Carolina Panthers

Morgan improves, but not quite ready

Carolina's Jon Beason, right, and Dan Morgan work on a drill as linebackers coach Ken Flajole looks on at practice during in Spartanburg.
Carolina's Jon Beason, right, and Dan Morgan work on a drill as linebackers coach Ken Flajole looks on at practice during in Spartanburg.

SPARTANBURG -- With each passing day, Carolina Panthers linebacker Dan Morgan does a little more.

He's not tackling anyone, but he is participating in more team drills where there is some contact. But he's apparently not ready to go live just yet, as he said Monday he probably would not play in the preseason opener Saturday against the New York Giants.

"I don't think Saturday," Morgan said. "But I don't think it's 100 percent out of the question."

He said there hasn't been much conversation with the coaching staff regarding his schedule. He and the team are happy to leave his status as "day-to-day."

They're easing Morgan back after he missed all but the first quarter of last year's opener because of his persistent concussion problems. Although he was cleared by an independent specialist in December, the team's not putting him in harm's way.

The Panthers restructured his contract this offseason to turn a $2 million roster bonus into per-game payments of $250,000, which would allow him to make the same amount if he plays a full season.

But Morgan said early in camp his main goal was to be ready Sept. 9 for the regular-season opener in St. Louis, so extensive time in the preseason was never expected.

"We really haven't even discussed it," he said. "I've been doing some team periods and getting some hits in. So far, so good. We'll take it one day at a time and whenever coach Fox and the rest of the coaching staff tells me they're going to put me out there for this preseason game, I'll be ready."

• GETTING A FAST START: Recently acquired safety Chris Harris wasted no time vaulting to the top of the depth chart. He had three practices under his belt before he was promoted.

Coach John Fox compared his quick installation to rookie linebacker Jon Beason, who practiced with the ones during his first session.

"A little bit like Beason except Chris didn't have all of the offseason," Fox said. "But he's a smart guy. We're just trying to get him ready as fast as possible."

Harris isn't quite the team's most experienced safety (in the absence of soon-to-be-retired Mike Minter), but he's close. He's started 20 games over the last two seasons with Chicago. The only other player with any starts in the league was the one he shared the starting lineup with Monday -- journeyman Deke Cooper, who has 22 starts in parts of five seasons with the Panthers, Jacksonville and San Francisco.

Of the rest of the group, Cam Newton, Nate Salley and Jermaine Hardy have 20 appearances as reserves between them, while rookies C.J. Wilson and Quinton Teal have none.

• THE FIRST BIG HURT: While not a household name to many fans, the Panthers were troubled by the news that linebacker Terrence Melton will be lost for the season.

Melton confirmed that he tore his left ACL and MCL during the Fan Fest scrimmage. He'll spend the season on injured reserve.

"He was a guy that we liked a lot," Fox said. "I liked his energy. I liked the way he went about his business. That was a little bit of a blow."

He was signed cheap when New Orleans didn't tender him a contract as a restricted free agent, but had grown on the coaches in a week of camp. They had envisioned a Chris Draft-type super-sub role, and also enjoyed his enthusiasm and special teams ability.

"It's very frustrating," Melton said as he stood on crutches. "This is probably my best opportunity since I've been in the league to play some defense, in the games. Having that taken away from you is tough. I can only look at it as God has a better plan for me right now. That's the only thing that's keeping me motivated and keeping me upright.

"At least I left them with the impression, 'This guy is all right.'"

• EXTRA POINTS: Defensive end Julius Peppers and wide receiver Drew Carter dressed for the morning practice but neither worked. Fox said Peppers, who missed Friday and Saturday with a "sickness," just needed more time to rest. ... Also held out were linebacker Na'il Diggs (hamstring), Salley (knee), cornerback Derrick Strait (hamstring) and tight end Chad Upshaw (knee). ... Backup linebackers Adam Seward (thumb) and Brandon Jamison (hamstring) returned to the practice field.