CHARLOTTE -- There's really no upside to the chance that linebacker Dan Morgan doesn't finish the season for the Carolina Panthers.
But the only thing they can hope for this year is that the fallback plan is better than it was a year ago.
The Panthers struggled last season when Morgan was lost for the year in the opener, partly because young Adam Seward wasn't quite ready to take over. They ended up shuffling him aside for veteran Chris Draft (who left for St. Louis in free agency), leaving Seward back on the bench.
This summer however, with Morgan easing back into contact work, Seward's gotten more of a chance to practice in the middle, increasing his odds of playing well if he is called upon.
"It's been great; I feel like I've made a lot of strides in terms of managing the defense," Seward said. "I know that's what the front office and my position coach and all the coaches expect out of me, is being able to manage the defense. Being a Mike (middle) linebacker, that's what you need to do, call the defensive shell, make sure everybody's aligned. Run whatever call you have properly.
"That's my goal out there; I feel like I've improved dramatically. It's a tough game out there, but I just keep on learning, keep playing."
Seward said being demoted following the loss at Minnesota was difficult for him, particularly since he wasn't the one fully to blame for the problems that day. In fact, he's probably right when he suggested that if a veteran team picked for the Super Bowl hadn't been 0-2 at the moment, he might have played on. Coach John Fox all but confirmed that, saying the move was "not necessarily because of Adam Seward's play."
"There was just a different calming element that Chris Draft gave at that time," Fox said. "It was tough for Adam, because he missed some valuable time to get better a year ago. I think this camp and preseason, I've seen improvements with him. He's a year better."
The added year also lends a little more credence, along with the work he's put in this offseason.
"There's finally some guys younger than I am," the 25-year-old Seward said. "It's always tough to get out there and run the defense when all the guys are older. You rely on guys like (Julius) Peppers and (Mike) Rucker, guys to bring leadership, and they do a great job of it. When I'm out there, I try to bring that too, and I think it's coming along.
"I feel like guys respect me more, they listen in the huddle, they're attentive, and they trust me out there when I make my calls, and that's what you want."
All that being said, Seward's well aware that if all goes according to plan, he's going to be playing a lot of special teams, as a healthy Morgan gives them a chance at a special defense. He understands and accepts that, but at the same time, he's pushing to make sure his next chance doesn't go away as easily as it did last year.
"Obviously special teams is my backbone, and as long as he's healthy it's how I contribute to this team," Seward said. "But I know the coaches expect me to be able to jump in there and play at a high level should something happen to Dan. I want to show them I can do that. My job is to go out there, run the defense, play physical, and do well mentally out there. I feel like every game I've gotten better at that.
"I've had a big chance to play more this preseason and getting out there and taking what I've learned in training camp and putting it into games. I love Dan and I hope he plays all 16 games. He's one of my best friends on this team. But should something happen to him, I want to make sure coaches know this guy can get it done, be reliable and play well."