CHARLOTTE -- One of the obvious goals of the Panthers' organizational decision to be more like Pittsburgh -- voiced last week by owner Jerry Richardson -- was to become more physical in the running game.
While they need to fix their offensive line, and might swap running backs out, perhaps the biggest shifts will come at the tight end and fullback positions. That could mean some popular starters are replaced as part of what figures to be a renovation at the two spots, anyway.
While the Panthers like young tight ends Jeff King and Dante Rosario for different reasons, neither carries the heft they're looking for in a blocker. While Pittsburgh typically carries tight ends who start in the mid-250-pound range, King looks maxed out at his listed weight of 253. He's actually skinny looking with his 6-foot-3 frame, while Rosario's a stockier-built 240, though an inch taller.
But the toughest part to swallow might be that Brad Hoover's days in Charlotte are dwindling, if not done. He's an unrestricted free agent, and after eight years, his 6-foot, 245-pound frame has taken a lot of abuse. He's never been a road-grader, coming out of Western Carolina as a big tailback rather than a blocker, who has had to adapt on the fly.
The fact there's not a single fullback on the current roster (and just the two aforementioned tight ends) indicates the coming changes.
Don't be surprised if in the muscling up, King loses a starting job and Hoover loses a roster spot altogether.
• PEPPERS UPDATE: Defensive end Julius Peppers' already bad 2007 season got worse, with a scoring change that knocked him down to 2.5 sacks for the year.
He had been at 3.0, but half of one against San Francisco was given to teammate Mike Rucker, and that nearly gave Rucker the team record back.
As it stands now, Peppers has 56.0 to Rucker's 55.5. Rucker's season total didn't move, because half of one he was credited with at Tampa Bay was given to Kindal Moorehead.
As for Peppers, he's not expected to need surgery to repair his strained right MCL, which cost him the last two games of the season.
• SALLEY COMING BACK: Speaking of knee surgeries, perennial safety project Nate Salley has chosen not to have one.
The third-year safety, who missed all of last year with a freak training camp injury, said recently he's chosen against having the strained PCL worked on. In December, he got a second opinion from Dr. Richard Steadman in Vail, Colo., who suggested he at least have an arthroscopic cleanup on his right knee. But upon consulting with team doctors, Salley decided against that. He's rehabbed, and probably could have played late in the year, but he was placed on IR in September after his thought-to-be-mild problem lingered far longer than they expected.
If he's well, he gives them another option at safety, since Chris Harris and Quinton Teal are the only ones under contract at this moment.
• EXTRA POINTS: Defensive line coach Sal Sunseri's name popped up again last week in connection with the vacant defensive coordinator job at the University of Pittsburgh. Sunseri was a standout linebacker at Pitt, and his name's been mentioned for practically every opening there the last five years. ...
As it turns out, the Panthers were able to keep fewer than half of their eight practice squad players from last season. They've resigned guard Rueben Riley, wide receiver Chris Hannon and running back DeCori Birmingham, along with former St. Louis receiver Dominique Thompson to future deals for 2008.
Fullback Billy Latsko signed with Pittsburgh instead of coming back to Charlotte and defensive end Willie Evans went to New Orleans. They also lost tight end Marcus Freeman, who the New York Giants signed to their practice squad. They weren't terribly interested in keeping the two safeties they brought in late, Eddie Canonico and Patrick Ghee. ...
Speaking of future deals, the guy who stands as perhaps the Panthers' all-time draft bust got one last week. Running back Eric Shelton, their second-round pick in 2005, signed with Washington.
He accumulated a grand total of 23 yards on eight carries with the Panthers, who got tired of waiting for him this year, cutting him at the end of his second lackluster camp. He didn't play in the league at all last year. ...
Former Panthers radio announcer Bill Rosinski will be calling the NFC Championship game today for the Westwood One network, along with former Giants coach Jim Fassel.