Profound impact from rookies


Charles Godfrey was already making an impact in training camp, where he began with the first team and remained for the rest of the season. (PHOTO: ANDREW MASON / PANTHERS.COM)*

Rarely have rookies been a more integral part of the Panthers than they were in 2008.

The team opened the season with two rookies in the starting lineup -- right tackle Jeff Otah and safety Charles Godfrey.  Both had been working with the first team throughout the offseason, and remained there for the four months that followed, with only an ankle injury keeping Otah from starting all 16 games.

Godfrey, meanwhile, became just the third rookie defender in Panthers annals to start every game in his first season.  All three have come in the last five seasons -- Godfrey, linebacker Jon Beason in 2007 (four starts at weakside linebacker and 12 at middle linebacker) and cornerback Chris Gamble in 2004.

Overall, Carolina received more starts from its rookie class than it had in four years, with defensive tackle Nick Hayden adding a start in the regular-season finale after injuries forced Gary Gibson to injured reserve and Damione Lewis and Maake Kemoeatu to the inactive list for the 33-31 win over the New Orleans Saints.


... There is no clear correlation between the use of rookies and overall success, although the Panthers have not had a winning season when their rookie class has accounted for more than 30 starts.   But those four years -- 2004 (49 rookie starts), 2001 (40 rookie starts), 1997 (33 rookie starts) and 1995 (58 rookie starts) are the only times when the Panthers' rookies started more games than they did in 2008 ...

... Of the six rookies who started games for the Panthers in 2007, two were full-time starters a year later -- center Ryan Kalil, who made three starts as a rookie, and Beason.  Tight end Dante Rosario, who made two starts as a rookie in 2007, tripled that total in 2008.  Coincidentally. he also tripled his reception total -- from six to 18 ...

... Otah also continued a recent trend of rookies to start on the offensive line.  The Panthers have received 47 starts from rookies up front since 2003 -- 12 for Otah in 2008, three for Kalil in 2007, four for Will Montgomery in 2006, 11 for Travelle Wharton in 2004 and 16 for Jordan Gross in 2005 ...

... The only season that did not see a rookie start at least half the season in Panthers history was 2005, when Thomas Davis started the regular-season opener at strong safety.  His next starting assignment would come at linebacker one season later.


... doesn't even account for first-round running back Jonathan Stewart. who merely set Panthers rookie records for rushing yards (836) and touchdowns (10) in a substitute role that was more like that of an NBA sixth man than the typical second-teamer.

Stewart touched the ball 192 times on offense -- 184 carries and eight receptions (for 47 yards).  Those 192 touches were more than the rookie running backs and receivers in the previous three seasons combined, and set a Panthers rookie record.

By comparison, Stewart's 192 touches were 38 more than DeAngelo Williams had in his rookie season of 2006, when he carried the football 121 times for 501 yards and added 313 yards on 33 receptions.

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