CHARLOTTE -- Maybe the reason the Panthers' offense is thriving now is they've finally had a chance to learn it.
Even though coordinator Jeff Davidson is in his second season with the team, key players said last week we're only starting to see what it's about.
It appeared Davidson was off to a good start when the Panthers rolled up 75 points and 1,051 yards in the first three games of 2007. Of course, that third one was when quarterback Jake Delhomme's elbow unraveled and took the season with it.
That stalled the progression of Davidson's instruction, and the players are just now getting caught up.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Herald
"We had quarterbacks going down, so he didn't fully give us the whole offense," running back DeAngelo Williams said. "We were kind of hindered a little bit. We finally got in the groove in the offseason and he gave us the whole playbook. We got the concepts down, got everything down. Our offensive line started jelling together and understood what they were doing up front.
"When I got a better understanding of the offense, them getting comfortable with me and me getting comfortable with them, we just all pulled it together. We got our run game, our passing game and everything going together."
The Panthers offense is hot right now, having scored 180 points the last six games. They've scored 381 points on the season, and are up to eighth in the league in scoring (25.4 points per game). That gives them an outside shot at becoming the highest-scoring team in franchise history. The 1999 club scored 421 points, followed by the 391 scored in 2005.
This year's team has topped 30 points in six games, and 400 yards a team-record five times.
Delhomme said he has more decision-making ability now than he did under former coordinator Dan Henning, though part of that has to do with the fact he had two career starts when he came to Charlotte in 2003. He said he has more liberty now to check things at the line of scrimmage, and he'll often walk to the line of scrimmage with more run-pass options than ever before.
Still, he chooses his words carefully when asked about the difference between Henning and Davidson, since the former coordinator helped put him on the map.
"Dan, that book has been written and we did some good things," Delhomme said. "I think we're a little different personality-wise. But I think Jeff is going a great job."
• TRADE LOOKING BETTER: There was a clear risk when the Panthers traded their 2009 first-round pick and change to Philadelphia, but it's looking more and more like a good call now.
The Panthers never blinked when making the move, attempting to move back into the first round with several teams before the Eagles agreed to accept the bounty (which included last year's second- and fourth-rounders) for their 19th pick.
"We got a nice offer," Eagles coach Andy Reid said on draft day. "I know a lot was said about (Jeff) Otah, and Otah is a fine player. He plays either right or left tackle, and we did like him, but the offer was just too sweet to turn it down."
There was some thinking in Philadelphia the pick would be much better, but now it appears they moved back.
With the Panthers' 11-4 record, the pick will be no higher than 24th. Under the current standings, they're 28th in the order. The two Super Bowl teams pick 31st and 32nd, leaving open the possibility of the pick moving back further.
The Panthers also traded next year's seventh-rounder to Miami for backup quarterback Josh McCown, who they've been fortunate not to need.
That leaves Carolina with just five picks total, though it could add some late ones when compensatory picks are announced this spring.
• TOUGH AND GETTING TOUGHER: In addition to their division games home and away against Atlanta, New Orleans and Tampa Bay, the Panthers will host a brutal slate in 2009, and it could get tougher today.
Since they draw the AFC East and NFC East in the divisional rotation, they know they'll have home games against Philadelphia, Washington, Buffalo and Miami. They'll go to Dallas, New England and the New York Giants and Jets.
Since only two games are based on the previous year's standings, they'll know today what's left.
If they win the division they'll host the champ of the NFC North and go to the NFC West winner.
Finish behind Atlanta and they'll draw the second-place teams from those divisions.
Of the teams they're currently scheduled to play, only Buffalo (7-8) has a losing record.