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March 31, 2008

Panthers awarded extra picks

The Carolina Panthers were awarded two seventh-round picks in the April 26-27 NFL draft as compensation for losing Chris Draft and Vinny Ciurciu via free agency last year, the league announced today.

The Panthers received the 34th and 43rd picks in the last round, the 241st and 250th overall selections.

Draft signed with St. Louis after the 2006 season. Ciurciu signed with Minnesota.

The Panthers now have 10 overall picks in the seven-round draft, including two in the third round and three in the seventh.

The NFL awarded 32 compensatory picks to 15 teams. Under the collective bargaining agreement, a team losing more or better free agents than it acquires in a given year is eligible for compensatory picks.

-- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on March 31, 2008 at 03:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (46)

Dungy high on Panthers signee Brayton

   PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Count Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy among the admirers of Panthers' free agent signee Tyler Brayton, a defensive end.

   The Colts haven't signed any outside free agents, but they tried to land Brayton. He visited with Indianapolis after his trip to Carolina, but eventually chose the Panthers.

   Though Brayton didn't fulfill the promise the Raiders hoped when they selected him in the first round of the 2003 draft, Dungy said the Colts remained high on his potential.

   "We liked Tyler coming out (of college at Colorado)," Dungy said Monday at the NFL owners' meetings. "We had real, real high grades on him."

   Dungy said he told Brayton that when the Colts were deciding who to pick with their 2003 first-round selection (No. 24 overall) they seriously considered taking Brayton before opting for tight end Dallas Clark.

   Brayton wound up going to Oakland eight picks later.

   Brayton started 49 games in his first four seasons with the Raiders, but never settled into a position and recorded only six sacks. He was tried at defensive end, linebacker and defensive tackle. Last season, he didn't start a game, didn't have a sack and had just 11 tackles.

   Despite his struggles in Oakland, Dungy said the Colts were very interested in seeing what he could have done in their defensive system.

   "We didn't see any reason to think we were wrong (in their grades before the '03 draft). We would've liked to have had him," said Dungy.

   Unless the Panthers pick a defensive end high in the draft, Brayton likely will compete with Charles Johnson for the starting right defensive end position.

   LEAGUE NEWS: Patriots owner Bob Kraft revealed today for the first time that former team employee Matt Walsh never signed a confidentiality agreement with the club. Lawyers for Walsh, now working on a golf course in Hawaii, have been negotiating with league attorneys so he can talk to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell about the "spygate" controversy. News reports have indicated that Walsh may have more information about illegal videotaping of opponents by the Patriots, including prior to their Super Bowl game with the St. Louis Rams.

    -- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on March 31, 2008 at 02:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

March 28, 2008

Panthers sign versatile OL Milford Brown

Milfordbrown2 It's beginning to look like the Panthers are out to sign every guard they can find.

They added another Friday, signing unrestricted free agent Milford Brown, who is 6-foot-5 and 330 pounds. Contract terms were undisclosed.

Brown's signing comes on the heels of the team's agreement with another giant guard, Toniu Fonoti, on Tuesday, adding to the impression that Carolina wants to get bigger along the line and exploit the power running game.

Brown, 28, has played with Houston, Arizona and St. Louis over six seasons. He had 16 starts over four seasons with the Texans, then started 12 games for the Cardinals in 2006. With St. Louis in 2007, Brown started nine games at left guard, four at right tackle and two at right guard. The Panthers like linemen with that kind of versatility.

In addition to these two, Carolina has loaded up at the position with Keydrick Vincent and a likely shift of Travelle Wharton from tackle. Geoff Hangartner also returns.  Expect the O-line, which is likely to be bolstered by an offensive tackle in the draft, to have a completely different look this fall.

-- Stan Olson

Posted by Observer Sports on March 28, 2008 at 01:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (94)

March 27, 2008

Panthers attend private workout by Mendenhall

0327mendenhall    Carolina Panthers officials held a private workout on campus today with Illinois running back Rashard Mendenhall (5, at right).
   Mendenhall is rated the No. 2 back available in the draft and could be a good fit in the Panthers' offense with his size (5-10, 225 pounds), power and breakaway explosiveness.
   The Panthers have the 13th pick in the first round, and Mendenhall is projected to go somewhere been picks 7 and 15.
   It is believed that Carolina sent its top officials to the workout, including GM Marty Hurney and head coach John Fox.
   This has been a running back-intensive week for the Panthers' pre-draft scouting process. Hurney attended the Arkansas pro day workout on Tuesday, where he got to watch top-rated back Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, who's projected as a late first- or early second-round pick.
   While there has been heavy speculation that the Panthers are targeting an offensive tackle or defensive end in the draft, there's reason to believe they have legitimate interest in picking one of the top running backs.
   Carolina needs a big back to serve as a compliment to DeAngelo Williams in the running game to help balance the offense to take pressure off of quarterback Jake Delhomme and receiver Steve Smith.
   Mendenhall and Oregon's Jonathan Stewart (5-10, 235 pounds) are the top two first-round prospects that fit the big-back description. Stewart's draft stock has slipped some because he recently underwent toe surgery and might not be available to practice until training camp, or even later.
   Mendenhall was named the Big Ten Conference offensive player of the year last season. He rushed for 1,681 yards and on 262 carries (6.4-yard average). He ran for 17 touchdowns and caught two TD passes.
   Because he didn't become a regular starter until his junior season in 2007, Mendenhall enters the NFL with little wear and tear on his body. He had 388 rushes at Illinois.
   Even though he's one of the bigger backs in the draft, Mendenhall ran the 40-yard dash in a swift 4.45 seconds at the NFL scouting combine. He had 26 repetitions in the 225-pound bench press -- double the 13 that McFadden managed at his pro day workout this week. Mendenhall's short shuttle time of 4.18 was the best among backs who performed the drill at the combine.
 
   -- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on March 27, 2008 at 01:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (92)

March 25, 2008

Sources: Panthers might have interest in Robertson

   Keep an eye on evolving situation involving New York Jets' defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson.

   He might, just might, become a target of the Carolina Panthers.

   The Jets have been trying to trade Robertson, the fourth overall pick in the 2003 draft, for more than a month, but haven't been able to close out a deal.

   They tried to include him in the transaction when they traded for former Panthers defensive tackle Kris Jenkins. But Carolina wanted draft picks -- they received a third- and fifth-rounder -- and didn't want to inherit Robertson's big contract, according to sources.

   Robertson has a $6.8 million base salary next season with a $3 million roster bonus due June 2.

    Cincinnati, Denver and Detroit have been involved in trade talks with the Jets regarding Robertson (6-1, 317 pounds). The Bengals reportedly were going to give the Jets a fourth- and fifth-round pick, but he failed Cincinnati's physical and the deal fell through.

    Robertson has played for several years with a bone-on-bone injury in one of his knees. He hasn't missed a game because of it, but it could shorten his career. (He has started 75 games during his five-year career, recording 256 tackles and 14 1/2 sacks.)

   There is now speculation that the Jets might have to cut him, though they're saying publically that they may keep him. But with all New York has spent in free agency on players like Jenkins, Alan Faneca and Calvin Pace, it's highly unlikely they'll pay Robertson the $3 million roster bonus in June.

   Robertson has been a no-show so far at the Jets' offseason conditioning workouts.

   If the Jets release him, his contract will expire and teams would have the chance to negotiate a new deal more to their liking.

   If that happens, sources say Carolina likely will get involved, though it isn't clear how much they'd be willing to pay. The Panthers desperately need defensive tackle help and Robertson is superior to the other free agents currently available at that position.

   The Jets thought Robertson, 26, wasn't strong enough to play nose tackle in their 3-4 defense and essentially replaced him with Jenkins. But Robertson should be a much better fit in a 4-3 defense, which the Panthers use.

CHARLES CHANDLER

Posted by Observer Sports on March 25, 2008 at 07:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (54)

Panthers sign guard Fonoti

The Carolina Panthers have signed free agent guard Toniu Fonoti, a former second-round draft choice who has been in and out of the league in recent seasons because of weight problems.

The Panthers hope Fonoti (6-foot-4, 350 pounds), can compete for playing time at guard.

San Diego picked him in the second round of the 2002 draft. He started 14 games for the Chargers as a rookie, then spent the next season on injured reserve. In 2004, he started 16 games as San Diego went 12-4. Sports Illustrated named him first team All-Pro.

After another injury and with his weight reportedly up to about 390, the Chargers traded him to Minnesota in 2005. He didn’t last with the Vikings. Atlanta signed him last March, but released him during training camp.

CHARLES CHANDLER

Posted by Observer Sports on March 25, 2008 at 06:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (43)

Smith, Hackett ranked among top WR tandems

According to newly-released rankings by Scouts Inc., the Carolina Panthers have upgraded their receiving corps to one of the best in the NFL with their offseason work.

Scouts Inc. released a ranking of the league’s top 64 receivers on ESPN.com today. Carolina’s Steve Smith and D.J. Hackett ranked as one of the top six starting pairs in the league and the addition of Muhsin Muhammad gave the Panthers one of the three top trios.

The Panthers set out to upgrade their receivers after last season and signed Muhammad and Hackett as free agents. They allowed Keary Colbert and Drew Carter to leave via free agency for the Broncos and Raiders, respectively. Neither of those players made the top 64.

Smith ranked third overall behind New England’s Randy Moss and Dallas’ Terrell Owens. Hackett ranked 34th despite missing 10 games for Seattle last season with a high ankle sprain. Muhammad was rated No. 55.

Here’s a list of the top receiving duos and trios, based on Scouts Inc.’s rankings:

TOP TANDEMS

1. Arizona – Larry Fitzgerald (6), Anquan Boldin (11)

2. Indianapolis – Reggie Wayne (5), Marvin Harrison (13)

3 (tie) New England – Randy Moss (1), Wes Welker (23)

3 (tie) Cincinnati – Chad Johnson (8), T.J. Houshmandzadeh (16)

5 (tie) Carolina – Steve Smith (3), D.J. Hackett (34)

5 (tie) Pittsburgh – Hines Ward (18), Santonio Holmes (19)

TOP TRIOS

1. Indianapolis – Wayne, Harrison, Anthony Gonzalez (47)

2. Cincinnati – C.Johnson, Houshmandzadeh, Chris Henry (44)

3. Carolina – Smith, Hackett, Muhsin Muhammad (55).

4. Dallas – Terrell Owens (2), Patrick Crayton (45), Terry Glenn (53).

5. Cleveland – Braylon Edwards (7), Donte Stallworth (37), Joe Jurevicious (60).

CHARLES CHANDLER

Posted by Observer Sports on March 25, 2008 at 04:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (28)

March 24, 2008

Panthers, others wait to see Otah

Originally, this might have been the day for some Panthers brass to descend on Pittsburgh, where the university of the same name was holding its pro day workouts.

Pitt’s Jeff Otah is considered by most to be one of the top four offensive tackles in the NFL draft.

But today’s drills went on without Otah, who is sidelined with a high left ankle sprain and is believed to be about two weeks away from being back at full strength. He’s now scheduled to work out for the NFL folks on April 9.

Otah, who is 6-foot-6 and 322 pounds with long arms that give him excellent leverage, is a possible first-round pick in the April 26-27  draft but is listed behind fellow tackles Jake Long, Ryan Clady and Chris Williams on many draft lists. He was an all-Big East pick last season and started 12 games despite being bothered by the ankle.

-- Stan Olson

Posted by Observer Sports on March 24, 2008 at 08:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (26)

ESPN2 mock draft: The Panthers select ...

  Participated in a Mock Draft on ESPN2's "First Take" this morning and was surprised to find three top offensive tackles available at Pick No. 13 along with Florida defensive end Derrick Harvey.

  "First Take" asked beat writers from every NFL city to participate and to make the selection that they thought the teams they covered would make. Apparently, one pick is being made per weekday leading up to the draft.

  The Panthers would love to have the buffet table that I found today when asked to make the No. 13 selection. The only offensive tackle who had been selected was Michigan's Jake Long.

  That meant the tackles still on the board were Boise State's Ryan Clady, Vanderbilt's Chris Williams and Pittsburgh's Jeffrey Otah. So was Harvey, the Gators' pass-rushing specialist.

  It is almost inconceivable that that foursome will actually be avalable when the Panthers' turn to pick comes on April 26.

  My pick was Clady. He's a left tackle who is projected by some draft analysts to be a top 5 or top 10 pick. Panthers officials attended his March 3 workout and had lunch with him.

  If the Panthers get Clady, they can switch Travelle Wharton to left guard and probably leave Jordan Gross at right tackle instead of moving him to the left side.

  Here's a look of the first 13 picks as they went on "First Take." Just for fun, who would you have taken at No. 13 based on the way writers around the country made the first 12 picks as listed here?

1. Miami -- Chris Long, Virginia DL
2. St. Louis -- Jake Long, Michigan OT
3. Atlanta -- Glenn Dorsey, LSU DT
4. Oakland -- Vernon Gholston, Ohio State DE
5. Kansas City -- Sedrick Ellis, USC DT
6. New York Jets -- Darren McFadden, Arkansas RB
7. New England -- Aquib Talib, Kansas CB
8. Baltimore -- Matt Ryan, Boston College QB
9. Cincinnati -- Phillip Merlin, Clemson DE
10. New Orleans -- Leodis McKelvin, Troy CB
11. Buffalo -- Malcolm Kelly, Oklahoma WR
12. Denver -- Rashard Mendenhall, Illinois RB
13. Carolina -- Ryan Clady, Boise State OT

-- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on March 24, 2008 at 03:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (46)

March 21, 2008

Chris Williams at Vanderbilt's Pro Day

Every one of the NFL's 32 teams had a representative at Vanderbilt's Pro Day today, and many - including the Panthers - were there to look at offensive tackle Chris Williams. In the morning workout, Williams did primarily position drills under the instruction of Washington assistant head coach for offense Joe Bugel, letting his NFL Scouting Combine numbers stand.

Williams measured out to 6-foot-6 1/4 and weighed in at 320 pounds, according to Larry Leathers of the school's media relations department.

With the Panthers picking 13th and Williams climbing a bit recently in some mock drafts, he could be an important target for Carolina. He is considered one of four offensive tackles almost certain to go in the first round, and trails only Michigan's Jake Long and Boise State's Ryan Clady on many lists. Long and Clady, though, will be well out of Carolina's range unless the Panthers trade up. Also in the first-round mix is Pittsburgh's Jeff Otah.

Williams had a remarkable senior season for the Commodores, starting all 12 games at left tackle and allowing just one sack and one pressure in 836 snaps. He had the highest rating for offensive consistency (85.67 percent) of any down lineman in the SEC, and was Vanderbilt's first All-SEC first-team choice at the position since 1984.

The day was a big one for Vandy, which had 12 players work out. Among them was highly thought-of wide receiver Earl Bennett, who caught passes from former Commodores' standout Jay Cutler.--STAN OLSON

Posted by Observer Sports on March 21, 2008 at 05:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (53)

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