CHARLOTTE, N.C.- Ah, you've got to love this time of the year…there's a briskness in the air, the kids are back in school, the leaves are about to being their yearly color change, and this coming Sunday, September 8th, pigskins will once again begin flying around inside 15 different stadiums. Welcome back football, boy how we have missed you. Especially here in Carolina, where fans excitement is already beginning to build for this Sunday's game vs. the Baltimore Ravens.
Fans are ready to forget the travesty that was the 2001 Carolina Panthers, and are looking forward to the first regular season game during the John Fox era. Any fan who missed a lot during the off season will more than likely not recognize quite a few Panthers who will be on the field on Sunday. Gone are corners Jimmy Hitchcock (Patriots) and Doug Evans (Seahawks) and starting in their positions are Terry Cousin (from Dolphins) and Reggie Howard (backup last season).
Look to the weak side linebacker position, and there's no Dan Morgan there, as he has been moved back to middle linebacker, his natural position. You'll probably see another couple of new faces in the linebacker corps in Mark Fields (Rams), Will Witherspoon (3rd round of draft), and a noticeable difference will be the absence of Lester Towns on the field, as he has dropped to second string. The defensive line has one major new addition in Julius Peppers (1st rd draft pick) and he will probably be spotted in the Ravens backfield quite often.
On the offensive side of the ball, Pro Bowl KR/PR Steve Smith is most likely lining up as a WR opposite of Moose. In the backfield, there's a more bulked up Brad Hoover, who will be leading the way for Lamar Smith (also formerly a Dolphin). One can clearly see with these new changes on the team, there is clearly a lot of excitement in the air around Carolina, as everyone is looking to this newly acquired talent to produce early.
And of course, lining up at quarterback is Chris…wait, who??? Rodney Peete??!!?? Yes, that's correct. After a sub par performance against the Cleveland Browns (1 for 3, 1 INT) in the pre-season finale, Coach Fox has made perhaps his boldest move since taking over the reigns in Carolina. By benching Chris Weinke, and promoting Rodney Peete to the starting position, merely a week before the season and home opener, Fox has created a lot of uncertainty around the team. This marks the second straight year that the Panthers have had a new signal caller under center from the last preseason game to the first regular season game. Only time will tell if this was the smartest move for this organization, but you have to give Fox a lot of credit in making the move. It appears that he is sending a statement to this young team that if you don't produce, you won't be playing, no matter if you started last year or not.
This move has drawn a mixed response among Panthers fans, with some siding with Fox's decision, based off of what he has done so far, and others, feeling that the Panthers have just as good a chance of winning with Weinke under center as they do with Peete, who hasn't started an NFL game since 1998. Following are just a few of those reactions taken from an NFC South bulletin board:
Posted by CarolinaCal: "Man the entire offense looked like horseradish the last two weeks and Weinke is made the fall guy. Come on he doesn't block anyone. He doesn't catch the balls for the wide outs. This is just STUPID!!!!!! Well I guess Fox wants the BUCS record for losses in a row!!!!!! Our season just got BENCHED!!!!!!!!!! All the great moves in the off season just went for not!!!!!!"
Posted by NCBobCat: "Wow, am I late?!?! This is a bad, bad, bad, move. This says to the rest of the team we are desperate to the team by the coaching staff. Weinke has not looked that bad to be benched...not at all. Peete looked just as bad a Weinke the other night and against Cleveland's reserves."
Posted by Paz83: "I don't see what's all the fret about. Its not like we were gonna make the playoffs anyway with Weinke. The man was old and slow and only a rookie. Just remember 2003 is a QB loaded draft."
As it appears, those who aren't too upset with the change are already looking forward to the 2003 NFL draft, which appears to be loaded at the QB position. Time will only tell if this change is for the good, but don't expect the move to dampen the excitement that will fill Ericsson Stadium this Sunday afternoon. Look for the Panthers to end their consecutive game-losing streak as they pull this one out over the Ravens, 16-13.