Carolina Panthers

Beason might be new Morgan

CHARLOTTE -- Last weekend might have marked one of the poignant torch-passings in the history of the Carolina Panthers, a move drenched in emotion, not lightly considered and done so with great pain.

What happened with the quarterback was sad, too.

It would have been the story of the week, had they not revealed Jake Delhomme's season was over. The biggest news coming out of last week's win at New Orleans was going to be the way rookie linebacker Jon Beason played the middle -- and it was a revelation.

It was one game, but we found out he could play the position, play it well and play it like he's long known what he was doing.

And perhaps, that he could do so as long as he's around.

"Much credit to Beason," defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu said with a nod. "The young cat, he hunkered down in there and played like a veteran and took charge of our defense."

Where this gets touchy, and touching, is where it leaves the last guy they said such things about.

It's hard to imagine they'd have moved Beason from his initial (and easier to learn) weakside spot if Dan Morgan wasn't going to be out for considerable time. They'd have probably let Adam Seward start last week if his calf hadn't proven to be veal-tender.

But rather than continue the James Anderson experiment (he was practically a safety in college, and had no shot to play middle linebacker long-term), they swallowed hard and made a change as significant as the one they're enduring on the other side of the ball.

That Beason played so well was a bonus. And also a dilemma.

Because if he performs the next few weeks the way he did against the Saints, it would be hard, if not foolish, to take the job away from him.

That brings us directly to the elephant in the middle of the room -- what do they do with Morgan when/if he returns?

Is it worth it to shuffle Beason outside again, to risk scrambling the brain of a rookie? (There's less chance of that with the heady Beason than others).

Or do they play Morgan outside, as George Seifert thought it best to do when he coached him one year? It's not that playing weakside kept Morgan safer -- that's where he was when Brett Favre stiff-armed him, breaking his ankle and starting the whole chain of injuries.

There may not be a decision made for some time. All they'll say on Morgan is he's day-to-day, just like they said about Delhomme.

But whenever the day comes, they will have realized they can move on.

For seven years, they've pinned their hopes and built their dream defense around Morgan.

Their investment goes far beyond heart or what they've paid him. They gave Kemoeatu $23 million over five years to be Morgan's bodyguard. The idea was that with 700 pounds of Kemoeatu and Kris Jenkins between him and the offensive line, Morgan would be able to swarm to the ball untouched.

Never quite worked out that way, with Morgan getting about a half of one game to enjoy the protection before his 2006 season ended, and into the third game this year.

But it was never supposed to come to this, at least not yet. They've found the replacement is something nobody wants to acknowledge, because it means they're giving up on Morgan.

Seward would have been a place-holder. Beason's the guy who'll take up the flag.

And as happy as they are with their most recent first-rounder from "The U," he's easing the other one out the door.

Morgan was the guy they wanted all the other guys to be.

He walked in the door ready to play in the NFL, excelling at the highest level in college and never missing a game.

Having his smarts and athleticism in the middle was the key to the whole operation. Having a player whose soul was solely devoted to the cause helped in the locker room.

"Watch that guy work," they could tell any rookie. "Watch how he prepares, how he plays."

They signed him to an extension because he was worth it, not because they're loyal. And his teammates voted him a captain for a reason. He represents everything anyone wants a football player to be --when he's well.

For that, they've been willing to work through the injury problem. Up to now, at least. They restructured Morgan's contract this offseason, effectively making it a pay-for-play deal they're saving money on now.

It was their way of telling him they were going to give him one more chance to prove their faith in him wasn't misplaced.

The problem for Morgan is they've now seen the future.

And having done so, you wonder how much longer they'll count on what they've seen in the past, especially when they're not present.