SLIM PICKINGS
With little to build around, George Seifert is starting over in
Carolina

A railroad track runs past the west side of Ericsson Stadium,
below the office of new Panthers coach George Seifert. Last
week, as Seifert talked about his first four months on the job,
a freight train lumbered past his window. The locomotive seemed
to symbolize how things are going with this team: at a slow and
steady pace, so much so that Seifert is apologetic. "Sorry
things aren't more dramatic," he says, "but that's just the way
it is."

To some the pace is welcome, and needed. Last year Carolina was
more like a runaway train. Two seasons after playing in the NFC
Championship Game, the Panthers lost their first seven games and
finished 4-12. Compounding the problem were instances of
disturbing player behavior. Last October quarterback Kerry
Collins asked to be benched and was eventually released; in
November running back Fred Lane was suspended for one game after
grabbing his crotch during a touchdown celebration; and in
December linebacker Kevin Greene was suspended for a game after
he attacked assistant coach Kevin Steele on the sideline. Then,
the day after Carolina's season ended, coach Dom Capers was fired.

"Things have been very uneventful and methodical," says Seifert.
"Some of that has been on purpose, considering what this team
has been through the last few years."

One would think that a team that ranked 28th in the league in
rushing offense and last in total defense in 1998 might have a
greater sense of urgency--particularly after losing its best
blocker (left tackle Blake Brockermeyer, who signed with the
Bears) and its top receiver (Raghib Ismail, signed by the
Cowboys) to free agency. However, Seifert has been hamstrung,
largely by Capers's questionable signing in April '98 of
free-agent defensive lineman Sean Gilbert. The acquisition of
Gilbert, the Redskins' franchise player, cost Carolina
first-round draft picks in 1999 and 2000, and his seven-year,
$46.5 million deal, the richest ever awarded a defensive player,
was a hard hit on the team's salary cap.

This off-season Carolina has signed 11 free agents, but the most
notable among those is linebacker Steve Tovar, who played six
steady but unspectacular seasons in Cincinnati and San Diego. In
the draft the Panthers addressed their biggest needs with a pair
of second-round picks: Georgia tackle Chris Terry and Nebraska
defensive end Mike Rucker. "We would have moved up to take a
sexier player," says Seifert, "but we were very cautious about
doing something just to be sexy. We're doing the best things we
can to improve without mortgaging our future."

To get the most out of the talent he does have, Seifert, a
defensive coordinator in San Francisco from 1983 through '88
before leading the 49ers to two Super Bowl wins in eight seasons
as coach, has switched the Panthers from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3.
That will allow Gilbert, who was a disappointment at end last
season, to return to the tackle position he played during most
of his five seasons in the league. The scheme also features an
"elephant" pass-rushing end on throwing downs. Seifert believes
that Greene, who racked up 15 sacks last year, could play the E
spot, but Greene, who turns 37 this summer, wants to be an
every-down linebacker. Rucker could also get the call; if so, he
wouldn't be the only inexperienced player pressed into service.

After failing to re-sign Ismail or lure free-agent wideout J.J.
Stokes from the 49ers, Seifert settled on restricted free agent
Patrick Jeffers, a backup last season in Dallas. Seifert's hope
with the offensive line is that the 295-pound Terry, who played
only two years of offense at Georgia, develops quickly. That
would allow left tackle Clarence Jones to move to the right
side, replacing Norberto Davidds-Garrido, who struggled at times
protecting quarterback Steve Beuerlein in '98.

Beuerlein, 34, stepped in admirably after the Collins fiasco,
completing a career-high 63% of his passes. Capers rewarded him
with a three-year, $9 million extension last November. But in
March, Seifert turned around and traded a 1999 third-round draft
pick and a conditional selection in 2000 for Broncos backup Jeff
Lewis, who didn't play last season after blowing out his left
knee in a pickup basketball game. Seifert has been clear about
wanting Lewis, who is healthy, to take over at some point soon.
Beuerlein is obviously not happy. "We got Jeff Lewis for one
reason," says Seifert. "That is to be our quarterback of the
future."

What that future holds is hard to say. Seifert may have the
Panthers on the right track, but they're moving at a pretty slow
clip.

Jamir Miller Waits
HIS PRICE IS NOT RIGHT

When the free-agent signing period began in mid-February,
linebacker Jamir Miller seemed to be in perfect position for a
big score. The 10th pick in the 1994 draft, Miller led the
Cardinals in tackles last year and then got a chance to showcase
his talents in two playoff games, the franchise's first since
moving to the desert in '88. A bit of good fortune seemed to
follow when Arizona opted to saddle wideout Rob Moore, and not
Miller, with its franchise player designation.

Free to negotiate with all of the league's 31 teams, Miller
figured he would be sifting through a pile of lucrative offers.
Yet as of Sunday only the Cardinals had offers on the table, and
Miller has rejected one, a two-year, $6 million contract. "It's
doubtful [that Miller will be back]," says club vice president
Bill Bidwill Jr.

Other potential suitors were concerned when Miller said that he
wanted to be among the top-paid players in the league at his
position. Also, some teams weren't thrilled when they heard that
Miller, a 6'5", 266-pound run stuffer with superb speed, wanted
to play for someone who would use him primarily as a pass rusher.

Miller also has two strikes against him under the league's
substance-abuse policy. In August 1995 he was suspended for four
games after a positive drug test. The suspension meant that he
had tested positive at least once before and that another
positive test would result in a one-year ban. But Miller says
that shouldn't be an issue, adding, "If I had continued on like
I [was], there's no way I'd still be in the league."

Miller visited the Bears and the Patriots, yet even after
neither team made an offer, he rejected the Cardinals' proposal.
He made news in early April when he fired his agent, Steve
Baker, and hired Leigh Steinberg. The Saints and the Titans have
shown tepid interest, and though Arizona remains in the picture,
Bidwill's comments notwithstanding, Miller has lost much of his
bargaining power: On March 26 the Cardinals signed former Lions
linebacker Rob Fredrickson to a four-year, $7.9 million deal;
then they drafted Florida linebacker Johnny Rutledge and
Wisconsin pass-rushing end Tom Burke in rounds 2 and 3,
respectively.

COLOR PHOTO: PATRICK MURPHY-RACEY The Panthers hope to get more bang for their buck by moving Gilbert (94) inside.
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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