Carolina Panthers

Changing of the guard not a problem for veterans

CHARLOTTE -- For all the new plays being installed and new players being worked into new roles, the Carolina Panthers have also been passing torches over the last few weeks.

And for the most prominent of the former bearers, that's understandable and smart.

After all the recent attention paid to owner Jerry Richardson taking five younger players to his lake house for a meeting on the team's future, the past and present leaders were almost an afterthought.

"I thought that was good," safety Mike Minter said Wednesday. "He called in the core guys that are going to be here and be the future of the organization.

"What's happened, the guys who have been doing that, we're about to leave. So now you've got to get these guys in the middle so you can teach them how to carry on what it means to be a Carolina Panther."

For the biggest part of the last 10 seasons, Minter's been the guy doing that. He grew into his role quickly and has shepherded the defense through a pair of transitions. He's the only guy on the stop-side to have played for Dom Capers, and one of just four to play for George Seifert (Mike Rucker, Dan Morgan and Kris Jenkins). He's also been one of the team's biggest ambassadors in the community.

So when he wasn't invited to the recent meeting, some wondered what it said about his standing in his final year. He announced this spring he was retiring after this season.

But Minter laughed when asked if seeing Jake Delhomme, Julius Peppers, Steve Smith, Jordan Gross and DeShaun Foster go to the boss's house was a bittersweet moment for him, a tangible reminder that his time's nearly done.

"No," he said. "They better talk to somebody else. I'm going to be gone."

The 33-year-old safety said he expected a future sit-down with Richardson, saying Rucker and kicker John Kasay would likely be there as well, representing the old guard. But he knows their roles are different now.

The team's in the midst of a full-blown youth movement. After being one of the oldest teams in the league in 2006, they have just eight players on the entire roster in their 30s.

Gross said Richardson made that emphasis clear in his talk, saying he hoped for a transition year before players such as Minter were gone.

"That's the point he made, he said we've got a lot of leaders on this team who have been leaders for a long time," Gross said. "Not so much Jake, but the rest of us, it was letting us know what he expects us to do now and kind of take the reins a little bit.

"It's smart that he's doing it when there's not other leaders on the team and we're looking for new guys. So he'll do it so there's more guys available to say what needs to be said or do what needs to be done."

Gross is learning. Minter's already known it, and knows his clock's ticking.

"That's the future," Minter said of Richardson's new council of elders. "We're the now."

n NOTES: Backup offensive lineman D'Anthony Batiste has been hospitalized to treat an infection in his leg which flared up this week. He was admitted to Carolinas Medical Center to receive intravenous antibiotics, and team officials said they thought his treatment was proceeding well. ... Smith returned to practice Wednesday after being excused from the previous two practices.

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