Hurney: Panthers sticking to philosophy

ORLANDO, Fla. -- You've been waiting for the past month or so for the Carolina Panthers to reveal some top-secret plan for re-loading after their offseason purge.

Guess what? There's no big bang coming. The plan already is in place. It's already playing out. No matter how much you want to scream about the departures of Jake Delhomme, Brad Hoover and all the rest and yell for flashy and fresh new troops, this really is nothing out of the ordinary for Carolina.

"Being heroes in March, April and May doesn't matter," general manager Marty Hurney said during a break at the NFL owners meetings. "It's during the season and what you're judged by is winning games. We have to see if we can win games and be successful. But I think we have a lot of confidence in our young players and that's what we're doing in our approach."

There, the hand that Hurney and coach John Fox are playing is on the table. There are no huge free-agency signings coming. There are no blockbuster trades on the horizon and chances are slim the Panthers are going to be jumping up into the first round of the draft.

Like it or not, the Panthers are going with what they have. Seriously. And, really, when you think about it, it's not all that much different than what Fox and Hurney have done throughout their tenure. What happened a few weeks back when Delhomme, Hoover, Maake Kemoeatu, Damione Lewis and Na'il Diggs were released, and Julius Peppers was allowed to walk into free agency, was not the "fire sale" many fans have called it.

"Whatever words you want to use, I think we have a philosophy that's been in place for several years," Hurney said. "I think our nucleus or our identity fits our formula of how we win games and have an identity for our football team. I think the key is to make the necessary changes year in and year out to not lose that identity or that winning formula."

Hurney's got a good point. If you really thought a quarterback who threw way too many interceptions, a couple of ordinary and aging defensive tackles and linebackers and a veteran fullback were the face of the franchise, you're missing the point completely.

The Panthers still have a core in place. It's guys like Steve Smith, Jordan Gross, Jon Beason, Thomas Davis, Chris Gamble, Jeff Otah, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Since they joined forces in 2002, Hurney and Fox have preached aggressive defense, ball-control offense and building through the draft. Yes, there are some cosmetic changes this offseason, but the big picture really hasn't changed.

"We feel we still possess that identity and that winning formula," Hurney said. "We have good depth on the offensive line. We have good depth at running back. We believe we have one of the best receivers in the National Football League. Yes, we do have a young quarterback. On defense, we lost a very productive defensive end, but we feel like we have young players ready to step in and we feel like our identity on defense still stands."

But Hurney admits there are questions with that young quarterback and at certain spots on defense. Let's start with the quarterback. I specifically asked Hurney if the Panthers really, truly, right hand in the air, are planning on going to training camp with Matt Moore as their starting quarterback.

Even though Hurney admitted the Panthers may do some things to solidify the position in what remains of free agency and the draft, the answer was a strong yes.

"We've seen enough to know he's taken care of the opportunities he's had," Hurney said. "Joe Gibbs always said at the quarterback position, when the lights go on, guys only get a few chances. When a guy gets that chance, he has to step up and take advantage of the opportunities. Matt Moore has done that in the opportunities he's had. That's the gauge for quarterbacks. They have to take advantage of the limited opportunities they have.''

This is Moore's opportunity. It's one the Panthers felt they had no choice but to give him, even if it meant handing Delhomme nearly $13 million to walk out the door.

"I have two sons, and if they grow up to be like Jake Delhomme, I'll be very, very happy," Hurney said. "We just got to a point, with Matt coming on at the end of last season, that it was the right decision to make to go with Matt as the No. 1. He's done everything. He's performed when he's had the chance and he's shown the ability to win football games."

That's pretty much the same philosophy the Panthers are using at the other positions where they let guys go. They have a lot of young players like linebacker Dan Connor and defensive ends Everette Brown and Charles Johnson who they want to get on the field. Hurney said it's as simple as wanting to give the young guys a chance and insisted this isn't about economics or the uncertainty surrounding the NFL's labor situation.

"We just made a decision that we have some young players in those spots that need to play," Hurney said. "They're players we've spent second-, third- and fourth-round draft choices on. You always have to keep an eye a year or two down the road. It's part of the natural cycle to get those guys on the field. Every February and March, you have to make difficult decisions. But we feel like we have the players to step in and fill these roles."

There have been significant traces of this approach throughout the history of Fox and Hurney in Carolina. Aside from Mike Wahle and Ken Lucas, the Panthers never have spent a fortune in free agency. They've built through the draft and sometimes thrown players like Peppers and Gross right into the mix and sometimes brought along guys like Williams and Smith a little more slowly. But the goal usually has been to have draft picks starting by their second or third years.

"This isn't something we just flipped the switch on," Hurney said. "It's been our philosophy. You need to have young players in your system and you need to give them a chance to step up. Hopefully, that's a philosophy that will be in place for years to come."

Ah, there's a can of worms. There probably isn't a coach on a hotter seat than Fox. Instead of giving him a contract extension, the Panthers have decided to let Fox head toward the final year of his contract with no assurances. It's somewhat understandable because Fox never has had back-to-back winning seasons and the Panthers are coming off a disappointing season.

Can Fox and Hurney really afford to sit back and take the same old approach? Can they survive the talk about the hot seat without doing anything desperate or dramatic?

"That comes every year," Hurney said. "I don't think anybody that does this can let that play into your thinking. We're competitive people. You go day to day and you do what you think is best to win. Nobody wants to win more than John Fox and me. But you also have to do it with what you believe in and you have to stick to your principles. I feel very strongly about our philosophy and what we're doing. You're going to take criticism these days. That's part of the business. You always try to listen and evaluate yourself, but you also have to have confidence in your philosophies and what you're doing. There's no sense of panic. We're not going to change what we do. I believe in what we're doing."