GM Hurney: Panthers heading in right direction

The Carolina Panthers have won four games over the past two

seasons but don’t expect longtime general manager Marty Hurney to

hit the panic button.

That’s not his style.

Hurney has never been a proponent of signing big-name free

agents as a quick fix.

Although he wouldn’t rule out the Panthers adding a few pieces

in free agency to complement the roster, Hurney says the primary

focus will be on adding depth – particularly on defense – while

maintaining an emphasis on drafting well and re-signing core

players.

It might not sound sexy, but Hurney believes it’s the key to

Carolina’s future success.

Hurney believes that despite the team’s 2-7 record, the Panthers

are headed in the right direction.

”We have a plan,” Hurney said. ”Until you get there and start

winning games, you always feel like there’s a lot of work to do.

And certainly there is.”

That work includes upgrading a struggling defense.

While Hurney isn’t going to ignore that offensive side of the

ball next offseason, he realizes the focus needs to be on defense

and building depth after a year in which injuries hit the Panthers

hard.

Just nine games into the season, the Panthers already have 12

players on injured reserve, including six starters — three on each

side of the ball.

The Panthers have been able to adapt to the injuries on offense

for the most part, but the defense has been more of a challenge.

The losses of linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis in the first

two weeks of the season were crushing blows for the Panthers as

they’re two of the team’s best players.

The Panthers wanted to be an aggressive, blitzing-style group

under new coach Ron Rivera, but injuries to Beason and Davis have

forced them to play less experienced backups. The Panthers have

started eight different starting lineups this year on defense, and

their lack of depth has been exposed.

”Obviously, continuity helps to define your identity,” Hurney

said. ”We have had some changes there throughout. That’s our job

is to get depth good enough to where we can fill in in those areas.

That’s probably the area we need to address as much as anything. I

think offensively we might have more experience and depth on that

side of the ball than we do on defense.”

If things remain the same the Panthers should have a pretty high

draft pick in 2012, one year after taking Cam Newton with the No. 1

selection.

The Panthers should also have enough salary cap space to add

some quality starters in free agency next year, although that’s not

something Hurney has typically done much of in the recent

years.

Carolina’s biggest free agent pickup last year was kicker Olindo

Mare, who got a four-year, $12 million contract.

Instead, the Panthers devoted the labor-shortened offseason to

re-signing free agents such as defensive end Charles Johnson,

running back DeAngelo Williams, center Ryan Kalil, safety Charles

Godfrey and linebackers James Anderson, Beason and Davis.

”We felt like we needed to get a core and nucleus intact for

several years and we feel like we have done that,” Hurney

said.

As for how aggressive the team will be in free agency next year,

Hurney said he’ll leave every avenue open for improvement. But he

emphasized the Panthers plan to stick to their plan of developing

their own draft picks rather than breaking the bank on signing free

agents.

”It’s our philosophy to draft well, re-sign your own players

and complement through the other areas,” Hurney said. ”We have

had more success doing it that way. When you draft well, normally

you want to keep those players and there’s a limited amount of

resources you can use. If you’re going to use those resources to

re-sign your own players, it’s hard to go out and pay big money for

players outside the organization.

”That’s why it is so critical for us to draft well. If you

draft well you can maintain your core at your key spots. Then you

can complement through other areas.”

Hurney said the team expects to have Beason, a defensive

captain, back next year. Beason tore his Achilles tendon in the

season opener against Arizona, but is said to be ahead of schedule

in his rehab.

”Players have come back from that with a fairly high rate of

success,” Hurney said.

Hurney said the team is also excited about the play of rookie

defensive tackles Sione Fua and Terrell McClain. He’s also pleased

with the play of their young cornerbacks, including Captain

Munnerlyn and Darius Butler.

As for the offense, Hurney likes the explosive nature the

Panthers have shown for most of the season.

”I think offensively we have shown the ability to change the

momentum in games,” he said. ”Now we have to improve that in the

other areas and start making the plays we need to make to win

games.”