Special teams will give Panthers edge on Sunday

Regardless of the Panthers' overall record in the 2001 season, there was nothing disappointing in Carolina's special teams.

CHARLOTTE, N.C.-  Granted the Panthers did not have the best season last year, but there is one area in which they shine: special teams and the Ravens know it. Carolina produced two pro-bowl players from special teams.

"I'm sure Fox is counting on special teams, as it typically is, to be a big factor in the outcome of the game to augment some of the questions we both have offensively and defensively," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.

The Panthers' special teams boasts both punter Todd Sauerbrun and kickoff returner Steve Smith. Last year, Smith led the NFC with his rookie average of 25.6. He also averaged 10.7 yards on punts, returned one punt for a touchdown, and he is the only rookie named All-Pro by The Associated Press, Sports Illustrated, Pro Football Weekly, Football Digest and The Sporting News. Special teams is ready to take on the challenge.

However, the Panthers should not get too comfortable. Linebackers J.R. Johnson and Bart Scott along with safety Chad Williams and Ed Reed, will be some of the new faces counted on to add a great deal to the Ravens on kickoff and punt teams this season.

The Panthers, under ex-Ravens special teams coach Scott O'Brien, finished in the top 10 last year in punt and kickoff return average. The Ravens ranked third in punt coverage, 19th in kickoffs.

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