Carolina Panthers

Panthers defense looking to create more turnovers

CHARLOTTE -- You can tell by the way he talks, they're the moments which keep Mike Trgovac awake at night.

When the Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator is asked about his unit's startling lack of turnovers created last year, he goes chapter and verse through three agonizing incidents where his guys had chances but failed.

There was the opener against Atlanta, when linebacker Thomas Davis jarred the ball loose from fullback Justin Griffith, but it bounced to tight end Alge Crumpler. Then there was one in the finale at New Orleans where Drew Brees bobbled the snap trying to hand to Reggie Bush, but the ball popped straight back to him. And in Cincinnati, Carson Palmer threw up a duck, and cornerback Ken Lucas simply dropped an easy interception.

All three led to touchdowns, all but the Saints game led to a loss, and together they illustrated the problems the defense had getting opponents off the field.

"There's more than that, believe me," Trgovac said wearily.

The Panthers have generally taken pride in taking the ball away, and last year was nearly the only time they've not been at least decent at it. They only generated 22 turnovers, down from 42 the year before. Three times under John Fox they've ranked seventh or higher (second in the league twice), but last year they were 29th, symbolic of the breakdowns in every phase.

"It was more of us not seizing the opportunity," Trgovac said. "We had several balls on the ground, starting in the first game, that we didn't get. We had picks in our hands that we didn't get. We emphasized it a lot in training camp in 2006 and a lot in 2007. We've got to take advantage of it."

The players seem mystified by the way last season broke.

They had been so good at it the previous two years (forcing a combined 80 turnovers in 2004 and 2005), and were lousy at it last year with much the same cast. Middle linebacker Dan Morgan was gone early, and they had a stretch where they couldn't keep cornerbacks on the field, but injuries alone couldn't explain the ridiculous difference.

"Some of that you can't help," veteran defensive end Mike Rucker said. "But you've just got to keep putting yourself in those positions, so the more times it happens, hopefully it bounces your way.

"But to put a finger on it, I couldn't tell you one reason."

The issue had become a source of pride in recent years, which is why discussions of the topics brought winces from those asked. There was much talk of the increased drills in practice designed to generate more takeaways. Trgovac has told his players that he wants them recovering everything in practice, even incomplete passes, just to get into the groove again.

It was not particularly evident in the preseason, as they didn't pick off a single pass, and defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu's forced fumble and recovery against Philadelphia was the only one when the starters were in the game (though linebacker Jon Beason clinched the Giants game in the last minute by forcing one).

Despite that, there are high hopes.

"We just feel like we want to just get back to playing fast and everybody knowing what they're doing," linebacker Thomas Davis said. "Getting to the ball aggressively is going to cause turnovers for us. We had a lot of people out of position last year, myself a lot of times.

"People knowing their assignments and being able to play fast the entire game, that's going to help us. Then we can work on strips, being aggressive to the ball."

Safety Chris Harris, who came from one of the league's most aggressive defenses (Chicago had a league-high 44 last year), sees the ingredients to make it happen.

Most hesitated to peg down a goal, but Harris said he thought it was conceivable for them to record "40-plus."

Davis wasn't so sure about the specifics, but knows it has to be better, because it can barely be worse.

"The number we want to have is to lead the league -- whatever that number is, that's the number we want," he said. "We know that, that's something we've been focusing on improving.

"It's not going to be hard to improve, because we were down there at the bottom."

• NOTES: The Panthers made their sixth roster move in less than a week since picking their "final" 53-man roster, adding cornerback Curtis Deloatch and waiving running back Alex Haynes ... Safety Nate Salley (knee) is listed as out and didn't practice. Cornerback Chris Gamble (questionable, ankle), defensive end Stanley McClover (questionable, thigh) and long snapper Jason Kyle (probable, back) all "practiced fully" ... Linebacker Tim Shaw going from 49 to 97, and defensive end Otis Grigsby shedding 60 for 98 changed numbers.