With the conclusion of our look at the NFL teams in our Swampland Footprint, we’ll tackle two teams trying to work their way back up to their recent success—Carolina and Tampa Bay. Both squads missed the postseason in 2009, and they each targeted a very specific area of need in the draft. The Panthers did not have a first round pick but made big news in the second round with the selection of Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen. It was a great value pick, and Clausen should get a shot as the starter as soon as he’s ready. The Buccaneers owned the league's worst run defense a year ago, and they consequently drafted defensive tackles Gerald McCoy (Oklahoma) and Brian Price (UCLA) with their first two selections.
Carolina has won double-digit games in their three Playoff seasons under John Fox, but all of those campaigns have been followed by years of missing the postseason. The 2009 season was a struggle, and it was especially true for the Panthers at the quarterback position. Veteran Jake Delhomme was released this offseason, and now Clausen will compete with Matt Moore to be the Carolina starter. Fox’s teams tend to win with the running game and defense formula, and that will suit Clausen well as he looks to become the face of the franchise. The former Notre Dame signal caller, who grew up in California, is adjusting to life in the South:
"It's a new place for me to be in the Carolinas, but Charlotte is a great city, and I am enjoying myself," he said. "It's a lot different than South Bend. The weather is pretty much like what it's like in California with a little bit more humidity. But I like it."
After achieving three winning seasons in the last four years under John Gruden, Tampa Bay started rebuilding in 2009 under new coach Raheem Morris, The Buccaneers showed signs of life in the second half of the season, especially with the emergence rookie franchise quarterback Josh Freeman. With that position settled, fixing the porous run defense became the draft priority and the McCoy-Price combo should serve the Bucs well. There are still a lot of holes on the Tampa Bay roster, but they should be able to build off the momentum of winning two of their last three games.
Teams in the NFL can get well fairly quickly under the salary cap system, but both Carolina and Tampa Bay will face a tough challenge in trying to climb over New Orleans and Atlanta in the NFC South. However, the Panthers and Buccaneers seemed to fix a major area of concern in the draft and should start to build around their young stars in 2010.