Three-and-out with Panthers radio color commentator Jim Szoke

Posted Nov. 26, 2010 @ 2:09 p.m.
Posted By Mike Wilkening

PFW recently caught up with Panthers radio color commentator and (Charlotte, N.C.) WBT-AM sports director Jim Szoke for his take on several issues, including the progress of QB Jimmy Clausen, the future of RB DeAngelo Williams and the seemingly final days of head coach John Fox in Carolina. 

PFW: What's your take on how Jimmy Clausen has developed this season? How do you believe the Panthers will proceed at quarterback in 2011?

Szoke: With the Panthers' season blown out of the water, determining if rookie Jimmy Clausen is, in fact, the quarterback to build around will be the priority over the final six games. Clausen has completed less than 50 percent of his passes with just one touchdown and four interceptions. While he has not been explosive offensively, he has shown signs of maturing as a leader, and, as we like to say, "managing the game." It's been difficult to get an accurate read overall as he was replaced by Matt Moore in October, then suffered a concussion in early November. If December does not impress, Andrew Luck at Stanford will be very tempting for the Panthers if he enters the NFL draft.

PFW: The Panthers are exceptionally deep at running back with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Also, Mike Goodson has been productive in extended action the past two weeks. Who will be the Panthers' starter next season, and is there any chance Williams and Stewart are back?

Szoke: The biggest decision facing the Panthers' personnel department this offseason will be what to do in regard to Williams. While this is an area of depth and strength for Carolina, Williams is easily their best and most versatile back. He also will be one of the most coveted free agents around the NFL, and likely command something in the $7 million-per-season range, which could price the Panthers out. Coach John Fox has bucked the trend by learning more heavily on the run than the pass. Without knowing what type of offense the Panthers will run in the future, Williams is certain to explore his options. While the Panthers love Williams, they do have Jonathan Stewart and Mike Goodson to fill the void. Stewart's numbers have declined significantly from last year, but Goodson has rushed for over 100 yards in his only two starts over the past two weeks.

PFW: It seems all but a given that John Fox won't be back as Panthers head coach in 2011. Assess the job he has done this season. With the team struggling the way it has, do you believe Fox will remain the Panthers' head coach the rest of the season?

Szoke: It's been a lame duck season for Fox, and by extension the entire franchise. In his eight previous seasons, Fox produced three playoff teams and five other teams that never finished worse than 7-9. The whole season has collapsed on the Panthers this year, but it's clear the main culprit is the talent level due to a combination of inexperience and widespread injuries. While the coach is not exempt from the disaster, he is also not the center of blame. Unlike Minnesota and some other places, there has been no sniping by the players in Carolina who have continued to fight and stay competitive into the second half of games despite their record. Fox has always maintained a good relationship with his players and the expectation is that he will be here to see the season through to the end.