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Full of youthful exuberance

Posted Aug 1, 2010


SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Given that kicker John Kasay's pro career predates the debut of the Carolina Panthers, the 40-year-old, 20-year veteran would qualify as an elder on any NFL roster.

The same shouldn't be said of, for example, 24-year-old offensive lineman Mackenzy Bernadeau.

Yet on this Panthers squad, experience is a relative term.

"I feel like I'm one of the older guys, and this is only my third year," Bernadeau said. "We've got a lot of young guys competing."

In the offseason, the Panthers cut ties with seven players who are now at least 30 years old, leaving their current 80-man roster with just five such guys: Kasay, wide receiver Steve Smith, left tackle Jordan Gross, defensive end Tyler Brayton and punter Jason Baker.

Alongside the Panthers in the NFC South, the reigning Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints as well as the Atlanta Falcons have 13 players age 30 or older. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers feature seven 30-somethings.

Is the preponderance of youth a cause for concern?

The Panthers don't seem to think so.

"We are young, but I think we're energetic, and I like the ability of our guys," head coach John Fox said. "Now it's just about molding that into a team.

"Your team has a new personality every year, whether it's laced with veterans or not. It's always an exciting time of year."

The loss of talent, regardless of age, is always a concern, but the Panthers feel good at this early stage of training camp about their ability to fill any holes.

At quarterback, for example, Matt Moore already had taken over the starting role from Jake Delhomme before the end of last season. Training camp is about finding replacements for the likes of Julius Peppers along the defensive front, Muhsin Muhammad at wide receiver and Brad Hoover at fullback.

"Once those guys were gone, some other guys have to step up. The train doesn't stop," second-year defensive end Everette Brown said. "It's a continuous thing as far as the missing pieces from those guys.

"We just have to keep on picking it up and working hard."

The loss of leadership is just as notable: Between them, Delhomme, Muhammad and Peppers were team captain 13 times over.

The lack of 30-somethings, however, doesn't equal a lack of leadership in the players' minds.

"You look at 89 (Smith), Jeff King, Jon Beason, Tyler Brayton, Chris Gamble – I could go on and on and on," Moore said. "Everybody talks about our youth, but there are a lot of guys who have been here and have played in a lot of games.

"I'll turn to anybody. If there's ever anything wrong and I need to talk to somebody, there are a lot of guys I can talk to. This is a close bunch already, and training camp helps that grow and helps the leaders establish themselves within the team."

Moore also recognizes that as the starting quarterback, teammates inevitably will turn to him for leadership – regardless of his age (25) or seasons spent in the league (three).
In that regard, having a younger team might help Moore seem, well, older than he is.

"There are a lot of wide eyes with all the youth," he said. "Being here four years now, you kind of have that feeling that when you speak, guys are going to listen.

"It is easier, and the more we work together and play together, the more natural the leadership thing will be. Hopefully, there's communication flowing through everybody."