Carolina's Draft Cranks Up the Competition

The Carolina Panthers like Matt Moore, but do they trust him long term?

The decision to draft Jimmy Clausen at No. 48 -- after general manager Marty Hurney spent the entire second day of the NFL trying to trade up to as high as No. 33 to get him -- is proof the Panthers aren't completely sold that Moore is the team's quarterback of the future, despite his 6-2 record as a starter.

When Clausen fell to the Panthers at No. 48 general Hurney was ecstatic at his team's good fortune saying "sometimes the best trades are the ones you don't make" since the Panthers didn't have to give up any future draft picks.

The same best-man-on-the-board theory applied to Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike, who was selected at the end of the sixth round.

Suddenly Moore has gone from having almost no competition to being smothered by it.

Ironically one of the reasons the Panthers released veteran Jake Delhomme last month is they didn't want Moore looking over his shoulder every day to see if he was gaining ground and ready to take his job. But adding Clausen will certainly have him peaking. If the Panthers thought there was pressure on Moore then, you can just imagine what it might be like now with a pair of rookie quarterbacks right behind him.

You can hardly blame the Panthers for making the moves.

After all, they don't know all that much about Moore will respond in pressure situations. Sure, he's won 75 percent of his career starts, but all of those came when the Panthers were already eliminated from playoff contention -- or at least close to it -- in 2007 and '09.

On Saturday Hurney and coach John Fox went out of their way to emphasize that drafting not two quarterbacks (three if you include Armanti Edwards, whom the Panthers plan to turn into a wide receiver) isn't an indictment on Moore.

"To draft well, you have to train yourself to go by the board, and if there's separation, you take the best player, and it's worked for us. It makes it harder at the quarterback position," Hurney said. "Matt and Hunter (Cantwell), we can't say strongly enough how we feel about those two guys. It had nothing to do with them. We just got into a draft that surprisingly, in the second and sixth rounds, the board just dictated, 'This is the pick; this is the best player to take.' ... There was a significant gap."

Added Fox: "I'm a firm believer that competition at positions brings out the best in guys. We've got that going on," said Fox.

Fox wouldn't declare his early depth chart at quarterback yet, although it will likely look like this: Moore first, Clausen second, followed by Cantwell third and Pike fourth.

NOTES, QUOTES

The Carolina Panthers now have nine new starters to replace in 2010 after trading strong safety Chris Harris back to the Chicago Bears in exchange for linebacker Jamar Williams.

Harris became the latest veteran casualty from the Panthers roster, caught up in an off-season purge orchestrated by general manager Marty Hurney.

The news doesn't come as a huge surprise given that the Panthers signed free agent Aaron Francisco and also drafted Jordan Pugh. The team also likes its young safeties in Charles Godfrey and Sherrod Martin, who are expected to be the starters this year.

"Chris is going back to an organization where he has familiarity and we wish him the very best," Hurney said. "He has made a valuable contribution to the Panthers. He has done everything we have asked and has been a valuable member of our team. Right now we have some young safeties that will get the opportunity to continue to earn playing time."

In addition to strong safety, the Panthers will have new starters this year at both defensive tackle spots, right defensive end, strong side linebacker on defense, as well as quarterback, fullback, No. 2 wide receiver and right guard.

The Bears drafted Harris in the sixth round in 2005 and dealt him to the Panthers during training camp in 2007 just months after making the Super Bowl. At the time, the Panthers needed a replacement for Mike Minter, who abruptly retired in training camp.

Harris has been a mainstay in the secondary since then, but the team was pleasantly surprised with the play of Martin, a second-round draft pick in 2009, last year.

Hurney said several times this off-season it's time to start playing some of the younger players who have shown potential and clearly that theory applies to Martin, who did extremely well in a starting role last year with Godfrey out five games with an ankle injury.

Harris, 27, was a three-year starter for the Panthers and had 60 tackles, three interceptions and forced two fumbles last season for the Panthers and has generally been regarded as a ballhawk for John Fox's defense.

However, shoulder and knee issues have limited Harris' success of late and that may have contributed to the team's decision to trade him.

Harris called his departure from the Panthers "bittersweet."

"I loved Charlotte," said Harris, who developed a reputation for creating turnovers in his three seasons with the Panthers. "I was comfortable here with the city and town. I think the Panthers run a great organization and the fans and city embraced me during my time here and they will be missed as well as my teammates. ... I know this was a business move for (owner) Mr. (Jerry) Richardson and I am not leaving here with any ill will toward anyone. I don't agree with everything that goes on but I respect it."

Harris said if he was going to be traded he's glad it was back to Chicago where he spent his first two seasons.

--Six-foot, 237-pound linebacker Jamar Williams is entering his fifth season in the NFL and is expected to be a backup linebacker for the Panthers.

Williams has started only three games (two last year) in four seasons for the Bears, but finished last season with 43 tackles. He has five career pass breakups and one sack. He gives some the team some added depth at linebacker and should contribute on special teams, where he had 30 tackles over the past two seasons.

"Jamar is a versatile linebacker who brings experience, athletic ability and can help on special teams as well as compete for time at linebacker," Hurney said.

Williams started at strong side linebacker against the Lions in Week 4 and on the weak side against St. Louis in Week 13 last season. Against the Lions he had seven tackles, while he had 19 stops and broke up two passes against the Rams.

--Brandon LaFell could win the No. 2 wide receiver spot this year if he can beat out Dwayne Jarrett.

"I feel like this team is getting another quality receiver," LaFell said when asked what he brings to the table. "I feel like I bring a lot to the table whether it's in the pass game or the running game.

"I'm a physical receiver. I can go down the field and I can go across the middle. I feel like I'm a great downfield blocker. We have two big-time running backs here and an explosive receiver on the other side (in Steve Smith) and a guy like Dwayne Jarrett who is up and coming also. I feel like I'm a guy who can just come in and fit in well with this offense."

Jarrett, meanwhile, has fired his former agent Darin Morgan and hired super agent Drew Rosenhaus to represent him. Normally when a player does that he wants to begin the process of either exiting an organization or getting a new contract.

It's doubtful the latter is coming here in Carolina anytime soon, especially after the Panthers drafted three wide receivers over the weekend.

Rosenhaus is viewed as a guy who has a knack for swinging trades.

But he'll have his work cut out for him with Jarrett, who has been extremely unproductive over the last three seasons with the Panthers.

--It looks like cornerback Richard Marshall and linebacker Thomas Davis will not be working out this weekend at minicamp. Neither player has signed his tender with the Panthers.

--Armanti Edwards, a two-time National Player of the Year at Division 1-AA Appalachian State as a quarterback, will be a receiver and returner for the Panthers.

However, he said the Panthers are working on a package for him that will allow him to play some Wildcat.

"I feel like I bring my athletic ability to this offense and I can play multiple positions and help out wherever I'm needed," Edwards said. "Right now I'm a receiver and wherever else they want me to play I will work hard at it."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I am going to a place that I am familiar with and where I already know the system so I am excited about that. This is where I began my career so it's a great situation for me." -- Panthers SS Chris Harris on being traded to Chicago.


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