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January 25, 2008

Some receivers Panthers should consider

New Panthers beat writer Charles Chandler and I were noodling over the free agent receivers out there that could conceivably give a significant boost to the Carolina passing game and relieve pressure on Steve Smith.

The ideal candidate would be a big, possession receiver like Keyshawn Johnson used to be, but there are situations where a burner might work as well. Then there's Randy Moss, who can do everything, but New England won't be letting him get away.

Keep in mind we still don't know what kind of salary restraints the team will be working under. Among those free agents who might be considered:

- Ernest Wilford, Jacksonville -- he's got good size (6-4, 223 pounds) and is strong and physical.

- D.J. Hackett, Seattle -- Finished the season strong, although the 6-2 foot, 208-pound Hackett has had some injury problems.

- Bernard Berrian, Chicago -- Fast and not that big at 6-1 but still good as a possession guy--71 catches in 2007.

- Andre Davis, Houston -- Fast, and with the added benefit of being a top kick returner. He played well when andre johnson was injured.

- Bryant Johnson, Ariz. -- Still a lot of potential, but not a lot of room for him with the Cardinals. He's a prototypical big receiver at 6-3 and 216. There are more, of course, but these are some to chew on. -- STAN OLSON

Posted by Observer Sports on January 25, 2008 at 05:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (105)

Welcome back, Charles Chandler

    The Observer's Charles Chandler, who has spent the last half-dozen years as an investigative reporter, is returning once more to something he knows and loves. Chandler is saddling up and jumping back onto the Panthers' beat, which he so ably covered from the team's first season in 1995 through 2001.  He fills the slot vacated by Pat Yasinskas, who has moved on to ESPN.com.

           Charles, who won a North Carolina Press Award for his work on a number of Panthers' involvement with steroids in 2007, knows the league backwards and forwards and has loads of longtime contacts. Football is his passion, and you'll see that in his work. Join me in welcoming him back, and expect to see him blogging here with me before long. He'll be at the Super Bowl next week while I take a little R&R. 
Welcome back, CC!

-- Stan Olson

Posted by Observer Sports on January 25, 2008 at 11:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (19)

January 23, 2008

Pinpointing Panthers' priorities

As the Panthers’ brass study talent during Senior Bowl practices this week, it’s obvious to everyone that improvements need to be made in a number of areas. But which is most important?

I believe the No.. 1 target should be defensive end, particularly with the very possible retirement of veteran Mike Rucker. Stanley McClover and Charles Johnson have potential physically, but didn’t appear to be ready yet during the season. Julius Peppers can be expected to bounce back from a sub-par season, but he’ll need some help, because the Panthers’ defense needs a strong pass rush from the front four to work well.

But other positions are also iffy. Running back, where DeShaun Foster struggled for much of the season. Receiver, where a reliable No.. 2 must be found to take the pressure off Steve Smith.

The offensive line, which spent the year looking for consistency.

What do you guys think? What is this team’s biggest need going into next season?

By the way, former Panthers offensive coordinator Dan Henning is in the running for offensive coordinator in Miami, where his old friend, Bill Parcells, holds sway. And former Carolina offensive line coach Mike Maser already has signed on with the Dolphins.

Posted by Observer Sports on January 23, 2008 at 02:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (119)

January 21, 2008

A little more on Moore, Beason

With Panthers general manager Marty Hurney, coach John Fox and an army of scouts descending on Mobile, Ala., to observe Senior Bowl invitees this week, and with the Super Bowl set for the following weekend, things are expected to be fairly quiet around the team while the staff gears up for what should be a busy offseason. That gives me another chance to mention Carolina quarterback Matt Moore, who by starting the team’s final three games after a lot of people had quit paying attention, became a pretty good story.

Moore’s first rookie start, in Carolina’s 13-10 victory against Seattle on Dec. 16, produced the best passer rating ever for a Panthers rookie in his first game, 92.8. That’s not overwhelming – only three rookies made starts at the position for the team in the past. Chris Weinke had the next-best mark (89.8), Kerry Collins was at 76.8 and Randy Fasani turned in an almost unheard-of 0.0. If you don’t remember that one, count your blessings; Fasani was working against visiting Tampa Bay in 2002. He completed 5 of 18 passes for 46 yards, with no touchdowns and three interceptions.

But back to Moore. He was one of three NFL rookies to start at least three games this season, and his 86.1 rating for those three was ahead of the first three efforts of Buffalo’s Trent Edwards (76.3) and Miami’s John Beck (57.2). The kid gets it, and while Carolina needs help at a lot of positions, quarterback isn’t one of them if starter Jake Delhomme’s recovery continues with no problems.

-- While we’re giving kudos in a season that had few for Panthers fans, consider rookie middle linebacker Jon Beason. His 160 tackles are a team record, breaking the old mark of 158 set by Michael Barrow in 1998. And Beason crushed the Panthers’ rookie record, Lester Towns’ 106 in 2000. With the re-signing of Na’il Diggs on the weakside and Thomas Davis young and still reaching for his full potential on the strongside, linebacker will not be a problem for Carolina in 2008.

-- I thought Michael Procton’s comments concerning injuries to key players on the various playoff teams on the previous blog was interesting and on the mark. While the Panthers didn’t adjust to their injuries as well as they could have, that doesn’t change the fact that injuries are a legitimate excuse, even though every coach in every sport will tell you on the record that they are not. Listen to them when the tape recorders and cameras aren’t rolling. Key injuries will kill a team.

By the way, Carolina was 4-2 in games started by Delhomme and Moore and 3-7 when David Carr and Vinny Testaverde opened under center.

-- Stan Olson

Posted by Observer Sports on January 21, 2008 at 05:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (61)

January 18, 2008

Who should be in Hall of Fame class?

This is one of those great offseason debates; who should get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Seventeen potential members were nominated this week, but a maximum of seven and a minimum of four can get in in any given year. The Observer's Charles Chandler is among an exclusive group of sportswriters who make the final decision. They'll vote, as they do every year, the Saturday of Super Bowl Week--and at the Super Site, this year outside of Phoenix.

The nominees include wide receiver Cris Carter and cornerback Darrell Green as first-timers on the ballot, along with a dozen other modern era players-- The other modern-era player finalists include defensive ends Fred Dean and Richard Dent; linebackers Randy Gradishar, Derrick Thomas and Andre Tippett; guards Russ Grimm, Bob Kuechenberg and Randall McDaniel; punter Ray Guy; wide receivers Art Monk and Andre Reed; and tackle Gary Zimmerman. Also in the mix is contributor Paul Tagliabue and senior committee nominees Marshall Goldberg, a back for the Chicago Cardinals when players went both ways, and KC cornerback Emmitt Thomas.

        This is a tough call; who are your seven? Or any number down to four, if seven don't deserve selection.

        I'm not sure about Tagliabue. Do we put a commissioner in just because he was one? The league made dramatic strides under his administration, but more than anything, he simply didn't mess up what Pete Rozelle really got rolling. The NFL was ready to take off, and nothing was going to stop it.

Darrell Green, a four-time all-pro who played for two decades, is a lock in my mind. And I loved watching Chris Carter run and catch. Despite being first-timers, I'd vote them both in. And Zimmerman made the NFL's all-decade team for the 1980s and '90s. How is he not in already?

Is Monk, with his zillion or so catches, worthy?

        The seniors have a good shot because they are vetted out of a whole bunch of guys that didn't make it in their early years of eligibility. Gradishar becomes a senior after this year, at the mercy of the veterans' committee, and that's not necessarily a good thing, because the pool of seniors is so deep.

I would probably go with Green, Carter, Guy (who would be the first punter-only to make it), Zimmerman, Thomas and Monk.

My support for Guy comes from the fact that he did so much toward redefining the role, even though there are guys with better legs out there today. My support for Monk is because I always liked watching him, and I'm tired of seeing him hanging out there year after year.

        Anyway, make your picks, this is a fan's participation blog, as you guys never tire of letting me know!

-- Stan Olson 

Posted by Observer Sports on January 18, 2008 at 11:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (37)

January 15, 2008

Four QB starters in a season IS new for Panthers

After writing about teams that have started four quarterbacks in one season, I started wondering if it had ever happened with the Panthers.

It never has; Carolina used more than two starters in the same year just once, in 2002, coach John Fox's first season. Rodney Peete was the regular with 14 starts, but he had nagging injuries that year and was replaced in the starting lineup once by Randy Fasani and once by Chris Weinke.

More interesting stuff; I got an email from Ben Ellington, who did a ton of research on the subject with the help of Pro-Football-Reference.com. He found 30 teams that used four starting QBs since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. He also determined that the average record of those teams was 7-9, same as Carolina's this past season. And that 17 had losing records, 11 had winning seasons and two broke even.

I don't expect this to happen again with the Panthers in 2008. Starter Jake Delhomme's recovery continues to go smoothly, and Delhomme is not injury-prone, having started 59 straight games for Carolina at one stretch. Should something happen to him, likely backup Matt Moore (David Carr will probably be gone) also appears durable. Having the same quarterback week after week would significantly stabilize this team.

•  Chris Phillips of Mooresville pointed out that the Panthers weren't the only team to start four quarterbacks this year. San Francisco made it when former Panther  Weinke started the season finale, joining Trent Dilfer, Shaun Hill and Alex Smith. -- STAN OLSON

Posted by Observer Sports on January 15, 2008 at 02:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (28)

January 14, 2008

Panthers interested in Slaton?

    Got an email asking me if the Panthers would have any interest in drafting West Virginia running back Steve Slaton, a tough and shifty runner who has just declared for the NFL draft, forgoing his senior year.
          I would think not; if the Panthers are to make changes at that position, expect them to look for a bigger back than Slaton, who is listed at 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds. In other words, similar to current
backup DeAngelo Williams. Carolina would want a back who can run inside and move the pile, someone who can alleviate the problems the team had in short-yardage situations last year. Someone like Stephen Davis, who set a team rushing record of 1,444 yards while leading the Panthers to the Super Bowl during the 2003 season.
    There aren't a lot of highly rated big backs in the draft so far, although Oregon's Jonathan Stewart, at 5-11 and 235 pounds, is intriguing.  Stewart is projected, though, as a high first-round pick, and Carolina doesn't select until No. 13. In addition, it's by no means certain that the Panthers would want to use their first pick on that position. Other spots, including defensive end and offensive tackle, are also likely under consideration.
    There are some interesting names further down that running back list, including Tulane's Matt Forte and Central Florida's Kevin Smith.
         For more on the running game, check out today's Charlotte

--Stan Olson

Posted by Observer Sports on January 14, 2008 at 12:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (50)

January 12, 2008

Seahawks prove discipline, limiting mistakes improve playoff chances

Sitting here watching the Seattle-Green Bay playoff game bull its way through all that snow, I couldn't help but think about an incredible stat produced by the Seahawks this season.

During the 16-game regular-season schedule, Seattle was charged with 3.69 penalties per game, the fewest by an NFL team in 34 seasons. Their totals of 59 penalties and 428 penalty yards were also, obviously, league lows.

Carolina, by comparison, committed 95 penalties for 800 yards. That isn't a swipe at the Panthers. Green Bay, for instance, committed 113 penalties for 1,006 yards, so you don't HAVE to avoid penalties to win.

What it does say is that Seattle coach Mike Holmgren's teams are remarkably disciplined, and rarely lose games by making too many mistakes in that department. If you don't beat yourselves, your chances of making the playoffs improve dramatically, and Holmgren's Seahawks are in the postseason for the fifth straight season.

The last team to better Seattle's penalty stat was the 1973 New England Patriots of Chuck Fairbanks, who had 3.57 penalties per game.


Posted by Observer Sports on January 12, 2008 at 06:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (28)

January 10, 2008

Future math: What follows 7-9?

The Carolina Panthers have been in existence now for 13 seasons, and have finished 7-9 in six of them, making that record easily their most prolific. That includes this season. So what happens after this 7-9? We thought we’d look back at the previous 7-9s to see if we could deduce a trend.

1995: The first season, and first 7-9 finish. The Panthers followed it with a surprising 13-5 record and a loss to Green Bay in the NFC Championship game.

1997: A disappointing collapse to 7-9, the year that Kerry Collins resigned as quarterback. Followed by a 4-12 mark in ’98, coach Dom Capers’ last season.

2000: Yet another 7-9 in coach George Seifert’s second season. That wasn’t exactly the start of something good, though; 2001 was a great movie and Carolina’s worst season ever, at 1-15.

2002: Coach John Fox’s first season, and a sign of good things to come when the Panthers won four of their past five to finish 7-9. The following season, they went to the Super Bowl.

2004: With 14 players on injured reserve, Carolina started 1-7 before finishing strong to again end at 7-9. With many observers predicting another Super Bowl trip the following year, the Panthers stumbled to 8-8 in 2005.

2007: Yet another 7-9, but one reached with two wins in the team’s last three games.

So do we have a trend? Two of the first five 7-9s were followed by long runs into the playoffs. Two others were followed by utter collapses. And one, 2004’s effort, brought mediocrity.

It’s obvious that some of the 7-9 units were on the way up; others, on the way down. They are only numbers of course, but which way will they go in 2008?

Posted by Observer Sports on January 10, 2008 at 05:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (55)

January 07, 2008

Everyone standing pat, except Pat

Folks, you probably saw Pat Yasinskas’ goodbye column in Sunday’s Observer, and if you didn’t I’ll tell you that he got a job covering the NFC South for ESPN.com and he’ll relocate to sunny (and warmer) Tampa. Pat is a very good friend and was a pleasure to work with for six years, and I’ll miss him. I know a lot of you will, too. Just wanted y’all to be aware of what’s going on when his picture comes off the blog.

His replacement hasn’t been named yet. I’ll fill you in when it happens, or maybe Sports Editor Mike Persinger will, since it’s his call. If it was up to me, I’d just keep Pat, but it’s not, so wish him luck. If the Panthers are any good in 2008, he’ll be here to watch them in his new job. If not, we might find him at the Old (or is that Olde?) Absinthe House in New Orleans ...

While one huge change occurs. Two others don’t. Carolina general manager Marty Hurney confirmed today that he and coach John Fox are staying put. I think he also understands that results are needed this year, but I believe owner Jerry Richardson made the right call. There are a few things to fix, but after reaching two NFC title games in their first six years together, these two should have at least another year to fix them.


Posted by Observer Sports on January 7, 2008 at 09:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (91)