Carolina Panthers

WEB ONLY: Panthers Q&A

Ahhh, the Christmas season is upon us. And more so than any dancing Elmodoll, it seems that the thing everybody wants this year is a scapegoat.

It’s quite a list this week, with offensive coordinator Dan Henningleading the way, followed by cornerback Chris Gamble and then the rest ofthem.

Ho, ho, ho my patoot:

Q: You say “Henning’s so out of it he was making calls for the Redskinswhen they won a couple of Super Bowls and for the Panthers when they madetwo solid runs at it. The play-calling’s no different.”

You have got to be kidding me! You may have convinced yourself and afew others, but the rest of us that know the real deal and are not so stupidas to buy into that hype. Remember what was there running the ball duringthose years. Remember what was there protecting the QB during those years.Remember the players that were there when he went into that organization.His winning percentage as a head coach was 34 percent. Look that stat upbefore you spout off again. He couldn’t do it as a head coach, yet you givehim all the props in the world for being a member of a team that justhappened to have talent and win games. No, he wasn’t the head coach thereand he wasn’t calling any shots. Saying that is responsible for the Redskinswinning a Super Bowl is like saying Matt Cassell is a proven winner cause hewas on the championship teams with Matt Leinart and then Tom Brady. Yeah,right.

Clifton Jacobs; Parts unknown

A: This was the edited for brevity and clarity version of a nearly 700-worde-mail which would be more appropriately referred to as a screed. Somewhere,Ted Kaczynski would be proud.

Clifton didn’t bother to put his name at the bottom of it (it was in thee-mail address), or mention where he was from, but we appreciate allcontributions.

In so many words, Clifton accused me of contradicting myself, andchastised me for not joining the torch-and-pitchfork crowd headed overtoward Henning’s place.

He was good enough to include Dan’s head coaching record, and point outthat he was in no way responsible for any success the Redskins had.

So Clifton, which is it? If as the offensive coordinator he was no partof the Skins wins, why is he solely responsible for the Panthers failures inthe same role?

Q: The focal point of my question is going to be on John Fox and Henning.I have agreed with most observers that Henning’s (and Fox’s) play calls havebeen at the foundation of better offenses in previous years, and that hedeserves that credit as well as the current catcalls.

But it appears increasingly likely over time that Fox and Henning onlyknow how to coach one way — close to the vest to see if the defense will winthe game, and then try to pull one out at the end if the defense can’t holdthe other team. A logical outgrowth of this strategy ‹ and coaching style ‹is the number of fourth quarter comebacks Jake had led. Another logicaloutgrowth of this strategy is simply just the number of close games theyplay, as well as a tired defense that gives up more than its share of lategame touchdowns (i.e. being outscored in the 4th quarter unless the offenseis really clicking in the 2-minute drill).

Charles; Rock Hill

A: Charles offered a more reasonable letter, full of honest-to-goodnesscritical analysis rather than just screeching.

He also hit the nail on the head as to concerns about play-calling.Remember folks, Henning is an assistant, calling plays at Fox’s behest.

He wouldn’t be calling anything Fox didn’t want him to, and at the endof the day, Fox is the conservative one. As an old defensive coordinator, heprefers his games close and low-scoring, and that’s what heˆ getting.

Q: I know you have more faith in Dan Henning than the rest of us; I thinkhe should be fired. If firing Henning is not the answer, what do you do tofix this stagnant offense? Maybe you could take Dan on a road trip Saturday,let him sit and watch Scott Satterfield call plays. It would give you agreat reason to go see our defending National Champions.

Bruce; High Point, N.C.

A: No offense Bruce, but I don’t want the Panthers anywhere nearAppalachian State QB coach/play-caller (and QB as I was leaving school)Scott Satterfield.

I want him right where he is, calling plays for Armanti Edwards thisweek as we face the hated Bobcats of Montana State. They actually beatColorado this year, so they’re no patsy. The Lou Holtz-style faux modestyreally isn’t for me, so I’ll skip it, but hopefully we push through to thesemis.

As to fixing the offense, having a healthy line would be a start. Peopleseem to forget they lost 40 percent of the starting line in the opener toseason-ending injuries. Justin Hartwig and Travelle Wharton would go a longway toward making them a more physical front, better at pass protection.That would help Jake Delhomme set his feet when he throws (preventingsailage), and might actually enable a tight end to leave the line ofscrimmage and enter a pass route.

Crazy thought, I know.

Q: Lots of crazy talk this week on your blog about firing Henning, while Ifeel that the offense surely needs a jump start I agree with you that firingDan probably isn't the answer. I am curious though, should Dan leave is JimSkipper likely to slide into the OC spot and how much change would we seewith Skipper calling the plays? Rich; Calypso, N.C.

A: There might be some consideration for others, but Skipper would be theodds-on favorite if Henning decides to hang it up. One of these days, MikeMcCoy will probably get a chance to call plays for someone as well.

Also, I did some sniffing around after a recent question about JimFassel, and I left with the impression that he’s probably not as good a fitas you’d think. He and Fox worked together in New York, but I don’t know howFassel would respond the being the underling now. Plus, he’s still thinkingabout head-coaching opportunities, so I don’t see him in play here.

And not to send shudders through the populace, but if Skipper or McCoywere to move up a chair, the offense here would change not that much. Sorry to ruin your Christmas.

Q: Why can’t they find a real punt returner? How hard could that be? Youhave to be able to find a roster spot for someone, and I know there have tobe some good options out there. Every other team seems to find them. Are Chris Gamble’ problems going to affect his career with thePanthers? Coming into this season I thought he had a chance to go to Hawaii,but he has just stunk this year. And I heard such good things out oftraining camp.

Gary; Charlotte

A: Gamble is more physically talented than any corner to ever play here.That doesn’t extend to punt returns, as he’s just not very good at it.

If all else fails I suppose they could promote Efrem Hill from thepractice squad, though he did nothing in the preseason to instill greatconfidence in his ball security skills.

I do know they were very high on Miami return man Devin Hester in thepre-draft process. Like, ready to take him high before Chicago took him onespot before them at 57th. Had the Panthers landed him, they’d have obviouslyfixed the return problem. But then they wouldn’t have had Richard Marshall,who’s a pretty good fall-back position.

Speaking of which, the Panthers will have an interesting competition incamp next year between Ken Lucas, Gamble and Marshall. Three good corners,two spots in the starting lineup.

I’d think Lucas and Marshall would be the call for first and seconddowns, since they’re the best two tacklers of the trio. But Lucas is goingto have to push through the confidence-draining injuries which have hamperedhim this year to be a part of the mix.

Q: Excellent article on Wednesday “Just what’s wrong with the Panthers.”One thing in particular jumped out at me, you mention “The safety positionmight have a lot of new faces the next time they go to camp.” How many newfaces and more specifically do you expect Minter to be one of them? It seemslike each week he is missing tackles on Sunday and making excuses onMonday.

Ginger; Gastonia, N.C.

A: I figure there will be at least two. Only loyalty would earn ShaunWilliams an encore, as he hasn’t done much in his time here to warrant it.And Colin Branch will be an unrestricted free agent, and I guess they couldbring him back though I don’t see the point. Nate Salley seems to have somepotential, but they cut him once so who’s to say they won’t again.

It’s hard for me to imagine this crowd giving Minter the boot thisoffseason. I think if he was paired with the right guy (i.e. one who couldrun and cover), he’d be fine for another year. But the clock’s clearlyticking, whether he hears it or not. I’d say if he plays in 2007, that’sprobably it for him. He doesn’t run make plays like a guy who will for twoor three more years.

Contact Darin Gantt at daringantt@carolina.rr.com

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