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The first six weeks of the 2023 NFL season could not have gone much worse for the Carolina Panthers. Going into a much needed week 7 bye, the Panthers remain the only winless team left in the NFL.
Frank Reich's tenure as head coach has started out less than stellar. From poor game management, to underwhelming playcalling and questionable roster moves, Reich has left some fans in doubt about whether or not he can be a good head coach.
The team has also suffered from mediocre roster talent. The pass-catchers on offense (with the exception of Adam Thielen) have not been stepping up, making things very difficult for rookie quarterback Bryce Young. The offensive line regression and defensive injuries have also made things very difficult for the team.
Nothing seems to be going right for the Panthers right now, but there is still reason for optimism that this season can still be a good one. A playoff berth is likely out of the picture, but a strong finish to the year can still set this team up for future success.
Fitterer on the Hot Seat
With the season not starting out on the right foot for the Panthers, General Manager Scott Fitterer's tenure with the team may be coming to an end soon. Fitterer's roster moves and draft selections have left many fans in doubt as to whether or not he can build a good football team. The lack of explosive pass catchers, depth on the interior offensive line and overall defensive talent puts into question whether or not the front office has been making the right decisions.
Fitterer's questionable get significant contributors through the draft. The Panthers have had 12 day three picks since Fitterer arrived in 2021, and the only significant contributor they have had out of those picks is Chuba Hubbard. Only 5 other players that those picks were used on are still on the team. The Panthers have also failed to utilize their day two picks, using 2nd and 3rd round picks on players such as Terrace Marshall, Tommy Tremble, Matt Corral and DJ Johnson.
Scott Fitterer has also made several questionable moves in free agency. Letting Haason Reddick and Stephon Gilmore walk in free agency, electing to pay Donte Jackson and give Yetur Gross-Matos a chance instead was a huge mistake. The inability to get Brian Burns a contract extension before this season started was another example of malpractice in the front office.
Overall, Fitterer haa questionables done job as a general manager and there may be a good chance he is no longer with the team by the end of the season.
New Play Caller on Offense
A big thing to watch coming out of the bye week is what the offensive playcalling will look like. This week Frank Reich gave his playcalling duties to rookie offensive coordinator Thomas Brown. Reich's playcalling was questionable in the first six games of the season making some question whether or not his scheme is too outdated. Reich now will let Thomas Brown take over the playcalling, which had been the plan this season.
Brown's scheme and playcalling will likely be different from Reich's. Brown is one of the many offensive minds to come from Kyle Shanahan's coaching tree, with Brown working as Sean McVay's assistant with the Rams from 2020 to 2022. Brown should bring more modern play designs to the offense with the Shanahan scheme that has taken the league by storm being his primary influence.
He will have an extra week to get the offense up to speed. There will likely be some growing pains for Thomas Brown, but he is a promising offensive mind who could have this offense rolling by the end of the season.
Potential Offensive Growth
With a new playcaller running the show, the Panthers will hope for continued offensive growth this season. The offensive line should be improved, with right guard Austin Corbett set to return from injury reserve after tearing his ACL last season. The team will also hope for a player to step up at the other guard spot. Calvin Throckmorton, Chandler Zavala and Cade Mays have all started games this season, with both starting guards being injured. Second year left tackle Ikem Ekwonu will also looked to improve after a disappointing start to the season.
The Panthers will also hope to get continued growth from the pass catchers on offense. Rookie 2nd round pick Jonathan Mingo has had an underwhelming start to his career, but he has all the tools to be a quality receiver. Terrace Marshall and DJ Chark have also been underwhelming to start the season. Either of those players being able to bounce back after the bye could be huge for quarterback Bryce Young's development.
Chuba Hubbard also might end up being the full time starting running back by the end of the year. The Miles Sanders signing this past off-season is looking like yet another questionable move in Scott Fitterer's resume.
The Defense is Depleted
Ejiro Evero's defensive unit is becoming a problem, and it is not necessarily his fault. Poor roster building and a multitude of injuries have caused the defense to give up over 40 points in back to back weeks.
The team has already lost linebacker Shaq Thompson and cornerback Jaycee Horn for at least the majority of the season. Several other key contributors on the defensive side of the ball have dealt with injuries. Vonn Bell, Xavier Woods and Frankie Luvu have been in and out of the lineup, Marquis Haynes has been on injury reserve since the start of the season and Jeremy Chinns was also recently placed on injury reserve.
The front office has also failed to get adequate depth on the defensive side of the ball. Undrafted types such as D'Shawn Jamison, Dicaprio Bootle, LaBryan Ray, Nick Thurman and Chandler Wooten have been getting significant snaps as a result of these injuries.
The team will hope to get some of their players back healthy soon, as they are trending towards having one of the worst defenses in the NFL.
The Bottom Line
The Panthers have a lot of problems that they will need to figure out in the second half of the season. The offense needs to find its identity while also finding out what skill position players are going to be contributors for the coming seasons with Bryce Young. Frank Reich is also going to need to improve his game management now that he is no longer calling the plays on offense and has less on his plate.
Overall, expectations for the Panthers' season need to be readjusted. If this team can clean up some miscues, establish an identity on both sides of the ball, and get some development out of their young players and coaches, the 2023 season can still set the Carolina Panthers up for success in 2024 and beyond.