Catawba Football: Hester high on Hartsell
By Mike Cranston
CHARLOTTE ó For a team that went 12-4 last season and returns 20 of 22 starters, there sure is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Carolina Panthers.
Eight months of bad news will do that.
Consider the spiraling events since Carolina took a 7-0 lead on Arizona in last season’s NFC divisional playoffs:
– Jake Delhomme threw five interceptions and lost a fumble, Larry Fitzgerald shredded the secondary, and the visiting Cardinals cruised 33-13.
– Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers declared he wanted to play elsewhere, skipped offseason workouts, then begrudgingly agreed to return on a salary-cap busting one-year, $16.7 million deal.
?- Top run-stuffer Maake Kemoeatu tore his Achilles’ tendon not 30 minutes into the first training camp practice, the first of numerous key injuries.
– Owner Jerry Richardson’s two sons abruptly left the organization, leaving no clear successor to the 73-year-old head man, who is recovering from a heart transplant.
– The Panthers went winless in the preseason, the first-team offense scored only one touchdown and the defense mimicked the shaky unit from late last season.
All Carolina has to do is overcome all that ó and the NFL’s second-toughest schedule ó to post consecutive winning seasons for the first time in their brief, inconsistent history.
“You can’t read into the preseason too much,” safety Chris Harris insisted.
With Peppers, dynamic running back DeAngelo Williams and explosive receiver Steve Smith, the Panthers have weapons. Yet there were few bright spots in an 0-4 preseason.
They couldn’t tackle, were slow to adjust to new defensive coordinator Ron Meeks’ system and the offense failed to move the ball consistently. Those are bad signs with Philadelphia, Atlanta and Dallas looming in the first three weeks.