CHARLOTTE -- It's not as if there was a specific moment when the Panthers realized they were getting too old.
You can see from the moves they've made the last two offseasons they wanted to turn that around, getting back to the draft-based team they want to be.
At different points last year, the Panthers used 12 rookies, with the entire eight-man draft class appearing on the 53-man roster at some point, along with undrafted rookies Matt Moore and Quinton Teal and first-year guys Gary Gibson and Alex Haynes.
This year, they've continued the process, phasing out aging veterans (Mike Rucker, Mike Wahle), not to mention the youthful bounce they got from Vinny Testaverde's retirement.
Panthers general manager Marty Hurney downplayed the specific moves, but said the greening of the roster pointed to the direction they always wanted to take.
"I don't think you ever approach it saying we need to be this age or that age," Hurney said. "But our philosophy leads to that. We want to draft well and create our base there, and fill in the gaps through free agency.
"Getting young talent on the field and playing is always attractive, but it's not like we're saying we have to have young guys."
Building through the draft is fine, when you hit on your picks. After their disastrous 2005 draft (from which only Thomas Davis and Geoff Hangartner remain in significant roles) they changed their decision-making structure, and it's hard to argue the results haven't improved. Last year was the first with new college scouting director Don Gregory on board, and a number of his calls will be stepping into bigger roles this year.
And when you put numbers next to the names, it's easy to see the arrow pointing downward.
Throwing together a hypothetical lineup in March, it's easy to see the Panthers with just three starters on the wrong side of 30 -- quarterback Jake Delhomme (33), fullback Brad Hoover (31) and defensive tackle Damione Lewis (30).
In fact, if you take a stab at what the starting lineups might look like, the average age on opening day would be 27.2 on offense and 26.0 on defense.
• EYE TO THE FUTURE: Speaking of planning ahead, the Panthers probably won't have near the amount of work to do next year retaining their own.
Once you get past the two huge deals that are looming (Julius Peppers and Jordan Gross), the Panthers don't have many pending free agents after the 2008 season. Cornerback Chris Gamble's rookie deal will expire, and kicker John Kasay and long snapper Jason Kyle are the next two in order of importance. Beyond that, they've got a few backups who'll be unrestricted (Hangartner, Evan Mathis and Adam Seward unless he gets an offer) and two guys who might not even make this year's roster (Travis Taylor, Frank Omiyale), along with the just-signed LaBrandon Toefield.
Defensive end Stanley McClover, tight end Jeff King and linebackers James Anderson and Brandon Jamison will be restricted free agents.
That's quite a departure from the 17 unrestricted and three restricted free agents they entered this offseason with.
• EXTRA POINTS: Though his impact on the stat sheet wasn't huge, defensive tackle Kindal Moorehead (who signed with Atlanta last week) will leave a hole in the Panthers program. Each day when the team was finished stretching before practice, the signal to begin was somebody yelling a drawn out "MO-head," at which point the rest of the team would repeat it before getting to work.
The Panthers might also need to sign a voodoo doll to replace him, since he missed about half of his rookie training camp after being bitten by a spider, and later injured his knee during a team bowling trip. Though he was as easygoing and funny as they come, his luck definitely made him the guy you wanted next to you in a thunderstorm. ...
At this moment, the Panthers have 60 players under contract or tender offers. The roster limit's 80, since they don't get the extra bodies from NFL Europe exemptions this year. That means with eight draft picks, there are only 12 other spots to fill with free agents or post-draft rookies. ... Denver signed its second Panthers free agent Saturday, adding safety Marquand Manuel on a three-year, $4.5 million deal. This comes after the Broncos gave wide receiver Keary Colbert a three-year, $7.2 million deal. The Panthers attempted to retain neither.