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October 27, 2006

Fasani works out for Detroit

Remember Randy Fasani? Yeah, he's the quarterback that "retired'' from the Panthers a few years ago.

Apparently, he's trying to make a comeback. Fasani worked out for the Detroit Lions recently. In another sign that Jon Kitna's job is very safe, Stefan LeFors, who was cut by the Panthers in the preseason, also got an audition.

Posted by Observer Sports on October 27, 2006 at 06:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

October 23, 2006

Observations from Week 7

Random thoughts after Sunday’s loss to Cincinnati:

Given the way John Fox handles injury information, Panthers fans probably won’t know until Sunday if cornerback Ken Lucas will play against Dallas. Lucas suffered a hip injury against Cincinnati, which creates a huge cause for concern with Dallas receivers Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn coming to town.

If Lucas is out, the Panthers would be very thin at cornerback. Veteran Reggie Howard left the team for personal reasons last week. If Lucas can’t start, rookie Richard Marshall would start opposite Chris Gamble, and Christian Morton, elevated from the practice squad last week, would be the third corner. If it appears Lucas can’t play, the Panthers likely would bring in another cornerback.

Defensive end Mike Rucker had his best game of the season. But don’t get carried away. He was playing against rookie tackle Andrew Whitworth, who was forced into the lineup after an injury to Levi Jones.

Shaun Williams got the start in place of Colin Branch at strong safety. Don’t be surprised if the Panthers keep going back and forth between these players the rest of the season. Neither has produced, and Williams is injury-prone. This is one of the weakest positions on the team and needs to be addressed in the offseason.

If tight end Michael Gaines had done anything (other than drop passes and draw penalties) this season, he’d already have a contract extension. Gaines will be a restricted free agent after the season and the Panthers would love nothing more than for him to develop into a quality starter as Kris Mangum ages. But Gaines hasn’t helped his cause at all. Instead of getting an extension, he’ll end up playing for the restricted tender next season.

Just an off-the-cuff prediction. Sometime, before too long, practice squad receiver Efrem Hill will be brought up to the regular roster and will end up returning punts.

Posted by Observer Sports on October 23, 2006 at 11:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

October 20, 2006

Keyshawn speaks about Cowboys

The Panthers don't play the Cowboys until Oct. 29, but the hype has started. Carolina receiver Keyshawn Johnson had some interesting comments about his departure from Dallas on his weekly Thursday night show on Sirius NFL Radio. Here are some of the highlights:

Keyshawn: "There were all sorts of negotiations. I decided not to go back to the Dallas Cowboys. It wasn’t that they didn’t want me. It’s just that what I wanted, they were not willing to pay me and therefore, Carolina got the catches and the touchdowns and the winning percentages and things of that nature. Not the Dallas Cowboys. The Carolina Panthers were the ones that benefited from a business decision, in my opinion, that wasn’t the greatest one. But that’s my opinion.

"I may even actually attend the Giants game this Monday night in Dallas with the owner of the Dallas Cowboys. I haven’t decided whether or not I’m going to go but I have some business in the area and I may even go down to the game. That’s just to let you know there is no revenge. There is no Keyshawn getting back at Bill Parcells and Jerry Jones and T.O. didn’t run me out of town. Once again, I decided not to go to the Dallas Cowboys based on a number of factors after contract talks broke off. That’s pretty much it."

Co-host, Steve Cohen: "Wasn’t there interest in you by the Cowboys even after they signed T.O.?"

Keyshawn: "There was major interest in the Cowboys even after they signed T.O. There’s still major interest in the Cowboys in acquiring me tomorrow if they could. And I know that."

Posted by Observer Sports on October 20, 2006 at 05:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

In hindsight Witherspoon looks like a bargain

Each week, I take part in a notes network where writers around the country share information about what’s going on with the team’s they cover. That’s generally how Sunday NFL columns are compiled.

But this item from a St. Louis writer intrigued me and I thought I’d put it out there now:
“With 13 tackles vs. the Seahawks on Sunday, MLB Will Witherspoon boosted his season total to a team-high 60 - an average of 10 per game - going into the bye week.

“I had some good linebackers, but I never had anyone who could run like that," said defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, who has been coaching in the NFL since 1994. "I coached a couple guys in the Pro Bowl who could run like that -- Ray Lewis and those guys. Will has that type of talent."

“Witherspoon is on pace for a season total of 160 tackles, which would be a personal best for the fifth-year pro out of Georgia. In March, the Rams plunked down $33 million in a six-year deal to land Witherspoon as a free agent. They targeted him for the middle, even though he spent most of his time with Carolina on the outside. The idea was to exploit his 4.6-second 40 speed, a concept that Witherspoon embraced.

"From an outside position, you're kind of playing half the field. From the middle, you've got to get from sideline to sideline," he said. "I definitely enjoy it."

Gee, think that now that middle linebacker Dan Morgan is out for the season (and, perhaps, forever) $33 million doesn’t seem like such an outrageous price to the Panthers?

Posted by Observer Sports on October 20, 2006 at 09:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

October 19, 2006

Bad buzz about O'Brien?

The longer he’s gone the more you realize the Panthers, and we’re talking people that matter most (coaches, front office types and players) weren’t all that sad when special teams coach Scott O’Brien left a couple of years ago.

Officially, O’Brien retired. But, a couple days later, he ended up as Nick Saban's right-hand man in Miami. With O’Brien no longer around to play the bully role that might have led to some of his success as the Panthers special teams coach, the talk about him in the locker room isn’t very warm while new special teams coach Danny Crossman gets plenty of praise.

Several people in the organization have talked about O’Brien’s lack of social skills and suggested he was a shameless self-promoter. Funny, but those are the same complaints that are popping up in Miami.

Posted by Observer Sports on October 19, 2006 at 08:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

October 17, 2006

Terry off suspended list, out of NFL

   Very quietly, offensive tackle Chris Terry came off the NFL's suspended list Monday afternoon.

   Terry, who started his career for the Panthers and last played with Seattle, is a free agent. He'll probably remain that way because of his long history of off-field troubles.

   Given the fact the Panthers are starting Jeremy Bridges, who couldn't even make Arizona's roster, at right tackle, Terry's story is even more sad.

   The Panthers used a second-round pick on him in 1999 and he had enough talent to be a very solid starter for a decade. But Terry wasn't half as good a person as he was a player. The Panthers gave up on him long ago.

   Yeah, you can play "what could have been.'' But Terry's off-field troubles kept him from ever getting close to being the player he should have been and it's way too late for any team to try to salvage his career.

Posted by Observer Sports on October 17, 2006 at 04:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Peppers' legend continues to grow

The legend of Julius Peppers is growing fast. On Sirius NFL Radio this morning, Tim Ryan, who also works as a television broadcaster, told a story about a recent television production meeting with offensive coordinator Dan Henning.

   As often happens with Henning, the conversation went way beyond the offense and, somehow, turned to Peppers. Ryan said Henning told him Peppers is the fastest player on the Panthers.

   While Peppers is outrageously quick for a defensive lineman, we seriously doubt he could beat Steve Smith, Drew Carter, DeAngelo Williams and DeShaun Foster in the 40-yard dash. Keyshawn Johnson and Drew Carter are probably even a bit faster than Peppers. But the point is the guy’s a rare athlete.

   Ryan said Henning then went on to tell a story about how he once asked all the offensive players what position Peppers should play if he were on the offense. Tailback was the overwhelming response. The one notable exception was quarterback Jake Delhomme, who nominated Peppers for duty at left tackle.

   

NOT QUITE RECORD PACE: Peppers is off to a huge start with eight sacks in his first six games. That’s remarkable, but he’s not on the kind of pace Michael Strahan was when he set the NFL record (22.5 sacks) in the 2001 season. Through the first six games that season, Strahan had 10.5 sacks. Strahan was held without a sack in the first two games, but had 15 in the next seven.

Posted by Observer Sports on October 17, 2006 at 02:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

October 16, 2006

Morgan's financial impact up in air

Cutting Dan Morgan might not be the financial no-brainer almost everyone seems to think it is.

Sure, the Panthers could save $2 million if they cut the star-crossed linebacker before the start of the 2007 league year. That’s the roster bonus Morgan is scheduled to receive on the first day of the league year in March. They also would save on a $500,000 reporting bonus.

But there are salary cap implications that go way beyond cash up front, and could keep Morgan around if he’s cleared to play after being placed on the injured reserve list this season. Morgan’s cap figure for 2007 is $4.45 million, almost $2 million less than what he’s costing the Panthers this season.

If the Panthers cut Morgan, they’d save $2.5 million in cash, but they wouldn’t save nearly as much in salary cap room. Morgan’s contract runs through 2010 and there is $3.6 million remaining in signing bonus pro-ration. If the Panthers cut Morgan in March, they’d immediately lose that $3.6 million in cap room. For $850,000 more in cap space, they could keep Morgan if he’s healthy.

That decision will be up to the doctors. If Morgan retires, the Panthers would catch a salary cap break. If he doesn’t and is cleared to play, there’s not a lot of cap benefit to cutting him.

This decision might not come down to the salary cap. If Morgan’s declared healthy, chances are he’ll stick around, perhaps with a restructured contract. If he’s not healthy, the situation will take care of itself.

Posted by Observer Sports on October 16, 2006 at 10:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Observations from Week 6

Observations from Sunday’s victory against the Ravens:

Give the Panthers credit for a good signing in Keyshawn Johnson and a decent one in Maake Kemeoatu, but the rest of their class of free agents hasn’t been very impressive. Linebacker Na’il Diggs has been adequate. But center Justin Hartwig and safety Shaun Williams haven’t been able to stay on the field, safety Kevin McCadam is nothing more than a special teams player and linebacker Keith Adams didn’t even make the roster. Hartwig, who signed a five-year, $17 million contract, has been the biggest disappointment. He hasn’t played since the opener because of a groin injury. But Hartwig has been taking part in practices the past two weeks. He might not be completely healthy, but the Panthers don’t seem opposed to using Geoff Hangartner, who has played well and continues to get better in Hartwig’s spot.

Sports Illustrated did a players’ poll last week in which Terrell Owens was voted the league’s best wide receiver. Steve Smith showed Sunday that it is just not true. Smith is clearly back to last year’s form and he’s, by far, the best receiver in the league. For the record, I’d take Smith, Chad Johnson, Marvin Harrison, Keyshawn Johnson and about a half-dozen receivers over Owens.

As is his custom, Coach John Fox wouldn’t talk about how serious the rib injury to linebacker Thomas Davis might be. Fox won’t say anything until he issues his injury report Wednesday. But this is an area of concern. Davis has been making some progress in learning the defense. If he has to miss some time, that could take a toll on a linebacker corps that already is thin. Rookie James Anderson could end up being pushed into a starting spot if Davis’ injury shelves him.

Speaking of injuries that could be significant, the arm injury to defensive end Al Wallace has the potential to mess up a defensive line rotation that’s been working well. Again, we don’t know how serious the injury is and won’t for a few days. But Wallace is as good as some starters in the league, and that’s why the Panthers mix him in extensively with starters Mike Rucker and Julius Peppers. If Wallace has to miss some time, the Panthers might have to rotate less. Rookie Stanley McClover might not be ready for a significant role. One alternative would be to slide defensive tackle Damione Lewis to the outside because he has some pass-rush skills.

Peppers has been dominant on defense and the Panthers shouldn’t do anything that could disrupt that. But it still would be nice to see him get a few offensive snaps as a receiver in the red zone, which is something the Panthers dabbled with last year.

Running back Eric Shelton received his first NFL carry and got a couple snaps in the backfield. He could get more playing time next week in Cincinnati. It’s a pretty safe bet rookie DeAngelo Williams will miss at least another game with his ankle injury and DeShaun Foster has been carrying a pretty heavy load.

Posted by Observer Sports on October 16, 2006 at 01:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

October 10, 2006

Panthers vindicated as Sauerbrun cut

Somewhere in the offices of Bank of America Stadium, there are some quiet snickers.

   The news that Todd Sauerbrun was cut by the Denver Broncos the instant he came off the suspended list had to bring some further vindication to the Panthers. They traded the troubled punter to the Broncos before last season and they’ve received very good production from Jason Baker, who came to Carolina as part of that deal.

   They also got rid of one of the biggest headaches in franchise history. Still, there was always worry that the Panthers might have given up too soon on a guy who might have been the most talented punter in franchise history. Sauerbrun promised to be on his best behavior in Denver and, for awhile, he came through.

   But the league suspended Sauerbrun for testing positive for a banned dietary supplement and that prompted the Broncos to come to the same conclusion as the Panthers.

   The only real loser here is Sauerbrun. He once talked about his desire to be the first punter in the Hall of Fame. With his talent, that might not have been that much of a stretch. But that talent has been squandered and he might not be able to get another job.

   

Watching the Monday night game reinforced how good Brad Hoover and Nick Goings are at surviving.

   Denver fullback Kyle Johnson has blossomed into one of the league’s best at that position. But Johnson wasn’t even good to make the Panthers roster when he was a fifth-round draft pick in 2002. Seeing Johnson play was a reminder of how hard the Panthers used to try to find upgrades over Hoover and Goings.

   They also used a seventh-round pick on Casey Moore in 2003, but he wasn’t able to stick around. Maybe Hoover and Goings aren’t the prototypes (Goings actually isn’t even close because he’s got tailback size), but the two blue-collar players are so efficient at what they do that they’ve been able to hold off challenges by players with more physical talent.

   

Speaking of the backfield, this could be an interesting period for the tailbacks.

    Rookie DeAngelo Williams has an ankle injury. The Panthers are being quiet about the severity of the injury (as is their custom), but it appears Williams will miss some time. If that happens, Goings will slide into the backup role behind DeShaun Foster. We all know exactly what Goings brings to the table. But the interesting thing here could be that the door may be open for Eric Shelton to get some playing time. The second-round pick from last year still doesn’t have an NFL carry and was disappointing in the preseason. But the Panthers kept Shelton because he has potential.

   

The next few weeks could be his last chance to show he can produce.

Posted by Observer Sports on October 10, 2006 at 05:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

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