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July 31, 2008

Q&A with Julius Peppers

SPARTANBURG -- Defensive end Julius Peppers gave his first interview of the 2008 season Thursday afternoon. He talked about switching positions from left end to right end, how motivated he is for the upcoming season, his expiring contract and the effect of an illness that forced him to miss several days of last season's training camp. -- David Scott

Here's a complete transcript of the interview with Peppers, who had a disappointing '07 with only 2.5 sacks:

Q. With your position change, does it feel like you're getting a new beginning?

It is a new beginning, it's a new season. I'm excited about it and about getting started.

Q. What do you like about the right end spot?

I'm comfortable over there on the right side. I've played it in college and in high school (the times i did play defense in high school). The left-handed stance is my natural stance; the left hand is my strong hand. So I have a lot more moves and power available to that side.

Q. How much difference might it have made if you had made the switch a few years ago?

I can't say there would have been a difference because it didn't happen. I'm on that side now. We'll see now if I'm better on the left or the right.

Q. Can you talk about your off-season and the training you did?

I just worked out. I put a lot of time and effort into getting in shape and being ready to come to camp and get myself ready for the season.

Q. Looking back on last season, what did you decide about the way things went?

Looking back, it's not a secret it was a disappointing year, not only stats wise, but even to my personal standards. I did some self-evaluating and I think I made the necessary adjustments as far as conditioning and getting ready to come back this year.

Q. Are you any more motivated this season?

It's not that I'm any more motivated this year than I've been in any other year. The motivation is there to bounce back. So I don't want to say it's higher than it's been before.

Q. Do you feel physically better this year?

I feel better this year. I feel a little stronger, a little more powerful and fast and quicker, because I've really focused on being better in all areas. Not in one particular thing. I just want to be better everywhere, overall.

Q. Do you set personal goals?

Yes. I  don't know if I really want to say what they are, but I do have them. I have team goals also. On the team side, it's the same thing every year: Winning the Super Bowl, getting to the playoffs, winning the division, those type of things.

Q. You're in the final year of your contract. Is there an update on negotiations?

There has been discussion between my side and the Panthers. What we have discussed, we both came to the agreement we were going to keep that private. But as far as anything else, I'm pleased with what has been said.

Q. Do you want to stay with the Panthers long term?

What I've learned over these last six years that I've been here is that year to year it's unpredictable what happens with players and contracts. Right now I'm worried about playing football. I'm not looking forward to (the 2009) season or after that. I've got to get focused on making it happen right now.

Q. Will be there be negotiations during the season?

I think discussions are ongoing. I really don't get involved with what's going on with the phone calls.

Q. With Mike Rucker and Dan Morgan retiring, do you see yourself as a leader on the defense?

Yeah, I am. Mike's presence on the field and in the locker room will be missed. I think I've been part of this defense the longest, so I have a responsibility to lead in the right directon.

Q. Is there anything to read into your saying you don't know what the future holds, about your desire to stay a Panther?

It's nothing to clarify. Like I said, right now I'm focused on playing football this season. I have a contract to play football right now. After this season, that's a different story. But my focus, as a player, I can only control what I can control.  It might come to where I can't control what happens with the contract.

Q. When you missed time with the illness during last season's camp, did anything linger into the season?

It didn't have lingering effect. I was sick here for maybe two weeks. I will say that I lost weight and a little bit of strength, probably a little bit of explosiveness. But throughout the season, I wasn't sick at all.

Q. Did you lack energy last year?

I don't think so.

Posted by Observer Sports on July 31, 2008 at 06:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

Peppers talks ...

Julius Peppers just made his first comments to the media since the end of last season. We'll have a full transcript of the Q&A in a few minutes, but here are the highlights for now.

Peppers said:

-- He feels stronger, faster and more powerful than in previous seasons after working out in Arizona during the offseason.

-- He has has more moves to use from the right defensive end position, where he's playing this year, than he had a left end, where he's played up to now during his NFL career.

-- Contract talks are ongoing between his agent and the Panthers. Peppers said he's pleased with the talks, but declined to provide any details. When asked if he was committed to staying with Carolina, Peppers said he was focusing on this season and not on things that he can't control.

He's entering the final year of his contract. If a deal can't get done, the Panthers could put the franchise tag on him to keep him with the team.

-- His sickness in last  year's training camp lasted only about two weeks, but did drain his strength and energy.

-- He has conducted a self-evaluation of last season and, as expected, wasn't pleased. He said he's tried to address all areas that needed improvement.

-- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on July 31, 2008 at 05:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Robinson injures knee in practice

Panthers kick returner and backup receiver Ryne Robinson injured his left knee in practice Thursday and was carted off field.  He went up high to make a catch while being double covered by safety Nate Salley and cornerback Richard Marshall. After he landed, he was holding his left knee. He was helped off the field and trainer Ryan Vermillion tested Robinson’s knee for stability. Robinson got up and walked gingerly, then was carried to a tent where he sat for about 15 minutes with his leg extended before being carted off.

With Robinson out, rookie running back Jonathan Stewart got his first opportunity to return kicks during practice.

Also, the Panthers added to their defensive tackle depth by signing Michael Marquardt, a rookie from

Arizona

State

. To make room on the roster,

Carolina

cut center Pat Ross.

CHARLES CHANDLER

Posted by Observer Sports on July 31, 2008 at 04:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (24)

Gamble: That cast was frustrating

Cornerback Chris Gamble said Thursday it was frustrating for him to play the final five games of last season with a cast on his right hand. He broke his thumb in against Green Bay and missed the next contest against New Orleans after having surgery.

"I tried to stay focused and play through it," said Gamble, who had his only interception of the season in his first game back from the injury, against the San Francisco 49ers. "I've got a passion to play, even if it's not with two hands. But that cast just slows you down. You don't feel pain, you just feel like you don't have another hand to play with."

Gamble becomes a free agent after this season. He said he's seen the contracts that other free agent defensive backs have gotten, such as Asante Samuel, who just signed with the Philadelphia Eagles for a 6-year, $57 million deal. -- David Scott

"I see that, that puts a smile on my face, knowing I could be one of those guys," said Gamble, who is in his fifth season and is tied with Mike Minter for second on the Panthers' all-time interceptions list with 17. -- David Scott

Posted by Observer Sports on July 31, 2008 at 02:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

Thoughts on DTs, etc.

The Panthers are relieved that DT Ian Scott's knee injury isn't very serious. He's expected to be out a couple of weeks with an MCL sprain.

DT Damione Lewis spoke a few minutes ago and said he, Ma'ake Kemoeatu and Darwin Walker should be back in practice in the next few days, and that Walker may even go in today's 3:10 p.m. session.

With the DT ranks thin, defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac said ends Tyler Brayton and Charles Johnson will get more reps inside at tackle. Plans are to use them in third-down packages in the nickel defense anyway.

There's still a chance the Panthers could add a DT since Scott likely won't return until after training camp breaks on Aug. 13.

We'll update again following the afternoon practice.

EXTRA BONUS NOTE: Our good pal and former Observer Panthers beat writer Pat Yasinskas is back in Spartanburg for a couple of days working for his new gig at ESPN.com. It's good to have him here even for a short while. We're very thankful for all the great work he did for the Observer over the previous nine years and wish him all the best in his new job.

-- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on July 31, 2008 at 12:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Favre to NFC South?

For the past couple of weeks, Tampa Bay has been the team that made the most sense as a new home for Brett Favre. Now, the Bucs literally stick out like a sore thumb (er, leg).

News today that Jeff Garcia injured his right calf in a non-contact scrambling drill at the Bucs' training camp figures to ramp up talks between Green Bay and Tampa regarding Favre. The Packers reportedly want a first-round pick in return, which seems ridiculous for a player who may have only one or two years remaining.

But the Bucs may just be desperate. Plus, coach/quarterback guru Jon Gruden would love to have Favre on hand, even though Gruden is downplaying Garcia's injury.

http://blogs.tampabay.com/bucs/2008/07/gruden-downplay.html

Keep on eye on this one. It could get really interesting really soon.

This affects the Panthers, of course, because both teams are in the NFC South and play twice this season -- Oct 12 in Tampa and Dec. 8 in Charlotte in a Monday Night Football game.

-- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on July 31, 2008 at 11:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

July 30, 2008

Source: Scott's injury not serious

Looks like the Panthers have been spared the worse regarding the left knee injury suffered by defensive tackle Ian Scott.

According to a source close to the situation, Scott suffered a sprain to his medial collateral ligament and will miss a couple of weeks, but should be ready to return to practice by mid-August.

Scott was hurt during Wednesday morning's practice when a teammate rolled up on his leg. Scott was on the ground for several minutes while the team's medical/training staff attended to him.

Later, he was on crutches, wearing a brace to stabilize the knee, but was able to put some weight on the leg.

Scott missed last season with an anterior cruciate ligament injury to the same knee, and there was concern that he might have re-injured it again in the same way.

But, the source said, tests revealed otherwise, which is obviously good news for Scott and the Panthers.

Though it's questionable whether he'll be back before training camp closes on Aug. 13, he could be ready for the second or third exhibition of the preseason.

The Panthers may still want to add a defensive tackle for practice purposes in camp. They were missing three DTs Wednesday in addition to Scott.

Already out were starters Damione Lewis, Ma'ake Kemoeatu and top reserve Darwin Walker. None of those injuries are serious, and they're expected back in practice soon.

-- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on July 30, 2008 at 11:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

Wednesday afternoon update

The Panthers practiced Wednesday afternoon in front of friends and family at Wofford's soccer field:

-- Rhys Lloyd, who is trying to make the team as the kicker on kickoffs, put his leg on display during a practice-ending drill. He didn't disappoint, kicking three straight bombs that easily sailed through the end zone (his first kick was a knuckler that landed at the 10). Kickoffs were a Panthers' weakness last season when John Kasay was seldom able to kick it into the end zone for a touchback.

-- Seven players didn't participate because of injuries Wednesday afternoon, including offensive tackle Charles Spencer (knee), running back LaBrandon Toefield (shoulder), linebacker Adam Seward (strained muscle in his side), Damione Lewis (leg), Darwin Walker (head) and Maake Kemoeatu (shoulder). There was no update on the condition of defensive tackle Ian Scott, who hurt his left knee Wednesday morning. Receiver D.J. Hackett and running back Jonathan Stewart also sat out.

--  When these players don't practice, they're not sitting idly by. They excercise and do agility drills to work up a sweat. And they're not far enough away to avoid barbs from their healthier teammates. As they pedaled on their stationary bikes, linebacker Jon Beason came over and playfully urged them on. But when Beason turned to walk away, he almost tripped on a Gatorade cooler. "Pay attention now!" Lewis shouted.

-- Just one practice on Thursday, at 3:10 p.m. -- David Scott

    

Posted by Observer Sports on July 30, 2008 at 05:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (25)

Ian Scott update

DT Ian Scott, injured in this morning's practice, is on crutches and wearing a stabilizing brace on his left leg to protect his knee. With the help of the crutches, he is able to put some weight on the leg. However, he is also being carted around Wofford's campus some, too.

The Panthers are awaiting word on tests to determine the severity of Scott's knee injury. He was signed in the offseason to provide depth on the defensive line.

-- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on July 30, 2008 at 12:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)

Wednesday morning update

Observations from the first of two Tuesday practices:

-- It's hot, and players, as they always do after a few days of camp, are getting a bit ornery. There was a mild scuffle between rookie RT Jeff Otah and veteran DE Tyler Brayton. It didn't last long, which was probably good for Brayton.

-- Backup left tackle Frank Omiyale moved too soon during 11-on-11 team period and immediately had to run a lap around the practice field for what would have been a penalty in a game.

-- Ryne Robinson and Darren Toney handled kickoff returns today. There's been talk of running back Jonathan Stewart doing this, and that could still happen, but it sure seems preferable for Robinson to get the job to preserve Stewart, a first-round pick, for the running game.

-- Tackle Charles Spencer didn't practice. He hasn't played in almost two years due to a serious knee injury. A former starter for the Houston Texans, Spencer is hoping to make a comeback with Carolina. The team is being careful not to overwork him.

-- Running back LaBrandon Toefield wasn't mentioned as being on the injury list, but his left shoulder was wrapped and he was sidelined for much of the morning practice.

-- Here are some of the highlights of the always-popular one-on-one blocking drills between offensive and defensive linemen:

Guard Milford Brown did a nice job against rookie DT Nick Hayden, keeping him from getting much push. ... Omiyale twice dominated rookie DE Hilee Taylor. Taylor has speed but his lack of size clearly hurts him at times. ... Rookie RT Geoff Schwartz, who struggled the first few days of camp, is getting better on his footwork. He had two consecutive "wins" blocking second-year DE Charles Johnson.

We'll update as needed throughout the day, including after today's 3:10 p.m. practice on Wofford's soccer field. This will mark the first time in this camp that the Panthers have had mid-morning and mid-afternoon practices in the same day. According to the weather report, temperatures are expected in the high 80s, with showers possible.

-- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on July 30, 2008 at 11:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (34)

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