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June 21, 2007

Hall named NFL Europa Defensive Player of Year

Defensive end Jason Hall, who will be with the Panthers in training camp, has been named NFL Europa Defensive Player of the Year.

Hall had 12 sacks while playing for Cologne. He recorded a sack in seven consecutive games to tie a league record.

Posted by Observer Sports on June 21, 2007 at 11:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (27)

June 19, 2007

Minter, Rucker offer revealing snapshot of offensive woes

Just came from the Charlotte Touchdown Club luncheon where safety Mike Minter and defensive end Mike Rucker were the guest speakers. As always, the two veteran players were entertaining.

But, today, they were especially enlightening. While praising the scheme of new offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson, Minter and Rucker never mentioned the name of previous coordinator Dan Henning. But they did reveal something amazing about Henning’s offense that might explain a lot about last year’s struggles.

Minter and Rucker said that, in practices under Henning, the offense almost always snapped the ball on "One.’’ They said that allowed defensive players to get a jump by anticipating the count.

In the NFL, teams generally do the same things in games that they do in practice, so it’s not much of a stretch to assume that opposing defenses were able to figure that out last season.

Minter said it became obvious in the recently concluded June workouts that Davidson’s offense will use a lot more variety in snap counts. Minter and Rucker also said Davidson’s offense has plenty of other new twists that will give opposing defenses problems.

You can read the whole story, with comments from Rucker and Minter, in tomorrow’s Observer and on charlotte.com.

Posted by Observer Sports on June 19, 2007 at 02:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (30)

June 18, 2007

No need to panic about safety, tight end

If you look at the Panthers’ roster right now, there are two areas of concern that jump out: safety and tight end.

At safety, there’s an aging Mike Minter with no proven player opposite or behind him. At tight end, there are no proven players. You can make a case that both situations are dire.

But think through it a little more: If safety and tight end are your two biggest problems, you’re not really in bad shape.

While those spots are important, they’re not critical. At least not in the Panthers’ schemes. If they had these kinds of issues at, say, running back or linebacker, there’d be cause for panic.

But the Panthers haven’t shown any signs of panic by trying to land a washed-up or overpriced tight end or safety.

The coaching staff believes second-year pro Nate Salley, who worked with the starters in June camp, will be a solid player. The coaches also think highly of journeyman Deke Cooper. If training camp arrives and Salley and Cooper don’t seem ready or Minter has lost another step, there might be a veteran signing (and there will be some decent safeties available at that time). But the Panthers are hoping that doesn’t need to happen.

It’s the same at tight end. Michael Gaines didn’t do much in a starting role last season and veteran Kris Mangum retired. But the coaches believe Gaines has potential. They also believe second-year pro Jeff King and rookie Dante Rosario might have even more potential. And, yep, the Panthers would like the tight ends to be more involved in the passing game, but they’re not looking for the second coming of Antonio Gates.

Maybe the coaches are right. If they’re wrong, either spot can be solidified with a veteran signing down the road.

Posted by Observer Sports on June 18, 2007 at 09:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)

June 14, 2007

Solid safety now available

Maybe this is what the Panthers have been waiting for:

Click here

Hey, it makes a lot of sense. A healthy Donovin Darius is probably better than any safety on the Panthers' roster. But Darius is coming off a broken leg … and he still might be better than any safety on the roster.

Posted by Observer Sports on June 14, 2007 at 12:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (40)

Jenkins future still uncertain

The question that needs to be asked for the next month or so is, should the Carolina Panthers have taken the draft pick and run.

Back in April, league sources said the St. Louis Rams were ready to part with a second-round draft pick in return for defensive tackle Kris Jenkins. The Rams might have been willing to throw in a late-round pick. (Hmm, anybody think the Panthers might have been able to draft a quality safety with that second-round pick?)

But the Panthers held out hard for a first-round draft pick and didn’t get it. So what do they have now?

A once-immensely talented defensive tackle who doesn’t want to be here. And it certainly is debatable the Panthers really want Jenkins here. Bridges have been burned on both sides.

Jenkins agent has said his client will come to training camp, but you have to wonder if it will come to that. Jenkins may still be being dangled as trade bait, but other teams aren’t stupid. They know there are problems between Jenkins and the Panthers and that means his value will drop. If the Panthers and Jenkins decide they can’t co-exist as camp gets closer, Jenkins value might be down to a mid-to-late-round pick.

Or maybe it won’t be even that high. That would leave one other option: Cutting Jenkins and getting nothing in return.

Every day, it seems, St. Louis’ second-round pick looks better and better.

Posted by Observer Sports on June 14, 2007 at 12:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

June 13, 2007

Jerry Richardson honored

Panthers owner Jerry Richardson recently was presented the Theodore Roosevelt Meritorious Achievement Award by the United States Sports Academy. Here are the highlights of the press release sent out by the academy:

DAPHNE, Ala. – The man who left the Carolinas to experience NFL football, then brought NFL football to the Carolinas, was honored by the United States Sports Academy with the Theodore Roosevelt Meritorious Achievement Award during a private presentation in Charlotte.

The 2007 Roosevelt award went to Jerry Richardson, owner of the Carolina Panthers and the first former player since George Halas to own an NFL team. A native of Fayetteville, N.C., Richardson played for the Baltimore Colts from 1959-’60, catching the winning touchdown pass thrown by Johnny Unitas in the 1959 NFL Championship Game.

Richardson, a 13th-round NFL draft pick out of Wofford College, used his $3,500 playoff check to start Spartan Foods, which manages Hardee’s, Quincy’s Steakhouse and Denny’s franchises in the Carolinas. Shares of his company began trading on the New York Stock Exchange in 1976. Richardson accumulated earnings from his restaurant company with a goal of purchasing an NFL franchise.

He officially began lobbying for an NFL team in Carolina in 1988 and was approved for ownership of an expansion team in Charlotte, N.C. in 1993.

After the Panthers qualified for the NFC Championship in 1996 (which they lost to Green Bay) Richardson promised his fans a Super Bowl team within 10 years. The Panthers delivered on Richardson’s promise by winning the NFC title in 2003 and appearing in Super Bowl XXXVIII, making Carolina the youngest franchise to appear in a Super Bowl since the 1971 Miami Dolphins.

After graduating from Fayetteville High School in the spring of 1954, Jerry accepted a $250.00 athletic scholarship to Wofford College in Spartanburg. Richardson went on to receive All-American honors from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.

While Richardson keeps his charitable and civic efforts in the background, he has been honored with the Order of the Palmetto, the highest civic recognition the State of South Carolina can bestow.

The Theodore Roosevelt Meritorious Achievement Award is presented to an athlete in any amateur or professional sport, past or present, who has excelled not only on the playing field, but also as a contributor to both sport and society over at least a quarter of a century.

The Roosevelt Award has been given annually by the Academy since 1989 as part of the Academy’s Awards of Sport Medallion Series, which pays "Tribute to the Artist and the Athlete." Past recipients include President Ronald Reagan, former congressmen Jack Kemp, former Senator Bob Dole, Sen. John McCain and Minnesota State Supreme Court Chief Justice Alan Page. For a complete list of recipients, please visit www.asama.org.

Posted by Observer Sports on June 13, 2007 at 08:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Re-sign Gross, Peppers? We're still waiting

   For months now, Panthers owner Jerry Richardson has been saying he expects Jordan Gross and Julius Peppers to sign long-term contract extensions. Richardson included Steve Smith in that list when he first talked about the topic at the annual NFL meeting in Phoenix in late March. But Smith since has been taken care of with a deal that locks him up through 2012.

   Richarson made another statement about Gross and Peppers a couple weeks ago when they were among five players (Jake Delhomme, Smith and DeShaun Foster were the others) selected to go on a mountain retreat with the owner.

   Read into it what you want, but it’s pretty obvious Richardson’s intent was to let the players know he views them as critical leaders as players like Mike Minter and Mike Rucker near the end of their careers.

   “That’s a point he made, that we’ve got a lot of leaders on this team who have been leaders for a long time,’’ Gross said Wednesday. “He was kind of letting us know what he expects us to do now and try to take the reins a little bit.’’

   Peppers remains under contract through 2008 and Gross is entering the last season of his initial contract. Gross didn’t appear to be too worried about his future when asked about his contract situation.

   “I’m on the team this year and they don’t have to do anything until the season’s over if they don’t need to,’’ Gross said. “I like it here. I enjoy this team. We’ll see what happens.’’

   But Gross said he wouldn’t mind getting a new deal done before training camp starts in late July.

   “It would be nice,’’ Gross said. “I’d like to just so you don’t have to worry about it. I’m not the type of guy that wants to draw anything out or make a big fuss over anything. But, yeah, it would be a little more difficult during the season because you’ve got a lot more on your plate.’’


There's always tomorrow

   When defensive tackle Kris Jenkins didn’t show up for the first day of voluntary workouts three weeks ago, general manager Marty Hurney didn’t sound too concerned. At the time, Hurney even said Jenkins could show up “tomorrow.’’

   A lot of tomorrows have come and gone since then and Jenkins still hasn’t surfaced and, if history holds true, the Panthers probably will end workouts Thursday.

   His agent has said Jenkins is in Maryland tending to family business. His agent has also said Jenkins will be at training camp.

   We’ll believe it when we see it.


End of the road?

   The recreational vehicles that have been a home away from home for the offensive linemen during training camp in recent years are likely a thing of the past. Former center Jeff Mitchell started the trend when he bought an RV and parked it in a Wofford College training camp for a month a few years back. Even with Mitchell gone, the linemen continued the tradition with a borrowed RV last year.

   But Gross said Wednesday those days are probably over.

   “We might switch it to a room with some bean-bag chairs and stuff,’’ Gross said. “The RV gets kind of tight with all the big guys in it.’’

   Gross said the lineman are working on securing a room to use on the Wofford campus for their afternoon rest periods.

Posted by Observer Sports on June 13, 2007 at 02:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

June 12, 2007

Carstens' football future uncertain

   Just finished an interesting interview with Jordan Carstens. The full story will appear in tomorrow's paper and on charlotte.com. But the condensed version is this: The defensive tackle won't know until right before training camp if he'll be able to return to playing football.

   Carstens will have a series of tests in late July to determine if he'll be cleared to play. Carstens missed much of last season after a blood clot was discovered in his lung. Doctors said the blood clot was a side effect of a medicine Carstens was taking for a kidney disease.

   Carstens has been working out with the team's strength and conditioning staff all off-season while doctors continue to experiment with different medications in an attempt to clear the kidney disease.

Posted by Observer Sports on June 12, 2007 at 11:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

June 05, 2007

Panthers' camp schedule changing

   The ultimate creature of habit is making changes.

   For the first time since joining the Carolina Panthers in 2002, coach John Fox will alter his training camp schedule.

   Fox said Tuesday he will go to a schedule that includes more late afternoon/early evening practices.

   “We’re going to change a little bit to try to keep the players fresher and give them more recovery time,’’ Fox said.

   The exact times still are being worked out, but Fox said the team will get away from the usual schedule of practicing at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. each day when camp begins in Spartanburg in late July.

   The big change will be the afternoon practice. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the Panthers will begin practice at about 5 p.m. and end it about 7 p.m. They’ll still practice around 9 a.m. on those days.

   On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the players will lift weights and attend meetings in the morning, but the only practice will be around 3 p.m.

   Fox has had a handful of night practices throughout his tenure. He likes the idea of practicing when the temperature is a little bit lower, but getting done at 9 p.m. caused issues Fox didn’t like.

   “The problem with true night practices in the past has been that they were too wound up and they lose that sleep time,’’ Fox said. “They need that to recover. We’ve kind of blended it the best that we can.’’

Posted by Observer Sports on June 5, 2007 at 12:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (17)

June 04, 2007

Will Hartwig be the center or move to guard?

If a shakeup of the offensive line is in the future, Justing Hartwig won’t be happy, but he won’t fight a move to guard.

A year ago, Hartwig was viewed as the unquestioned starting center after signing a huge contract with the Panthers. He was seen as a younger, more athletic version of Jeff Mitchell, the player he was brought in to replace.

But, after a season in which he barely played because of a groin injury, nothing’s certain for Hartwig. The Panthers used a second-round draft pick on center Ryan Kalil.

"I was really surprised,’’ Hartwig said Monday. "You immediately start to question things about yourself and what the team’s doing. After talking to (offensive line coach Dave) Magazu, he made it clear to me that with the injuries we’ve had, our offensive line struggled at times last year. (Kalil) was the best player available and they did what they needed to do for the franchise. I understand that, but, at the same time, when you’re the starting center, it makes you question things. I know they did what was best for the team. Who knows what will happen moving forward?’’

This much is certain: Former high-priced free agents and early-round draft picks are supposed to be on the field, but the Panthers can play only one center at a time.

The Panthers gave Hartwig some work at guard in the minicamp immediately after the draft, but he’s been back at center during the voluntary June workouts. The Panthers have been saying they want their five best offensive linemen to start and it’s hard to imagine a healthy Hartwig not being one of those five.

But will he be at center?

"I’d like to play center,’’ Hartwig said. "But, if they decide to move me, then it is what it is. I’ve played guard before. I really don’t know what’s going to happen moving forward. But I’m playing center right now, getting all the calls down and learning the new offense. I’m really happy with the offense and the direction we’re going.’’

But it remains possible Hartwig could go in a different direction. If the Panthers really want Kalil to start at center, Hartwig will be thrown into the mix at right guard, where Evan Mathis, Jeremy Bridges and Geoff Hangartner are competing.

Hartwig has some experience at guard, but he’s making it clear his preference is to stay at center.

"I played guard my rookie year,’’ Hartwig said. "I appeared in a handful of games. That’s about it. My career in the NFL has been at center. I started 47 games in three years at Tennessee. That’s where I had my success and that’s where I know that I excel at. I haven’t had my success in the league at guard. I think I could be successful, but I just haven’t done it yet. We’ll see what the future brings.’’

Posted by Observer Sports on June 4, 2007 at 04:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)