Carolina Panthers

WEB ONLY: Panthers Q and A

Sounds like the dream has died.

From the tone of the e-mail we’re getting around here, everyone’s Christmas has been ruined by the Panthers futility.

Fear not, the season will turn bright, even as theirs dims.

On to the mailbag: 

“I’ve read a number of articles in the last week as to why the 2006 Panthers are not living up to expectations. Sure injuries have been a factor but they were just as big factor in 2004 and they still managed to convince most observers that, if nothing else, they were a team of character. In the last two years the team has apparently increased their talent level but perhaps at the expense of some of the character that made them contenders in the first place. During that time they have added some talented players but what seems to be lost in all the excitement is the loss of numerous veteran players who looking back were the heart and soul of the 2003 and to 2004 teams.

“I have no knowledge of the degree to which these players contributed to the strong character of the 2002 and 2003 teams but I really doubt that the character and leadership lost as a result of losing these players is off-set by the ‘more talented’ players added during the last two years. I have read a number of quotes from coach Fox regarding the character of the 2003 and 2004 teams. I have heard fewer such references by him to the 2005 team and none that I can recall to this years team. The coach is right, the difference between a year like 2003 and 2006 is winning or losing the close games. In 2003 winning the close games was attributed to strong character, it seems only logical then to blame losing the close games this year on a lack of character.”

Wally; Cary, N.C.

Wally threw quite a list together there, and most of the names he listed break down into a few clear categories. The old and/or broken down: Brentson Buckner, Stephen Davis, Ricky Proehl, Jeff Mitchell, Kevin Donnalley, Mark Fields, Todd Steussie.

The marginal fillers: Rod Smart, Terry Cousin, Brandon Short, Kemp Rasmussen (and here I thought I’d never type his name again), Dante Wesley, Tutan Reyes, Deon Grant, Jermaine Wiggins and Travares Tillman. The guys who wanted/got more money than they were worth/or what the Panthers were willing to spend: Will Witherspoon, Muhsin Muhammad, Jeno James.

The one name that stuck out like a sore thumb was Jarrod Cooper. It is, I believe the first time his name’s ever been mentioned in the same sentence as character, other than “Jarrod Cooper is a strange and troubling ________.” The bottom line is, the Panthers that made the Super Bowl were an interesting mix of young and old, and the old had to be churned out or the team would have suffered more from their physical depreciation than anything they’d have added character-wise.

There’s also no doubt that on paper, the Panthers entered camp with the most talented roster they’ve ever carried to Spartanburg.

And we talked about this around a month or so ago. There may be something to the notion of being too talented. Maybe there’s too much scrapbook, not enough glue.

If you’re not going to blame injuries, it’s as good a theory to start with as anything.

“On Monday Night Football this past week, one of the announcers said that Muhsin Muhammad told them that in Chicago they never have the ‘strife/division’ between offense and defense that he experienced ‘on other teams he has been on’. This comment was said by him in reference to Rex Grossman’s performance dividing the team. I can only assume he is speaking of his tenure in Carolina since that is his only other team. It made me curious as to which year or years he is referring. If they were years under Fox, it would add fuel to the fire.” C. Kay; Cleveland, Ohio I didn’t hear the comment in question, but I also wouldn’t doubt it.

I do, however, doubt he was talking about anything that happened after Fox got here, prior to his leaving after the 2004 season.

In 2002, the offense was the obvious drag on the system, and Muhammad probably wouldn’t refer to strife if his side was the cause of it. Accountability was never his strongest suit, as in his estimation, he’s dropped approximately two passes in his career.

Things balanced out in 2003 and they went to the Super Bowl, and the two sides of the ball took turns sinking and rising in 2004, though Muhammad had a nice salary drive.

If I had to guess, I’d say there might have been some internal grumbling in the Seifert years, particularly 1999 since the offense over-performed and the defense went past them in the other direction.

They weren’t supposed to be good with the ball then, since Seifert was starting a quarterback he couldn’t wait to get rid of (Steve Beuerlein) and a pair of running backs he couldn’t decide between (Tshimanga Biakabutuka and Fred Lane), that still kept them hanging around the fringes of the playoff race until late.

I don’t remember anything specific, but given some of the personalities in that room, I wouldn’t discount it either.

“Was wondering if you had any thoughts on Jake’s demeanor on the sidelines during the game last Monday. It seemed weird with him wearing the hooded sweatshirt and then immediately leaving after the game. Any thoughts?” Brandon; Charlotte Delhomme was as depressed as I have ever seen him after the Philadelphia game. The combination of losing their best chance at staying in the playoff mix and knowing his thumb was messed up would do that to you, I suppose. The following week, he tried to keep up a brave front but it wasn’t working.

He admitted Wednesday he was as depressed as he had ever been not playing last week.

It’s not just on the field that he wears his heart on his sleeve. He was genuinely distraught, and since he takes it all so personally, it was as if he had personally let the team down. At the same time, I think he wanted to clear out of Weinke’s way, go incognito, so as not to interfere with his game, and his moment — though Weinke could have used some cover afterward. There was nothing he could do last week to fix it, so the way he figures, there was nothing to say that would make things better. He’s generally been accountable, sometimes more than he’s had to be, so we’ll give him a pass this time.

“I retract past slurs against Dan Henning as my research into my own film archives proves that his hold-back is John Fox and that given what he knows, he can call one hell of a game if he wants to. In essence what I am saying is that Fox lacks the killer instinct this game demands for a true contender and Super Bowl champion. Dynasties are built out of the spirit of adventure, innovative use of the unique talents that make up the team, and strike out boldly with a team that arguably has one of the best rosters in the league today. Imagine the Panthers with Bill Walsh as their head coach. Don’t you think you’d see a paradigm shift in their performance? “It is my personal belief, based on everything I have watched, read, and written, that this Panthers team has the heart and the power to go all the way. They need that shrink you mentioned very badly, they need to change the way they are thinking from Fox down to the towel boy, but then they need to get really (angry) at losing and do everything they can to avoid letting it happen again.” George; Winston-Salem, N.C.

This was the tail-end of a long and thoughtful message from George, the gist of which was they don’t adjust in mid-game terribly well, and they may not be using the talents on hand as well as possible. And while he’s been in my ear about Henning for years, it’s good to see a man broaden his spectrum of criticism. Here’s what I think about John Fox. I think he’s a really good coach. I think he’s smart, and knows how to work people. I also think, owing partly to his background as a defensive coordinator, that he’s always going to be a little tight in the seat of the pants when it comes to in-game decisions. He’s tried to get a little maverick at times (Minnesota), and it backfired on him. The end result is that he’s less willing, rather than more, to get wild with his play-calling. The Panthers can’t be too aggressive on either side of the ball this year because of specific problems on the other side. Until they get their players well, or Fox goes through some kind of mid-life crisis that causes him to shift his personality, I don’t see it changing all that much. It’s also important to realize he’s in his fifth year as a head coach. The guy he’s going against this week is in his 15th. Fox learns something daily about being a head coach, just as the rest of us do in our jobs.

Contact Darin Gantt at daringantt@carolina.rr.com

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