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November 30, 2005

2005 draftees haven't produced much

Believe it or not, the most productive rookie from the Carolina Panthers’ 2005 draft class has been Ben Emanuel.

That’s more than a little surprising considering Emanuel didn’t make the team. But the safety has landed on his feet after getting what amounted to a wake-up call from the Panthers. Blessed with plenty of natural physical talent, Emanuel didn’t impress in training camp. But, after a stint on San Francisco’s practice squad and a series of injuries, Emanuel has ended up as a starting safety for the 49ers. He made four tackles in Sunday’s game with Tennessee.

Not bad for a seventh-round draft pick.

In a strange kind of way, Emanuel brings some much-needed credibility to the Panthers’ draft class. If you don’t count Emanuel, this rookie class hasn’t produced much. Here’s a look at the drafted players still with the team and what they have and (in many cases) have not produced:

Thomas Davis: The first-round pick got torched as he opened the season at strong safety. He quickly lost that job. Very quietly, Davis has made some good impressions on special teams and as the joker linebacker in the nickel package. If he ends up starting and producing at linebacker next year, it will go a long way in validating this draft class.

Eric Shelton: The running back was taken in the second round, but hasn’t played a down. After a less-than-stellar preseason, Shelton was placed on the injured-reserve list. But he’ll certainly get a chance to prove himself next season and could end up competing with DeShaun Foster for the feature back role.

Evan Mathis: This third-round pick has some potential, but his playing time has been limited to special teams. But Mathis could be the future at right guard. Tutan Reyes has played well and the Panthers aren’t going to make major changes while they’re winning. But Reyes can become a free agent after the season, and the Panthers have Mathis waiting.

Atiyyah Ellison: Another third-round pick with enormous potential, but no production so far. Ellison was released after a disappointing training camp. He bounced around the practice squad, but now is on the roster. Maybe, like Emanuel, he needed a wake-up call.

Stefan LeFors: The quarterback was taken in the fourth round as a project and that’s exactly what he’s turned out to be. LeFors hasn’t shown strong signs he’s ready for a shot at playing time. But a year as the third quarterback might help his chances to move into the backup role next season because it’s pretty likely Chris Weinke will sign elsewhere as a free agent.

Adam Seward: For a brief time, Seward looked like the steal in this draft class. He was contributing on special teams and learning fast as a backup linebacker. But a broken foot put Seward down for the year. He’ll be a special teams regular next season.

Geoff Hangartner: Another fifth-round pick, Hangartner was drafted with time for development. Veteran Jeff Mitchell is the starting center and Hangartner is a backup with decent potential. Mitchell is a free agent after the season and the Panthers will make a strong attempt to re-sign him. If they don’t, Hangartner might have to step up in a hurry.

Jovan Haye: This seventh-round pick surprised some when he made the team. Haye hasn’t been a factor as a defensive end. But when you’re playing behind Julius Peppers, Mike Rucker and Al Wallace, that’s nothing to be ashamed of and you’ve got some pretty good mentors.

PLAYOFF TICKETS: The e-mails haven’t stopped about the price of playoff tickets if the Panthers get a home game.

There’s no doubt the tickets are overpriced and you’re going to make some very rich men even richer. It’s sad, true and unfortunate.

But guess what? It’s that way everywhere.

Welcome to the world of big-league sports.

Posted by Observer Sports on November 30, 2005 at 11:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

November 21, 2005

Panthers need more than Smith

Just curious:

   When are the Panthers going to use some offensive weapons besides Steve Smith? The Bears were like a basketball team facing a hot scorer. They let Smith get his numbers and shut down EVERYTHING else. Think maybe some future opponents may take a lesson from that?

   Why do you even bother to run play-action fakes when you're using the hurry-up offense and the running game hasn't done anything all day?

   Speaking of the running game, if you're really a running team, do you totally abandon the ground game when you fall behind, 10-0, in the first quarter? They won't say it, but that move pretty much showed the Panthers aren't real confident in their running game right now. Coach John Fox's statement after the game about wanting to get DeShaun Foster more carries was pretty telling and it could signal the start of a shift to Foster as the feature back, instead of Stephen Davis.

   Whatever happened to Keary Colbert? He looked solid last year as a rookie, but has been invisible this season. And, if Rod Gardner finally has learned the offense 10 weeks into the season, why not give him some more playing time?

Posted by Observer Sports on November 21, 2005 at 05:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

November 19, 2005

Draft prospect a bust

Think back to the April draft for a second.

A lot of fans were outraged when the Panthers didn’t draft a wide receiver.

Truth be told, the Panthers had their eyes on Fred Gibson of Georgia and even contemplated a trade to get him.

It never happened, and that’s probably a good thing. Gibson is looking like a bust. The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted him in the fourth round and cut him. The Dolphins waived him from their practice squad last week.

Posted by Observer Sports on November 19, 2005 at 08:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

November 17, 2005

Stadium runs which way??

You get a lot of off-beat e-mails and calls in this job, and one of the oddest came this week. A fan wanted to know if the playing field at Bank of America Stadium is oriented north-south or east-west. I never really wondered about that before, and never will again.

For the record, though, according to Panthers media relations director Charlie Dayton, the field runs … (drum roll please) east-west.

Hmmm, maybe that’s why Stephen Davis, a north-south runner if ever there was one, has been having trouble gaining yards this season.

SHHHHHH: It’s kind of a shame what happened to Ken Lucas after he said the Jets "quit’’ last week.

That prompted a firestorm in New York and a knee-jerk reaction in Charlotte that’s going to cheat the media and fans out of one of the best things to come to the Panthers in a long time. In his first nine weeks with the Panthers, Lucas has been a very good cornerback. He also was a great quote.

That made him a breath of fresh air in a locker room that coach John Fox has turned into a bunch of robots when it comes to media relations. But Lucas’ days as a free talker are over because Fox has made it clear to the newcomer that one rule for the Panthers is to NEVER provide bulletin-board material.

Posted by Observer Sports on November 17, 2005 at 03:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

November 16, 2005

Reyes playing his way to payday

With every win by the Panthers, right guard Tutan Reyes becomes more and more like Jeno James.

When the Panthers went to the Super Bowl two seasons ago, James was an average player on the offensive line. But the fact he went to the Super Bowl convinced at least one team, the Miami Dolphins, that James was worth a big contract.

In Miami, James quickly proved he’s ordinary.

Reyes fits the same profile, but he could have a big payday after his contract expires. Although the Panthers like Reyes, don’t look for them to pay him big money. Left guard Mike Wahle already makes a fortune, and the drafting of Evan Mathis this year was to prepare for Reyes becoming a free agent.

CAP WOES AHEAD? As long as we’re looking ahead to free agency, it’s going to be tough for the Panthers to keep all three of their top potential free agents – linebacker Will Witherspoon, running back DeShaun Foster and center Jeff Mitchell.

The Panthers already have $93.5 million committed to their 2006 salary cap. Nobody knows exactly what the cap will be, but it’s $85.5 million this year and it’s not likely to go above where the Panthers are.

Here’s a look at the rest of the Panthers who can become free agents after the season:

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

WR Rod Gardner

T Todd Fordham

QB Chris Weinke

WR Ricky Proehl

S Marlon McCree

DE Kemp Rasmussen

CB Dante Wesley

P Jason Baker

S Idrees Bashir

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

TE Mike Seidman

S Colin Branch

CB Ricky Manning

LB Vinny Ciurciu

DT Kindal Moorehead

Posted by Observer Sports on November 16, 2005 at 03:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

November 13, 2005

Free agents Lucas, Wahle paying off

Free agency isn’t supposed to be a big part of the Carolina Panthers’ philosophy. This year, it was.

The word around the league back in March was the Panthers overpaid for cornerback Ken Lucas and guard Mike Wahle.

The Panthers won’t argue that statement and admit they saw a window and went all out for it, but it’s looking as if they’re getting their money’s worth.

Lucas is playing as well as any cornerback in the league and he’s still young. You can make a case that he single-handedly won the Jets and Cardinals games. How many cornerbacks can you say that about?

Wahle’s impact hasn’t been quite as visible, but that’s the nature of his position. His arrival has made a bad line respectable and it’s going to keep getting better. Think back to last year when the offensive line was costing the Panthers games. How many times have you said that this year?

The Panthers like to say they get core players through the draft and fill holes with free agents. They got two core players in Wahle and Lucas. They also made one other free-agent move that didn’t get a lot of attention, but is paying off nicely. Safety Marlon McCree didn’t get a lot of money, but he’s been a solid member of the secondary.

JOHNNY SOMINEX: Did a show on Sirius Satellite Radio on Saturday that produced one of the funniest and most appropriate one-liners ever. Dan Leberfeld of "Jets Confidential" was one of the show’s co-hosts and the topic was how Panthers coach John Fox and Jets coach Herman Edwards were college teammates at San Diego State.

In a conference call with the Carolina media earlier last week, Edwards revealed Fox’s college nickname was "Crash’’ for his willingness to hit people.

Leberfeld hadn’t heard that and was asked to guess what Fox’s nickname had been.

"Sominex?’’ Leberfeld said.

He then went on to say how boring Fox had been in his conference call with the New York media. No kidding! It’s that way every day with Fox. Although he has a gregarious personality, he clams up with the microphones are on because he doesn’t want to provide any bulletin-board material or give away any strategy.

It can be maddening for the media. But the bottom line is, it doesn’t matter because the guy can flat-out coach.

OWENS POLL: The guys at KFFL.com polled their correspondents for all 32 NFL teams (I’m their Panthers representative) and asked if there was any chance each team might have interest in adding wide receiver Terrell Owens.

Twenty-five correspondents answered an emphatic "No.’’ Four (Browns, Cowboys, Jets and Bucs) said "Maybe." The three "Yes’’ answers came from Denver, Miami and Oakland.

Posted by Observer Sports on November 13, 2005 at 11:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

November 10, 2005

Don’t expect T.O. in Carolina

The NFL world is playing a guessing game as to where Terrell Owens will land in 2006. You can eliminate one possibility. That’s the Carolina Panthers.

This is a team that recently dismissed two cheerleaders after an alleged incident that led to their arrests in Tampa. The Panthers certainly aren’t going to take on a potential headache like Owens, who would cost them millions.

Previously, the Panthers have bounced Todd Sauerbrun and Chris Terry, who got into trouble after they joined the team. No matter how talented Owens is, the Panthers won’t touch him.

Buckner holding up: When defensive tackle Kris Jenkins injured his knee in the season opener, the Panthers were extremely concerned about the effect it would have on Brentson Buckner, the other starting defensive tackle. He’s 34 and has had some knee problems. With Jenkins hurt most of last season, Buckner was forced to play more than 80 percent of the snaps, which was way too many.

But Buckner is holding up this season. He’s cut his weight from 315 pounds two years ago to just a little more than 300. That puts less stress on the knees. But there’s another factor: Young defensive tackles Jordan Carstens and Kindal Moorehead are playing well enough that the team feels comfortable with a steady rotation.

Plus, the defense isn’t spending as much time on the field as it did a year ago. As a result, Buckner said he is playing about 60 percent of the snaps. That difference is even more dramatic when you consider that this year the Panthers are averaging about 55 defensive snaps a game, as opposed to about 80 last year.

Posted by Observer Sports on November 10, 2005 at 03:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

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