Carolina Panthers

Minter feeling better, healed

CHARLOTTE -- Mike Minter knew he was going to miss football, but he had no idea how quickly he'd feel better again after giving it up.

The retired Carolina Panthers safety said last week his knees were pain-free for the first time in 10 years, now that he no longer has to go through the daily rigors of playing and practicing.

"The knees are great, now that I'm not doing all that grinding," Minter said with a laugh. "It's like everything's healed up. I've been joking with my kids that I feel so good I might just come back.

"But then again, I know if I was to start grinding again, I'd be right back to where I was before I retired."

The 33-year-old Minter chose to call it a career shortly into training camp, when he realized his arthritic knees weren't going to allow him an 11th season. While most of his hours are now devoted to his family or his many business and charitable interests, he said he's still working out, wanting to stay in shape for something that's inevitable.

He said he's getting around fine now, but he knows he'll need knee replacement surgery (likely on both) "sooner rather than later."

"It's down the line, but I know that's going to be part of the deal someday," he said. "That's part of the reason I'm continuing to work out, because I want to be strong when I eventually have to get them replaced."

• WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Had the Panthers been coming off anything but a 1-15 season in 2001, they might have had a better chance of landing Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy.

The Panthers interviewed Dungy in 2002 before the ultimately hired John Fox, and they openly laud his contributions here even though he didn't come -- electing to go with the closer-to-contending Colts at the time.

When they interviewed Dungy, the Panthers' decision-makers picked his brain about his working relationship with general manager Rich McKay in Tampa Bay. Those conversations helped mold the format the Panthers have now with Fox and GM Marty Hurney.

"We spent a lot of time talking to Tony about their structure, about the way decisions were made," Hurney said. "I remember asking him who made the final decisions on personnel, and he kind of shrugged and said that there was so much discussion prior, that you couldn't really tell who made the call because they had talked it through so well."

Those conversations actually came after Fox's first trip here. Their first interview was with Steve Spurrier (it didn't go very well), then Fox, followed by Dungy, Ted Cottrell and Marvin Lewis. As happy as they are with the guy they got, there's clearly high regard for the one who got away.

"Anybody who's had any dealing with Tony respects him greatly," Hurney said. "He's a fine person and a tremendous coach."

• WORK HARDER, THEN FASTER: Hurney said last week's changes to the draft process won't complicate matters too much, nor should they impact the number of trades you see on draft day.

The time between first-round picks was cut from 15 minutes to 10, and from 10 to seven in the second round. All rounds afterward are five minutes per pick, as usual.

The Panthers have been among the more active teams doing draft-day deals (eight draft-day swaps since 2002), but Hurney said that just requires more legwork on the front end. For instance, they had their agreement to trade down with the New York Jets established in the days before the draft, provided the player the Jets wanted (cornerback Darrelle Revis) was there at 14.

"If you want to trade now, you'll just start calling earlier," he said. "Most people who are trading in the first round are starting long before the draft anyway, so if you know the deadline, you just move up what you do."

Perhaps the biggest complication will come on Sunday. The third round was moved back a day (they'll start at 10 a.m. instead of 11 a.m. to compensate), making for a longer day. Hurney said the resulting delay will make the process of signing free agents after the draft more frenzied, if anything.

• DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE: Panthers defensive end Mike Rucker said they have to be careful not to get too caught up in Colts quarterback Peyton Manning's audibles at the line of scrimmage. He said some of them are clearly fakes, and he's learned to rely on film study rather than trying to get too cute before the snap.

"Some of them are probably real, and some of them are dummy calls," Rucker said. "If you do your homework, you can kind of look at things and see what's what.

"But I wouldn't get caught up in all the calls and audibles, I'd look at what they're doing and what your defense is doing and go from there. When you get caught up in the audibles and all that, it takes your focus away from where it should be at, and that's on what you're doing."

• EXTRA POINTS: As he heads into his second start today, quarterback Vinny Testaverde has already proven to be worth every penny.

He and the Panthers negotiated a $1.2 million contract when he signed, but that's all in base salary, with no signing bonus. Since the salary is prorated for the time he's here, and he missed the first five games, Testaverde will collect $847,058.82 worth of checks from the team this year. ...

The Panthers made a minor change to their injury report Saturday, listing rookie tight end Dante Rosario as questionable after he came in complaining of a sore chest. He's not a marquee name, but Rosario has shown himself to be a good special teams player, and appears to have potential to become a contributor on offense down the line.