011 16:59|
To our readers This is the second of a five-part series focusing on the current state of the Carolina Panthers. Today, GM Marty Hurney talks about how the team looks to improve an offense that finished dead last in the NFL in total yards and scoring in 2010. Tomorrow, we’ll delve into the many personnel decisions facing the Panthers this offseason.
CHARLOTTE – When you think of the Carolina Panthers’ offense next season, envision the San Diego Chargers.
In 2010, Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers threw for a career-high 4,710 yards and 30 touchdowns, running backs Mike Tolbert and Ryan Mathews combined for 18 touchdown runs and tight end Antonio Gates caught 50 passes for 782 yards and 10 scores despite missing six games with an injury. Third-down back Darren Sproles led the team with 59 catches, but was one of 13 players with at least 10 catches last season as Rivers spread the ball around on a well-balanced attack.
Of course, the big challenge for the Panthers will be getting the pieces in place to run the Chargers system.
And that means finding a quarterback who plays with confidence and can make plays in the passing game, a tight end that can stretch the field, throwing more to the backs out of the backfield and making sure receivers get open and make big plays downfield.
The most pressing need, obviously, is at quarterback.
Last year’s rookies Jimmy Clausen and Tony Pike are under contract and will be joining the Panthers at training camp, but the team is expected to add either a veteran signal caller either through free agency or via trade. It’s possible, although not likely, they could add a rookie quarterback through the NFL draft like Auburn’s Cam Newton.
Either way, it’s pretty clear the Panthers haven’t completely hitched their wagon to Clausen as evidenced by the team acknowledging it would have drafted Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft had he come out early.
“Obviously this is a quarterback league and you look at the teams that have made the playoffs and have won the Super Bowl and they have consistent, high-level play at the quarterback position, so we have to get that kind of play at the quarterback position,” Hurney said.
“We feel like we have some young players that have been there that have ability and I think we have to do whatever we can to create competition and get players in here and help us get some consistent play out of that position.”
Rivers' backup Billy Volek is one option, although at 34 he’s admittedly not the long-term answer.
There aren’t any big-name free agents available at this point although it’s expected Donovan McNabb and Vince Young will both be released. Carolina could also look for a trade and two hot names are Denver’s Kyle Orton and Philadelphia’s Kevin Kolb, although the latter may be too pricey.
Hurney said it’s too early in the process to know which way the Panthers will turn at quarterback.
“I think it starts with the quarterbacks we have here,” Hurney said. “The quarterbacks we have here definitely have the potential to compete for that spot. And then you go outside and you look at all of the areas – the draft, free agency and trades – just like we do at every position. We will look at every avenue.”
Although Clausen remains the great unknown, Hurney isn’t about to give up on him after one unproductive season.
Clausen struggled through his rough rookie campaign, going 1-9 as a starter last season and finishing with the league’s worst quarterback rating. That didn’t instill much hope in Carolina fans, but Hurney said it’s hard to judge him on last season.
“There have been a few guys who’ve come in right away and played well as rookies when everything around them has been good — i.e., Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco,” Hurney said. “There are more examples of good quarterbacks in this league that have struggled when young, especially in their rookie seasons.
“There are a lot of things we need to improve, especially on the offensive side of the ball, so you can’t just attribute that all to the quarterback position.”
Hurney said he saw “flashes” from Clausen last season.
Flashes like when Clausen completed a fourth-and-4 pass against the New Orleans Saints on Carolina’s final drive, although the comeback bid fell just a little short. Flashes like at Cleveland when Clausen led a final frantic drive to get the Panthers in field goal range, only to have John Kasay miss the game-winning kick.
“I think that you have to say that’s enough to say the jury is still out on him,” Hurney said of Clausen.
One thing is for certain, no matter who’s playing quarterback for the Panthers, he’ll be getting some help this offseason.
Hurney feels good about the team’s offensive line and its running backs, but made it clear the team is looking to add a playmaking tight end and see some improvement at wide receiver.
The Chargers have Gates, a perennial Pro Bowl tight end who averaged 78 catches per season from 2003-09.
The Panthers are looking for someone to give them that same type of production at tight end, and in all likelihood the team will look outside the organization at potential free agents like Zach Miller from Oakland and Owen Daniels from Houston for help.
“In different offenses there are different qualities you look for at different positions and I think in the offense we’re going to run a pass receiving tight end would have a big impact,” Hurney said.
The Panthers drafted three receivers last year in Brandon LaFell, David Gettis and Armanti Edwards, and they liked the play of Wallace Wright before he sustained a shoulder injury in the preseason.
But the big question at that position surrounds the uncertain future of four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Steve Smith.
We’ll have Hurney’s take on that as well as other impending personnel decisions tomorrow.