Panthers say no cause for concern about offense
When asked about Carolina's offensive woes on Wednesday, DeAngelo Williams responded with a question of his own.
''In the preseason?'' Williams asked. ''You're talking about the preseason?''
Yes, the preseason. The Panthers did go the entire preseason without scoring an offensive touchdown - the first NFL team in at least 14 years to do that.
Still, Williams shook his head and declared he wasn't concerned.
''Indianapolis Colts. They're, what, 2-28 in the preseason and haven't lost more than three or four games in the regular season,'' Williams said. ''Granted, we're different than the Indianapolis Colts, but it's the preseason. I told a lot of people we're saving all our touchdowns for the regular season.''
The Panthers can only hope so. With star receiver Steve Smith and running back Jonathan Stewart ready to play in Sunday's season opener at the New York Giants after sitting out all four exhibition games, the Panthers think they can ''flip a switch'' and become the offensive juggernaut they were at the end of last season.
''That's the plan,'' quarterback Matt Moore said.
Moore, taking over following Jake Delhomme's offseason release, was 4-1 as a starter late in 2009. It included outplaying Minnesota's Brett Favre in a late-season game and throwing for three touchdowns in Carolina's 41-9 rout of the Giants. Stewart added a franchise-record 206 yards rushing in the Giants' final game at their old stadium.
Now Carolina is the opponent for the Giants in the first game in their new, $1.6 billion home, but it comes after the Panthers went 52 preseason possessions without reaching the end zone. Moore had a passer rating of just 56.1 and no clear No. 2 receiver emerged.
''Anytime you're playing a game you want to see everything go right,'' Stewart said of the preseason, which he sat out following heel surgery. ''But preseason is over with and once the regular season starts everything is a different speed, a different level of competition, so you can expect totally different things. I'm expecting the best.''
So is Smith, the speedy, four-time Pro Bowl pick who declared himself fit after going through practice Wednesday. Smith scored a touchdown against New York last season before breaking his left arm. He broke the same arm in a different spot playing flag football in June. The arm, now held together by three plates and about 20 screws, kept him out of the preseason.
''If I dig deep enough I can feel all the screws up and down but other than that it's not bad,'' Smith said. ''It's kind of weird but it's all right.''
Stewart, who combined with Williams to become the first NFL teammates to each rush for over 1,100 yards, said he feels good after being ''literally on my last leg'' late last season.
But there are still concerns. The Panthers practiced Wednesday without right tackle Jeff Otah, who had arthroscopic knee surgery last month. Geoff Schwartz is expected to start in his place Sunday.
Rookie Brandon LaFell or the disappointing Dwayne Jarrett is expected to start at receiver. The five receivers after Smith have combined for just 34 NFL catches and one touchdown. All had trouble holding onto balls and getting open in the preseason, meaning Smith could see constant double teams and bracket coverage.
The receivers aren't alone in being inexperienced on the NFL's youngest roster.
''Because we have such young guys, that's the reason why we didn't score any touchdowns in the preseason,'' Williams said. ''It's a mesh thing. You've got to mesh with the younger guys, and once you've got the unit all together, then it flows a lot better. We didn't have Steve Smith. We didn't have all our guys, all our bullets.''
The Panthers also showed little of their playbook. They focused on routine passing plays to get the receivers work, throwing 146 times against 91 running plays. The Panthers would like to reverse those numbers with Williams, Stewart and a stout offensive line.
So Williams insisted there should be no panicking about Carolina producing just 899 yards and seven field goals in four exhibitions.
''Because what we did last year and how we did it last year,'' Williams explained. ''We beat a Vikings team last year with Matt Moore. We beat a New York Giants team with Matt Moore. We came close to beating a New England team. New Orleans Saints, granted they didn't have Drew Brees, but it's hard to get a win in this league.
''That's what makes me optimistic. I know what he's capable of doing.''