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July 31, 2007

Observations from Tuesday's practice

Wide receiver Steve Smith didn't practice. He's not injured. He was just getting a day of rest.

The wide receiver position is going to be a lot more competitive than a lot of people think when it comes time to trim the roster. Smith and Dwayne Jarrett are locks and Drew Carter is safe. Rookie Ryne Robinson is going to make the team as a return man. Although it remains to be seen if Robinson will have any impact as a receiver, he’ll take up a roster spot. That’s four receivers and the Panthers will carry either five or six. Keary Colbert is also firmly in the mix for playing time, but Taye Biddle and Chris Horn have to be factored in. Biddle is making some plays as a receiver and is showing signs he can fill some of the special teams roles previously held by Karl Hankton and Horn also has the tools to be a special teams regular.

By the way, Carter made a catch in traffic in the end zone Tuesday. That’s at least the second time that’s happened this camp and it could be a sign of huge progress because Carter never has been much of a factor in that situation before.

There’s been a little more noise than last year in practices. That’s because the offense no longer is snapping the ball on "one’’ every play. You can hear Jake Delhomme and David Carr mixing up the counts a lot and that’s caused some movement on the defensive front.

It’s easy to see the tight ends are going to have bigger roles in the passing game. Jeff King continues to catch every thing thrown his way. Even Michael Gaines, a non-factor most of last year, has been making some plays.

Speaking of tight ends, rookie Dante Rosario is doing double duty, getting work at tight end and fullback.

Here’s a scene that Panthers fans should hope to see a lot more of this season: Running back DeAngelo Williams ran a go-route in Tuesday’s practice, burned the defensive back and caught a bomb from Delhomme.

It will be interesting to see if running back Nick Goings stays on the roster now that offensive coordinator Dan Henning is gone. Goings was a Henning favorite, but he could be in jeopardy if Eric Shelton (not a Henning favorite) shows any signs he’s capable of being the third running back.

Defensive end Julius Peppers continues to do things defensive ends aren't supposed to be able to do. He intercepted a Jake Delhomme pass.

Very quietly, defensive end Dave Ball continues to have a nice camp. Ball had a play where he broke through the line and would have sacked David Carr, if contact on quarterbacks wasn't banned.

Posted by Observer Sports on July 31, 2007 at 06:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (43)

Diggs' injury 'just a hiccup'

SPARTANBURG -- Doesn’t sound as if the hamstring injury to Na’il Diggs is serious.

"This is unfortunate, but it’s just a little hiccup for me," Diggs said at lunch Tuesday. "It’s a very small bump in the road. I’ll get over it very fast and just get back to doing what I’m doing.’’

Diggs was injured Monday morning and sat out Monday night’s practice. He said he didn’t strain the hamstring but is experiencing some tightness. He probably won’t practice Tuesday afternoon but could return in the next few days. With rookie Jon Beason holding out, second-year pro James Anderson will work in Diggs’ spot with the first team.

Posted by Observer Sports on July 31, 2007 at 02:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

July 30, 2007

Starting safeties: Salley, Cooper?

   SPARTANBURG – On Monday morning, the Panthers lined up with Nate Salley and Deke Cooper as their first-team safeties as veteran Mike Minter strolled the sidelines.

   It was only one practice, but don’t completely rule out the possibility of the Panthers opening the season with Salley and Cooper as their starters. As much as fans might not want to hear it, the popular Minter could end up spending his final NFL season as a backup.

   Even though the Panthers didn’t address the safety position in free agency or early in the draft, Minter, who took a cut in pay to backup money, could end up being a reserve. His age started to show last season. Although Salley and Cooper aren’t household names and don’t have much experience, they do have young legs.

   Maybe periodic rest sessions will keep Minter fresh enough to start. Or maybe the time Minter spends on the sidelines will show the Panthers the upside of having young legs at safety.

Posted by Observer Sports on July 30, 2007 at 05:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (18)

Carr awkward but effective

  SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Observations from Monday morning’s practice:

  • Backup quarterback David Carr has one of the most awkward throwing motions in the NFL. More often than not, he looks like a baseball pitcher stuck somewhere between over the shoulder and sidearm. But it doesn’t really seem to impact his throws. Carr’s accuracy has been good. Coach John Fox said there are no plans to tinker with Carr’s motion as he pointed to quarterbacks like Bernie Kosar, who have had success with awkward motions.
  • Coaches and players always like to say defenses are ahead of offenses at this point of camp. That’s largely true. But the exception is Steve Smith. The wide receiver has been absolutely abusing the defensive backs.
  • The more I see of second-year quarterback Brett Basanez, the more I like him. Don’t get too excited yet. Basanez is raw, doesn’t have great size and won’t be anything more than a third-string quarterback this year. But he’s showing the kind of intangibles that could move him up the depth chart in a year or two.
  • Rookie linebacker Jon Beason missed his fourth practice because of a contract holdout. Unless there's a miracle, that number will climb to five tonight.
  • We all know Drew Carter is a deep threat. But Carter had a nice grab in traffic in a short route. That’s something he hasn’t been able to do in the past. If Carter can do that with any kind of consistency, he’ll earn a lot more playing time.
  • One under-the-radar player who’s been impressive so far is defensive end Dave Ball. Keep an eye on him because he could sneak his way onto the roster. Backups Stanley McClover and Charles Johnson are pass rushers, but Ball can play the run and that’s going to help his stock.
  • The full story will be in tomorrow’s paper and on charlotte.com. But rookie center Ryan Kalil is off to a great start, despite having to deal with a major personal issue.

Posted by Observer Sports on July 30, 2007 at 03:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

July 28, 2007

Offensive line moves interesting

Interesting development at the night practice: Left tackle Travelle Wharton, who’s coming off a knee injury, sat out, as planned. Wharton had worked with the first team in the morning session and the rest of the line featured Mike Wahle at left guard, Justin Hartwig at center, Jeremy Bridges at right guard and Jordan Gross at right tackle.

With Wharton sitting out, Wahle shifted out to left tackle. Bridges and Gross still lined up on the right side. But Hartwig slid over to left guard and rookie Ryan Kalil took over at center.

Keep an eye on this one. Might be only a matter of time before Kalil is the starting center and Hartwig is playing one of the guard spots, namely the right guard spot because Bridges has to serve a suspension the first two games.

PULL ‘EM UP

Here’s a tale that provides a bit of advice for those planning trips to Spartanburg for night practices.

The bugs were swarming tonight and several writers mentioned their legs were getting attacked. As a media relations intern dutifully scurried for a can of bug spray, a writer I’ll call "Stan" offered this bit of wisdom: "The first line of defense is to pull up your socks."

Posted by Observer Sports on July 28, 2007 at 11:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Weighty words from Jenkins

SPARTANBURG Just spent about an hour transcribing tape of an extensive and enlightening interview with defensive tackle Kris Jenkins. Can’t reval the details yet because the full story doesn’t run until Sunday’s paper.

But let’s just say Jenkins is asked exactly how much he’s weighing these days. He’s also got some harsh words for the folks who’ve called him fat and injury-prone, and a big surprise for all those who thought he spent the last few months away from the team because he was angry about attempts to trade him or his contract situation.

The full piece will be in Sunday’s paper and on charlotte.com tomorrow morning.

Posted by Observer Sports on July 28, 2007 at 06:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

July 27, 2007

Training camp predictions

Five training camp predictions on the eve of the first practice:

1. Ryne Robinson will be the first rookie to jump out. With linebacker Jon Beason likely to hold out and receiver Dwayne Jarrett and center Ryan Kalil likely to begin practice as backups (coach John Fox almost always defers to veterans), Robinson will be the first rookie to get a significant chance to show his skills. He’s starting off with the team expecting him to handle punt and kickoff returns.

2. You won’t see much of defensive end Mike Rucker, safety Mike Minter and middle linebacker Dan Morgan. In Minter’s case, it’s age. In Morgan’s, it’s health concerns. In Rucker’s, it’s a bit of both. They’ll practice on a limited basis because Fox knows it’s more important to have them healthy for the regular season than wearing down in training camp.

3. DeShaun Foster will open training camp as the starting running back. DeAngelo Williams will end camp as the starting running back. Remember, Fox will give the nod to the veteran at the start. But it became obvious at the end of last season that Williams was the better runner. This will play out as camp goes on.

4. It will take some time to play out, but Kalil will be the starting center and Justin Hartwig will start at right guard. The team will try a bunch of different combinations on the offensive line. But the goal is to get the best five linemen on the field. Hartwig and Kalil fit that description along with tackles Jordan Gross and Travelle Wharton and left guard Mike Wahle.

5. If he’s not the starting tight end tomorrow morning, Jeff King will fill that role before long. He’s not the pass catcher Wesley Walls was and he’s not the blocker that Kris Mangum was. But he’s got decent skills in both areas and seems to be a natural fit in coordinator Jeff Davidson’s offense.

Posted by Observer Sports on July 27, 2007 at 07:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (20)

Beason's agent: 'We're working on it'

0727beason   SPARTANBURG – Just spoke with Michael Huyghue, the agent for first-round pick Jon Beason, who did not report to camp with the rest of the players this morning.
   Huyghue said contract talks with the team are continuing, but no deal is imminent. If Beason isn’t signed before tomorrow morning’s first practice, he’ll become the first rookie to hold out since Bruce Nelson in 2003.
   “It’s everybody’s goal to get him in there for the first practice,’’ Huyghue said. “We’re working on it and we’ll see what happens.’’

Posted by Observer Sports on July 27, 2007 at 02:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (33)

Jenkins reports, other camp notes

   SPARTANBURG -- Some notes and observations as players reported to training camp:

0727jenkins

  • Kris Jenkins showed up at training camp with his personal trainer. Jenkins didn’t talk, but his trainer did. That story will be in tomorrow’s paper. The nutshell version: Jenkins worked out with the trainer during the offseason, instead of working with the team. The trainer claims Jenkins is in great shape. Jenkins definitely looked slimmer than when he showed up for a mini-camp in May, but didn’t appear to be quite down to the 335 pounds he’s listed at.
  • Second-round picks Ryan Kalil and Dwayne Jarrett have signed their contracts. First-round pick Jon Beason still hasn’t signed, but talks are ongoing.
  • Coach John Fox will address the media later this afternoon and you can bet he’ll be asked about Beason’s status, the Jeremy Bridges’ situation and about any players that didn’t pass their physical exams.

Posted by Observer Sports on July 27, 2007 at 01:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

July 26, 2007

It's hot in The 'Burg'

SPARTANBURG – Ah, Spartanburg in late July.

First observation as I pulled into The ‘Burg: It’s still here.

Anyway, to get into a Spartanburg frame of mind, I played a little game driving down. Decided to see which number was higher – the increase on my car thermometer or the number of Waffle House’s spotted from start to finish.

Left Charlotte with the temperature at 90 degrees. Got to Spartanburg and it was 98.

Coincidence or not, I counted eight Waffle House’s en route.

It would seem to be a tie, so let’s go to the tie-breaker. The restaurants get the nod because there were also three Mr. Waffle’s on the way.

Stay tuned to charlotte.com this evening for updates on possible draft-pick signings.

Posted by Observer Sports on July 26, 2007 at 05:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

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