Halfway Cat Tracks

<P>One huge upset win followed by 7 disappointing losses. We all expected this Panther team to be a bad one, especially with no experience at quarterback and a youth movement throughout the line-up. But, they shocked us and gave us hope with that opening day upset at Minnesota. It was a tease. The next 6 games, they played well enough, at times, to win, but found a way each week to lose. It's been a first half filled with "what might have been".

QUARTERBACK

Chris Weinke hasn't played too badly considering that he's a rookie. At times, his decision-making has shown that inexperience. He's been hurt by the fact that they've rarely been able to get any kind of running game going. Taking all that into consideration… HALFTIME CAT TRACKS: 2 PAWS (OUT OF 4)

RUNNING BACK

Tshimanga Biakabutuka got over 100 yards once before going down for the year. Nick Goings has been inconsistent, and Richard Huntley a non-factor once he finally started playing. We'll give a little break to these guys, due to the play-calling that has been quick to abandon the running game. HALFTIME CAT TRACKS: 1 PAW

RECEIVERS

Top receiver, Muhsin Muhammad has been invisible too many times in the first half, and has had nearly one crucial drop per game. Tight end Wesley Walls has shown no ill-effects of the knee injury that cost him the last half of last year, he's been hurt more by not having a quarterback like Kerry Collins and Steve Beuerlein that made Walls their favorite target. Donald Hayes has looked good at times, we just wish the coaching staff would have Weinke look downfield more. HALFTIME CAT TRACKS: 1 PAW

OFFENSIVE LINE

This was the big focus of the off-season, and it's paid dividends in the protection department. They still aren't opening big holes for the running game, and, early on had trouble avoiding penalties. But they are an improvement over last years' and have shown some improvement this year. HALFTIME CAT TRACKS: 1 1/2 PAWS

DEFENSIVE LINE

They've gotten very little pressure on opposing quarterbacks and have done an inconsistent job stopping the run, more so in recent weeks. HALFTIME CAT TRACKS: ½ PAW

LINEBACKERS

This unit has been the worst hit by injuries, starting with the loss of top draft pick Dan Morgan on the horrible field conditions at the Ericsson Stadium opener. By and large, they've done a decent job, but we can't ignore the injury factor here… HALFTIME CAT TRACKS: 1 ½ PAWS

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Doug Evans picked off passes in a club-record 6 consecutive games. By and large, they've kept teams from having huge passing games, but they have had their bad moments like against Washington when they gave up big pass plays late in regulation and overtime. While Evans and Mike Minter have looked strong, the youth of Rashard Anderson and Deon Grant has been victimized. HALFTIME CAT TRACKS: 1 ½ PAWS

SPECIAL TEAMS

Special teams play has cost them one game (Green Bay) when kick returner Steve Smith fumbled on back-to-back kickoffs to start the second half. Other than that, Smith has been a gem. John Kasay has shown no ill-effects of his two knee injuries, if the coaching staff would just give him a chance more often. And, the early fears of punter Todd Sauerbrun being the teams' most valuable player are coming true, he's been spectacular. He has had one punt blocked, for a Jets touchdown. HALFTIME CAT TRACKS: 3 PAWS

COACHING

An A+ to start the year in the Minnesota game, but since then, it's been all downhill. Play-calling has been questionable on frequent occasions, leading one to wonder just what they're thinking of. After a number of close losses, it's beginning to look like the coaching staff may be losing this team. Give them credit for getting this younger version to play hard and competitively, but there's a growing feeling that this grade will drop over the second half of the year…and that could mean a really ugly second half. HALFTIME CAT TRACKS: 1/2 PAW


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