Tight end still a need for Panthers

Posted July 16, 2011 @ 9:04 a.m.
Posted By Dan Parr

Changes are in store for the Panthers' offense under new coordinator Rob Chudzinski.

He'll have several promising skill-position players to work with as he implements his scheme, which should include a more wide-open passing game than Carolina fans are used to seeing, and a veteran O-line that should be one of the team's strengths. First overall pick Cam Newton could provide an immediate spark, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Goodson will form a solid 1-2 punch at running back, if DeAngelo Williams moves on in free agency, and second-year WRs David Gettis and Brandon LaFell should keep improving.

At tight end, however, the Panthers don't have a young building block or a proven veteran in his prime.

A lack of star power at the position is not a new issue for the Panthers — it has been 12 years since a Carolina tight end came anywhere close to gaining 1,000 yards in a season [Wesley Walls had 822 receiving yards in 1999].

The aging and injury-prone Jeremy Shockey, who signed a one-year deal in March after being released by the Saints, and Gary Barnidge, a fourth-year veteran with 12 career catches, are the only tight ends Carolina has under contract through 2011.

The top two tight ends for the team in recent seasons, Jeff King — who basically has functioned as an extra offensive tackle — and Dante Rosario, are both unrestricted free agents and we hear it's not a priority to keep either player.

While the team was content to be without a pass-catching tight end during the John Fox era, Ron Rivera indicated the philosophy on the position would change when he was hired as head coach and it surprised some that Carolina didn't draft a developmental tight end for Chudzinski, a former TE coach at the pro and college level.

Sources expect it's a spot the team will address — without throwing money at the top players available — in free agency. Finding a player to share time with and be a top backup to Shockey, who has missed 12 games because of injuries over the past four seasons, will be key.

Shockey could be a decent one-year rental if he stays healthy, but he's not the long-term solution and Rivera and Chudzinski likely will be looking for a top tight end again next offseason.

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