NFC South: Stanley McClover
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Biggest surprise: Can't really say there was any shock at Carolina's moves. But I think it's fair to say the release of defensive end Stanley McClover was a big disappointment to the team. McClover had plenty of chances last year and in training camp. McClover had potential but never was able to get anything out of that and the Panthers decided to keep rookie Hilee Taylor. They could still look to add another defensive end.
No-brainer: A day ago, cornerback and return man Ricardo Colclough probably would have been on the roster. But Colclough was charged with driving while impaired early this morning and that probably prompted his release. The Panthers might put up with some issues from important players, but not from Colclough.
What's next: With Steve Smith suspended for the first two games, the Panthers still let veteran receivers Samie Parker and Travis Taylor go. They did keep undrafted rookie Dominique Thompson but it's likely they'll scour the list of newly-available receivers.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
We just started the mailbag last week and you guys have filled it up in a hurry. Some of the questions, especially on Jeremy Shockey, were similar so I tried to pick questions that were representative of others. I leave on my NFC South training camp tour tomorrow, so please hit me with more questions and let me know what you'd like to hear about at each stop. Here's the first installment of answers to your mailbag questions.
C.R. in Charlotte writes: Everyone is talking about the number 2 starting WR but just as big a problem or bigger problem is who will be starting at the opposite DE spot of J. peppers. McGlover/Johnson/Brayton..none of these guys sound like they can help the pathetic panther pass rush.
Pat Yasinskas: Yes, this sure looks like a weak spot right now as I pointed out in a post last week. Stanley McClover, Charles Johnson and Tyler Brayton don't have proven track records, but John Fox is betting that at least one of them can step up.
Ben in Hartford writes: Charlotte native here (now in CT the last 5 years) - just wanted to say it'll be nice to have some Panthers perspective for the 08-09 season. I really used to enjoy reading your work while you were at the Observer. Quick question - why does the media think that Carolina is a potential home for Farve if the Pack releases him? I recognize that Carolina hasn't been at the forefront of these stories like Minnesota or Chicago, but it seems ridiculous to me that Carolina would even consider investing in Favre when they've already got a gunslinger type QB in Delhomme. I can't see either of these guys willing to back the other one up. Your thoughts?
Pat Yasinskas: There's been speculation about Favre and the Panthers, but I don't think it's anything more than speculation. I've talked to some people with the Panthers and they're confident Jake Delhomme will make a full recovery. They're sticking with their guy.
Arte Bo in Biloxi, Miss., writes: With the Saints adding Jeremy Shockey to the team, will the Saints be a Super Bowl contender?
Pat Yasinskas: I already thought the Saints were nearly a Super Bowl contender and the best team in the NFC South. Shockey only makes them better. He'll bring a lot more balance to their offense and make Drew Brees and Marques Colston better.
Jonathan in New Orleans writes: A local writer by the name of Peter Finney recently wrote an article saying the Saints gave up too much for Jeremy Shockey considering the state of "the defense." What do you think? How will the defense fair in 08?
Pat Yasinskas: Peter's a great writer, but I've got a different point of view. I think the Saints took their shot because they think Shockey can be the one ingredient that makes their offense truly great. They did get some help for the defense with Jonathan Vilma and Sedrick Ellis. That's going to help. I don't know if the defense will be great. But a great offense and a decent defense could be good enough.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas.
Entering a season in which his job could be on the line, Carolina coach John Fox's traditional strength is at its weakest point.
|Dale Zanine/US Presswire|
|Defensive end Julius Peppers needs to have a better season than last or the Panthers D-line is in trouble.|
At least on paper, Carolina's defensive front doesn't look like much. It's a collection of former first-round picks (Julius Peppers, Tyler Brayton and Damione Lewis) who haven't produced much lately and some very ordinary guys (Ma'ake Kemoeatu, Stanley McClover and Charles Johnson) who have never done anything out of the ordinary.
The days when Carolina had what was considered one of the league's best defensive lines are long gone. Back in 2003, Peppers was hot and he teamed with Brentson Buckner, Kris Jenkins and Mike Rucker to lead Carolina to the Super Bowl. The line stayed good for several years, but it began to crumble last year when Peppers slumped and so did the rest of the line.
But that didn't lead to any dramatic overhauls. If anything, they're banking on addition by subtraction. They traded Jenkins, a three-time Pro Bowler, to the Jets and Rucker retired. Aside from bringing in Brayton, who never reached his potential in Oakland, the Panthers did little with their defensive line. The returning defensive ends -- Peppers, McClover and Johnson -- combined for 3.5 sacks.
That's a huge gamble because Fox depends so much on his front four. So how can Fox return this unit to respectability?
First, he has to get production from Peppers. That wasn't an issue before last year, when Peppers came up with only 2.5 sacks. Peppers and the Panthers firmly denied his slump was due to injury or illness and they're going to shake things up by matching Peppers up against left tackles after he's spent most of his career going against right tackles.
There's no doubt Peppers has Pro Bowl talent and the Panthers are hoping the fact he's in a contract year will motivate him. Even if Peppers can return to previous form, plenty of other questions remain on the line.
The Panthers are going to use training camp to let Brayton, McClover and Johnson compete for the other starting defensive end spot and there's no clear favorite. Brayton was a first-round pick by Oakland, but he hasn't had a sack since 2005. McClover was handed the No. 3 spot behind Peppers and Rucker last year, but produced only one sack. Johnson was a third-round pick last year, but he barely got on the field.
Maybe the change of scenery will be a boost to Brayton's career or maybe McClover will be ready to step up this time around. Johnson might have the most potential as a pass rusher of this trio, but he might be too light to play the run consistently.
No matter how the defensive end picture sorts out, the Panthers are going to need help from their tackles. They're going to miss Jenkins, who drew double teams away from Peppers last year. Kemoeatu can fill Jenkins role as a run stuffer, but he hasn't had a sack since joining the Panthers in 2006. Kemoeatu isn't going to suddenly turn into a pass rusher, but the Panthers believe Lewis can help in that area.
As Carolina's third defensive tackle last year, Lewis tied for the team lead with 3.5 sacks. As an every-down player, he might be able to produce more sacks. But Lewis' weak point has always been his run defense.
The defensive front ultimately could decide how Carolina's season goes and it could be the downfall of Fox. But it also could be what saves Fox. If Fox, defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac and defensive line coach Sal Sunseri can get a group of underachievers to achieve, Carolina's defense will be fine. If not, Fox and his staff could be in big trouble.