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January 31, 2009

Fitzgerald's a big Steve Smith fan

TAMPA, Fla. -- One of the most interesting, engaging players in interviews leading up to the Super Bowl this week was Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. He's highly intelligent, thoughtful and didn't project an inflated self-image, which is pretty good considering he's probably been the best player of the postseason.

We're planning a feature on him for Sunday's paper, but I wanted to share with you in advance, in more detail than that story will cover, what Fitzgerald had to say about Panthers' wide receiver Steve Smith. It turns out he's quite an admirer of Smith.

When asked which other receivers he most likes to watch, Fitzgerald replied:

"I like to watch everybody. Any game I can watch, any tape I can watch, I try to pick up on a lot. Like Steve Smith, I think he's the best playmaker in the NFL. When he gets his hands on the ball, no matter where people are, he finds a way to get into the end zone. Torry Holt, he's an amazing route runner. Terrell Owens, a tremendous playmaker. Randy Moss (and) those guys, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, everybody has their things that I really enjoy watching. I try to take bits and pieces of each player I watch."

Fitzgerald spoke humbly about himself, deflecting suggestions that he might be the best receiver in the league. Since he has such an incredible knack for going up high for catches (remember his first reception in the playoff game against the Panthers?), I asked him if he thinks he and Smith are similar in their ability to make those kinds of plays. When Fitzgerald answered, he spoke only about Smith, not himself.

"Steve is little big man," he said. "They say he's 5-10 on the game guide, but he plays like he's 6-4. Did you see that catch he made against New Orleans late in the second half to clinch homefield advantage (in the playoffs)? I mean, that was amazing. He makes that play all the time. I think that's about desire and sheer want-to. He's not going to be denied, and as a receiver, you have to have that same mentality."

-- Charles Chandler


Posted by Observer Sports on January 31, 2009 at 05:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

January 29, 2009

Putting a Peppers tag in perspective

According to figures released today by the NFL Players Association, the Carolina Panthers would have to pay Julius Peppers more than $7.6 million more than the average franchise tender amount for defensive ends in order to keep him for the 2009 season under a franchise tag.

The collective bargaining agreement requires teams who franchise players to give then one-year tender offers of an average of the top five 2008 salary cap figures of players at the position, or a 20 percent raise over their '08 salary, whichever is greater.

Peppers falls under the latter category. His $13.9025 million cap number for '08 was more than $5 million more than any other defensive end and fifth highest in the NFL behind only quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Carson Palmer and Aaron Rodgers.

Since the '09 franchise tender amount for defensive ends (average of top five salaries) is $8.991 million, Peppers' tender would be $16.683 million, reflecting the 20 percent raise.

That tender for Peppers is more than the franchise tender amount for quarterbacks, $14.651 million.

The Panthers face a dilemma about how to handle Peppers' request to move to another team. His contract is due to expire Feb. 26 and his agent has said he won't sign a long-term extension with the Panthers, either now or in the future. The team has the option to franchise Peppers between Feb. 5-19 to either try to get him to play in 2009 under the tender amount, or to trade him.

The numbers released today show just how expensive keeping Peppers would be.

-- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on January 29, 2009 at 05:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (48)

Panthers' field ranks high again

The playing surface at Bank of America Stadium ranked fourth among grass fields in a survey of players across the league conducted by the NFL Players Association.

The Panthers' field traditionally has been one of the highest rated in the league in the surveys, which are taken every two years.

The field was second in 1998, 2000 and 2006, third in 2004 and fourth in 2002.

Of 61 Panthers players who participated in the poll, 56 (91.8 percent) rated their home field either excellent or good.

-- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on January 29, 2009 at 04:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

January 28, 2009

Cards' Smith has post-Jake goal: Super Bowl MVP

  

TAMPA -- Arizona Cardinals defensive end Antonio Smith helped fuel a playoff win over Carolina 19 days ago by stripping the ball from Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme, but he has an even greater vision for Sunday’s Super Bowl game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

 “My Super Bowl fantasy right now,” he said, “is stripping the ball, picking it up, returning it for a 75-yard, five-broken-tackles touchdown, and doing the best dance ever to be seen in the Super Bowl, and getting Super Bowl MVP -- and those car keys.

 

“That’s a big dream, but I’m going for it. I want the Escalade.”

 

Smith, in his fifth NFL season, has scored one touchdown on any level of football, a 4-yard fumble return for a score against the Denver Broncos in 2006.

 

   -- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on January 28, 2009 at 08:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Steve Smith: Pep must look out for himself

Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith was in Tampa on Wednesday, but not for the reason that he'd most hoped. Since Carolina didn't make it to the Super Bowl, he was able to participate in the construction of a new playground in an East Tampa neighborhood along with six other NFL players.

Smith weighed in on the Julius Peppers dilemma facing the Panthers, but only enough to say that Peppers is obligated to look out for what he believes are his best interests. Peppers' contract expires Feb. 26 and he has said through his agent that he wants to move on to another team in order to reach his full potential. The Panthers are expected to franchise Peppers to either try to force him to remain with the team or to trade him.

"The Pep situation is Julius Peppers’ situation just like Steve Smith’s situation is my situation," said Smith. "Whether people want to say it or not, we’re professionals and we all have to do the things we feel are important. We’re all CEOs of our own company. I’m CEO of Steve Smith LLC and  Julius Peppers is CEO of Julius Peppers LLC. He’s going to make the moves he feels are conducive to his business, and I’m going to do the same as well for me."

We'll have more from Smith later online and in tomorrow's paper.

-- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on January 28, 2009 at 02:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

January 27, 2009

Reeves: Meeks' players 'fly to the ball'

New Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Ron Meeks has coached under some legendary names in the NFL -- including Jimmy Johnson, Dan Reeves and Tony Dungy. Reeves had Meeks on his Atlanta Falcons staff for three productive seasons. One of those seasons -- 1998 -- was especially memorable: The Falcons went to the Super Bowl, where they lost to John Elway and the Denver Broncos.

Meeks was the Falcons' secondary coach from 1997-99. Reeves also arrived as the team's head coach in 1997 and hired Meeks without having met him previous to their first interview.

"He's a very good teacher," Reeves said Tuesday. "He's very much a technician and knowledgeable about the game. He's been around good coaches who have helped develop him into what he is today."

Reeves said Meeks combines the best of a coach's ability to teach with allowing his players to play on instinct.

"The way he gets his players to just fly to the ball has always impressed me," said Reeves, who said he regretted losing Meeks to the Washington Redskins in 2000. "What he's always preached is pursuit,of getting to the football."

-- Meeks will spend the rest of this week huddling with head coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney, working on filling the three assistant defensive coaching vacancies (line, linebackers and secondary). Look for some of those announcements to come later this week. -- David Scott

Posted by Observer Sports on January 27, 2009 at 04:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Steelers kicker Jeff Reed goes punk

0127jefffreed Pittsburgh Steelers kicker Jeff Reed, formerly of East Mecklenburg High and the North Carolina Tar Heels, created quite a buzz at Super Bowl Media Day Tuesday with his wild hair style.

Reed (right) told his teammates he would dye his hair blonde if they made the playoffs, and he kept his word. He wore his hair Tuesday in a tall, wavy style that looked like a cross between a rock star and the Dr. Brown character (played by Christopher Lloyd) in the "Back to the Future" movies.

We talked to Reed about his hairstyle, his role as the Steelers' team comic and his excitement about being in his second Super Bowl in four years. Be on the lookout for our story online and  in the newspaper.

-- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on January 27, 2009 at 03:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

January 26, 2009

Indianapolis' Meeks named Panthers' defensive coordinator

0127meeks  The Carolina Panthers have hired Ron Meeks (right), formerly with the Indianapolis Colts, as their defensive coordinator.

Meeks replaces Mike Trgovac, who told the team last week he would not return next season. Trgovac had spent seven years as defensive coordinator under John Fox.

"This is a great opportunity," Meeks said in a news release from the Panthers.  "I have followed the Panthers from my involvement in football and they have done a great job over the years.  I expect to continue that success and will try to improve on what has been done."

Meeks spent seven seasons as defensive coordinator with Indianapolis, five times finishing in the top seven in the league in points allowed. The Colts' 4-3 defense was seventh in points allowed in 2008 (18.6) and 11th in yards allowed (310.9)

"We are very pleased to add Ron to our coaching staff as defensive coordinator," Fox said in a release  "He is an outstanding teacher, who has enjoyed great success as a coordinator in the league and brings a strong background of coaching championship defenses."

Meeks, 54, was a defensive assistant in Dallas in 1991, then secondary coach in Cincinnati fromm 1992-96 and in Atlanta from 1997-99. He also spent a year each in Washington (2000) and St. Louis (2001) before going to Indianapolis.

Meeks is a native of Jacksonville, Fla., and had college stints at Arkansas State (1984), Miami (1986-87), New Mexico State (1988), and Fresno State (1989-1990) before joining the Cowboys.

The Colts announced Meeks' resignation as the team's defensive coordinator Tuesday. Indianapolis head coach Tony Dungy, who had hired Meeks, retired after the season.

Posted by Observer Sports on January 26, 2009 at 05:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (25)

Kevin Greene joins Packers as LB coach

Former Panthers linebacker Kevin Greene is becoming a full-time coach, joining the Green Bay Packers as outside linebackers coach. He will be reunited with former Carolina coach Dom Capers, the Packers' new defensive coordinator.

-- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on January 26, 2009 at 03:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

January 24, 2009

McCoy makes tough decision, with Delhomme's help

After nine years working at the same place, it can be difficult moving not only yourself, but also your family across the country, even for a job promotion.

Living in Charotte, with her Dad working for the Carolina Panthers, was all 9-year-old Olivia McCoy had known.

So when her father, quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator Mike McCoy, traveled to Denver recently to interview to become the Broncos offensive coordinator, it's understandable if she had some reservations.

But that's where Jake Delhomme, the Panthers' quarterback, came in. According to Mike McCoy, Delhomme talked to little Olivia and put her at ease, sharing that it was hard for him to leave the New Orleans Saints in 2003, but that coming to the Panthers was one of the best decisions he'd ever made.

"It was great" said McCoy. "He kind of settled Olivia down. That's what we'll miss."

McCoy and his wife, Kellie, also have a son, Luke, 6.

The McCoy and Delhomme families have a close relationship, and now it'll need to be long distance.

But it was a good career move for McCoy, who becomes an offensive coordinator for the first time.

"It's a great opportunity," he told The Observer today, "to become a coordinator and to still work with the quarterbacks here in Denver."

McCoy said it wasn't easy to leave the Panthers, team owner Jerry Richardson and the Richardson family.

"I'm thankful to the Richardson family for everything they've done for my family, and to all the coaches and players I've worked with," he said. "That's why I have the opportunity I have now, because they made this opportunity possible for me."

-- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on January 24, 2009 at 11:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (39)

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