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May 30, 2010

Panthers have a lot of work before '11

    Our story this morning centered on the Panthers' out-of-character frugality this offseason, and runs down several reasons why.

    But if the Panthers let all their current contracts ride without addressing extensions this year, they’re going to have a pile to do when/if a new CBA kicks in. Here’s a partial list of the players on the current roster who could be unrestricted free agents after the coming season (assuming the four-year threshold for that status remains):

    QB Matt Moore — Now that he's a starter, he could make a huge financial leap with even a solid season, up from the $3.043 million he's making now.

    RB DeAngelo Williams — The convoluted "30 percent rule," makes it hard to pay him now, and the presence of Jonathan Stewart creates a debate as to how much they should spend to keep the position stocked.

    WR Dwayne Jarrett — A prove-it year for the former second-rounder. If he fails this year, he can no longer blame others.

    TE Jeff King — A solid citizen and contributor, the kind they've always kept around (think Nick Goings, Brad Hoover).

    C Ryan Kalil — Would be hard to franchise-tag because of his position, and set to get rich after making his first Pro Bowl.


    DE Charles Johnson — Finally gets chance to deliver on the potential he's flashed, as the initial replacement for Julius Peppers.

    DTs Tank Tyler, Louis Leonard and Ed Johnson — They're throwing numbers at the position, but they're all up after this year. Whoever emerges among them stands to cash in.

    LB Thomas Davis — Coming into his own as a player and a locker-room leader, he's playing nice but deserves to get paid.

    LBs James Anderson and Jamar Williams — Not indispensable pieces, but you'd think they'd want to keep one of them for the future.

    CB Richard Marshall — His future likely lies elsewhere. They've spent on Chris Gamble already, and with so many other concerns, they might not be able to pay him what he wants.

— Darin Gantt

Posted by Observer Sports on May 30, 2010 at 08:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (30)

May 27, 2010

Clearing up Panthers scouting change

    Despite a report this afternoon saying the Panthers fired scout Pete Russell, the reality isn't nearly as sensational as it sounds.

    The note on profootballtalk.com also insinuated age discrimination in the termination of the 45-year-old Russell, who's been with the team three seasons.

    According to the Panthers media guide, they have three scouts older remaining on the payroll: 61-year-old John Peterson, 52-year-old Jeff Morrow and Jeff Beathard, who will turn 46 in two weeks.

    Russell was the one member of the Panthers scouting department whose contract expired this year, and his deal was scheduled to end on June 30, 2010. The Arizona-based scout was informed this week his contract would not be renewed, and began spreading the word to other personnel men around the league, who confirmed the move. 

    The rest of the Panthers scouts got two-year extensions last year, which carry them through the 2011 draft. While many personnel contracts around the league run through the end of May, the Panthers have always carried their scouts through June.

    Panthers officials confirmed Russell was gone but wouldn't comment otherwise. Calls placed to Russell weren't immediately returned.


— Darin Gantt

Posted by Observer Sports on May 27, 2010 at 05:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Thursday OTA update: More for Moore

    The Panthers opened the full-team portion of their OTA season Thursday (after spending the first three days on nothing but the passing game), but there are still new wrinkles aplenty. 

    There was a segment of the session devoted to a four-wide receiver offense, something that's always been behind the "in case of emergency, break glass," section of the playbook.

    With all the youth at quarterback and receiver, it's going to be a continual learning process, and they're still in the very early stages of introducing what QB Matt Moore called some "new concepts." We'll have more on that, and Moore, in tomorrow's paper.


    As for the other notes of the day:

    -- While LT Jordan Gross (broken leg) and LB Thomas Davis (ACL) are healthy enough to work individual drills, they're not yet up to doing all the team work.

    So for the team drills Thursday, their places were taken by Garry Williams and Jamar Williams, respectively.

    Garry hung around last year as an undrafted rookie but didn't get a uniform until guys started getting hurt, and he's in better position to stay this year. He's one of the second-year guys who's arrived in great shape, looking much more like an NFL blocker than he did a year ago.

    Jamar was the other half of the Chris Harris trade, but he may end up much more than a throw-in. At the very least, he gives them a legitimate fifth linebacker, and that's something I'm not sure they had before.


    -- Several nice grabs during the passing drills. WR Wallace Wright, who was brought here to help special teams, climbed the ladder and made a nice catch. Say this for Wright, he may never be a vital cog to the offense, but he has better hands than long-time special teamer Karl Hankton.

    There was also a highlight-reel grab by Armanti Edwards, but those are becoming more common with each practice.


    -- Speaking of common, RB Jonathan Stewart was on an exercise bike for much of the day. 

    You'd be tempted to make fun of the fact he never practices, but until he misses game time (which he hasn't so far), it would ring kind of hollow.


    -- CB Richard Marshall stayed away to prove a point, but he's back making plays now, coming up with an interception of a deep Moore pass to Steve Smith

— Darin Gantt

Posted by Observer Sports on May 27, 2010 at 12:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

May 25, 2010

Fox: First three for passing game only

    It's almost as if the Panthers realized they needed to work on their passing game.

    After running OTAs the same way for eight years, coach John Fox has mixed things up this week, using the first three days of their organized team activity to concentrate on throwing and catching the ball.

    The Panthers ranked 27th in passing offense last year, and have completely remodeled that side of the house. Gone are QB Jake Delhomme and WR Muhsin Muhammad, and in came a fleet of new passers and receivers.

    Thus, Fox tweaked his practice schedule, allowing his linemen to do extra position drills but no team work, so they didn't have to spend any time working on the run (which they're OK at already)

    Tuesday was the only day of the first three which will be open to the media, but there were a few other things evident from the new-look practices:

    -- RB DeAngelo Williams and LT Jordan Gross were back after missing the minicamp work following offseason surgeries. 

    There aren't that many guys missing at all anymore, to be honest. RB Jonathan Stewart and DT Tank Tyler are still sidelined, and some others including LB Thomas Davis are still doing limited work, but for the most part, they're rested and approaching well.

    -- As we reported last night, CB Richard Marshall was back on the field. He talked at length about wanting to be here, but staying away because of the business realities. He said he'll sign his $1.759 million restricted free agent tender before training camp, but he'll need to before June 15 because the Panthers could reduce their offer to 110 percent of his 2009 base salary, which would be $583,000. 

    Marshall's always been one of the poster children for offseason participation, and he admitted the absence was odd for him. But he appeared to be in his normal (i.e. good) shape, and was back running with the starters through the 7-of-7 drills that made up the bulk of the day.


— Darin Gantt

Posted by Observer Sports on May 25, 2010 at 11:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (23)

May 22, 2010

Panthers' Davis back? His 4.47 40 suggests so

    The Panthers got some huge news last week, when LB Thomas Davis ran a 4.47-second 40 yard dash.

    That's slightly off some of his previous times, but there is the small fact he's less than six months from surgery to repair a torn ACL.

    Davis surprised folks with the speed of his recovery, doing more in the post-draft minicamp than expected.

    But if he's out there laying down 4.47s now (as he reported, timed by a Panthers scout), it's a good indication he's nearly 100 percent back from last November's blown knee.

    That's huge for a defense that has to be solid in the back seven to make up for the transition in the front four. With only one starter back on the defensive line, the rest of the defense is going to have to step up. Given the pace of Davis' recovery, it sounds like he's taking that challenge seriously.

    Davis said he turned in the time last Monday, and that it isn't far off his previous record. The 240-pound linebacker said his personal best as a pro was a 4.42 he ran last year during offseason conditioning.

- Darin Gantt

Posted by Observer Sports on May 22, 2010 at 05:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (18)

May 18, 2010

Pike continues winning ways in hometown

    Panthers rookie QB Tony Pike threw out the first pitch at last night's Reds-Brewers game, giving him a curtain call back home before he returns to work next week.

    Pike compiled a 16-2 record as the starter to help lift the University of Cincinnati to national prominence, after going 21-4 in two years at Cincinnati's Reading High. 

    Wearing a Reds jersey with his number 16, he tossed in an acceptable pitch, waving to an appreciative crowd as he walked off.

    He also dropped by the broadcast booth for an interview with Fox Sports Ohio play-by-play man Thom Brennaman, who does some NFL work on the side.

    After declaring QB Matt Moore "the man," and talking about how he hopes to make the roster, Pike and Brennaman stumbled over themselves trying to recall where Panthers training camp was. After some initial confusion as to whether it was at Winthrop or Wofford, Pike finally offered: "I know it'll be hot."

    For the record, the first-place Reds won 6-3, extending Pike's magic touch in his hometown.

    (Thanks to Brian Baker at cnati.com for the photo)

— Darin Gantt20100517b-1

Posted by Observer Sports on May 18, 2010 at 08:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (24)

May 17, 2010

Bears blog: Predict Peppers' sack total

A Chicago Bears blog has set odds for Julius Peppers' sack total for the 2010 season. Who knows Pep better than Panthers fans? How many sacks should this modern-day Monster of the Midway have this season? And which Panther will have more?

Posted by Observer Sports on May 17, 2010 at 12:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (39)

Where to put Panthers in power rankings?

    Throughout the Panthers offseason, there have been as many mood swings as expectations around here.

    From the March purge through a slower-than-slow free agent period, to a draft which gave them plenty of buzz (and quarterbacks), the Panthers have generated mixed feelings with every move and non-move.

    Follow it with trading veteran SS Chris Harris (and John Fox's subsequent take on it), and it's hard for many people to come to grips with where the team stands. 

    So it was a little surprising to see Sports Illustrated's Peter King peg them eighth in his offseason power rankings. He's optimistic that the QB change to Matt Moore will help them bounce back to the playoffs this year.

    Less optimistic (but perhaps more reasonable), was the ESPN version, which has them 18th in the league. 

    Make no mistake, the fluctuations should continue throughout the preseason. 

    Where do you have them, and do the offseason moves put them in better or worse shape going into camp?

— Darin Gantt

Posted by Observer Sports on May 17, 2010 at 12:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (98)

May 06, 2010

Weighing in on Smith, Clausen

I'm trying to get some time off after a very fun, but intense stretch covering the NFL draft and the Panthers' minicamp. Managed to get the yard mowed today. However, when I took a few moments to browse the internet for NFL updates, I was surprised -- to say the least.

There was an item about Steve Smith considering Jimmy Clausen a "punk." Just a few days ago, I talked at length to Smith about Clausen and there was not even a hint of such a thing. As a matter of fact, Smith expressed the exact opposite. Smith wasn't faking either. In case you didn't know, he doesn't fake very well  He wears his feelings and emotions on his sleeve and usually can't cover up when he's upset about something.

Earlier today, Smith strongly denied having a problem with Clausen.

There was also a mention in the aforementiond item that Carolina tight ends were upset at Clausen for yelling at them. The most vivid memories I have of Clausen from minicamp were two passes he threw in red zone drills through traffic for touchdowns to tight ends Jeff King and Gary Barnidge. Both of those guys looked extremely happy. King even spiked the ball through his legs in a much more expressive gesture than he normally does.

As for Smith, he went on ESPN's "First Take" yesterday to talk about Clausen. It was clear by the wide smile on his face that he loved re-telling the story about how Clausen answered Smith's request for a 12-pack of Cactus Cooler sodas from California, where both of them are from.

For whatever it's worth, from this perspective, the minicamp seemed to go smoothly and without incident. From everything we could gather, it was an ideal start for Clausen with the Panthers. I neither sensed nor saw nor heard anything that would suggest Clausen did anything other than get off to a great start with his new teammates, coaches and the media.

-- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on May 6, 2010 at 05:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (73)

Panthers chat with Observer reporters today! Best question wins a $10 gift card

We're past the draft. We're past the minicamp. And there are still a lot of questions surrounding the Panthers and the 2010 season. Join Charles Chandler and Darin Gantt today from noon-1 at www.charlotteobserver.com and ask yours. Best question wins a $10 gift card to Buffalo Wild Wings at the new NASCAR Hall of Fame. (You must be watching the chat at 1 p.m. to win!)

Please join us!

Posted by Observer Sports on May 6, 2010 at 08:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (19)