Inside slant: Carolina Week 13 preview

Here's the "Inside Slant," your twice-weekly source for news about the Bucs' NFC South rivals. Today's edition previews Week 12's games, including personnel news, analysis and insider matchups for the Carolina Panthers and this weekend's game. It's a premium service from Bucsblitz.com.

Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme said that while he "feels great" and has full flexibility and extension in his elbow, he's still about two months away from throwing a football -- probably a Nerf football at that.

Delhomme had Tommy John surgery on his elbow and is in the midst of a 7-9 month recovery.

You can't help but wonder what Carolina's season would be like if Delhomme were still here.

Through three games, the Panthers were 2-1 and averaging 25 points per game. Delhomme was a big reason why with eight touchdown passes, one interception and a passer rating of 111.8, third best in the league at the time.

With Delhomme on injured reserve, the Panthers have lost six of eight and are mired in a five-game losing streak with no encouraging signs to suggest they will even sniff .500.

"It's hard. The thing that hurts the most for me is my heart -- for the guys," said Delhomme. "I'm here every day and you see them in the training room, see them limping around, see them patching themselves together and going out and playing and then the results are not happening. That's tough.

"That's hard as a player because you see the preparation that is being put in and things just aren't happening for us."

The Panthers fully expect Delhomme to be their starter next season.

Delhomme said the only other quarterbacks he knows of to have had this particular surgery -- Rob Johnson and Craig Erickson -- both were able to make it back from the operation.

So by no means does he believe this is a career-ending injury.

"I'm very optimistic. Maybe I'm too optimistic, but that's my nature," he said.

For now, Delhomme is playing the waiting game.

That's all he can do.

He can pick up his fork, open a door and shake your hand. He'll begin lifting light weights this week, but when it comes to throwing the football, all he can do is be patient.

And though the elbow is feeling better than he expected, Delhomme is avoiding the temptation of trying to rush back too soon. He's strictly following the advice of Dr. Patrick Connor, who performed the surgery, and highly respected team trainer Ryan Vermillion.

"(They) told me that from the beginning -- hey, from Week 8 to Week 16 you are going to twiddle your thumbs," Delhomme said. "But that is part of it. I will not go try to throw a ball in the backyard. That makes absolutely no sense. I'm going to do what they tell me. I have a lot of trust in (trainer) Ryan Vermillion and a lot of trust in Dr. Connor and the procedure."

Still, it's tough.

He said the highlight of his day at work is arguing with two other players on injured reserve -- quarterback Brett Basanez and linebacker Terrence Melton. They argue about "the dumbest things in the world," just to pass the time while rehabbing.

Sundays, as you might expect, are the worst.

While he's been on the sidelines for Carolina's games, both home and away, Delhomme still feels he isn't contributing, all the while believing -- as any confident NFL player would -- that he could have helped this team win games.

"It's not fun. You want to be out there helping," Delhomme said. "You want to feel a part of it. Yeah, I'm a part of the team, but I'm not helping. You try to help mentally, but you want to be able to help. That's the toughest part for me."

When Delhomme does return next season, things might look a lot different, especially if the Panthers fail to win more than a game or two down the stretch.

He knows the Panthers could see major changes this offseason on offense, especially at wide receiver, where Drew Carter and Keary Colbert are unrestricted free agents, and on the offensive line, where tackles Jordan Gross and Travelle Wharton are ready to hit the market.

"I'm not the GM, but that's the NFL," Delhomme said. "If we don't get things turned around, things will look different. That's the way it is.

"But to me you look at the big picture. Green Bay was a 4-8 team last year and they won their last four games and they don't have too many different guys this year than last year. And now they're 10-1. Sometimes you have to go through tough times. Hopefully we will get it turned around."

SERIES HISTORY

16th meeting. Panthers lead series, 8-7. However, this will be their first meeting at Bank of America Stadium since John Fox's first season on the job in 2001. Once staunch NFC West rivals, the Panthers and 49ers have only played once (Nov. 14. 2004) since the NFL realignment moved the Panthers to the NFC South. In that game, the Panthers won a shootout with the 49ers 37-27 at 3Com Park in a game that helped turn their season around. Jake Delhomme threw for 303 yards and three touchdowns.

NOTES, QUOTES

--At least three Panthers will be attending the funeral for former Miami Hurricane and Washington Redskins star Sean Taylor.

"I went to Miami because of him," linebacker Jon Beason said. "I came in at 218 pounds. Sean Taylor was a 235-pound safety. I wanted to go to Miami because I wanted to be the next Sean Taylor."

Of course, Beason later grew too large to play safety and eventually moved to linebacker.

But he'll never forget the impact Taylor made on his life.

Beason played against Taylor in high school and was a redshirt freshman when Taylor was playing his final year with the Hurricanes prior to being selected in the first round in 2004 by the Washington Redskins.

"The game won't ever be the same because I felt like he was going to change it," Beason said.

Beason, defensive tackle Damione Lewis and linebacker Dan Morgan are among three Panthers who plan to travel to Miami to attend Monday's funeral for "one of our own," as Lewis said.

Although Lewis and Morgan never played with Taylor at Miami, they are part of the "U" family and have worked out together during the offseason.

"We're a pretty tight-knit group," Lewis said.

--The Panthers had a chance to stay in the thick of things in the NFC South with a win Sunday, but a loss drops them to 4-7 and three games behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with five games to play.

It would likely take a miracle for the Panthers to reach the postseason this year, especially considering four of their final five games are against teams with winning records.

"It is making me mad," Marshall said. "I can only speak for myself because I don't know how other guys feel, but it is making me mad. I can't stand it. For us to come in here week in and week out and lose that's unacceptable."

--The Panthers finished with four turnovers -- three coming on interceptions.

"When we made mistakes (the Saints) capitalized on them," said offensive tackle Travelle Wharton. "They put us in some bad places, by stopping drives and creating lost yardage on a play here and there. They were killing the momentum, when we got something going something bad was happening.

"For us, we should have just kept on going but unfortunately it didn't happen that way."

BY THE NUMBERS

200-70 -- The margin by which the Panthers have been outscored in their last seven regular-season home games, all of which are losses.

QUOTE TO NOTE

"Right now we're probably one of the worst teams in the NFL right now, by the way we're playing. I know we're not talent wise; it's just not showing on the field. We've got to get this thing fixed, at least end this season (in a) positive fashion. But a lot of things will have to change in how we're playing." -- Cornerback Ken Lucas.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Panthers will get cornerback Chris Gamble back this week, which means their defense can switch back to normal. Last week, the Panthers were forced to start Richard Marshall in Gamble's place. That wasn't a big problem, but the nickel spot became one as Patrick Dendy and Quinton Teal struggled with both defending receivers and lining up in the correct spots.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--RB DeShaun Foster looks to bounce back from a horrible outing last week against New Orleans. Foster has been more willing to talk to the media this year, taking more of a leadership role. He will likely start again since the Panthers view him as a more effective power back than DeAngelo Williams.

--QB Vinny Testaverde will start at quarterback for the Panthers providing he can stay healthy. That's a big if. He was supposed to start last week but his back tightened up on Saturday and could not play.

--CB Chris Gamble will be back in the starting lineup this week, which should help the Panthers.

--OT Travelle Wharton is in his contract year and will have to impress the coaching staff down the stretch.

--FB Brad Hoover is in the final year of his contract and has said he wants to re-sign with the Panthers and retire here.

GAME PLAN

The Panthers had plenty of confidence in their passing game heading into last week thinking Vinny Testaverde was going to start. But when Testaverde woke up with a tight back on Saturday, all of that changed. Any chances of winning went out the door when the Panthers were forced to start David Carr, who has looked uncomfortable in the pocket all season. Testaverde is expected to start this week as long as he can stay healthy.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

49ers RB Frank Gore vs. Panthers DTs Kris Jenkins and Maake Kemoeatu. If there's one area the Panthers have done well in this season, it's run defense. They continue to hold their own, but this week they face a stiff test in the multi-talented Gore. Gore, who has been invisible for most of the season, ran for 116 yards and two touchdowns last week against Arizona and also caught 11 passes.

INJURY IMPACT

Panthers rookie wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett (knee) missed practice Tuesday, as did defensive end Mike Rucker (illness). Rucker should bounce back to play, but Jarrett's status is unknown.


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