Panthers at Dolphins: Pre-Game News Extravaganza

The Dolphins don't have a large margin for error against a stout Panthers team on both sides of the ball, so they must eliminate the penalties (11) and dropped passes (five) that plagued them last Sunday. Rookie RB Ronnie Brown is averaging 2.7 yards per carry, and if the Panthers can keep the Dolphins' ground game down, DE Julius Peppers should have a field day against the weak right side of Miami's offensive line.

Carolina Panthers (1-1) at Miami Dolphins (1-1)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 9/25/05
SURFACE: Grass
TV: FOX, Kenny Albert, Brian Baldinger, Jay Glazer
SERIES: 3rd meeting. Dolphins lead series 2-0. Miami has won both previous meetings, the last coming at Pro Player Stadium on Nov. 4, 2001. The Dolphins won that game 23-6.
2005 RANKINGS: Panthers: offense 21st (9th rush, 24th pass); defense 9th (6th rush, 20th pass). Dolphins: offense 16th (12th rush, 16th pass); defense 10th (8th rush, 16th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Dolphins don't have a large margin for error against a stout Panthers team on both sides of the ball, so they must eliminate the penalties (11) and dropped passes (five) that plagued them last Sunday. Rookie RB Ronnie Brown is averaging 2.7 yards per carry, and if the Panthers can keep the Dolphins' ground game down, DE Julius Peppers should have a field day against the weak right side of Miami's offensive line. The Panthers are waiting for QB Jake Delhomme to find his groove, but the offense has capitalized on its opportunities by scoring four touchdowns in five red-zone possessions. RB Stephen Davis has provided a physical presence, but the offense still needs to find more balance to be more consistently effective.

FAST FACTS

Panthers: WR Steve Smith has three of his five career 100-yard receiving games against AFC teams. ... DE Mike Rucker needs one sack to pass Kevin Greene (41.5) for the franchise record.

Dolphins: 85-40 (.680) record in interconference games since 1970 is the best in the NFL. ... Seek first four-game home winning streak since 2002.

PERSONNEL NEWS:

Panthers:
--RB Stephen Davis (neck) practiced and was upgraded to probable. He is likely to play Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. It was never really a question whether or not Davis would play, even though he started the week listed as questionable.

--CB Ricky Manning Jr. could see more playing time if Ken Lucas is unable to play or is limited in the game due to a shoulder injury.

--LB Will Witherspoon has a LCL sprain in his right knee and his status for Sunday is up in the air.

--LB Chris Draft will start on the weak side if Will Witherspoon can't go.

--SS Thomas Davis played about a dozen plays last week, mostly at a position the team had dubbed "joker," a sort of hybrid between safety and linebacker. It appears Davis has lost his starting job at strong safety, at least for the time being, to veteran Marlon McCree. But he's not all that upset about it. "Whether you like it or not, it's just something that's going to help my team," Davis said. "I'm there for them. Not to say I don't like it - because I was very pleased with the way the coaches used me. They gave me the opportunity to go out and make plays and help the defense out."

--SS Mike Minter (calf strain) practiced on Thursday and said he expects to play against Miami this week. Minter has started 68 straight games for the Panthers if you include playoff games.

Dolphins:
--RB Sammy Morris, who is listed as questionable for Sunday's game against Carolina because of a sore shoulder, practiced for a second consecutive day Thursday and should be able to play as Ronnie Brown's backup.

--SLB Junior Seau is switching to weakside linebacker on passing downs. Dolphins coach Nick Saban said he wants to limit the responsibilities of starting WLB Channing Crowder as the rookie adjusts to playing in the NFL.

--WLB Channing Crowder is being replaced by Junior Seau on passing downs. Dolphins coach Nick Saban said he wants to limit Crowder's responsibilities as the rookie adjusts to playing in the NFL.

--CB Eddie Jackson, who was claimed off waivers from Carolina at the end of the preseason, is trying to pass along his knowledge of the Panthers to his teammates. Jackson has played on special teams in each of Miami's first two games, registering one tackle.

--TE Will Heller has received action as a blocking tight end in each of Miami's first two games and could land extended action against Carolina if Ts Damion McIntosh and Vernon Carey are struggling to block Panthers DEs Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:

Panthers:
Panthers safety Mike Minter was back on the field Thursday, but outside linebacker Will Witherspoon and cornerback Ken Lucas were held out of practice for the second straight day, raising some question as to their availability for Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins.

Witherspoon, the team's leading tackler through two games, said Thursday he has a sprained lateral collateral ligament in his right knee and is uncertain if he'll be ready for Sunday's game. He had a similar injury to other knee last season and continued to play, but said, "This one is worse."

Lucas, who turned in a terrific game against the New England Patriots with a team-high 10 tackles, is still bothered by a shoulder injury he suffered while running down Patriots wide receiver Troy Brown in the open field. He was far less forthcoming about his injury status.

"It's day-to-day right now and I don't want to give away the game plan right now, so that's all I can tell you," Lucas said.

If Lucas can't go, then Ricky Manning Jr. would likely step in to start at corner. Chris Draft would likely fill in Witherspoon is unable to suit up on Sunday.

Dolphins:
Dolphins linebackers Zach Thomas and Junior Seau have accounted for a combined 17 Pro Bowl appearances - and it shows through the season's first two games.

Thomas (30) and Seau (23) are 1-2 on the team in tackles entering Sunday's game against Carolina. But the numbers that are more important to the duo is 2-1 - as in what Miami's record would be with a victory over the Panthers (1-1).

"It is our third game that is going to put us ahead of our contenders in the standings," said Seau, referring to the rest of the AFC East, which is standing at 1-1 entering this weekend's games. "We would kind of enjoy our bye week knowing that we are on top of the league.

"It is early and premature to you guys, but it counts to us. Being in first place should never be underrated or overshadowed. We are looking to go out there and win and be in that position and hopefully, hold that position for a long time."

But to accomplish that, the Dolphins must shut down a Panthers offense that contains threats in the running and passing game, including tailback Stephen Davis (NFL-high four touchdowns) and speedy wide receiver Steve Smith.

"He (Davis) is a powerful runner. He definitely gets his feet downhill," Thomas said. "Also, they throw all kinds of stuff at you with the passing game. You can't just take away one thing. You have to be balanced on defense as well."

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