NFL: Panthers’ offense trumps defense
By Mike Cranston
SPARTANBURG, S.C. ó From Julius Peppers’ giant contract to Maake Kemoeatu’s torn Achilles’ tendon, the defense has been Carolina’s top concern for months.
On the other side of the ball, the Panthers have no job openings, are quietly adding to the playbook and believe they can put up even better numbers than last season’s record-breaking unit.
Long gone are the days of hoping a dominant defense can carry a meek offense.
“This is the first time I’ve experienced having all our starters back. And this is the first time I haven’t switched sides in consecutive seasons,” said Jordan Gross, now entrenched at left tackle. “We’re light years ahead from where we’ve been in the past.”
While new defensive coordinator Ron Meeks tries to get Peppers caught up after he skipped offseason workouts and replace Kemoeatu, Carolina’s run-stuffing defensive tackle, the offense is adding more exotic plays.
Offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson has that luxury because all 11 starters return from a unit that ranked third in the NFL in rushing, seventh in points scored and 10th in total offense in 2008.
With a running back tandem of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart and the explosive Steve Smith at receiver, the Panthers are packed with options.
“I think Jeff’s putting more on our plate, which is a good thing to help us,” quarterback Jake Delhomme said. “It’s been a good start so far, very smooth. It’s also good for us that we’re not going against the same defense that we’ve been going against the past so many years. It gives you something really good to practice against.”
Four days into training camp, the offense is clicking. Although the Panthers need to add depth on the offensive line, the starting unit has been together for more than a year, ending Gross’ shuttle from left and right tackle.
Williams and Stewart, whose combined 2,531 yards rushing last season were the most in the NFL by teammates since 1984, can wear down opposing defenses.
Despite his six-turnover performance in the playoff loss to Arizona, Delhomme’s surgically repaired elbow is holding up. He’s been connecting routinely in practice with the dynamic Steve Smith, coming off his fourth Pro Bowl appearance.
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