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2 Carolina Panthers

Sept. 03, 2007
Sept. 03, 2007

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Sept. 3, 2007

SI Players: LIFE ON AND OFF THE FIELD
2007 NFL Preview
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2 Carolina Panthers

More, more, more is the message on the offensive side of the ball, where the ample talent is just waiting to be tapped

WHAT'S NEW

This is an article from the Sept. 3, 2007 issue

> How aboutmore zone-blocking schemes to better serve the slashing running back tandem ofDeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams, more motion plays for explosive wideoutSteve Smith, more opportunities for quarterback Jake Delhomme to make subtlechanges at the line. Those are some of the changes made by new offensivecoordinator Jeff Davidson. "I felt like we didn't have a lot of energy onoffense last year," says coach John Fox, who replaced Dan Henning withDavidson, 39, a former offensive lineman and a Bill Belichick-Charlie Weisdisciple who'd worked most recently under Romeo Crennel in Cleveland.

The Carolinaoffense ranked 24th in the NFL a year ago, and injuries to center JustinHartwig and guard Mike Wahle were damaging but not the entire problem. "DanHenning is a good man and a good coach," says Fox. "But truth be told,we haven't lit it up offensively in any of my five years here." That'swhere Davidson comes in.

WHERE THEY'REHEADED

> As recentlyas 2005 the Panthers played in the NFC Championship Game, and the franchise iseight games over .500 in Fox's tenure. Carolina was considered a solid SuperBowl contender a year ago, which made 8-8 a major disappointment. "It waswithout a doubt one of the toughest years I've ever been through infootball," says Delhomme, the starter since 2003. But in the larger view,the Panthers are not far from another serious run.

The centerpiece of2005 was Smith, who had 103 receptions for 1,563 yards and 12 touchdowns andwas arguably the league's most potent offensive weapon. Last year he missed thefirst two games with a hamstring injury and says he was never 100%, despiteaccumulating 83 catches and 1,166 yards. His personal life was complicated bythe death of his grandfather last November and the declining health of hisgrandmother, which have kept Smith shuttling between Charlotte and the WestCoast.

However, Smith, 28,says he is only stronger for the experiences of the last 12 months. "Lastyear I was so hungry to prove that '05 wasn't a fluke," he says. "But Inever had that extra push [because of the hamstring], and DBs knew it. ThenI've had a really rough off-season with my grandpa and my grandma. So I've justdecided this year to let loose and not let the business of football get into myheart. I've been telling the other receivers, 'You don't want to look backsomeday and regret that you didn't enjoy it more.' I think I can get 2,000yards this year."

While that's alofty goal--the NFL record is 1,848, by Jerry Rice in 1995--Carolina will giveSmith every opportunity to come close. As Fox says, "We've always done aphenomenal job of getting Steve the ball," but Davidson's offense willcreate even more chances. "Steve is our guy," says Delhomme, "butthe best way to get Steve the ball is to run the football effectively. If wedon't run it, teams will put a safety over the top on Steve, and then it'stough. So it all comes down to running the ball."

Foster and Williamsform a solid one-two pair in the backfield, and both could benefit from theline's shift from one-on-one drive blocking--which is better suited to a powerrunner such as their predecessor, Stephen Davis--to more zone blocking."Every team has zone plays," says fifth-year tackle Jordan Gross,"but we're working to get very good at three or four plays in the runninggame that we know, come hell or high water, we're going to run every week. Welove it. The running backs love it."

The Panthers needproduction from the second and third wideouts behind Smith, especially aftercutting Keyshawn Johnson, who caught 70 passes in his only season with theteam. Veteran Drew Carter had the edge over Keary Colbert and rookies DwayneJarrett from USC and Ryne Robinson from Miami (Ohio) late in training camp.

Fox came toCarolina after having been a Super Bowl defensive coordinator with the Giants,and the defense has been suitably reliable, finishing seventh in the NFL a yearago and only once out of the top 10 in five years. Defensive end Julius Peppersis among the best players in the league, and veteran end Mike Rucker is backafter off-season knee surgery.

Yet both safetieswill be new (10-year veteran Mike Minter retired during camp), and rookielinebacker Jon Beason will have to be integrated into the lineup if former ProBowl player Dan Morgan, who missed all of '06 after suffering a concussion,can't go. "Our defense is in a little bit of a transition phase," saysFox. "Of course people say our whole division is in transition. Then again,those same people said New Orleans would be lucky to win four games last year.We do this for a living, and even we don't know what's going tohappen."

What should happenis that the Panthers should compete for a division title.

2007 SCHEDULE

(S) Saturday

SEPTEMBER

9 at St. Louis

16 HOUSTON

23 at Atlanta

30 TAMPA BAY

OCTOBER

7 at NewOrleans

14 at Arizona

21 Bye

28 INDIANAPOLIS

NOVEMBER

4 at Tennessee

11 ATLANTA

18 at Green Bay

25 NEW ORLEANS

DECEMBER

2 SAN FRANCISCO

9 atJacksonville

16 SEATTLE

22 DALLAS (S)

30 at Tampa Bay

SCHEDULESTRENGTH

NFL rank ... 26

Opponents' 2006winning percentage ...  .477

Games againstplayoff teams ... 5

ENEMY LINES

AN OPPOSING TEAM'SSCOUT SIZES UP THE PANTHERS

> Very good ondefense, respectable on offense. . . . Jake Delhomme is a Jon Kitna-typequarterback--he's O.K., but you'd really love for him to be your backup, notyour starter. . . . David Carr is going be a lot better than Chris Weinke ifDelhomme goes down again, because Weinke was just terrible. Steve Smith makesany of them better than they are. . . . They won't miss Mike Minter that muchon defense because he was slowing down, but their corners, Chris Gamble, KenLucas and Richard Marshall, have to play a little better. . . . You look attheir division: Tampa Bay is going to struggle, Atlanta is in trouble, nobodyknows what to expect from New Orleans. The Panthers could go 8-8 again and beright in the mix. But they should do better than 8-8.

THE KING 500

Dan Morgan

>LINEBACKER

407

Morgan has beengreat at times in his career, most notably when he made 25 tackles inSuper Bowl XXXVIII. He's also missed 40 games in six years and is comingback from at least his fifth concussion, at a time when the lasting effects ofhead injuries are a hot-button issue. "It means I have to talk more aboutwhat I'm doing," says Morgan. "This was a decision I had to think aboutfor a long time."

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PROJECTED STARTINGLINEUP

WITH 2006STATISTICS

COACH JOHN FOX(44-36 in NFL), sixth season with Panthers

OFFENSE

STEVE SMITH

POS WR

REC 83

YARDS 1,166

TD 9

DESHAUN FOSTER

POS RB

ATT 227

YARDS 897

AVG 4.0

REC 32

YARDS 159

AVG 5.0

TD 3

JAKE DELHOMME

POS QB

ATT 431

COMP 263

PCT 61.0

YARDS 2,805

TD 17

INT 11

RATING 82.6

BRAD HOOVER

POS FB

ATT 22

YARDS 73

AVG 3.3

REC 20

YARDS 122

AVG 6.1

TD 1

DREW CARTER

POS WR

REC 28

YARDS 357

TD 3

JORDAN GROSS

POS RT

HT 6' 4"

WT 300

G 16

JEREMY BRIDGES

POS RG

HT 6' 4"

WT 326

G 16

JUSTIN HARTWIG

POS C

HT 6' 4"

WT 312

G 2

MIKE WAHLE

POS LG

HT 6' 6"

WT 304

G 13

TRAVELLEWHARTON

POS LT

HT 6' 4"

WT 312

G 1

JEFF KING

POS TE

REC 1

YARDS 1

TD 1

JOHN KASAY

POS K

FG 24-27

POINTS 100


DEFENSE

NA'IL DIGGS

POS WLB

TACKLES 61

SACKS 0

INT 0

JULIUS PEPPERS

POS LE

TACKLES 57

SACKS 13

MAAKE KEMOEATU

POS LT

TACKLES 34

SACKS 0

KRIS JENKINS

POS RT

TACKLES 41

SACKS 3

MIKE RUCKER

POS RE

TACKLES 39

SACKS 5

THOMAS DAVIS

POS SLB

TACKLES 88

SACKS 1 1/2

INT 0

CHRIS GAMBLE

POS CB

TACKLES 66

INT 3

DEKE COOPER (NEWACQUISITION)

POS FS

TACKLES 1

SACKS 0

INT 0

DAN MORGAN

POS MLB

TACKLES 2

SACKS 0

INT 0

CHRIS HARRIS (NEWACQUISITION)

POS SS

TACKLES 54

SACKS 0

INT 2

KEN LUCAS

POS CB

TACKLES 45

INT 3

JASON BAKER

POS P

PUNTS 98

AVG 45.7

NEWACQUISITION

> 2006 RECORD8-8 NFL RANK (Rush/Pass/Total): OFFENSE 24/15/24 DEFENSE 11/4/7

PHOTOBOB ROSATOEYES FORWARD
A more dynamic running game should open things up for Delhomme
PHOTODAVID DUROCHIK/SPORTPICSILLUSTRATION