Carolina Panthers

WEB ONLY: Panthers Q and A

First things first: Yes, Jake Delhomme is really hurt. No, he’s probably not going to play. No, that’s not necessarily a good thing for the Panthers, not if you want them to go to the playoffs. Yes, you are wrong to think this is some vast conspiracy by which the Panthers hope to bench Jake and allow him save face.

Also, if you were at practice Friday and asked Delhomme to sign that helmet you’re putting on E-bay right about now, I wish he’d have signed it with his left hand, the one good one he’s got right now.

That being said, let’s get to the mail:

“The single knock on Julius Peppers coming out of college was that he took plays off. I dig me some Julius. I really do, but lately they seem to be in a severe slump as far as sacks/pressure goes, yet Julius is routinely shown on the sidelines sporting that big smile and cutting up with his defensive line mates, giving the impression he (they) are not all that bothered by the current turmoil the team finds itself.

“Maybe I’m just frustrated and ranting here and maybe this doesn’t even really qualify as a question other then to ask your thoughts on whether Julius and the line really care or if they’re just going through the motions and sometimes taking plays off?”

Rich; Calypso, N.C.

You know, I’m glad you sent this, because I get asked this a lot. Television shows Julius smiling or joking with Andy Reid between plays and folks think he’s a malingerer or consorting with the enemy. The problem is, we lack context.

Perhaps Andy made a joke about him looking better than when he coached him at the Pro Bowl, or an offensive lineman said something dirty about Julius’ lineage. Maybe he was smiling, turning the other cheek. Unless you’re on the sideline (or closer) and hear the conversation that led up to it, you don’t know. But television is a powerful medium, and the image that’s captured can create a perception — even if it’s not rooted in anything real.

“I agree with you that it was actually good to see the Panthers start to show some emotion (after Monday’s loss). It’s almost like Fox has become too professional, too closed off, too calm, too worried about keeping an even keel that it has affected this veteran team to the point it really is just a job. It almost does not seem like fun to them, not a game. Basically they have the superior talent, if they make the right calls and execute then the results should be a win. They look at it too much as X’s and O’s and pieces on a chess board.

“Could this be because Julius Peppers and Steve Smith are the superstars? While Peppers has started to show more feistiness and be more vocal, that is only because I don’t think he could have shown less without being dead, and Smith plays so angry and so cold that I think his teammates try to stay out of his way so much they can never feed off any of his energy.”

Jason; Jefferson, N.C.

Peppers is taking on more of an obvious leadership role on the defense, but the guy’s never going to dance like Ray Lewis or talk like Brentson Buckner.

And it’s hard to Smith to be a leader, since he’s such a outlying part of the offense — meaning about five other things have to go right before he gets his hands on the ball.

But I do think there’s a bit of a leadership vacuum around here this season, and I think it stems from two things. Losing Dan Morgan in the opener can’t be underestimated. And with Delhomme playing well below his old standards, it takes away from his ability to cajole a team into going one direction or another.

Guys are listened to most when they play well. Also, don’t forget LG Mike Wahle, who’s quickly become one of the respected voice, and one of the guys both players and coaches go to for the temperature of the locker room.

“Jake Delhomme has played very well at times for the Carolina Panthers, but while the ’06 team has many flaws, Jake is currently the biggest reason for our struggles. In previous years his costly miscues would cost us some games, but this season his consistent failure on third down not only impacts the number of points we score but has played an enormous role in tiring out the defense as the game goes along, resulting in those fourth quarter collapses. If there were a way to magically make him the ’03 Delhomme even with his occasionally inexplicable INTs, I’d favor keeping him around, but this isn’t 2003.

“Right now he is a liability, and while I’m not convinced that Weinke would be a better option, I’m not convinced that he wouldn’t be either. I am convinced, however, that the Panthers desperately need to make a move during the off-season to either replace him or bring in a competent option who could challenge him for the job. Sadly, I’m also convinced that the front office will not do so because it seems like we’re always a year or two late when it comes to addressing obvious personnel issues (see: Dan Morgan, Mike Minter, Stephen Davis, number two WR, O-line, return man, etc.).”

J.D.; Greenville, N.C.

J.D. had gone back through the tape on Monday’s game for Zapruder-film evidence that both of last week’s interceptions were on Delhomme, and you can make a valid case for it.

But at the end of the day, he’s still the best they’ve got around here, and that’s probably going to be true a year from now as well. If you’re holding your breath for the Panthers to spend a first-round draft pick on a quarterback, call a paramedic, because it might be a while. Like whenever GM Marty Hurney leaves. He’s just not a “franchise quarterback” guy, and may never be. That’s not to say he’ll never pick one. I mean, if they’re picking 16th and Patrick Willis and Reggie Nelson are off the board, who’s to say they don’t take a flier on Troy Smith if he’s there.

But I think properly protected (from the front by his line and behind by his backs), Delhomme’s all the quarterback a team needs. He didn’t just get bad all of a sudden, and he did play in a Pro Bowl last year.

And you’re right about them waiting too long in some cases. But with guys who have been through the battles for them, they’re taking the chance that being too loyal is the worst thing anyone can say about them.

“I was unhappy with the 2005 draft strategy/class. I know it’s said you need three years to judge a draft class, but after waiving players and others struggling, I labeled it a bust. Carolina knew the depth they had going in, and still traded for more picks! (Man Lofa Tatupu would look good in a Carolina uniform). I did give Carolina this: The 2006 draft talent seemed to be greater than 2005 draft talent. Re-opening the book, Carolina got three starters from that class. So, the 2005 draft class isn’t a complete wash, right?”

Bas; Gladstone, Australia

The 2005 draft was all about replacing the old hands. Thomas Davis, Eric Shelton, Evan Mathis and Atiyyah Ellison were chosen to replace Mark Fields, Stephen Davis, Tutan Reyes and Brentson Buckner.

That Mathis is playing as well as Reyes might be considered faint praise, but that gives them at least one out of four. Thomas Davis might just blow up next year, as there have been times this season when it’s looked like he gets it. But those times don’t come every week.

I wouldn’t call it a complete wash, as they’ve got a season of acceptable play from Geoff Hangartner as well. But unless Davis blossoms in 2007, that’s what you’ll have to lean toward, because I’m not sure Mathis will have a firm grip on his right guard job going into camp. Watch D’Anthony Batiste, who is as raw as the weather today but talented enough to play there, to push him in Spartanburg.

“Is Ken Lucas really hurting as bad as he says or do you think he might be pouting over losing that starting job? Most importantly, how do you see this weekend's biggest game on Saturday? Can Youngstown State slow down Armanti & Richardson? I believe their run defense is the key to the game.”

Bruce; High Point, N.C.

Hurting. His feelings are hurt too, but if he was well, he wouldn’t have played to the point where losing a job was a consideration. Now with Chris Gamble nursing a sore hamstring, the Panthers might be without both their opening day corners against the Giants.

Lots of luck.

As to the defending national champion Appalachian State Mountaineers, anyone who can contain us on the ground deserves to advance. Kevin Richardson’s been a beast protecting his rookie QB, who’s no slouch either.

Armanti Edwards is playing like a young Richie Williams right now. And to me, I’d rather compare a sports writer to Red Smith than do that. Richie’s a special one, and the Willis Reed act he pulled in last year’s title game earned him free drinks in Boone the rest of his life.

I’ve often joked that in these I-AA playoffs (and don’t give me that sanctimonious NCAA “Championship Subdivision” crap), the motto is: “Big ones line up, little one’s bunch up, and bring it on.” Well, there’s no little ones left, but I still like our chances to make the Penguins march right back to Ohio.

Contact Darin Gantt at daringantt@carolina.rr.com

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