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1 Carolina Panthers
Peter King
September 04, 2006
A team that was one healthy back short of the Super Bowl last year will go all the way if its ground game stays potent
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September 04, 2006

1 Carolina Panthers

A team that was one healthy back short of the Super Bowl last year will go all the way if its ground game stays potent

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> Keyshawn Johnson is the perfect addition to this offense--if he remembers why he's there. He'd better be happy with being the clear-out guy for Steve Smith.

> Chris Gamble is the league's most underrated corner. He's not afraid of anything, and at 6'1" he's got the size to be physical with big receivers.

> Big upgrade at center, and Carolina needed it. Jeff Mitchell got pushed around last year, so the arrival of Justin Hartwig, a 310-pound drive-blocker from the Titans, is good for the running game.

> There'll be no excuses from defensive end Julius Peppers this year, not with Maake Kemoeatu, the free agent from Baltimore, next to him. Peppers is so gifted an athlete that it's an upset when he doesn't lead the league in sacks--but he hasn't done it yet.

John Kasay is over the hill. You can't rely on him to make a long field goal. I'm surprised they didn't replace him.

BREAKOUT PLAYER
Thomas Davis
LINEBACKER

Carolina knew a year in advance that it would not match a big free-agent offer to Will Witherspoon whenever it came in early 2006--indeed, he went to the Rams for a $33 million deal. So the Panthers drafted Davis out of Georgia in April '05 to eventually succeed him. Now, after shuttling between strong safety and linebacker as a rookie, Davis will play over the tight end and try to surpass Witherspoon's 81 tackles from last year.

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
WITH 2005 STATISTICS

COACH
JOHN FOX (36--28 in NFL), fifth season with Carolina

OFFENSE

STEVE SMITH
POS WR
REC 103
YARDS 1,563
TD 13

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