Friday, January 30, 2004

Learning from the Panthers

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Carolina made several key moves between Years 1 and 2 of coach John Fox's tenure to lift it from NFL also-ran into the Super Bowl. The Bengals are positioned to make the same kind of jump under Marvin Lewis.

What the Panthers did:

Signed running back Stephen Davis as a free agent March 14, and Davis ran for 1,444 yards and balanced the offense. Second-year backup DeShaun Foster emerged to gain 429 yards in the regular season.

What the Bengals need to do:

Resolve the Corey Dillon issue. The Bengals need to trade, release or convince Dillon to come back and fit in. Otherwise, they should sign Rudi Johnson, make him the featured back and get a solid No. 2.

What the Panthers did:

Found their quarterback in Jake Delhomme. He had little experience, having thrown just 10 passes in three years with the Saints, who waived him three times. He has 22 TD passes in 19 games.

What the Bengals need to do:

Settle on Jon Kitna or Carson Palmer. If Palmer starts, the Bengals might experience at least a temporary drop in quarterback production. Better defense will have to take pressure off the offense.

What the Panthers did:

Drafted an impact player in offensive right tackle Jordan Gross (eighth overall). Gross has started all 19 games and contributed to the seventh-ranked run offense and franchise-low 26 sacks allowed.

What the Bengals need to do:

At No. 17 overall - and in the first three rounds - draft defense. The Bengals' D let them down in December and finished ranked 28th. Oklahoma cornerback Derrick Strait might be the place to start.

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