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Saturday, August 8, 2009
Mailbag: Carolina Panthers edition

By Pat Yasinskas
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

The Carolina Panthers, who I visited in camp earlier this week, are next in our series of team-by-team mailbags.

Rob in Houston writes: Pat, I just saw on the ESPN News side that the Browns have released defensive takle Shaun Smith. With the injury to Kemo, the Panthers could really use someone like a Shaun Smith to fill the gap, but I see two hurdles. Although he hasn't had a huge list of problems, the guy has had some off-field issues. Is it bad enough that Hurney (and Richardson) would steer clear of the guy? Also, I'm not sure what his market value is right now, but do the Panthers even have the cap space to bring in a guy like that? Just curious to know your thoughts on this situation?

Pat Yasinskas: The questions about Carolina's potential interest in Shaun Smith are coming into the mailbag at a very fast pace. I would expect nothing less because this is a very legitimate question. With Maake Kemoeatu out for the season, let's be real honest and say the Panthers are desperate for defensive tackle help. Nick Hayden can be a role player and rookie Corvey Irvin has some potential, but the Panthers don't want to have to count on either one in a starting role. They're going to look at all options and I think Smith is the first of many. I think it's a safe bet that coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney will at least discuss Smith. Yes, it's very true that owner Jerry Richardson usually stays clear of guys who have been in trouble and Smith reportedly punched Brady Quinn. But desperate times call for desperate measures and the Panthers may consider bending their rules a bit. Keep in mind, they've kept receiver Steve Smith around and he's had at least three reported altercations with teammates. Now, Steve Smith is a much better player than Shaun Smith. But the Panthers have to consider this one and figure out if the risk is worth the potential reward.


Rob in Australia writes: Are you expecting the Panthers to sign an established DT?

Pat Yasinskas: Absolutely. If it's not Shaun Smith, it will be someone else. Can't really speculate on guys presently on other rosters, but there will be some experienced defensive tackles coming available from other teams. The Panthers have to bring in one or maybe even two tackles with some experience because what they have right now isn't good enough.


Corey in Charlotte writes: Hi Pat,Kemoeatu is obviously a huge loss for the Panthers. Replacing a 350 pound man is pretty much impossible. However, would it not be fair to say that in Meeks new pass rush crazy D-line scheme Maake was already the odd man out? Could the scheme change make this transition easier for Carolina then losing him a year ago would have been?

Pat Yasinskas: That brings up an interesting point. In the system of new coordinator Ron Meeks, it's not quite as critical to have the wide-body run-stuffer as it was in the past. Meeks likes defensive tackles who can bring some push in the middle. That aside, I still think the Panthers need to bring in at least one plus-size defensive tackle. In the NFC South, you'll get pushed all around if you've got a couple of lightweights in the middle.


Haile in Durham, N.C., writes: Does Charles Godfrey look to be headed for a breakout season? Is Sherrod Martin looking like he is making the transition to corner or is he getting torched in practice?

Pat Yasinskas: I think you can expect to see Charles Godfrey build on a decent rookie season at free safety. Yes, he had ups and downs last season, but that's going to happen with any rookie. I think the key to Godfrey's production will depend on what happens up front. If the Panthers can deliver a consistent pass rush, that's going to create opportunities for a free safety to make plays. As far as Sherrod Martin, it's early. But he looks the part and the Panthers are working on coaching him up. They want him to be their nickelback and appear to be counting on a quick progression because journeyman Dante Wesley is their only other option for that spot.


Michael in Al Uldeid, Quatar, writes: I know the NFL is all about injuries, injuries can plague any NFL team. With that put out there, what happens if Delhomme is injured again and has to sit out the rest of the season. What would the Panthers do with that situation because I really think they do not have a backup plan to this? Yes Matt Moore came in after Testeverde and won a couple but with this tough schedule are the Panthers just going to grin and say well that is that?

Pat Yasinskas: Good question because it raises an issue not a lot of people like to talk about. Quite simply, John Fox might not be able to survive if something happens to Delhomme and his team struggles. He got his free pass after Delhomme was hurt in 2007 and his hand-picked successor, David Carr, flopped miserably. But you can't get away with that twice and the minds that call the shots in Carolina believe they're prepared for this scenario. They brought in Josh McCown last year and he has some experience and a lot of similarities to Delhomme. The people I talk to in Carolina believe McCown could step in and there wouldn't be much drop off. They could be right. But, then again, these are the same people who once felt secure going with Carr as the backup.