Carolina Panthers

Panthers need a team leader

CHARLOTTE -- The Carolina Panthers elected captains earlier this year. And nothing against the five guys they picked, but the team's still very much looking for leaders.

Last week was a roller coaster of internal politics, from the tumult caused by Kris Jenkins' remarks Sunday and Monday to the warm and happy feelings generated by Wednesday's players-only meeting.

In the past, there were always touchstones in the locker room, players whose presence superceded titles or recognition. Linebacker Sam Mills was that way, so was quarterback Steve Beuerlein and so was safety Mike Minter.

In fact, the current club appears to be missing what Minter had to offer off the field more than what he did on it.

"I think it's coming well," fullback Brad Hoover said of the effort to pass the responsibility to others. "Mike has been a vocal leader, and it's hard to replace him. It's difficult for someone to step into that role because it's hard to be just like Mike. We have elected leaders and guys that stand up and lead by examples or by words."

The Panthers' primary void is on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive end Julius Peppers and linebacker Dan Morgan are both hard-working, team-first guys, but neither are fire-lighters.

The players they do have on that side of the ball with some spark are new, young or both. Guys such as linebacker Jon Beason, safety Chris Harris and defensive end Stanley McClover are among the group capable of providing a spark, but all are too recent to claim a leadership role. Beason could, and soon, but he even admitted in the wake of Jenkins' "we have no heart, we have no energy, we have no pride" tirade he wasn't sure what he should say, if anything.

"Well, I can't speak for anybody else, but I can speak for myself," Beason said. "I'm going to fight with my all and give everything every snap.

"I think as a rookie, it's hard in Week 4 to assess the NFL. I don't know what's expected or how guys feel about a game."

• CAUSE FOR CONCERN: Running back Nick Goings has had at least three concussions since joining the Panthers in 2001, but they've all been big ones.

In 2003, he suffered one late against Tennessee and missed the following week. In the 2005 NFC Championship Game, he was knocked out by Seattle linebacker Lofa Tatupu in the first quarter. He was held overnight at a Seattle hospital after that one, flying back the next day accompanied by assistant trainer Reggie Scott.

Neither Goings' agent nor the team wanted to say much about his prognosis this time, though he apparently hasn't visited any outside specialists the way Morgan did last season.

• EXTRA POINTS: The Panthers typically fly to road games on Saturdays, but they're changing that next week, with a scheduled Friday night departure to Arizona. There have been some concerns in the past about wearing out players by flying west the day before a game, but they've generally waited.

That's what they did prior to the 2005 NFC Championship Game in Seattle, though they were exhausted by physical games at New York and Chicago as much as the jet lag.

Some players felt they'd have been better rested if they had flown in on Friday that weekend. But the reality is, they lost that game when Goings went down and they were down to Jamal Robertson as their only option at running back. ...

The Panthers made a roster move Saturday, bringing running back Alex Haynes back up to the active roster and releasing tight end Marcus Freeman. That's a decent sign that Goings could well be out beyond this week.