Panthers go with youth

Hurney's philosophy is to build through the draft

The (Rock Hill, S.C.) HeraldApril 26, 2010 

— For anyone who doubted the Carolina Panthers when they said they had a plan, all the questions should have been answered this weekend.

Because now more than ever, the Panthers have the kind of roster general manager Marty Hurney probably always has wanted, a project years in the making.

Looking back, the team clearly envisioned doing it this way from the moment the 2009 season ended.

"Over the last several years, our belief and our philosophy has been to build through the draft," Hurney said in February, the day they announced they wouldn't franchise Julius Peppers again. "I believe our philosophy works best for us.

"And that is bringing guys in, getting them young. You can teach them your ways, you can bring them up. They know the organization, they know what we expect of them."

The Panthers left the weekend with a 10-man class of 2010, but the impact of the weekend expands when you consider the three players they acquired last year in trades using this year's picks. Defensive linemen Everette Brown, Tank Tyler and Louis Leonard could end up being 75 percent of the starting defensive line, and they were acquired for the 2010 first-, fifth- and sixth-rounders.

That's a 13-man shot of young blood into a team that needed it.

Last year, the Panthers made every move possible to keep the 2008 team intact, hoping to reclaim the magic of that 12-4 season. That meant franchising Peppers, which led to the necessity of extending quarterback Jake Delhomme and stripping away much of their veteran depth.

When it didn't work, they chose to hit the reset button.

This year's version should still look familiar, however.

Of the 71 players under contractual control after the draft, 41 of them were drafted by the Panthers, including 17 of the 22 projected starters.

Clearly, this team is going to be defined by the guys they have picked, and even within the picks you can see what they value most. The five starting offensive linemen and the top two reserves were draft picks, along with three of their first four running backs.

The quarterbacks chosen this weekend -- Jimmy Clausen as a gift from above in the second and Tony Pike in the sixth -- represent the new direction the team's taking. For six years, the Panthers were fortunate to get good-enough play from Delhomme. When his elbow and his game left him in 2008 and 2009, they had nothing left behind him.

On the day they cut Delhomme, coach John Fox admitted a degree of unease, at the same time acknowledging it was the way the league was pointing.

"I think inherently speaking, around the league, coaches are more comfortable with guys they've seen do it," Fox said. "However, it's a young man's game. ... It's a Catch-22."

When Hurney and Fox took over in 2002, they worked to backfill the roster with cheap free agents they could trust. And the Super Bowl year that followed was built on the backs of a host of veteran free agents.

But if the Panthers are going to make another such run, they'll do it with their own, the home-grown players.

In their ninth year, they've been able to lay enough bricks down that it's beginning to look like the home they dreamed of then.

"I think we said when we came in that we would build our team around the draft and complement through other areas," Hurney said this offseason. "In recent years, that philosophy has gotten even stronger because we have had some success with players in the draft.

"We're going to stick with that philosophy. It has probably gotten stronger each year."

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