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News » Carolina Panthers Strategy and Personnel 2008-08-28


Carolina Panthers Strategy and Personnel 2008-08-28


Carolina Panthers Strategy and Personnel 2008-08-28
With injuries leaving them thin at wide receiver and punt returner, the Carolina Panthers signed former Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Samie Parker on Tuesday as insurance.


Coach John Fox said it's unclear if Parker, a five-year veteran, will play Thursday night against Pittsburgh.

Parker brings some added depth to an injury-plagued wide receiver position and gives the Panthers another option as a punt returner, according to Fox.

In four seasons with the Chiefs, the 5-foot-11, 185-pound Parker started 31 games and caught 110 passes for 1,529 yards and seven touchdowns. Parker has not returned any punts or kickoffs since joining the league.

Parker spent four seasons with Kansas City before signing with Denver this off-season. He was cut by the Broncos on Monday.

"He's a guy who has speed and quickness," Fox said. "He's returned the ball before (in college) as well as being a receiver. We've been a little nicked up at that spot, so we'll have a little look-see."

The Panthers are thin at receiver.

Steve Smith will miss the first two games of the season while serving a team-imposed suspension. D.J. Hackett is still nursing a toe injury, while Ryne Robinson (sprained knee) still appears to be a good bit away from getting back on the field. Over the weekend the Panthers lost Jason Carter to a season-ending knee injury. They are hoping Travis Taylor, a former first-round pick, steps up.

Robinson and Carter were the team's top punt return options.

To make room for Parker on the roster, the team released receiver Sean Bailey, who was signed last week.

PLAYER TO WATCH: TE Dante Rosario - Now in his second year, Rosario will work as the No. 2 tight end, but many think he will emerge as Carolina's leading receiver among tight ends. He has great hands and can stretch the defense.

DRAFT PICKS TO STICK

Rd. 1/13, RB Jonathan Stewart, Oregon -- Some believe Stewart was the most complete back in the draft. We'll find out this year because he's expected to split carries with DeAngelo Williams. Stewart gives the Panthers the big back they coveted.

Rd. 1/19, OT Jeff Otah, Pittsburgh -- The Stewart pick wouldn't have made much sense had the Panthers not gotten an offensive tackle. That's why they traded up 24 spots from No. 43 to land Otah, a road-grader style tackle who will start on the right side. The price was steep - second- and fourth-round picks in 2008 and a first-round pick in 2009 - but so far Otah appears to be worth it.

Rd. 3/67, FS Charles Godfrey, Iowa -- Godfrey will step right in and start at free safety. In 47 games at Iowa, he had seven interceptions and three fumble recoveries.

Rd. 3/74, LB Dan Connor, Penn State -- The Panthers didn't really need a linebacker but they had Connor so highly ranked on their draft board they couldn't believe he was still there. "You never go wrong taking good football players," GM Marty Hurney said. Still, he's third string right now and his duty will be to help on special teams.

Rd. 5/141, TE Gary Barnidge, Louisville -- The Panthers are hoping he can be the guy to stretch the field at tight end and take some pressure off WR Steve Smith. He enters the season as Carolina's No. 3 tight end.

Rd. 6/181, DT Nick Hayden, Wisconsin -- The Panthers finally addressed their need at defensive tackle with Hayden, who has a good chance to make the team given their lack of depth behind starters Damione Lewis and Maake Kemoeatu. Hayden is a big, strong guy who takes up blocks in the middle. He might need to bulk up a little.

Rd. 7/221, DE Hilee Taylor, North Carolina -- He had 10.5 sacks as a senior, but another Julius Peppers he's not. He's a small guy who could wind up seeing some action on pass rushing downs if he makes the roster.

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Jake Delhomme. Backups - Matt Moore, Brett Basanez.

Jake Delhomme had a passer rating of 111 last year before going down in Week 3 with an elbow injury. He had Tommy John surgery, appears to have fully recovered and is the team's undisputed starter. He's looked very sharp in training camp and his arm strength appears better than ever. Moore, who went 2-1 as a starter over the final three games last year and turned some heads as an undrafted rookie, will be the backup. The only question here is if the Panthers will keep two or three quarterbacks. The Panthers kept two in 2006 and three in 2007. Basanez, who spent last season on IR with a wrist injury, will be the No. 3 quarterback if they go that way. Otherwise, they will try to bring him back on the practice squad.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters - DeAngelo Williams, FB Brad Hoover. Backups - Jonathan Stewart, Nick Goings, LaBrandon Toefield, Decori Birmingham, FB Troy Fleming.

Williams averaged five yards per carry last season as DeShaun Foster's backup and was averaging a whopping 7.2 yards per carry on 26 attempts through three preseason games, so he will likely start the season. But it's pretty clear the Panthers want to get back to a power running attack, which is why they drafted Stewart in the first round (13th overall). He put up gaudy numbers at Oregon last year and ran for 100 yards on 10 carries against the Redskins last weekend, including a 50-yard touchdown burst. With Foster gone, look for Stewart and Williams to split carries with Stewart getting more reps as the season progresses. At 5-foot-10 and 235 pounds, Stewart has 16 pounds on Williams and is considered more of a power style back than Williams who is more finesse. Goings is the cagey veteran who keeps himself in great shape and still runs very well. Toefield and Birmingham are considered on the bubble.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Jeff King. Backups - Dante Rosario, Gary Barnidge, Chad Upshaw.

King turned out to be a solid weapon in the passing game last year, finishing second only to WR Steve Smith in receptions with 46. He scored two touchdowns. However, the guy to watch here may be Rosario, who came on strong at the end of last season and looks to have good NFL talent and the ability to stretch the field. He has great hands and is very fluid when he runs. Look for a lot of two tight end sets from the Panthers, especially the first two games of the season with Smith serving a two-game suspension. Rosario had six grabs last year for 108 yards - a nice 18-yard average - and two scores and both he and Barnidge offer more game-breaking speed than King. All in all, this is a very young group of tight ends with King, entering just his third year, the veteran of the bunch.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Steve Smith, Muhsin Muhammad. Backups - D.J. Hackett, Dwayne Jarrett, Ryne Robinson, Travis Taylor, Samie Parker.

Smith was victimized by poor and inconsistent quarterback play last year following the injury to Jake Delhomme, but still finished with another 1,000-yard season and led the team with seven TDs. He will miss the first two games while serving a team-imposed suspension for sucker-punching teammate Ken Lucas in the face during training camp. When he returns, Smith seems primed for a huge year with Delhomme back in the fold and other teams forced to pay more attention to veteran receivers Muhammad and Hackett. Muhammad has looked surprisingly good at 35. The last time Muhammad was with Delhomme he caught 16 touchdown passes in 2004, so the two have great chemistry. Hackett remains a question mark. He hasn't practiced since Aug. 6 because of a toe injury and did not participate in any preseason games. Jarrett is coming along nicely and could be a factor as the season progresses. A high second round draft pick in 2007, he is the wild card in all of this. He was immensely successful at USC but had only six catches last year and clashed with the moody Smith. Wide receiver once the deepest position on the field for the Panthers, but they've been hit hard here by injuries and Smith's suspension. Robinson has missed most of training camp with a knee injury and Jason Carter was lost to a season-ending knee injury over the weekend, forcing them to pick up Parker.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LT Jordan Gross, LG Travelle Wharton, C Ryan Kalil, RG Keydrick Vincent, RT Jeff Otah. Backups - LT Rueben Riley, LG Milford Brown, C Geoff Hangartner, RG Toniu Fonoti, RT Jeremy Bridges, T Geoff Schwartz, G Evan Mathis.

The Panthers starting lineup this year will see different players in all five positions. Gross moves to LT while Wharton moves inside to LG, giving them power and experience on the left side. Look for the Panthers to run to the left side quite a bit this year. In the preseason, Jonathan Stewart busted a 50-yard touchdown run while running to the left side. Kalil takes over for Justin Hartwig (now in Pittsburgh) and big things are expected from Otah, the team's first-round pick. Vincent emerged as the starting RG over Fonoti, a reclamation project. The Panthers put an emphasis on adding beef up front and even most the guys returning from last year added weight. Gross is the team's franchise player, so he's playing for a new contract. The Panthers have much more depth here than they have in past seasons.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LDE Tyler Brayton, NT Maake Kemoeatu, RDT Damione Lewis, RDE Julius Peppers. Backups - LDE Charles Johnson, RDT Darwin Walker, NT Gary Gibson, RDE Stanley McClover, DE Hilee Taylor, DT Nick Hayden.

After averaging better than 10 sacks per season over his first years in the league, Peppers had a horrible season in 2007 with just 2.5 sacks. As a team, the Panthers had just 23 sacks last year, way down from years past. However, Peppers has looked unstoppable in the preseason and appears to be all the way back from whatever was bothering him last season. Look for him to have a huge season. Jordan Gross, who works against Peppers daily in practice said Peppers is bigger, stronger and faster and that "he's going to kill people out there." Peppers really seems to love being on the right end for the first time in his NFL career. That is where he played in college at North Carolina. The Panthers lost DT Kris Jenkins and DE Mike Rucker from a year ago, but so far the first-team D-line has played great in the preseason, registering 10 sacks and allowing only three points in three games. Lewis is a former first-round pick, but he doesn't have Jenkins' bulk, so look for opponents to run right at him. Kemoeatu is more comfortable this year as a true nose tackle. Brayton, a first-round bust in Oakland, hopes to resurrect his career in Carolina and will have first crack at the starting lineup. He will shift inside to tackle on nickel situations with Johnson coming in to rush the passer at LDE. Walker provides veteran leadership in the middle coming off the bench. The Panthers really need young DEs McClover and Johnson to take the next step and generate some pass rush. Taylor, an undersized DE, could see some action on passing downs if he makes the roster. Gibson is a solid body in the middle.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- SLB Na'il Diggs, MLB Jon Beason, WLB Thomas Davis. Backups - OLB Landon Johnson, MLB Adam Seward, MLB Dan Connor, OLB Tim Shaw, OLB Donte Curry, OLB James Anderson.

The Panthers gave Johnson a three-year, $10 million contract this off-season - the highest they handed out to any free agent - but he's yet to crack the starting lineup with Diggs holding him off so far. Beason is outstanding and in only his second year has become the leader of the defense. He set a franchise record for tackles in a season as a rookie with 156 after taking over for since retired Dan Morgan. Davis, a former first-round pick, is thrilled with his move from the strong side to the weak side. He feels that will allow him to make more plays. The Panthers drafted Connor even though they more pressing needs at other positions. But they felt like they couldn't pass on him when he was still there in the middle of the third round. Nonetheless, Seward remains the No. 2 man at middle linebacker behind Beason. Anderson, a former third-round pick, could be the odd man out in what should be a fierce battle for positions between him, Shaw and Curry at outside linebacker. Curry should make the team for his special teams ability.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Chris Gamble, RCB Ken Lucas, SS Chris Harris, FS Charles Godfrey. Backups - LCB Richard Marshall, RCB Ricardo Colclough, SS Terrence Holt, FS Nate Salley, CB Dante Wesley, SS Quinton Teal, CB C.J. Wilson.

It won't get much publicity, but Carolina's secondary as a whole is as good as any in the NFL right now. Lucas and Gamble remain the starting corners, but clearly Marshall is as good as either of those two vets. Marshall could develop into one of the better corners in the league over the next few years. Overall, this is a very reliable cornerback trio. Colclough is the No. 4 guy. Harris had a terrific season after being acquired in a trade last summer with Chicago. He finished with a franchise record eight forced fumbles and earned a four-year contract. He brings some aggressiveness to the secondary. Godfrey, a third-round pick out of Iowa this year, was thrown into the starting lineup right away and hasn't missed a beat. He could be a great sleeper pick. Holt has brought more leadership to the safety position and will be a reliable backup. Teal showed some promise last year at safety. Salley and Wesley are coming off injuries last season.

SPECIAL TEAMS: PK John Kasay, KO Rhys Lloyd, P Jason Baker, LS Jason Kyle, KR Jonathan Stewart, PR Ryne Robinson.

Kasay was a reliable 24-for-28 last year in field goals, but he really struggled with kickoffs. The Panthers brought in Lloyd to handle that role last year and he did well in his one outing. He has been booming kickoffs in the preseason and will definitely make the roster as a kickoff specialist. Baker is as solid as they come and seems to have more hang time this year. Robinson is recovering from a knee injury leaving the punt return position is a state of flux. Look for Colclough or Chris Gamble to handle the job while Robinson is sidelined. Even though Stewart is a high first-round pick, the Panthers might give him the first crack at returning kickoffs this year. Colclough is handling that duty for now. Carolina's return teams, in general, were abysmal last season, but they have a good group of core players now led by Goings, Curry, Hoover and Wesley.



Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: August 28, 2008

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Adam Seward Name: Adam Seward
#59
Position: LB
Age: 26
Experience: 4 years
College: UNLV
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