Panthers Tidbits 11-11

Frustrated by his team's disappointing 4-4 start, captain Mike Minter called a defensive players only meeting last Wednesday and spoke at length about the importance of team chemistry. The goal is for players to get to know each other better.

So from now until the end of the season, the defense will meet every Thursday night at a different restaurant for food and drinks and a general get-to-know-each-other session.

"We decided to do some things that will bring us closer as a unit," Minter said. "We've got a lot of young guys, a lot of new guys and we need to come and jell as a unit. I think the things and steps that we'll take will make that happen. I think we'll be OK."

It's a big commitment for some, especially those like Minter who is married and has children. But it's something everyone was willing to do in an effort to prevent this once-promising season from going down the drain.

"The message was we need to get to know each other outside of football," said rookie cornerback Richard Marshall, one of 11 new defensive players on Carolina's roster.

"A lot of people don't hang out with each other outside of football. We had a meeting and it was said, 'would everyone be willing on Thursday night to go out to dinner? We know that some players have wives and kids, but is everyone willing to do it?' Everyone was willing to do it. Hopefully that will get everyone to start getting to know each other and that in turn will help us start playing together."

Defensive end Mike Rucker, a veteran of eight NFL veterans, said the ultimate goal is develop a level of trust and increase accountability.

"What happens is we have older guys and younger guys and you have to mesh together," Rucker said. "As a team we kind of did that in the off-season. But as we get going it's about accountability and if I know more about you and what you're about and where you come from, it makes me play harder for you because there's a relationship on the line, too.

"You don't want to give up. Not that you would anyway, but there's just something different if I know more about you and you're playing right next to me or behind me -- that just makes it a little more special. You just play harder. That's what we're trying to capture."

A needed break

--Jake Delhomme said it was nice to get away from football for a week after Carolina's 35-14 loss to Dallas.

"It was good to get away, not only physically but mentally," Delhomme said. "It's nice to wake up in the morning and not have what they might do in the red zone on third down going through your mind. The biggest thing for me is to mentally get away from it, because it's such a grind. It was nice, but now we're back at it."

Several players said Wednesday's practice -- their first since in five days -- was one of the best of the season.

"It was pretty good, I must admit," Delhomme said. "It's easy for a player to say that, but it was good. As players we all realize that there are only eight games left in the regular season, and they fly by. If you go back to our first eight games, I can remember getting ready for Atlanta. It flies by. Before you know it, the season's over with, so you want to be sure you're playing for something."

Jake expects more pressure from Bucs D

--Delhomme said he feels like the Bucs are trying to bring more pressure in recent weeks than they did in Week 3.

"They're trying to create a little more pressure than what they have done in the past," Delhomme said. "They've always been that Cover Two team. Now they're pressuring a little bit more, so we have to be ready for both. They're like us. They only have two wins, but we only have four. So we're both searching for something and trying to find a way to get another win. Hopefully, we've used this bye to our advantage and we'll come out ready to play."

Money down the drain?

--The Panthers are looking like they've wasted a lot of money with the acquisition of free agent center Justin Hartwig. Hartwig hasn't started since Week 1 because of a groin injury. He was expected to return to the lineup after the bye week, but re-injured his groin lifting weights last week.

"I think he had a little setback late last week in the weight room that we are sorting out," coach John Fox said. "We are going to put him on the shelf and see how that comes along."

Hartwig is doubtful for Tampa Bay.

Smitty the punt returner?

--When asked if Steve Smith will continue to return punts, Fox said. "We haven't evaluated that. It will probably be a game time decision."

Smith said after Carolina's loss to Dallas that he will not return punts anymore for the Panthers.

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