Panther Roundup: Developing a Passing Fancy

The Panthers are now practicing as a full team, but it didn't come until after coach John Fox turned the first week of OTAs into what was basically a "passing camp."

Coming off a season in which the Panthers finished 27th in passing and having a number of young and new players at quarterback and wide receiver, Fox decided to leave the linemen out of the first three days of drills, thus forcing himself to focus on the passing game. The running game, which finished third in the league last year, needs very little tweaking.

"We kind of adjusted that a little bit this year," Fox said. "As far as output last year we were way more efficient running the football than we were passing and we've got a young bunch of quarterbacks and receiving corps, so we want to emphasize that. I'm of the belief that you get what you emphasize. So that's a little bit different than in years past."

Starting quarterback Matt Moore said a good bit of the information was recycled from last year, but added that the Panthers offense could have a slightly different look this season.

"There has been some new stuff -- new concepts, some little nuances changed offensively -- and those are things we have to get used to," Moore said.

One of those nuances is using four-receiver sets, something that's fairly common around the NFL but has been almost unheard of in the Fox regime.

They also appear to be throwing more to their backs.

"That's why we had this passing camp," Moore said. "But the new stuff has all been good. You put that stuff in and run it a couple of times and see how it goes. It's been a positive outcome so far, so it's all been good."

Moore said the "passing camp," which lasted from Monday to Wednesday was well-received with the skill position players -- most of whom are new to the offense -- and featured a lot of 7-on-7 situations. They were joined by the linemen on Thursday and will continue to work as a full team next week when OTAs resume.

"It's been great," Moore said. "I think it's publicly known that we're trying to better our passing game. Those three days just focusing on the things and the details and stuff like that. I know guys enjoyed it. The receivers liked it. It's good for the running backs, and then the quarterbacks especially."

In three seasons with the Panthers, Moore has won six of eight starts, including a 4-1 mark last year, which was enough to convince general manager Marty Hurney to dump veteran Jake Delhomme's bad contract and go with Moore as the team's quarterback of the future.

Or, at least the quarterback of the immediate future.

"It's been wild," said Moore of an off-season which also saw the Panthers draft two quarterbacks, including Jimmy Clausen in the second round.

"It's just the way the league works. That is the way it has been this off-season. You have to roll with it. With Jake being gone and then the situation with the draft, all of that stuff is out of my control. But we're here now on the field and that is what we're focused on."

With eight starts under his belt, Moore finds it a little odd that he's viewed as the cagey veteran of this group. However, he's the only one of the four quarterbacks in camp to have ever played in an NFL game.

"Jimmy is coming over to me all of the time and asking me, 'What's up with this?' and I'm like, 'I don't know,'" Moore said with an honest laugh. "But no, it's been good to have that role. That is how Jake was to me, very helpful. With the experience I do have, guys are going to come to me with questions."


LB Eric Norwood
--The Carolina Panthers are extremely high on linebacker/defensive end Eric Norwood from South Carolina, a player they believe is a steal in the fourth round.

"I think he's going to be a very, very key player for us right away," linebacker Thomas Davis said. "He has a lot of versatility. He's a guy we can use at linebacker or in pass-rush situations. We can have him put his hand down and he would do a great job playing defensive end. Even without the pads on there are some guys you just look at watch and you know right away, hey, this guy is going to be a player."

Norwood said he's spent about 90 percent of his practice time working at outside linebacker, where he'll likely wind up competing with Dan Connor and James Anderson for playing time, but it's clear that even when he's not at defensive end the Panthers plan to give him opportunities to play to his strength, which is wrecking havoc on opposing quarterbacks.

Coach John Fox referred to him as a "DPR" or a designated pass rusher and is clearly excited about the options Norwood brings to the defense in terms of rushing from the outside linebacker position.

"When I think of Eric the thing I think of is his motor," Fox said. "He's relentless to the ball. He's got a good first step in his pass rush. He's built pretty strong. Even though he might be a little short in stature he's pretty well put together and he's got extremely good explosion.

"I think the more a guy can do the better. He'll be an integral part of the kicking game (on special teams) as well as pass rushing in passing situations. We're putting him at linebacker to utilize some of his abilities there as a pass rusher when we do bring him."

--In an interview with the team-owned Roar Magazine, Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson called the decision to release quarterback Jake Delhomme and other popular players this off-season "extremely difficult" but added they weren't the result of the uncertainty surrounding the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).

"They were very good players and even better people," Richardson told Roar. "It is impossible not to get attached to players, particularly those who have been with the team for a long time and are good people.

"We will miss them. That is only natural. They were tough football decisions and were hard on Marty and John. It was the same procedure we have used over the years. A roster changes year-to-year and every six or seven there is an inevitable cycle of transition, and there is a plan for that transition, but it doesn't make it any easier."

When asked if they were the result of uncertainty surrounding the CBA, Richardson replied, "We were at a point with our football team that we had to make some tough football decisions, which were separate of the CBA. We have a number of younger players who showed promise at the end of last season and need to get on the field."

--John Isner, the 19th-ranked tennis player in the world, attended Wednesday's OTA practice as a guest of Carolina Panthers four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Steve Smith. It turns out the lanky 6-foot-9 Isner met Smith, who is a foot shorter, while attending the Australian Open five months ago and the two hit it off.

Isner, who grew up in Greensboro, invited Smith to the players' lounge and the two have been friends ever since.

Smith returned the favor on Wednesday with Isner attending his first professional football practice.

"I like tennis and I play a little bit," Smith said. "Not anything close to John. I'm a spectator when John is playing. But I respect all athletes and all the sports they do. To get to that level is hard in whatever you do. Just because he doesn't play football as far as professionally doesn't mean I have less respect or I ... think he's less of an athlete."

Smith joked that if Isner played football he'd be a tight end.

"Just looking at his feet with the flip-flops on, I don't think he'd be a good wide receiver," Smith teased.

Isner said he'd probably be a tight end, but added, "I would need to add about 40 pounds."

Isner laughed when he received text messages from friends back home after television cameras showed Smith in the stands at the Australian Open rooting him on.

"All my friends would text me," Isner said. "Obviously, the ones home back in Greensboro were jealous. It's cool. I'm glad I met him. He invited me to come down here and I have a few days off."

Isner had just returned to home after falling to Tomas Berdych 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 at the French Open on Friday. He watched about 45 minutes of Carolina's practice and then talked with Smith on the sidelines.

Isner said watching practice was a thrill.

He's been a Panthers fan since 1995 when he was 10.

"When we were in Australia he was asking me all kinds of questions about football," Smith said. "He asked some questions I didn't even think he knew about. He's a hometown boy so he's very aware."

Smith said he plans to go to London later this month to watch Isner compete at Wimbledon.

But he added that he has no plans to meet Isner on the tennis court.

"That's something that if it would happen we'd probably have to have a pact that nobody speaks about it," joked Smith.

--Coach John Fox is liking what he's seeing out of fullback Tony Fiammetta, who is likely to replace Brad Hoover this year.

"Jim Skipper, our running backs coach, brought him along last year," Fox said. "The fullback position is a pretty heads up position as far as how it fits in the running game, cleaning up for the o-line and making adjustments on the move. Tony showed that ability as the season wore on last year a lot in practice to pick that stuff up and understand what we're doing in the run game. I think he's ready to take that next step."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "With the newcomers we have on the team the intensity has picked up. The speed of practice is picking up. We have a lot of young guys flying around." -- Panthers DE Everette Brown on the very, very young 2010 Carolina Panthers.


MEDICAL WATCH: With defensive tackle Tank Tyler returning to practice this week, running back Jonathan Stewart is the only player being held out of drills completely.

Tyler, offensive tackles Jordan Gross and Jeff Otah, linebacker Thomas Davis are working in individual drills and have not yet joined the team drills.

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