On the Clock: Carolina Panthers

Through April 20, "SportsCenter" will put every NFL team "On The Clock." Scouts Inc. will break down each team and look at what questions still need answering.

Many predicted the Panthers to win the NFC and even the Super Bowl last season. A very streaky team, Carolina ended up missing the playoffs. That will not be acceptable in 2007. The Panthers still have a very formidable defense, but their offense couldn't control the clock, was absolutely terrible on third downs and struggled in the red zone. Carolina's running game failed and the rest of the offense crumbled. It should be noted that the Panthers lost starters at the two most important offensive line spots, but that certainly isn't the only reason for their failures. Carolina had a habit of losing games in the second half and this team is aging quickly. The Panthers do have two elite players in Steve Smith and Julius Peppers, but more is required from their supporting cast and it all comes down to running the football better than they did in 2006.

Key additions
The Panthers have not brought in anyone of consequence this offseason to add to their roster. They have, however, either re-signed or restructured the contracts of Na'il Diggs, Mike Rucker, Dan Morgan, Mike Minter and Jordan Carstens. Although they're still productive, Rucker, Morgan and Minter all are aging and not the forces they once were. Morgan is another concussion waiting to happen, but could be a critical producer in this defense if he can stay on the field. This probably will be Minter's last season. The recent addition of Chad Lavalais -- a high-energy player -- could pay small dividends spelling Carolina's starting defensive tackles.

Key losses
Carolina lost Chris Draft to St. Louis and Vinny Ciurciu to Minnesota, which hurts its already suspect linebacker depth. Neither Draft nor Ciurciu is a great player, but each is solid and had value. Backup QB Chris Weinke and DE Al Wallace were released, as was special teams captain Karl Hankton. Wallace was the best player of these three, but all are easily replaceable. Safeties Colin Branch and Shaun Williams are free agents and probably will not be back. The Panthers should bring back very much the same team that they had a year ago, which might not be such a great idea.

Remaining questions
A very serious problem head coach John Fox must correct is the Panthers' penchant for second-half breakdowns. On both sides of the ball, Carolina's production fell off as the game went along, but especially on offense. The Panthers also have their share of needs as they head to the draft. A tight end is desperately needed with Mike Seidman still on the street and Kris Mangum retired. A safety who can play right away is very much required. Jake Delhomme will be scrutinized more than ever in 2007 and could be on the hot seat. The Panthers lack a respectable backup behind him, so drafting a young signal-caller could be in the cards. They need an offensive tackle, another linebacker and probably a wide receiver. Carolina lacks depth at defensive end and should draft Rucker's eventual replacement. The Panthers also need to get a better season from Ken Lucas. It is tough to say if this is a team on the decline or a contender that just had a down season. Apparently the Panthers feel they are the latter, but not everyone agrees.