Fox's first year was 2002, not 2003. I would take that 2003 team over most also. Fox/Hurney assembled several key pieces together for that squad together, including Jake, Proehl, and Davis.
I'm not entirely sure I would agree with you on the line. The one Rivera inherited had two pro-bowlers, Gross and Kalil, while the 2002 line had Todd Steussie and that's it (and he was years past his pro-bowl days). Gross was added as a rookie in 2003, not 2002, so again he's another piece that Fox/Hurney put in place. As far as defense, CJ and GH are not on the same level together as JP and Rucker, but Peppers was Fox's version of Cam Newton (just on D). I would say that CJ and GH are on a par with Rucker and Jenkins as far as talent. Had we gotten a Ndamukong Suh instead of Cam (consider this a Peppers analogy), you probably would have seen one of them in the pro bowl last year.
Both teams had talent, both had holes. The 2011 unit, however, had talent that included more pro-bowlers. It's a shame that Rivera/Hurney weren't able to build it into a great team as fast as Fox/Hurney were able to with the 2002 team.
Maybe this year, huh?
I was there in 2002 like I have been since 1995, I surely know Fox's first year was 2002. The biggest additions to that 2003 squad outside of the few you mentioned and Pepper's in 2002 were actually the guys we added in 2001 when we arguably had the best draft in our history.
Of all the pieces the guy who really made 2003 click was Jake which is always the case when you find a franchise quarterback. And that is really the issue with the 2011 and 2012 Panthers. Newton may end up being the best quarterback we have ever had but his play has not been great especially late in games like Jake was in 2003 and again in 2005. It isn't the raw numbers that matter but the number of late victories that Jake managed in 2003. Add to that the fact our defense in 2011 and 2012 had a number of late game collapses and any good Newton did late was gifted back to the other team resulting in close losses.
As for the offensive line, Kalil is a probowler, Gross was a probowler but hasn't played to that standard since 2010. He was good but not great. But other than that we had Byron Bell at RT, Wharton who was not good in 2011 and whoever we could plug in at right guard. I great guy and 1 good guy don't make for a good line. In 2003 we had Stussie, Donnally, Mitchell, Gross and Jeno James as starters and Reyes, Donnally and Willig as backups. Lets be real here, in 2011 when Otah couldn't go, Bell was an undrafted rookie thrown into a starting role. He likely wouldn't have even been a backup in 2003.
The problem with the 2011 squad and the 2012 compared to the 2003 squad was they had probowlers but also a bunch of guys who were not starting quality. Then when we were hit by injuries we had no depth to compensate. The 2003 squad had more consistent quality and much better depth. After the roster was decimated in 2010, many of the guys we added were rookies, had little to no experience and we plugged them in hoping for the best. Fox in 2002 and 2003 had more veterans and more consistent talent. In particular he had a better defense which goes a long way to making up for offensive inconsistencies. This defense in 2013 may rival Fox's defenses in 2002 and 2003.