Tale of two youth movements

Sitting in the Georgia Dome press box Sunday, I thought about comparisons between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers.

On a day the Bucs gained respect in defeat, the Panthers lost their last bit of dignity as they got shredded by New Orleans.

It’s easy for the Panthers to point to their youth movement as the reason for their 1-7 start and coach John Fox is starting to do that. But when you think about the Buccaneers, Fox’s argument loses a lot of steam.

Coming into the season, the Buccaneers and Panthers were the two youngest teams in the NFL. That was according to opening-day rosters and not much has changed.

The Bucs are playing a second-year quarterback (Josh Freeman), two rookie wide receivers (Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn and an undrafted running back (LeGarrette Blount). All those guys are thriving and other young guys are making big contributions.

In Carolina, almost none of the young guys who were supposed to step up have stepped up. What’s more troubling is the fact that the Panthers entered this youth movement with a lot of talented players still on the roster -- Jon Beason, Chris Gamble, Steve Smith, Jordan Gross, Ryan Kalil, Jeff Otah, Thomas Davis, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.

Granted, some of those guys got hurt, but you would think the Panthers still had enough talent and leadership to be respectable. They haven’t even come close.

Makes me wonder about a couple of things. Tampa Bay’s youth movement was virtually a complete overhaul (with Ronde Barber as a notable exception). As painful as last year’s 3-13 season was, maybe it’s better to go all out in a youth movement.

Then, there is the way the two coaches have handled their youth movements. Tampa Bay’s Raheem Morris totally embraced it and has shown trust in young players.

Fox hasn’t embraced Carolina’s youth movement at all. You can understand that from a veteran coach, who previously had always kept the Panthers respectable throughout his tenure. But this whole youth movement and pointing fingers at the personnel people are not valid excuses.

According to league sources, Fox was told as early as 2008 that this was going to happen and that’s when he encouraged some of his assistant coaches to jump ship because he was worried about their futures. If he wasn’t on board with this, he had his chance to get out.

With no contract beyond this season, Fox’s agent was allowed to quietly shop him around the league. There were some nibbles and a pretty strong bite from Buffalo, accoring to a league source. It’s a pretty common belief in league circles that Fox could have had the Buffalo job if he wanted.

Maybe Fox didn’t see Buffalo as an ideal situation for him. But it has become pretty obvious Carolina no longer is an ideal place for him.