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August 30, 2007

Bell to toil tonight, but tomorrow ...

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      Quarterback Dalton Bell came into camp with only a slightly better chance of making the Panthers' final roster than we had of seeing a Beatles' reunion.

          Bell was the fourth quarterback, the guy to fill in after the players the team actually cared about had gotten all their work in for the day.  But this week, an unlikely confluence of events has conspired
to bring Bell front and center as Carolina prepares to play Pittsburgh tonight at Bank of America Stadium.

         It started last week, when some big bozo stepped on backup quarterback David Carr's right pinky toe and broke the little guy.  Carr can still throw, but he's hobbled a bit and the Panthers won't
want to overuse him tonight. Then Monday, we found out that third-stringer Brett Basanez will miss the entire season with an injured right wrist.

         That same practice saw starter Jake Delhomme clutch at his side after launching a pass, and, while everyone involved insists it's just a "tweak," Delhomme has gotten little work since.

         With the starters scheduled to play just one or two series tonight, rest assured that Bell will play most of the rest of the game. And the guy with 0.1 percent chance of making the club will get a  chance to show what he can do.

         Bell hasn't been overly impressive so far. Coach John Fox said  some nice things about him the other day, but Fox would say nice things  about the team's baggage handlers after they had dropped the  video equipment.  So watch closely and make your own judgments  tonight.

        With Basanez out, expect Carolina to go with two quarterbacks on  the final roster. But Bell could make the practice squad.  That is, if he doesn't throw for 250 yards tonight. Last week, 14 teams sent scouts to the Panthers' game, and there will probably be more tonight.

       If Bell is too good, he just might be gone.

--Stan Olson

Posted by Observer Sports on August 30, 2007 at 12:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (26)

August 28, 2007

Bridges may be odd man out

Right guard Jeremy Bridges’ arrest just before training camp and subsequent suspension for the season’s first two games left the Panthers in a tough spot. Bridges played in the first exhibition game and the line looked good, but the coaches realized that they had to come up with another unit, since Bridges wouldn’t be around for the opener.

First, they tried center Justin Hartwig in Bridges’ spot, but that didn’t work well. Then Geoff Hangartner got a look there, and most recently rookie Ryan Kalil, a center most of his college career, is filling the slot.

"I think we like the direction we’re heading right now, but nothing is etched in stone yet," offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson said today after practice. I’m writing about Davidson’s efforts to retool the offense in tomorrow’s paper.

It’s important to get the O-line right, because both the passing and running games obviously depend on it. And the most important thing to an O-line is continuity; the players have to almost instinctively know what the guy next to them is going to do in virtually any situation.

Bridges had looked good in training camp at guard; he’s athletic, and played a capable right tackle after being signed off the street early last year. But his mistake may cost him his job even when he gets back. If the five guys playing the first two games — whichever five that may be — do well, Bridges may be the odd man out.

Because after all, it’s all about continuity. -- Stan Olson

Posted by Observer Sports on August 28, 2007 at 04:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (18)

Jenkins key to DL success?

   In a preseason where there haven’t been a lot of positives, there’s been one very pleasant and quiet surprise.

   We haven’t heard much from defensive tackle Kris Jenkins since he did a lengthy interview with The Observer on the first day of training camp – and that’s a good thing. Jenkins cleared the air about his controversial offseason when he did talk and said he was committed to and focused on spending this season with the Panthers.

  Through training camp and three preseason games, Jenkins has done exactly what he said he would. He made it through camp without missing a  practice, which is impressive for a guy who has a history of injury and weight issues.

   His weight appears to be under control. And, most important of all, Jenkins, who the Panthers tried to trade in the offseason, seems to be content.

  Don’t underestimate the importance of a healthy, happy and productive Jenkins in the lineup.

   One scout I know from another team was at the preseason game against New England last week, said Jenkins can be the single-biggest key to Carolina’s season.

   “A few years back, everybody thought they had the best defensive line in the league,’’ the scout said. “That was a few years ago and that’s when Jenkins was healthy. They haven’t been near that level the last few years. But he can change all that because he can be such a presence on the inside.’’

   The scout said Jenkins has looked very good in the preseason, but he hasn’t been impressed by Maake Kemoeatu and Damione Lewis, the other two top tackles.

   “You can live with one of them if Jenkins is the old Jenkins an you’ve got Julius Peppers on the outside,’’ the scout said. “If Jenkins and Peppers are playing well, everybody else on that line suddenly gets a lot better.’’

-- Pat Yasinskas

Posted by Observer Sports on August 28, 2007 at 12:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (22)

August 27, 2007

A fanfest for Panthers sponsors

The Panthers’ practices of today and yesterday were not like any other Panthers’ practices this season. Normally fans aren’t permitted to watch the Charlotte workouts, but for these two sessions, corporate sponsors, their families and friends get to come inside the three-field complex behind Bank of America Stadium and find themselves treated like royalty.

Large canopies are set up facing the fields, with aluminum bleachers and folding chairs spread out beneath them. The invited fans can watch practice and enjoy water, sports drinks or soft drinks from huge coolers lugged out for the occasion. And, when the workout ends, key players sit at tables in front of the tents and sign autographs.

The team put a little synergy to work as well; just outside the complex, the Panthers set up their merchandise trailer, giving the fans a chance to buy that Steve Smith replica jersey ($75) before they went inside to watch Steve Smith practice and to get an autograph from, yep, Steve Smith.

Today’s crowd appeared to number several hundred.-- Stan Olson

Posted by Observer Sports on August 27, 2007 at 04:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)

Update: A safety misses practice

   Update to my last post: Maybe we won't see as much of Nate Salley in Thursday night's game as previously expected. He sat out Monday's practice with the same knee injury that forced him to miss a lot of camp. More than ever, the Panthers have to watch the waiver wire for safety help.

   Also, Jake Delhomme was on the practice field, but didn't participate in team drills. Coach John Fox said Delhomme was getting a day of rest and the "tweak'' the quarterback had in his side Sunday is not an issue.

-- Pat Yasinskas

Posted by Observer Sports on August 27, 2007 at 01:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (23)

Still seeking answers at safety

   Remember back a few weeks ago when the Panthers traded for Chris Harris and some fans thought all the problems at safety were suddenly solved?

   After watching Harris get beat on some deep balls in exhibition games, it seems some are ready to send Harris back to Chicago and hit the panic button. But the truth is what’s happened in the preseason games shouldn’t be that big of a surprise.

   What did you expect from a player who cost the Panthers a fifth-round pick in 2008? The book on Harris has always been that he plays the run well, can come up and make a big hit on a pass play in front of him, but that he has trouble turning and running on the deep ball.

   Harris has his limitations, but he can be a decent strong safety. He’s going to need help, though. For Harris to succeed, the defensive line has to apply steady pressure and the cornerbacks have to play well.

   Harris is definitely a concern. But maybe the bigger concern should be at free safety, a position where the ability to play the deep ball is even more important. Deke Cooper has worked there in the first three preseason games and hasn’t looked all that good. Don’t be surprised if Nate Salley gets a start there in the preseason finale Thursday.

   And don’t be surprised if the Panthers take a long, hard look for safety help on the waiver wire as other teams make cuts in the next week or so.

– Pat Yasinskas

Posted by Observer Sports on August 27, 2007 at 11:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (17)

August 26, 2007

Little man, big block

While fans celebrated wide receiver Keary Colbert’s impressive 48-yard touchdown burst near the end of the first half of Friday’s 24-7 loss to New England, many of the Panthers’ players and coaches were fired up about something else.

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“I had time to throw back there and Keary did great job, but I think the biggest thing was (wide receiver) Steve Smith’s blocking on the play,” quarterback Jake Delhomme said later. “That’s how you get big plays, a receiver blocking on somebody.

       “Keary got past the safety and didn’t have to worry about the cornerback because Smitty was eating him up. That’s how you make big plays.”

       Smith is 5-foot-9 and about half the size of, say, defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, but when he’s not the target of a play, he often throws himself into defensive backs with the same enthusiasm he displays in leaping for a pass.

       It’s something not every wide receiver does

consistently; after all, the glory is in the reception. But it makes the team better and Delhomme, for one, appreciates it.

    BASANEZ OUT

   In case you haven't already seen the breaking news section on Charlotte.com, here's the link to the story on quarterback Brett Basanez being out for the year:

 

Read the story

- STAN OLSON

Posted by Observer Sports on August 26, 2007 at 12:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)

Smith's blocking draws raves

While fans celebrated wide receiver Keary Colbert’s impressive 48-yard touchdown burst near the end of the first half of Friday’s 24-7 loss to New England, many of the Panthers’ players and coaches were fired up about something else.

"I had time to throw back there and Keary did a great job, but I think the biggest thing was (wide receiver) Steve Smith’s blocking on the play," quarterback Jake Delhomme said later. "That’s how you get big plays, a receiver blocking on somebody.

"Keary got past the safety and didn’t have to worry about the cornerback because Smitty was eating him up. That’s how you make big plays."

Smith is 5-foot-9 and about half the size of, say, defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, but when he’s not the target of a play, he often throws himself into defensive backs with the same enthusiasm he displays in leaping for a pass.

It’s something not every wide receiver does consistently; after all, the glory is in the reception. But it makes the team better and Delhomme, for one, appreciates it.

STAN OLSON

Posted by Observer Sports on August 26, 2007 at 11:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

August 25, 2007

Defense not in regular-season form

Reflecting a day later on the Panthers’ 24-7 exhibition loss to New England on Friday, one point stands out above all others: Carolina’s defense is not yet ready for prime time; the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady made that abundantly clear.

Brady and most of his fellow starters piled up 179 yards of total offense by halftime, then added 77 more in the first drive of the second half. That gave the first team a whopping 256 yards in barely more than two quarters of work. Then the starters got the rest of the night off and watched the backups complete the victory.

"We’ve got to work on our chemistry as a defense," safety Deke Cooper said. "We did some things better this week, but we’re not where we’re going to be. It’s still preseason; we’ve still got a lot of work to do. We’ve still got to jell; we’ve got a lot of new guys on defense. It’s stuff we can fix."

The passing defense in particular was a problem; Brady completed 17 of 22 and finished with a passer rating of 128.4. As good as Brady was, Carolina’s secondary and linebackers seemed out of position on occasion, and Brady faced little pressure up front.

If the Panthers are to make a run into the postseason, they know they’ll have to do better.

"We’re a better team than that; we know we played not to our best abilities," said defensive end Stanley McClover.

They have until Sept.. 9, when the season opens in St. Louis, to get better.

STAN OLSON

Posted by Observer Sports on August 25, 2007 at 05:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

August 24, 2007

Why Goings?

Asked the question last week and will ask it again now: Why is Nick Goings returning kickoffs?

I mean, we all know what Goings can do - catch the ball and run about 22 or 23 yards. Or catch the ball and take a knee like he just did at the end of the first quarter.

Why isn't rookie Ryne Robinson, who was out there to be a return specialist, back there? Coach John Fox was asked about that last week and he said something about wanting to see his options. Maybe Fox is saving Robinson for the regular season or maybe Goings will be averaging 22 or 23 yards a return in the regular season.

-- PAT YASINSKAS

Posted by Observer Sports on August 24, 2007 at 09:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (24)

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