Detroit vs Carolina: Scouting the Panthers

Meet Dan Morgan, a name you need to familiarize yourself with. Panthers' head coach John Fox is building his defense around the former Miami standout and 2001 first round pick. Detroit faces Morgan, along with former Lions' cornerback Terry Fair, on Sunday. And Fair might see an extended role against his former club.

Spread: Carolina (1-0) by 3 over Detroit (0-1)
Where: Ericsson Stadium - Natural Grass (Charlotte, North Carolina)
Head Coach: John Fox (1st Season)
Division: NFC South
Record: 1-0
Last Season: 1-15
Rosters: Lions | Panthers
Links: In-Depth Pre-Game Stats | Fan Message Board | Pre-Game Chat | Panthers Page

Offense: Carolina's offense is simplistic with new head coach John Fox, but effective with offensive guru -- and former Lions' offensive coordinator -- Dan Henning coaching the offense. Fox and Henning rely upon the running game and mistake-free football to keep the offense on the field. And with veterans at each of the key positions, Fox and Henning's plan is running smoothly.

Position Analysis

Quarterback: Rodney Peete (#9)
Former Lion and savvy veteran Rodney Peete was surprisingly named the starting quarterback in the Panthers' week one win over Baltimore. Peete earned the job displaying more consistency and maturity than second-year QB Chris Weinke, who at 30 years of age isn't that much younger than Peete (36). Peete is a similar quarterback to Seattle's injured Trent Dilfer. The 14-year veteran will do just enough to win, meanwhile keeping mistakes to a minimum. Last Sunday, facing a formidable Baltimore defense, Peete tossed for just 136 yards for one touchdown, but completed 63.3% of his passes (12-19) with zero interceptions. He has a knack for coming up big against Detroit, but doesn't have the offensive system nor ability to put up alot of points.

Running Back: Lamar Smith (#26), Brad Hoover (#45)
A solid veteran running back, Smith joined the Panthers after two relatively successful seasons in Miami. He rushed for 1,139 yards in 2000, and 968 last year but an injury limited his potential. Smith was expected to compliment rookie running back DeShaun Foster in the backfield with Carolina, but a knee injury will force Foster to miss the next three to four weeks. Against Baltimore, Smith kept the running game respectable, rushing 24 times for 84 yards. Smith didn't score any touchdowns, but his 3.5 yards per carry enabled the Panthers' offense to stay on the field and keep the game under control. Smith doesn't put the ball on the turf, and will find the opening if its given to him. He's one of the more underrated running backs in the league. Full back Brad Hoover has to be accounted for as well. Hoover is a Cory Schlesinger-type full back, and carried 5 times for 29 yards. He can also catch the ball out of the backfield.

Receivers: Wesley Walls (#85), Muhsin Muhammad (#87), Isaac Bird (#82), Steve Smith (#89)
Walls, formerly a favorite target of ex-Panthers' QB Kerry Collins, is 36 years old but still a reliable target. Walls isn't going to beat anyone off the line, but he is smart and quick. Walls hauled in just 2 receptions last Sunday, one of which was the only touchdown of the game. Muhammad, a Lansing native and former Michigan State standout, hauled in two receptions last week for 37 yards, and is still considered a downfield threat. The 6'3, 217 lb veteran has spent the past two seasons battling injuries and seemingly a lack of interest, but enters 2002 both healthy and revatilized. Steve Smith is the Panthers' version of Az-Zahir Hakim -- maybe faster. Smith is a blazing fast slot receiver, and became a favorite of Peete's on Sunday, catching 4 passes for 38 yards. He has to be accounted for if he is spread out wide. Byrd will line up across the field from Muhammad, but wasn't a factor against Baltimore, and likely won't be against the Lions. Byrd isn't incredibly fast, nor reliable, but is a clean route runner.

Offensive Line:
Each starting offensive linemen on the Panthers weighs in at over 300 pounds, with the exception of right tackle Chris Terry (295). Carolina gave up just 32 sacks last season (12th overall in fewest sacks allowed), and the entire unit -- including former Viking Todd Steussie -- return for the 2002 season. The starting unit of Steussie (LT), Jeno James (LG), Jeff Mitchell (C), Kevin  Donnalley (RG) and Terry won't provide big holes for the running game, but they are also a solid front five. Against a tough Baltimore front four last week, Carolina allowed two sacks, but Peete wasn't pressured often.

Defense: This is Fox's specialty. The former New York Giants defensive coordinator made Julius Peppers the second-overall pick in the 2002 draft, and it has already begun to pay dividends. The addition of Peppers gives the Panthers one of the strongest fronts in the National Football League, backed by a talented linebacker group. But if opposing QB's are given time, it's easy to take advantage of the weak secondary.

Defensive Line:
Defensive phenom Julius Peppers (90) was the man taken before Lions' QB Joey Harrington. And although it remains to be seen whether nor not they'll face one another on Sunday, Peppers will certainly get his minutes. Initially thought to be more of a project rather than an immediate standout, Peppers was solid last week against Baltimore, crushing Ravens' QB Chris Redman late in the second half, forcing an interception that ultimately ended the game. Peppers, lining up at LDE, plays across from veteran Micheal Rucker (93). The former Nebraska standout registered three tackles and one pass defensed on Sunday, but is a threat from the blindside. He led the team with 9 sacks in 2001. Defensive tackles Brentson Buckner (99) and Kris Jenkins are solid, not spectacular, but both have a ton of unrealized potential.

Linebackers:
Meet Dan Morgan -- a name you need to familiarize yourself with. Panthers' head coach John Fox is building his defense around the former Miami standout and 2001 first round pick. Morgan (55) registered 67 tackles in 11 games last year as a rookie, and made the move to middle linebacker this season. He has great instincts, can fly between the sidelines, and has a knack for making the big play. Morgan had 6 tackles last week, including the aforementioned late interception. Morgan is flanked by former Rams' linebacker Mark Fields (58), also a speedster, and Hannibal Navies (53). Navies is considered the weakest link of the linebackers.

Defensive Backs:
Easily the weakest unit of the Panthers defense. Starting cornerbacks Terry Cousin (21) and Reggie Howard (23) could lose their jobs anytime to former Lion Terry Fair (28). Fair has impressed Fox after joining the Panthers just a week ago, and will be used in variety of ways, including possibly cornerback, nickel back, and even on kick returns. The Carolina pass defense allowed 212 passing yards from a weak Baltimore offense. Strong safety Mike Minter (30) is the best player in the secondary, and one of the better NFC safeties, while free safety Deon Grant (27) is one of the worst. Grant does not hit well, and in fact, barely hits at all. Grant is fast, but isn't very savvy and can be caught "sleeping."


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