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March 30, 2006

Despite praise, linebacker still a need

ORLANDO – Panthers coach John Fox was praising second-year linebackers Thomas Davis and Adam Seward during the NFL meeting.

If the season started today, they’d be the starters outside middle linebacker Dan Morgan in the middle.

But the season doesn’t start today.

Davis, a first-round pick last year, will be a starter, most likely at the weak-side spot vacated by Will Witherspoon. The Panthers view Davis as a Derrick Brooks type linebacker. They’re also high on Seward, a fifth-round pick, who missed most of last season with an injury.

But the Panthers still are looking at possible upgrades. With only $2.5 million in cap space right now, they’ll only sign a free agent if it’s at a bargain price. They may use an early-round draft pick on a linebacker. Fox thinks that’s a strong position in this year’s class.

There’s also one other horizon that’s very much on the radar. That would be re-signing Brandon Short. He was the strong-side starter last season, but was cut in a salary cap move a few weeks ago.

The Panthers are keeping in touch with Short and his agent, but haven’t offered a contract. They won’t do that anytime soon. The plan is to go through the draft and see where things stand.

Fox has a history with Short, dating back to their days with the New York Giants. Fox doesn’t want to re-sign Short and end up cutting him in training camp. If Short doesn’t sign elsewhere and the Panthers feel they need another veteran after the draft, they’ll make an attempt to bring him back.

Posted by Observer Sports on March 30, 2006 at 10:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

March 28, 2006

NFL ready to take some of the fun away

ORLANDO - Paul Tagliabue soon will retire as the NFL commissioner, and his imprint will stay on the league for years.

In many ways, that’s wonderful. Tagliabue has built an empire far greater than all the other sports, found a way to keep labor harmony and made sure a bunch of new stadiums got built.

But Tagliabue is a lawyer with the personality of a clam and that brings us to perhaps the only downside of his legacy. There likely will be a rule passed at the league’s spring meeting Wednesday that will further limit celebrations.

Remember Panthers receiver Steve Smith’s boat-rowing act against the Vikings last year? It was the most brilliant and creative celebration in NFL history.

Sadly, if Tagliabue and his cast of robots get their way, Smith’s rowing would draw a 15-yard penalty next season. The league, which previously outlawed choreographed celebrations by multiple players, is now looking to get rid of individual spontaneity.

The league wants to impose a rule that will penalize a player (and perhaps subject him to a fine) if:

1. The player gets on the ground to celebrate after scoring.

2. The player uses the football as a prop in the celebration.

3. The celebration lasts beyond a brief period of time or a warning from an official.

Why not just ban touchdowns?

Smith won’t be the only victim if this rule passes. Cincinnati’s Chad Johnson also is a master of the touchdown celebration. Other players occasionally come up with something good. But the real loser here would be the fans. Smith’s touchdown celebrations were some of the most entertaining moments of last season. They brought humor and energy and didn’t hurt anyone.

That’s what happens when you ask a bunch of guys who think the collective bargaining agreement is interesting reading to determine what’s fun.

Click here to see Smith's celebrations on video from WCNC:

Posted by Observer Sports on March 28, 2006 at 06:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

March 24, 2006

Keyshawn's selfishness: A good thing?

While talking with writers from New York, Tampa and Dallas in recent days, a couple of things became apparent about Keyshawn Johnson.

"Sure, he’s selfish and all that,’’ a Dallas writer said. "But he’s not Terrell Owens.’’

Owens single-handedly destroyed a very good Philadelphia team last season. He took constant verbal shots at quarterback Donovan McNabb. Before that, Owens questioned the personal life of former teammate and San Francisco quarterback Jeff Garcia.

The normally image-conscious Panthers have raised some eyebrows by agreeing to a deal with Johnson, who also has some controversy in his past. Maybe they’re hitting the panic button and believing Johnson is the one player they need to win a Super Bowl. Or maybe, after doing a lot of research on their own, the Panthers are convinced Johnson won’t be a problem.

"Yeah, he can be a bit of a circus,’’ a Tampa writer said. "But the bottom line is he’s a competitor and he wants to win.’’

Johnson feuded with coach Jon Gruden in Tampa, when he felt he wasn’t getting the ball enough. Johnson left Tampa looking like the bad guy and there’s no question he deserved some blame. But Tampa writers said Gruden, who isn’t known as a diplomat, made some mistakes in dealing with the situation.

So the biggest indictment of Johnson is that he’s selfish. If you think that’s a bad thing for a wide receiver, you haven’t met Jerry Rice, Steve Smith, Muhsin Muhammad, Chad Johnson or Randy Moss. Heck, the trait extends to tight ends. Remember the days when the Panthers would win, but Wesley Walls would whine because he only had one catch?

Selfish competitiveness is part of the reason all those receivers succeeded.

One of the few receivers in recent memory who has shown no outward signs of selfishness is Carolina’s Keary Colbert. He caught only 25 passes last season and will surrender his starting job to Johnson. In the end, maybe a little more selfishness is just what the Panthers wanted.

Posted by Observer Sports on March 24, 2006 at 10:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

March 23, 2006

Proehl's playing future now in question

There's a poll question on charlotte.com that asks if the Panthers adding wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson is a good move.

The early results are overwhelmingly in favor of the move. That means the fans are happy and we already know the team is happy. But there could be one person in the whole affair who is not overjoyed.

That's veteran receiver Ricky Proehl, who has said several times he'd like to play another season for the Panthers. But Johnson's addition drops the chance of a Proehl return dramatically.

The Panthers have Johnson and Steve Smith as starters, and Keary Colbert as their third receiver. They also believe Drew Carter can develop into a solid player, and they have special teams ace Karl Hankton. That's five receivers and that often is the maximum the Panthers like to carry.

The Panthers could re-sign Proehl, bring him to training camp and let him compete with Carter and Hankton for the final two spots. But Proehl's situation is unique. He's a person the Panthers like and respect and they talked him out of retiring before last season. If Proehl were to come back, it would be common decency to assure him that he'd have a roster spot and wouldn't be cut in training camp. That might be a guarantee the Panthers no longer can make.

Posted by Observer Sports on March 23, 2006 at 11:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

A big night for Jake

Thursday was about as good a night as Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme has ever had. Delhomme was back in his Louisiana offseason home and at the track where one of his race horses, "Fine, Fine, Fine", won a race.

A little bit after his horse won, Delhomme received confirmation the Panthers had agreed to a contract with receiver Keyshawn Johnson.

"It was a happy, happy, happy night,'' Delhomme said.

Posted by Observer Sports on March 23, 2006 at 10:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Numbers show strength of Keyshawn's hands

As we continue to await word on talks between the Panthers and wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson - and the latest rumor is the parties will continue discussions over dinner - here’s some more Johnson fodder:

Everyone knows he’s an excellent possession receiver, but here’s a stat that shows how good Johnson’s hands are:

While playing for Dallas last season, Johnson was the target of 123 passes, according to STATS. Want to take a guess how many he dropped?

One.

For perspective: Steve Smith was targeted 150 times and had seven drops. Keary Colbert was the target of 55 passes and had four drops. Ricky Proehl, who might return to the Panthers, was targeted 50 times and had zero drops. Former Panthers receiver Muhsin Muhammad, now with Chicago, tied for second in the league with 11 drops while being the target of 136 passes. Oakland running back LaMont Jordan led the league with 12 drops.

Posted by Observer Sports on March 23, 2006 at 06:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Watch here for latest on Keyshawn

If you’re near Uptown  Charlotte, keep an eye on Bank of America Stadium.

There could be a big puff of white smoke sometime this afternoon or evening. The Panthers still are visiting with free agent wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson and it’s a pretty safe bet an offer will be made.

The Panthers aren’t the type to mess around in free agency, and their recent history shows they frequently try to get prospective players to sign before they leave the building. Pursuing Johnson was not a decision the Panthers made lightly and they know his price tag (somewhere around $4 million). In other words, when the Panthers decided to put themselves in this game, they put themselves in to win it.

Johnson already turned down an offer, which averaged about $3 million a season, from the New York Giants. The Seattle Seahawks also want Johnson to visit, but the Panthers will try to make his travel plans end in Charlotte.

Keep checking Charlotte.com for the latest updates.

Posted by Observer Sports on March 23, 2006 at 03:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

March 22, 2006

Panthers could face predicament with rules proposal

If a proposed rule change is approved at next week’s NFL meeting in Florida, the Carolina Panthers will have to make an interesting, and perhaps unconventional, decision.

Atlanta Falcons general manager Rich McKay, co-chairman of the league’s competition committee, said Wednesday teams will vote on a proposal to allow defensive players to wear radio helmets, similar to the coach-to-quarterback helmets used by offenses.

McKay said concerns about teams stealing hand signals has led to the proposal. If approved, a defensive coach would be able to talk to one defensive player through the radio. Each team would have to designate before the game which player will wear the radio helmet. That player is the only one who can wear the helmet during the game. If that player is injured, teams would have to go back to using hand signals.

That’s where things could get interesting. Like most teams, the Panthers have used a middle linebacker to call defensive plays in the huddle. Conventional wisdom would say that defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac would relay the plays to Dan Morgan.

But that’s where things could get tricky. Morgan’s career has been filled with injuries. Some of them have been long term, and some have been only for a couple of plays. That history would suggest that chances are pretty good Morgan will miss some time in the future.

When Morgan was injured, the Panthers let weakside linebacker Will Witherspoon receive the hand signals from Trgovac and relay them to the huddle. But Witherspoon left for St. Louis as a free agent and the Panthers don’t have a lot of depth or experience at linebacker.

Maybe they’ll just take their chances with Morgan. Or maybe they’ll think outside the box. Safety Mike Minter played 100 percent of the defensive snaps in 2003 and ’04 and 99 percent of the plays last season. If the Panthers really are concerned about signals being stolen, they might be wise to put the radio in Minter’s helmet.

Posted by Observer Sports on March 22, 2006 at 06:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Potential Panthers receiver on Fire

As the Panthers continue to survey the landscape of available wide receivers, they might already have a sleeper.

It’s nothing they can count on for immediate help, but Chris Samp, who was allocated by the Panthers to NFL Europe, had an impressive first game. Playing for the Rhein Fire, Samp threw a 45-yard touchdown pass on the first offensive snap against Frankfurt. He also had a 16-yard reception.

Samp, 6-foot-3 and 224 pounds, played at Winona State and could get a long look in training camp if he continues to produce in Europe.

Two other players under contract with the Panthers had good first weeks of the NFL Europe season. Linebacker David Bergeron, who plays for Cologne, had an interception and defensive tackle Tony Brown, who plays for Amsterdam had four tackles.

Posted by Observer Sports on March 22, 2006 at 01:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

March 18, 2006

Reed strongly considered Panthers

The agent for Buffalo wide receiver Josh Reed told the Buffalo News his client gave strong consideration to signing with the Panthers before deciding to stay with the Bills.
   Although the names of Isaac Bruce, David Givens and Keyshawn Johnson also have been tied to the Panthers, team officials have been downplaying interest in wide receivers.
   But, where there's smoke, there usually is fire. And the Reed visit and contract offer is the strongest smoke yet. Look for interest in a receiver to continue and look for it to be someone like Reed, a player with moderate production and some upside, at a mid-level price.

Posted by Observer Sports on March 18, 2006 at 06:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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