4 Carolina Panthers Stephen Davis is back home in Carolina and eager to carry his share of the load again

August 31, 2003

One week of training camp was all Stephen Davis needed to see the
benefits of signing as a free-agent running back with the
Panthers. Every time he looked into the crowds at Wofford College
in Spartanburg, S.C., he saw his wife, Dee Dee, and their four
children, who had rarely watched him practice during the seven
seasons he spent with the Redskins. Hardly a day went by that he
didn't bump into somebody who knew him. One morning when he
trotted out of the locker room with quarterback Rodney Peete,
Davis pointed to a small stadium at the end of a narrow street.
That's where he played football for Spartanburg High.

That's what happens when you come home. Everything feels warmer
and a bit more secure. And it's a good bet that Davis will be
feeling plenty comfortable when the regular season begins.
Ericsson Stadium in Charlotte is a mere hour and a half drive
from the dream house he built in Columbia, S.C., two years ago.
More important, Davis is returning to the role he enjoyed in
Washington before Steve Spurrier brought his pass-happy Fun 'n'
Gun offense to the Redskins last season.

Although Davis has been selected to two Pro Bowls and clearly was
Washington's top offensive weapon in 2001, Spurrier had little
use for him. Davis, a 6-foot, 230-pound workhorse who prefers 20
or more carries a game, averaged 17.25 an outing in '02 and
gained only 820 yards. (He missed four of Washington's last nine
games with a sprained right knee.) "I tell everybody that things
happen for a reason," Davis says. "It was hard to deal with
everything last year--not getting carries, getting ignored,
dealing with a coach who didn't like my running style. But I grew
from it. I plan on taking advantage of every chance I get here."

Davis won't have to worry about opportunities. The Panthers had
the NFL's second-worst offense (267.5 yards a game) and ranked
25th in the league in rushing yards (99.1 per game) last season,
and coach John Fox plans to rely heavily on Davis this year.
Before taking over Carolina in January 2002, Fox spent five years
as the Giants' defensive coordinator, so he knows from firsthand
experience in the NFL East what Davis is capable of doing.
"Stephen has that athletic arrogance that all great players have,
and we need some of that in our offense," Fox says. "We knew his
lack of production in Washington didn't result from a decline in
his skills. It came from not playing or running as much. But he's
our kind of back. There may be faster runners, but there aren't
many who are as productive [in terms of carries]."

While Davis was the critical ingredient Carolina added to its
offense, he wasn't the only pickup. Two free agents, guard Doug
Brzezinski (Eagles) and wide receiver Ricky Proehl (Rams), should
make immediate contributions, and first-round pick Jordan Gross
will start at right tackle.

Fox says he's not planning to have a
"three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense," but he does want an
efficient, effective unit. Carolina fielded the league's
second-best defense in 2002 and, with a little help from the
offense, might have finished better than 7-9. Three of the losses
were by three points or fewer. "We had three games where we
didn't even score in double digits," says left tackle Todd
Steussie. "That's inexcusable. We know we're still not going to
light up the scoreboard this year, but if we can win the
time-of-possession battle, our defense can play fresh and fast.
We definitely need to hold up our end of the bargain."

Davis agrees. If all goes according to plan, he should finish the
year with around 350 carries. The thought brings a sly smile to
his face. Everything is familiar again--his surroundings, his job
description--and Davis thinks great things lie ahead for his
team. "I've played eight years, and I know that running backs
don't have long careers in this league," he says. "I wanted to be
with a team that has a shot at making the playoffs and doing
something when they get there. That's what we have here." --J.C.

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS BUSTIN' LOOSE Davis hopes he can jump-start an offense that ranked 25th in the league in rushing last season. COLOR PHOTO: NFL PHOTOS GROSS COLOR PHOTO

UNDER THE GUN

--Wideout MUHSIN MUHAMMAD has been to a Pro Bowl and is the
Panthers' most polished receiver. (His 431 career receptions for
5,509 yards are team records.) But injuries have haunted
him--sprained left shoulder and turf toe in 2001; pulled
hamstring in 2002--as has inconsistency. On a team searching for
playmakers, he needs to prove he can still be one.

ENEMY LINES
An opposing scout's view

"Losing Jack Del Rio as their defensive coordinator will hurt, but
they have five guys on their defense--Julius Peppers, Kris
Jenkins, Dan Morgan, Will Witherspoon and Mike Minter--who are as
good as any young players you'll find at their positions. Those
are the kind of guys you can build around.... Peppers is scary
because he's just learning how to play this game. He's got great
speed and footwork, and he probably has a chip on his shoulder
after that suspension [four games after testing positive for a
banned substance] cost him a Pro Bowl berth. He'd better be
ready, though. He's going to see a lot more creative blocking
schemes now that people have had a chance to watch him for a
year.... Nobody talks about Jenkins, but he has everything you
want in a defensive tackle. He's athletic as hell, and he can
play the run and the pass.... They don't have great corners
[Terry Cousin and Reggie Howard], so they put those guys in
position to play conservative.... Jordan Gross will be a player.
He's pretty nimble for a guy with great size.... Rodney Peete
won't beat you with his arm, but he'll make smart decisions."

SCHEDULE

Sept. 7 JACKSONVILLE
14 at Tampa Bay
21 Open date
28 ATLANTA

Oct. 5 NEW ORLEANS
12 at Indianapolis
19 TENNESSEE
26 at New Orleans

Nov. 2 at Houston
9 TAMPA BAY
16 WASHINGTON
23 at Dallas
30 PHILADELPHIA

Dec. 7 at Atlanta
14 at Arizona
21 DETROIT
28 at N.Y. Giants

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: 10
Opponents' 2002 winning percentage: .523
Games against playoff teams: 8

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2002 statistics

2002 RECORD: 7-9
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total):
OFFENSE 25/30/31
DEFENSE 8/4/2

COACH: John Fox; second season with Carolina (7-9 in NFL)

STEPHEN DAVIS [1]

POS. PVR ATT. YARDS AVG.
RB 13 207 820 4.0

REC. YARDS AVG. TDs
23 142 6.2 8

RODNEY PEETE

POS. PVR ATT. COMP. %
QB 95 381 223 58.5

YARDS TDs INT. RATING
2,630 15 14 77.4

BRAD HOOVER

POS. PVR ATT. YARDS AVG.
FB 344 31 129 4.2

REC. YARDS AVG. TDs
17 187 11.0 2

MUHSIN MUHAMMAD

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
WR 154 63 823 3

KRIS MANGUM

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
TE 256 16 159 0

TODD STEUSSIE

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
LT 6'6" 308 lbs. 16 16

JENO JAMES

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
LG 6'3" 310 lbs. 9 2

JEFF MITCHELL

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
C 6'4" 300 lbs. 16 16

KEVIN DONNALLEY

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
RG 6'5" 310 lbs. 16 16

JORDAN GROSS (R)[1]

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
RT 6'4" 300 lbs. 11 11

STEVE SMITH

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
WR 121 54 872 3

DEFENSE

RE JULIUS PEPPERS 36 tackles 12 sacks
RT BRENTSON BUCKNER 32 tackles 5 sacks
LT KRIS JENKINS 44 tackles 7 sacks
LE MIKE RUCKER 68 tackles 10 sacks
OLB WILL WITHERSPOON 63 tackles 1 1/2 sacks
MLB DAN MORGAN 54 tackles 1 sack
OLB GREG FAVORS[1] 0 tackles 0 sacks
CB REGGIE HOWARD 84 tackles 2 int.
SS MIKE MINTER 82 tackles 4 int.
FS DEON GRANT 68 tackles 3 int.
CB TERRY COUSIN 59 tackles 2 int.

SPECIAL TEAMS PVR

K JOHN KASAY 248 5/5 XPS 2/5 FGS 11 PTS.
PR STEVE SMITH 121 55 RET. 8.5 AVG. 2 TDS
KR STEVE SMITH 121 26 RET. 22.0 AVG. 0 TDS
P TODD SAUERBRUN 104 PUNTS 45.5 AVG.

[1] New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 89)

"Peppers is scary because he's just learning how to play. He has
great speed and footwork."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)