Cats Optimistic for Bucs Contest

Barring an unforeseen setback, coach John Fox said he expects quarterback Matt Moore will start Sunday's home opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"I think that's fair to say, yeah," Fox said after Thursday's practice.

Fox said Moore, who practiced "full" on Thursday, looked good on the practice field.

"I thought he looked good (on Wednesday), too," Fox said.

Moore said he's been cleared medically to play and his head feels fine, although his body aches a little more after Sunday's 31-18 loss to the New York Giants. He was sacked four times and took a few other good licks from the Giants. Moore said he hasn't had any headaches since being diagnosed with a mild concussion.

"I feel good overall," Moore said. "I'm ready to play. It's been a good week."

Fox said the Panthers medical staff has been careful with Moore.

"We aren't going to put (players) on the field unless they're healthy, or deemed healthy," Fox said. "It's a physical game that you get knocked around in and at some point your body takes a toll. I think the world of our medical staff and they do an excellent job and they're the ones that deem them ready to play or not."

Moore, who led the Panthers to a win last year against Tampa Bay, described the Bucs as "fast and young."

"There are plays to be made but we have to be precise on execution," Moore said. "They are a good squad so we have to take advantage of the opportunities we get."

As for last week's loss to the Giants, Moore said he wishes he could take back all three interceptions.

"I shouldn't have thrown them, but it's a case of trying to make a play," said Moore, who was 14 of 33 passing for 182 yards with one touchdown last week. "But they're decisions you don't want to make. You learn from those things. That game is gone. We get 16 chances and we want to make sure it doesn't happen anymore."

SERIES HISTORY: 20th regular season meeting. Panthers lead series, 12-7. In the last meeting on Dec. 6, the Panthers defeated the Bucs 16-9 after picking off Josh Freeman five times.

NOTES, QUOTES

--It will be interesting to see what the Panthers do with running back Tyrell Sutton now that he's back on the field and expected to play Sunday against the Bucs.

Last week Mike Goodson returned kickoffs and served as the third-down back, both roles occupied by Sutton for a large portion of last season.

However, Goodson had a 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the preseason and a 45-yard return last Sunday against the Giants to set up Carolina's only touchdown of the game, so it will be awfully tough to sit him.

"I think experience is the biggest thing when it comes to returning kicks," Goods said. "You have to learn how to make the blocks and set them up."

As for the action he saw as the third-down back, Goodson said, "If I have an opportunity I just have to take advantage of it. They put me in some positions in the open field with some linebackers and expect me to win, so I have to win."

--Rhys Lloyd is back with the Panthers after re-signing on Tuesday, and the Englishman brought his normal levity and humor to the Carolina locker room.

Lloyd, who wore No. 5 last year, was asked why he switched to No. 8 this season.

"One of the reasons they brought me back was for the backup quarterback position -- and anything else they need," said Lloyd tongue-in-cheek. "Eight was kind of the all-purpose number."

Lloyd was great friends with Moore when he was a backup quarterback in Carolina and poked a little fun at the team's new "leader" on offense.

"I don't know if I know Matt anymore -- Matt's upgraded," Lloyd teased. "He's kind of being the big guy here. I don't know if I can relate to him anymore.

"No, I kept in good contact with Matt and we're good friends and I'm happy for him. If he gets a chance we'll go out and play some golf, but it's probably doubtful given the position he's in right now."

Lloyd said he felt like he hit the ball "pretty well" in the preseason for Minnesota, but was released by the Vikings after they needed to cut him to keep extra defensive backs on the roster due to injuries.

Lloyd spent two successful full seasons with the Panthers, leading the league in touchbacks in 2008 with 30. Last season, he placed 41-of-72 kickoffs in the end zone, with 21 touchbacks.

The Panthers decided against paying him $1.01 million as a restricted free agent this past offseason and let him walk in free agency. He signed with Minnesota, but didn't make the final roster.

Lloyd will make $512,941 over the final 16 weeks of the season.

--Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said he felt like the cornerbacks were to blame for Carolina's 31-18 loss to the Giants on Sunday.

"We felt like we let the team down -- me, Rich (Richard Marshall) and Gam (Chris Gamble)," said Munnerlyn, the team's nickel back. "We could have won a game. That game was on us.

"Our secondary coach told us that if the back seven stop the guys we would win a game. We fell a little short. But we told the rest of the guys they don't have to worry about this game (against Tampa Bay). We're going to come with our 'A' game."

Munnerlyn said he's subscribed to the 48-hour rule, having already forgotten about the Giants loss.

"I'm ready to play Tampa Bay," he said. "Are you all ready?"

--The Panthers were pleased with Munnerlyn's efforts on punt returns Sunday, solidifying one of the team's shakiest positions in the preseason.

He had a 28-yard return against the Giants that led to a Carolina field goal.

"I felt like I did pretty good back there," Munnerlyn said. "I always tell the guys, if you all can hold the gunners out of my face I feel like I can do a pretty good job."

BY THE NUMBERS: 9-3 -- Coach John Fox's record against the Bucs since 2003.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Coming in, I knew Matt was the veteran guy. But we probably have the youngest quarterback group in the entire league. So dealing with that, and being one play away and Tony (Pike) being two plays away, you have to get up to speed as quick as you can. Obviously you want to let a veteran guy out there and show you the ropes, but that's our situation. We're a few plays away from being thrown in. Matt's day-to-day right now, but we're going to keep going and keep preparing like we're going to play." -- Panthers QB Jimmy Clausen on his role with the team.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Panthers used former college quarterback Armanti Edwards in the "Mountaineer" package, their version of the Wildcat, in their preseason finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he was held out against the New York Giants in the regular season opener.

However, if Brandon LaFell (hamstring) doesn't play, there's a chance Edwards could get a jersey this week as the fourth receiver. Or, the Panthers could decide to activate fellow rookie WR David Gettis, who may be a little further along than Edwards.

We'll have to wait and see how bad LaFell's hamstring injury is. Coach John Fox did not mention the hamstring after Sunday's game or in Monday's press conference.

PLAYER NOTES

--CB Chris Gamble was limited in practice Thursday with an ankle injury. This is a new injury and could hurt the Panthers if he's unable to go Sunday. Captain Munnerlyn would move into the starting role if that happens and rookie Robert McClain or veteran Marcus Hudson would have to step up as the nickel back.

--DT Louis Leonard missed his second straight day of practice with an elbow injury, raising the possibility he won't play Sunday against Tampa Bay. If Leonard doesn't start, Derek Landri and Ed Johnson will be the starting tackles.

--WR Brandon LaFell (hamstring) returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday and said he plans to play against Tampa Bay.

--WR Charly Martin, who suffered a concussion last Sunday, has now injured his hamstring and was held out of practice Thursday.

--OT Jeff Otah (knee) didn't practice and won't play this week. Otah is at least a week away from getting back on the field.

--DE Tyler Brayton is still bothered by an ankle injury but did practice on a limited basis Thursday.

--DE Everette Brown will start if Tyler Brayton can't go on Sunday.

--LB Jordan Senn (ankle) practiced on a limited basis for the second straight day, meaning he has a chance to play Sunday. That will be a boost for the special teams.

--QB Matt Moore (concussion) practiced full Thursday and will start Sunday.

--K Rhys Lloyd has rejoined the Panthers roster.

--K Todd Carter has been waived/injured.

GAME PLAN: The Panthers got away from their running game last Sunday against the Giants.

Expect them to focus on plowing away with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart early in the game. The problem the Panthers have is opposing teams bringing extra men in the box because the team still has limited weapons in the receiving game other than Steve Smith.

Two of Carolina's three highest single-game rushing totals have come against Tampa Bay.

Last year, Jonathan Stewart ran for 120 yards and a touchdown in his first NFL start against the Bucs.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

Bucs QB Josh Freeman vs. Panthers secondary --

Although Freeman threw for 321 yards last year against the Panthers, he was intercepted five times in a 16-9 loss at Bank of America Stadium. The Panthers expect to do everything they can to confuse the young quarterback. Carolina's secondary, however, did not play well last week against the Giants, allowing Eli Manning to throw for three touchdowns.

Panthers RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart vs. Bucs front seven --

The Bucs spent a lot of draft picks looking up to upgrade their defensive front. Carolina has run well in the past against Tampa Bay. Last year they put 157 yards on the ground on 33 carries, a 4.8-yard average, and Williams didn't even play in that game.

QB Matt Moore vs. Bucs red-zone defense --

Moore threw three interceptions last week, all of those in the Giants' end zone. All of them were poor decisions. He must make better decisions if the Panthers are to have a successful season.

INJURY IMPACT: Apparently Matt Moore's concussion wasn't as bad as first thought. Moore returned to practice on Wednesday and is expected to start Sunday against Tampa Bay.

Normally the Panthers hold out players who've suffered concussions the week after their injury, but Moore's was mild.

Four starters sat out practice Wednesday: WR Brandon LaFell (hamstring), DT Louis Leonard (elbow), DE Tyler Brayton (ankle) and RT Jeff Otah (knee).

RB Tyrell Sutton returned to practice on Wednesday after missing the Giants game.

If LaFell can't go, then Dwayne Jarrett would start and either Armanti Edwards or David Gettis would be active. Like Moore, WR Charly Martin practiced despite suffering a concussion on Sunday.

If Brayton can't go that paves the way for Everette Brown to start. Derek Landri would start opposite Ed Johnson if Leonard can't go. Schwartz is expected to start again in place of Otah.


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