It's Clear: Play Bashir

The latest colmun by Brad Thomas, discussing why starting Thomas Davis is bad for the Panthers in 2005.

As I sit here thinking about the Panthers and their potential this year, one thing keeps popping into my head.

Before the draft, I read an article from Dan Pompei of the Sporting News regarding Panthers safety Thomas Davis. In his NFL Insider Column, Pompei spoke about Thomas Davis' play recognition skills. Pompei stated that Davis was "a sucker for play-action and gets caught peeking into the backfield. He is as lost in a zone as a hillbilly in Manhattan." He went on to quote an unnamed long-time NFL Executive as saying "He's made more mental mistakes and instinctive mistakes than anyone I've ever scouted".

The imagery has been burned in my mind since I read the article. Fictitious images of Davis being burned deep run through my head like a highlight reel. Then I see highlights, if you want to call them that, of Davis' first two games for the Panthers. I see him not doing much against the Redskins in week 1. I see him walking up to an already dead play, as if to unfreeze a friend in a game of freeze tag. "Oh you got the tackle, alright, I was just making sure," my mind has him saying to his team mates.

Then I think back to the Giants game, in which he played linebacker. I think of how he closed in on one ball carrier and tackled him from behind. That was pretty impressive, but not anything I've never seen before. Then I recall how he had a dead-bead on Giants QB Tim Hasselbeck, went for the sack, and completely whiffed – Hasselbeck scrambled for a first down on the play as Davis chased and swung his fists in anger at the missed opportunity.

For some reason, I think we'll be seeing that a lot this year – that is if Davis plays at strong safety.

I, like NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Panthers Defensive Coordinator Mike Trgovac think Davis is more suited to play linebacker. He's fast, and his reputation out of Georgia is that he's a hitter. I've seen no evidence of this on the field as a panther. Sure, it's only been 2 games, but you see other teams' rookies stepping up and making plays – why not Davis? When will he step up and make people say, "That is the reason they drafted him"?

As a fan, you think "Fox and Hurney haven't steered us wrong so far. They must see something in this kid that we haven't yet." Perhaps he would be better suited coming in as a situational player, like they started out doing at the onset of camp.

Then you start to feel better, because your realize that the Panthers have a guy that's played in the league and was fairly decent – Idrees Bashir.

Bashir never really lived up to the expectations that the Colts had for him when he was drafted in the early second round of the 2001 draft, however he has started in 51 regular season games, exactly 51 more than Thomas Davis. That fact alone is enough to ease my panthers anxiety. However, he chose to come to Carolina because he wanted to be a part of this defensive monster. He wants a chance to go out and excel. I can't blame him for being angry that a guy who doesn't know what he's doing, self-admittedly, is starting ahead of him. We all would be angry in that situation.

The biggest thing Davis has going for him right now is his reputation as a hitter. During the Redskins game, Mark Brunell was clearly rattled whenever Davis came in the game and lined up as a blitzer. That is what Davis does – he's a blitzer. He's a hitter. Supposedly. If you start Davis and he performs poorly, you take away that psychological edge. If you only play Davis on downs where he'll rush the passer, his legend will stay intact, and it would work in the Panthers' favor. You wouldn't have Davis out there losing confidence, and you wouldn't have an inadequate safety on the field at all times either.

That is why Bashir needs to start. It's not that he's a better safety than Davis. It's not that Davis would perform poorly as a full-time strong safety. Starting Bashir would allow Mike Minter to then play strong safety, a position he's manned for years. Bashir is more equipped at this point to make the defense succeed and to help Davis succeed. Perhaps Davis will grow into the strong safety position in years to come, or maybe they'll move him full-time to linebacker in the offseason. It's totally up in the air at this point. They stated he was at LB to stay last week, then recanted that and moved him to safety this past week. I agree, they have to get something out of the kid this year because what they are paying him, but not at the detriment to the team. That wouldn't be fair to the other 52 guys on the roster.

"When he made the move to linebacker, I said there was a possibility he could end up back at safety," John Fox said earlier in the week. "I will tell you the same thing this time. There is a possibility he could be back at linebacker again. It's a long season, and things happen. Fortunately for us, he's got that versatility."

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