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August 27, 2006

Thoughts on the depth chart and other issues

Although linebacker Na’il Diggs is temporarily out with a sprained MCL, there’s still no guarantee reserve Keith Adams will be on the opening-day roster.

Diggs’ injury isn’t believed to be serious. He’s hoping to be ready for the opening game and, even if he does miss some time, it probably will be only a game or two. If that happens, look for the Panthers to slide veteran Chris Draft into the starting lineup on a temporary basis.

Draft can play all three linebacker positions, and the opener is against Atlanta, a team he shined against last year. The Panthers likely will keep Adam Seward and rookie James Anderson as their other two backups, leaving Adams on the bubble.

The coaches weren’t very impressed as Adams struggled to learn the defense in training camp. He’s also small. His best bet of making the roster is as a special teams player.

RISING STAR

Had a nice visit with Bob LaMonte, the agent for coach John Fox, as he visited Sunday’s practice. LaMonte might be the most powerful man in the NFC South, and he’s become a power broker throughout the league. LaMonte represents seven head coaches, including Tampa Bay’s Jon Gruden and Atlanta’s Jim Mora.

LaMonte makes it a point to make the rounds to see each of his clients in the preseason and he chatted with Fox and general manager Marty Hurney on Sunday. But there was one other subtle point to LaMonte’s visit.

He also represents quarterbacks coach Mike McCoy and views him as a rising star. LaMonte is very good at marketing his clients. Don’t be surprised if McCoy starts drawing interest for offensive coordinator jobs next season.

JUST A HUNCH

This isn’t a theory, and it sure isn’t a prediction. But I had a thought while watching the game against Miami on Thursday night about how the Panthers backfield might shape up.

The common belief is that the Panthers will keep five or six running backs (fullbacks included) and that Eric Shelton, Alex Haynes or Jamal Robertson will fill the final spot.

But there’s one scenario where none of those three makes the roster, and it’s at least a possibility.

Let’s say the Panthers keep tailbacks DeAngelo Williams and DeShaun Foster and fullback Brad Hoover. No surprises there. Here’s the twist: Make Nick Goings the third tailback and keep Casey Cramer as the backup fullback. Goings has been used as the backup fullback in past years, but doesn’t have great size. Hoover has taken a pounding in recent years and Cramer would provide a bigger backup. He’s also a favorite of coordinator Dan Henning.

Goings would provide a dependable third back with special teams abilities. The Panthers probably could stash Haynes on the practice squad and activate him if there are any injuries.

Posted by Observer Sports on August 27, 2006 at 06:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

August 25, 2006

Dolphins' blitz tests Williams

Contrary to the exhibition norm, the Miami Dolphins didn’t try to hide much in Thursday night’s exhibition against the Panthers.

Coach Nick Saban opened a good chunk of the regular-season playbook, including the use of an option pass by running back Ronnie Brown. The game Thursday will give the Dolphins’ future opponents a good bit of film to work with.

The Dolphins also set the stage for a trend that’s likely to face the Panthers in the regular season. If you played close attention, the Miami defense blitzed just about every time rookie running back DeAngelo Williams was in the game in a passing situation.

Williams did a pretty good job of picking up the blitz and making his blocks, but this is something that will continue into the regular season. Williams is a rookie, and it takes time to get good at recognizing blitzes. He’s also 5-foot-9, and some teams might try to overpower him with a linebacker. Williams will have to continually prove himself as a blocker throughout the season.

• Here’s one more sign that defensive tackle Kris Jenkins might return to All-Pro form after missing most of the past two seasons with injuries: A Miami offensive lineman said after the game that he was hit so hard by Jenkins on one play that his helmet moved so dramatically it turned his eyelid inside out.

Posted by Observer Sports on August 25, 2006 at 06:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 23, 2006

Sources: Rams to make offer to Stephen Davis

Stephen Davis' tour of the NFL continued Wednesday in St. Louis and the former Panthers running back soon could be joining the Rams.

According to league sources, the Rams were in the process of putting together an offer for Davis on Wednesday night. Davis had previously visited the Eagles and, reportedly, passed a physical.

But the fact the Panthers released Davis in March and have shown no interest in bringing him back raises some questions. The Panthers obviously know more about the condition of Davis' knee than any team.

If the Panthers, who certainly could use a short-yardage back, thought Davis was anything close to the Davis of old, he wouldn't be in St. Louis today.

Posted by Observer Sports on August 23, 2006 at 06:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

August 21, 2006

Observations following Exhibition No. 2

After a day of planes, trains and automobiles, it’s time for a little blogging.

Actually, there were no trains involved, but plenty of planes and automobiles. After flying from Jacksonville to Charlotte and, then, driving back to Spartanburg, it’s time for some observations on Saturday night’s preseason victory against Jacksonville and Monday’s end of training camp:

One of the biggest priorities of the offseason was to beef up the running game. So far, it hasn’t paid off. DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams haven’t done anything spectacular. But both of those guys can run. What they need is better blocking. Besides, it’s the preseason, which, for the most part, means absolutely nothing.

While the preseason isn’t a fair gauge on running backs, it is important for the offensive line. That’s a unit that’s trying to build chemistry and continuity with two new starters. So far, the line hasn’t looked all that good, and Jake Delhomme felt way too much pressure Saturday night. The line suddenly is the biggest concern and there are only two exhibition games left to get things cleaned up.

Speaking of the offensive line, there’s another potential problem. What if Jordan Gross or Travelle Wharton goes down with a long-term injury. The emergency plan is to move guard Mike Wahle outside and start Geoff Hangartner at guard. That doesn’t say much for backup tackles Rashad Butler, a rookie who essentially will get a red-shirt season as he tries to bulk up, and Todd Fordham, a veteran, who is at the end of the line. Why not just watch the waiver wire for a legitimate backup tackle?

He’s yet to play a preseason down and there’s been speculation that Steve Smith’s numbers will drop from last season. I disagree. Smith’s always been a competitor, and with the possibility of a contract extension looming, he’s going to step up even more than last year when he was the best receiver in the league.

Safety Colin Branch was brought along slowly early in camp as he recovered from a major knee injury. He’s been practicing more the past 10 days and played well against the Jaguars. Don’t be surprised if he soon moves ahead of veteran Shaun Williams at free safety.

Rookie Richard Marshall worked as the nickel back ahead of veteran Reggie Howard on Saturday night. You have to wonder if that’s a sign that Marshall’s picking things up quickly or if the Miami Dolphins were right when they parted ways with Howard.

Perhaps the best thing about the preseason games so far is that the Panthers haven’t had a significant injury.

Perhaps the best thing about training camp is that rain didn’t force the Panthers inside at all. But it is raining in Spartanburg tonight and that could jeopardize the final practice of camp Monday morning.

After covering the NFL since 1993, I’ve known that a road game is a major logistical operation. But I didn’t realize just how big until early Sunday morning as I left Alltel Stadium in a rental car and headed up Interstate 95 to my hotel near the Jacksonville airport. Suddenly, about eight motorcycle policeman flew by me. Then, came six buses, carrying the Panthers, their coaches and staff. Next, was a large truck carrying their equipment. Finally, about five police cars brought up the end of the caravan. Makes you wonder how much all that police presence cost the city of Jacksonville. But it was an impressive site to watch.

Posted by Observer Sports on August 21, 2006 at 01:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

August 18, 2006

Numbers crunch could mean LB Keith Adams will be cut

There's a very real chance a player who was practicing with the first team as recently as the June workouts might not make the opening day roster.

It’s linebacker Keith Adams.

Signed as a free agent from Philadelphia, he has been replaced on the first team by Na'il Diggs, another free agent. Diggs has better size and appears to have locked up the starting job on the weak side.

Adams was a starter in Philadelphia last season because of injuries, but he is basically a special teams player and the numbers could work against him when it comes time to trim the roster.

Let's say the Panthers carry six or seven linebackers. Diggs, Dan Morgan and Thomas Davis will be the starters. The team is very high on second-year player Adam Seward, who has been working behind Morgan in the middle. Chris Draft is valuable because he can play any of the three spots. Rookie James Anderson is a third-round pick, which pretty much assures him of a roster spot.

That's six linebackers and that leaves Adams, Vinny Ciurciu and Sean Tufts on the bubble. Tufts, who has a knee injury, almost certainly won't be around. He'll be released with an injury settlement of put on the injured reserve list. Adams and Ciurciu both could be on their way out, or the Panthers could keep seven linebackers.

If that happens, Ciurciu, who can play the middle or outside and special teams, could get the nod.

Posted by Observer Sports on August 18, 2006 at 08:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

August 17, 2006

Things to watch against Jacksonville

Some things to watch in Saturday night’s preseason game at Jacksonville:

The return game. Efrem Hill struggled on punt returns last week. But the coaches would like Hill to win the job so Steve Smith and Chris Gamble can concentrate on their regular duties. Hill has had a good camp and could bounce back. If he doesn’t, the Panthers always can fall back on Gamble or Smith. Kickoff returns also could be interesting. Incumbent Jamal Robertson handled them last week. But let’s face it: Robertson probably won’t make the team. It’s time to take a look at rookie DeAngelo Williams.

The short-yardage rushing game. This area is a growing concern because second-year pro Eric Shelton hasn’t taken a big step forward. That still could happen, but the coaches will continue to take a look at former practice squad player Alex Haynes. He doesn’t have Shelton’s size, but is a power runner with a low center of gravity and could be tough to tackle.

Kris Jenkins. The big man looked decent against Buffalo last week. But he’s still working his way into shape, and getting the chance to play an entire half is his next test.

The offensive line. The first unit looked very good last week, but that was against Buffalo. Jacksonville’s got a much better defensive line.

Posted by Observer Sports on August 17, 2006 at 05:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

August 14, 2006

Rucker pays Tampa a visit

Interesting tidbit out of the Tampa Bay practice near Orlando, Fla., on Monday afternoon: The Bucs use a dummy made of pipes to simulate a defensive lineman when the quarterbacks work on passing drills. Last week, the dummy was fitted with a Rod Coleman jersey. Monday, a Mike Rucker jersey was on the dummy. Here’s a link to a slide show that includes a photo of the Rucker jersey:

http://www.tbo.com/sports/photos/bucscamp2006.shtml

Posted by Observer Sports on August 14, 2006 at 05:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

August 12, 2006

Observations from exhibition opener

Random thoughts and observations from the Panthers 14-13 preseason victory against Buffalo:

Kris Jenkins said after the game he’s still not where he needs to be. But he was in for a couple of plays. His mere presence makes you wonder how good the defense can be if Jenkins can make a full recovery after missing almost all of the past two seasons.

Top draft pick DeAngelo Williams didn’t look very impressive. But don’t blame it on Williams. He was running behind the second-team offensive line. Makes you want to see what Williams can do behind the starting offensive line.

You know it’s August when Karl Hankton and Mike Seidman are catching passes.

Efrem Hill, who has looked so good in training camp, struggled on punt returns. That’s not good, because Hill needs to win the return job to secure a roster spot. As much as the Panthers don’t want to expose a starter to injury, they might have to let Chris Gamble handle returns. Even Hill’s impressive camp play as a receiver was dampened when he fumbled after catching a pass in the third quarter.

Cornerback Jarrett Bush hadn’t done much in training camp. But he was in on a bunch of plays Saturday night.

Linebacker Adam Seward had a strong performance. Seward was calling the defensive plays as the second-team middle linebacker. The Panthers were very high on Seward last year before his rookie season ended prematurely with an injury. But it’s obvious Seward still is in good standing with the coaching staff and could become an important player given Dan Morgan’s history of durability problems. Also, look for Seward to be a regular on special teams.

Don’t be surprised if receiver Steve Smith is back at practice Monday. Watching Smith run on the sidelines last week, there was little question he was pretty much recovered from his hamstring injury and could have played if this had been a regular-season game.

Stefon LeFors hasn’t been having a good training camp. But I kind of thought he might be one of those guys who isn’t a practice player. I was wrong.

Running back Eric Shelton looked good in limited action. But you can take the fact that he was running with the fourth team as a sign that he hasn’t been lighting it up in training camp.

Posted by Observer Sports on August 12, 2006 at 11:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

August 10, 2006

Training camp observations

News, notes and observations from camp:

The Panthers should find a way to keep six wide receivers or unload veteran special teams player Karl Hankton, who gives them nothing as a receiver. Efrem Hill continues to make plays in training camp and he’s going to get a long look as the punt returner in preseason games. If Hill shows anything as a return man, he should get a roster spot and the punt return job because Steve Smith and Chris Gamble don’t need to be exposed to injury more than they already are.

Speaking of Smith, you won’t see him in Saturday’s preseason opener. Smith’s hamstring is pretty close to 100 percent, but the team isn’t going to take any chances when he hasn’t practiced in two weeks. Don’t be surprised if Smith returns to practice early next week.

Much has been said about the depth at defensive tackle, but linebacker isn’t far behind. Some decent linebackers (maybe Sean Tufts and Vinny Ciurciu) won’t make the roster.

Fans got pretty excited as reserve quarterback Stefan LeFors broke off a couple of long runs during Thursday night’s practice. LeFors has some mobility, but coordinator Dan Henning doesn’t want his quarterbacks to try to be Michael Vick.

If you’re wondering why you haven’t heard much on rookie tackle Rashad Butler, it’s because he’s a major project. Butler has some athletic ability, but he needs to bulk up and his rookie season will be sort of a red-shirt year.

Don’t look for any major moves, but the Panthers have $4.1 million in salary cap space and could look for a little depth at a few positions (safety, defensive end and offensive tackle?) when teams start making cuts.

Posted by Observer Sports on August 10, 2006 at 11:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

August 05, 2006

Former Panthers likely to stay former Panthers

For just a second, embrace the past. Remember it and salute it. Second’s up. Now, return to the present and do the only reasonable and rational thing you can with the past.

Let it go.

Stephen Davis, Ricky Proehl and Mark Fields aren’t coming back to the Panthers. No matter what the folks who call talk radio shows and live on the Internet lobby for, it just isn’t going to happen.

Davis, Proehl and Fields each made magnificent contributions to the Panthers. In the past. Each of the three is expressing some desire to play again.

But this is where the saneness of general manager Marty Hurney and coach John Fox comes in. They don’t live in the past. They’re looking at the future, and Proehl, Davis and Fields don’t fit in.

If George Seifert were still running the show, Fields, Proehl and Davis would be wearing Panthers uniforms. Heck, Wesley Walls would probably be working as the first-team tight end and Eric Davis would be ahead of Chris Gamble at cornerback. Hey, Tim McKyer looked pretty good playing racquetball at the Dowd YMCA a few weeks ago. Seifert would probably be chasing Jeff Mitchell’s RV through the Midwest about now and using his free hand to make repeated calls to Todd Steussie. And the Panthers would be on their way to a 1-15 season.

Seifert lived in the past in 2000 when he signed Eric Swann, Chuck Smith and Reggie White. They were great players in their prime, but their prime was long gone by the time they joined the Panthers. Sadly, it’s the same with Davis, Proehl and Fields.

Davis had nothing left as last season went on. If the Panthers thought he could bounce back, he never would have been crossed off the roster. Proehl contributed, but the Panthers upgraded by signing Keyshawn Johnson and they’ve got some young receivers on the cusp.

Of the golden trio, Proehl probably has the best chance of playing somewhere this year. It’s just unlikely to be with the Panthers unless Carolina has injury problems. He can be a nice situational player for a team that’s short on receivers. Right now, the Panthers are not.

It’s the same with Fields. He hasn’t played since 2004, when he made a triumphant return from a battle with Hodgkin’s disease. Even then, Fields wasn’t the same player he was in 2002. Fields has been through another round of cancer treatment and he isn’t getting any younger. The Panthers did get younger at linebacker, which is one of the deepest positions on the team.

If this were 2002 or 2003, having Davis, Fields and Proehl would make perfect sense. But this isn’t 2002 or 2003, and there’s no room for sentiment in a cold, hard business. Fox and Hurney realize that. It’s way past the time for everyone else to join the club.

Posted by Observer Sports on August 5, 2006 at 01:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)

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