Some subtle moves helped Panthers

January, 7, 2009
1/07/09
3:32
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

For months now, Marty Hurney and John Fox have been getting credit for some of their big moves (their handling of the Steve Smith-Ken Lucas fight in training camp and the drafting of Jonathan Stewart and Jeff Otah), but those weren't the only key moves the Carolina general manager and coach have made.

 
 Kevin Terrell/Getty Images
 John Fox and the Panthers host the Cardinals Saturday night.

Time for a look at four other (some subtle, some pretty major) moves Fox and Hurney have made to put the Panthers where they're at:

1. They blew up the offensive line and made it better. Drafting Otah was only one in a series of moves the Panthers made as they ended up with new starters at each of the five positions. They started by trying to play to strengths -- putting Jordan Gross at left tackle and Travelle Wharton at left guard, the spots where they're most effective. They plugged in Otah at right tackle, cleared the way for second-year pro Ryan Kalil to take over at center and let Keydrick Vincent arise from a handful of candidates for the right guard spot. It's all worked out with Carolina having the most physical offensive line in franchise history.

2. They didn't try to overdo it when the defensive line blew up. Mike Rucker retired and Kris Jenkins wanted out of Charlotte more than the Panthers wanted to get rid of him. Fox and Hurney didn't panic as a defensive line once filled with big names dwindled down to Julius Peppers. They stuck with defensive tackles Maake Kemoeatu and Damione Lewis, who already on the roster and went out and signed end Tyler Brayton, who had been a bust in Oakland. Throw in second-year pro Charles Johnson and the Panthers found strength in numbers, instead of names. Of course, it also helped that Peppers bounced back from whatever slowed him last year.

3. They took a chance. Fox and Hurney are two of the most by-the-book guys in the NFL. That's why it was more than a little surprising when they burned a roster spot by keeping kickoff specialist Rhys Lloyd. But that's turned out to be an excellent move. Lloyd set a record (at least in the K-ball era) with 30 touchbacks.

4. They went for the sure thing. Faced with the annual rite of finding a receiver to complement Smith, the Panthers reached back into their past and signed Muhsin Muhammad. Deduct a point for also signing D.J. Hackett, who's been worthless, but give them at least two points for bringing back Muhammad. He's been a solid possession receiver and has brought a strong veteran presence to the locker room.

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