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January 25, 2007

Observations from the Senior Bowl

The Panthers have a new offensive coordinator, but they also could be paying the old one.

If Dan Henning, fired earlier this month, does not coach elsewhere next season, the Panthers will be responsible for his salary. A league source said Henning was fired with one year remaining on his contract. Henning’s exact salary isn’t known, but it’s believed to be in the mid-six figures. Henning was replaced by Jeff Davidson on Tuesday night.

LOOKING AT LINEBACKERS. At the end of every Senior Bowl practice in Mobile, Ala., this week, scouts from around the league swarm over the college all-stars. They make conversation to get to know the players or try to set up longer interviews at night. Again, this is the routine for every team and lots of teams talk to players they’ll never consider drafting. But almost every time I saw a Panthers scout talking to a player, it was a linebacker. The Panthers can say all they want about Dan Morgan coming back from his concussion problems, but it’s obvious the team knows it needs more linebackers.

ALLISON INTERVIEWS. Again, don’t read too much into interviews at the Senior Bowl. But the Panthers did sit down with East Carolina wide receiver Aundrae Allison on Wednesday night. Allison isn’t considered a first-round pick, but he’s expected to be taken on the first day of the draft. The Kannapolis native could be a possible target for the Panthers, who likely will be looking for a young third receiver who eventually can become a starter.

Posted by Observer Sports on January 25, 2007 at 06:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

January 22, 2007

McCoy looking like frontrunner

MOBILE, Ala. - A few notes from the first day of Senior Bowl practices.

Panthers coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney said Monday night nothing has been decided about filling the vacant offensive coordinator and offensive line coach jobs. But signs are pointing to quarterbacks coach Mike McCoy being elevated to the coordinator’s job. Interestingly, tight ends coach Dave Magazu spent his time watching offensive linemen during Monday afternoon’s practice. That could be a sign that Magazu, who has experience as an offensive line coach, could switch positions.

Bengals quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese interviewed for the coordinator’s job last week. Sources in the Bengals organization said he’s expects to stay in Cincinnati. Cleveland offensive line coach Jeff Davidson, who took over as Browns offensive coordinator six games into last season, also has interviewed with the Panthers. It isn’t clear what role Davidson interviewed for. But Davidson has experience working with tight ends and could be a candidate for that spot, if Magazu switches to offensive line. Davidson also has interviewed for the offensive coordinator job in Arizona.

LEAK MEASURES IN: Florida quarterback Chris Leak, a Charlotte native, measured in at 5 feet, 11.7 inches as players were sized up for height and weight Monday morning. Falling short of the 6-foot mark wasn’t a big surprise, but Leak will need a strong week of practices and good showings in private workouts and at the scouting combine to help his draft stock. Scouts say his lack of size probably will drop him into the later rounds of the draft.

MAKING THE ROUNDS: Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn isn’t participating in the Senior Bowl, but he’s in Mobile. Quinn isn’t playing because of a minor knee injury. But he made the trip to make himself available for interviews with NFL teams.

Posted by Observer Sports on January 22, 2007 at 08:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

January 21, 2007

Notes from Mobile ...

The Carolina coaching staff will arrive in Mobile, Ala., Monday morning, shortly before the start of practices for the Senior Bowl. Players arrived here Sunday and coaches and scouts from other teams started trickling in. Here are some early notes and observations from the Senior Bowl:

No official announcement has been made about the vacant offensive coordinator position. But the buzz around the league is the Panthers are leaning toward promoting quarterbacks coach Mike McCoy. They also have interviewed Cincinnati quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese and Cleveland offensive line coach Jeff Davidson, who also may be a candidate to coach the offensive line or tight ends. Davidson has experience working with both positions and tight ends coach Dave Magazu has past experience as an offensive line coach.

The Panthers will be scouting every player at the Senior Bowl. But if you had to pick one player they’ll be keeping a very close eye on, it might be Mississippi middle linebacker Patrick Willis. He’s considered the top middle linebacker in this year’s draft class and the Panthers need to solidify that position because of Dan Morgan’s history of injury problems.

It doesn’t really matter what Florida quarterback Chris Leak, a Charlotte native, does in practices and games this week. Most people already are familiar with his passing skills. The biggest moment of Senior Bowl week for Leak comes Monday morning. That’s when players are weighed and measured.

Leak is somewhere around 6-foot, a size considered too small to be an effective NFL quarterback. Leak’s official measurement will come in front of scouts from every team, and it likely will be a big factor in where he’s drafted.

Notre Dame receiver Jeff Samardzija was scheduled to play in the Senior Bowl. But he pulled out a few days ago after signing a five-year contract worth $10. million to play baseball for the Chicago Cubs.

Posted by Observer Sports on January 21, 2007 at 10:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

January 18, 2007

Henning's replacement could be in place next week

Random observations, news and notes after a long drive back from Florida:

A decision on the new offensive coordinator isn’t likely to come until early next week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. The Panthers are looking at some outside candidates, but it would be a mild surprise if quarterbacks coach Mike McCoy isn’t promoted. McCoy is the golden boy on this staff, and several teams tried to talk to him about offensive coordinator jobs in recent weeks.

In each case, the Panthers denied permission and other teams were scared off before asking because they knew what response they would get. McCoy’s agent, Bob LaMonte, also is the agent for coach John Fox.

The Panthers’ failure to reach the playoffs cost defensive end Julius Peppers $500,000. Peppers had an incentive for that much in his contract if the Panthers made the postseason. But Peppers still earned $3.5. million in incentives for making the Pro Bowl and reaching some statistical markers.

File this one away for future reference, because nothing can happen right away. But I keep hearing the Panthers really like Baltimore quarterback Kyle Boller. It makes sense, because Boller is a young guy with some experience and some upside.

He did a good job stepping in when Steve McNair was injured last season and the Panthers would like to have someone like that in place if Jake Delhomme gets injured. Boller also has enough skills to challenge for a starting job if Delhomme struggles like he did much of last season.

The hang-up here is Boller is not scheduled to be a free agent until 2008. He remains under contract (with a very friendly salary-cap number) to the Ravens. Let me emphasize there are no trade talks going on and trades are rare in the NFL. But keep this one in the back of your mind for the spring.

One veteran NFL insider expressed shock that the Panthers fired offensive line coach Mike Maser and defensive backs coach Rod Perry. His rationale was that they both had to make do with a lot of injuries. The insider was more surprised defensive line coach Sal Sunseri, who didn’t have to deal with injuries and got less-than-stellar play from everyone except Peppers, kept his job. Maser is expected to interview for the offensive line coach job with the Arizona Cardinals in the next few days.

For the record, the Panthers now are $3.1 million over the 2007 salary cap ($1.9. million). Only the Washington Redskins ($7.1. million) are in worse shape. The Panthers have to be under the cap for the start of free agency in March.

If Bill Parcells ends up staying in Dallas, look for Dan Henning to join his staff in some capacity. The two are very close, and there are indications Henning doesn’t feel he’s ready for retirement.

Posted by Observer Sports on January 18, 2007 at 11:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

January 09, 2007

Panthers, Redskins already over salary cap

  The Panthers are one of two teams presently over the NFL’s  2007 salary cap, which is set for $109 million.

   While numerous teams have in excess of $20 million to spend in free agency (thanks to a  new Collective Bargaining Agreement that has increased the cap to an all-time high), the Panthers are $1.6 million over the cap. The Washington Redskins are $2.7 million over the limit.

   Teams don’t have to be in compliance with the cap until the start of free agency in March. The current figures don’t reflect some credits the Panthers will receive, but those likely will put the team only slightly under the cap and some roster moves  or contract restructures will need to happen for the Panthers to be active in free agency.

Posted by Observer Sports on January 9, 2007 at 01:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

January 08, 2007

Fox doesn't have escape clause

Got to love the world of Internet rumors. The same medium (not media) that brought us the untrue story of Panthers general manager Marty Hurney having lunch with Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera last week is at it again.

This time, the hot rumor is that Panthers coach John Fox has an escape clause in his contract to jump to the New York Giants if their coaching job comes open. Let’s put that to rest right now.

A source with knowledge of Fox’s contract said there is no such clause. It just doesn’t work that way in the NFL. When the Panthers signed Fox to a five-year contract in March, they were locking him up, not signing a prenuptial agreement. Fox is under contract through 2010 and is one of the league’s higher-paid coaches (averaging somewhere between $4.5 million and $5 million per season).

There’s always going to be speculation about Fox anytime the Giants job comes open because he was incredibly popular with ownership, fans and media when he was the defensive coordinator in New York. As of this moment, the Giants still have a coach, but Tom Coughlin could be fired in the coming days.

Could the Giants make a run at Fox? It’s possible, but not likely. First, members of the Giants ownership group are close to Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, who isn’t interested in losing a coach who brought his franchise back from the dead and took it to a Super Bowl and two NFC Championship Games. Second, it would cost the Giants a fortune. Although the NFL has tried to discourage trading of draft picks for coaches in recent years, it still is legal. But the Giants would have to give up a large chunk of their future to compensate the Panthers. Third, the Giants probably would have to pay Fox a good bit more than he’s making. Fourth, and this might be the biggest of all: Who’s to say Fox would want to go to the Giants? He’s in a situation where he might just need a few offseason tweaks to make the Panthers a Super Bowl contender again. The Giants are dysfunctional. They’ve got a lot of players past their prime and a quarterback (Eli Manning) who has shown nothing. They also need to replace running back Tiki Barber, and that would be difficult to do if you don’t have a first-round pick for the next few years.

Posted by Observer Sports on January 8, 2007 at 04:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

January 03, 2007

Coaching rumors bogus

Hate to even glorify the rumors that fly without attribution on the internet. But there's one that's spinning out of control and it needs to be put to rest. Checked it out last night and, after the laughter of one of the parties alledgedly involved stopped, found out that a high-ranking Panthers official did not have lunch with a defensive coordinator from another team Tuesday.

In related news, John Fox is still under contract as coach of the Carolina Panthers.

Posted by Observer Sports on January 3, 2007 at 09:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)