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November 01, 2006

Observations from Week 8

Hate to beat a dead horse, but there’s a slightly new twist to the Will Witherspoon saga.
Hindsight is 20-20 when it comes to the Panthers decision to let Witherspoon leave through free agency. At the time, the Panthers’ thinking was that Witherspoon was worth the deal he signed with St. Louis for about $6 million a year. Behind the scenes, the Panthers let it be known they felt they had enough money tied up at linebacker, mainly in Dan Morgan. There also were insinuations that Witherspoon was a good, but not great player.

It made some sense at the time, and you can choose to view the Panthers as a victim of bad luck when Morgan was lost for the season (perhaps forever) with concussion problems. But the Panthers were aware Morgan had serious durability issues, and Witherspoon had provided stability at linebacker the past few seasons.

Here’s where the new information comes in. There was a way the Panthers could have kept Witherspoon for one more year to see if Morgan could stay healthy or Witherspoon could become a playmaker worth a huge contract.

According to a source close to the situation, there was talk of placing the franchise tag on Witherspoon, which would have locked him up for one year. It would have been costly, but it wouldn’t have been a long-term commitment. But that idea was shot down.

That’s looking more and more like a mistake. Again, it’s hindsight: But, if the Panthers had franchised Witherspoon, he would be filling Morgan’s role right now and the Panthers now would jump at the chance to sign him to a long-term deal.

Hartwig on verge of being considered a bust

Back in the spring, Justin Hartwig seemed like the safest signing of the Panthers free agent class.
Signed from the Tennessee Titans to a $17 million contract, he was viewed as a solid center entering his prime. The Sporting New Scouting Guide, about as good a source for player evaluations as you’ll find outside of a scout’s computer, ranked Hartwig as the league’s sixth-best center. Known for his intelligence and work ethic, the assumption was Hartwig would make a very smooth transition and be the leader of the offensive line. There seemed to be absolutely no downside to Hartwig’s signing.

So why is Hartwig suddenly in position to join Sean Gilbert and Chuck Smith on the franchise’s list of high-priced busts? It’s the midpoint of the season and Hartwig has started one game. A groin injury suffered in the season opener put him on the shelf for a few weeks, but he’s been healthy the past few weeks and he’s still not starting.

Second-year pro Geoff Hangartner, rated the league’s 49th-best center by that same guide, remains the starter. Maybe it’s just that John Fox and his staff are like a lot of other coaches: They’re superstitious and don’t believe in lineup changes while the team is playing well. But the Panthers no longer are playing well after a four-game winning streak that seems like months ago.

If Hartwig isn’t in the starting lineup when the Panthers host Tampa Bay after the bye week, then we know there really is a problem. In fairness to Hartwig, he did have offseason hernia surgery and missed a bit of time at the start of training camp. It takes time to learn a new offense, but he should have it down by now.

Hangartner has played well (allowing one sack and not being called for any penalties), but he’s far from a superstar. On paper, Hartwig is a far better talent. Maybe he’ll get back in the lineup and live happily ever after. Or maybe he’ll move to guard or tackle to get a starting job. If he doesn’t do that soon, he can take his place alongside Gilbert and Smith.

Get Delhomme on the move

Just a thought here after watching quarterback Jake Delhomme in Sunday night’s loss to Dallas. Why not let him move around a bit more? No, he’s not Michael Vick and never will be. But the pocket was collapsing all around Delhomme against Dallas, which caused numerous problems. He doesn’t need to be a scrambler, but the Panthers should at least let him start moving outside the pocket just a bit.

Posted by Observer Sports on November 1, 2006 at 11:14 PM | Permalink


"Why not let him (Delhomme) move around a bit more? No, he’s not Michael Vick and never will be. But the pocket was collapsing all around Delhomme against Dallas, which caused numerous problems. He doesn’t need to be a scrambler, but the Panthers should at least let him start moving outside the pocket just a bit"

Do you mean to say that the coaches have such control over Delhomme that he isn't allowed to move around as he sees fit? If so, wow.. I thought Delhomme's immobility was his own fault.

Posted by: Chuck Yates | Nov 2, 2006 12:10:27 AM

My opinion mirrors Mr. Yates. I have assumed it was Jake's unwillingness to scramble that made him look leadfooted. Bottom line, he's GOTTA be able to move more. My seat is in the end zone and I couldn't believe he didn't just run for a few yards for the first down in one drive in the 2nd quarter. Instead he threw a totally lame pass and we were 3 and done.

Posted by: Ron | Nov 2, 2006 1:55:36 PM


Posted by: LNBruno | Nov 7, 2006 8:07:49 PM

Letting Spoon get away will haunt the team for many years. The time was spent to groom him as one of the leagues most consistent talents at linebacker, and all that went to waste. We probably should have cut Morgan two years ago and kept the healthy, budding super-star, playmaker Will Witherspoon. We'll be attempting to retool the linebacking core for the next several seasons.

Posted by: Casey | Nov 8, 2006 2:55:18 PM

The way the LB position has turned out truly casts a negative light on the Coaching and Scouting staffs. Morgan is, once again, on the sidelines for the season. Thomas Davis looks like a chicken with its head cut off when on the field. Draft is doing an admirable job, but he leaves something to be desired. Diggs is okay.

Both staffs did a terrible job in evaluating the talent that the team had and what it could have had through free agency and the draft. Derrick Johnson is making a ton of plays for KC. Witherspoon was very solid for the Panthers before leaving. Once again, Fox's loyalty to one particular player, Morgan in this case, has cost the Panthers.

Posted by: Bama Panther | Nov 9, 2006 10:31:44 AM

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