Sleigh bells are ringing everywhere, and Carolina Panther fans already have several things to be thankful for this holiday season. Rookie sensation Cam Newton has removed last season's dismal 2-14 record from the memories of Panther fans.
Having said that, Carolina fans know they still need a few pieces to become a legitimate contender in the NFC.
While the Panthers will be at home when the postseason is taking place, Carolina fans are hoping to be on Santa's nice list in order to make their wishes come true.
Carolina's secondary has struggled tremendously this season. While ranking a respectable 17th in total passing yards, the Panthers are ranked 32nd in the NFL, allowing 8.3 yards per completion. Chris Gamble is really the only player capable of starting for most teams in the league. His partner on the other corner, Captain Munerlyn has been an absolute disaster this season.
One look at Claiborne will let you realize the type of playmaker he can be at the next level. Considered by many pundits a better cornerback than his former teammate and top draft pick Patrick Peterson, Claiborne has it all. The ability to return punts and kicks will provide an immediate impact on special teams, as Carolina has struggled with the Armanti Edwards project for the last two seasons. Named to the All-American team in 2011, the Thorpe Award winner will be a sure-fire top 10 pick in the 2012 draft, and will help shore up one of the worst defenses in the NFL.
Rob Chudzinski Staying Put
When Ron Rivera arrived in Charlotte, he made sure to bring some associates from San Diego with him. Perhaps the most important of these was Chargers tight ends coach Rob Chudzinski. "Chud" as he is affectionately known in the Queen City, has completely revamped the Panthers' offensive attack. Ranked 32nd in 2010 and averaging under 260 yards per game, Chudzkinski had his work cut out for him. With the addition of Greg Olsen, Jeremy Shockey, and of course the aforementioned Cam Newton, the Panthers now rank in the top five in the NFL, at 393 yards per game. Chudzinski's scheme has allowed Newton to flourish, and revived the career of Pro Bowl receiver Steve Smith.
The possibility of there being over 10 coaching vacancies has really cranked up rumors that Chud will take calls from several suitors. His ability to call plays is proven to be successful, as demonstrated by Derek Anderson's Pro Bowl season in 2007. If Carolina hopes to retain Chudzinski's services, owner Jerry Richardson will most likely be forced into giving his first-year coordinator a hefty pay increase.
Good Health in 2012
The 2012 regular season has not been kind to Carolina. A franchise-record 16 players have been placed on season-ending injured reserve, which has depleted depth at nearly every position. Coming into this season, linebacker was a position of depths for the Panthers, and thankfully that was the case. Starting inside linebacker and team captain Jon Beason was lost to an achilles injury the first week of the season. Thomas Davis was lost the next week with his third knee injury in as many seasons. Injuries to the defensive line has plagued Ron Rivera's squad, and has prevented rookie cornerback Brandon Hogan from ever seeing the field.
If there's a silver lining to the Panthers' 2011 campaign, it's that they have quality backup players who can compete in the NFL. While the end result has been disappointing, expectations have been exceeded by Cam Newton, Steve Smith, and Charles Johnson. These players have really stepped up and motivated their teammates to compete week in and out despite having a losing record and no real depth.
If Carolina is able to make these three wishes come true, look for Cam Newton and company to be competing for Lombardi Trophies in the very near future.