Carolina Panthers

Panthers could call on Anderson at middle LB

CHARLOTTE -- It's good to be versatile, but at some point, knowing how to do something helps.

While no one's making an official declaration, there's a good chance the Carolina Panthers will have to start backup outside linebacker James Anderson in the middle this week against Tampa Bay, since Dan Morgan and Adam Seward haven't practiced this week due to injuries.

Anderson finished last week's game in Atlanta in the middle, a quick adjustment for him since he never played the spot in college.

Or in high school.

Or even in youth football.

"I played a little quarterback, tailback, tight end, I even played kicker," Anderson said. "Safety, but never Mike (middle) linebacker. I've done everything but."

This week, it's likely all that'll be asked of him. He got a few snaps in practice last week inside, when they knew Seward was out. But when Morgan left the game twice, they subbed Anderson into the play-calling spot. He played mostly on the weakside in college, but started two games on the strongside in place of injured Thomas Davis last year.

Anderson, who turned 24 Wednesday, has tried to study the entire scheme since coming here, and hopes having a big-picture knowledge helps.

"It's different to a degree, but it's not completely different," he said. "Because in the scheme all linebackers have to be interchangeable on a given play. So you just try to figure out where you fit as opposed to what position you are on that play.

"It's just a different feel actually running the defense. Playing strongside or weakside, you have some of the same responsibilities, but now I'm the guy in the middle calling the plays or making the checks."

The Panthers have been in similar situations. Once, when they were running out of linebackers against the Falcons, coach John Fox spent halftime giving defensive end Al Wallace a crash course, since he was the next guy in line.

And while Anderson subbed in adequately last week (Fox used the word "admirable"), it's a different challenge now.

"It's a whole lot different, though, when you're the guy the whole time," Fox said. "Particularly against Tampa with all of the shifting and motions and formations and personnel groups they do. It will be a big test for whoever is in there."

Fox won't say who's starting, indicating there's a chance rookie Jon Beason could, though Beason downplayed that earlier this week.

The rookie also has been impressed by Anderson's grasp on the entire defense.

Anderson came to training camp backing up Davis, but shifted to the weakside spot when Beason was in a contract holdout and Na'il Diggs was hurt. So now, he's completed the set.

"He's a special guy," Beason said. "He's a valuable linebacker who can play all three spots. Even in our goal line package he knows everything. He's really a sponge and you can always go to him. I'm asking him questions all of the time."

There will likely be questions every time he takes the field -- mostly "Where is he going to line up?"

And if they need him to kick, maybe he can plug in there as well. After all, he was a soccer player as a kid, and has that pee wee experience.

"We always went for two," Anderson said with a laugh.

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