Panther Roundup: Carolina Adjusts on the Fly

Jon Beason, who went to the Pro Bowl the last two seasons as a middle linebacker, could be on the move.

With Thomas Davis having re-torn the ACL in his right knee and likely out for the season, the Panthers are exploring the possibility of moving Beason to weak-side linebacker, a position coordinator Ron Meeks' defense is geared around.

Beason ran with the starters in Davis' old spot on Wednesday, once day after news of Davis' injury, while Dan Connor filled in at middle linebacker. James Anderson continued to run with the starters on the strong side.

"That's how we're looking at it," Beason said. "We have three practices left and I'm getting some reps at the Will (weak-side linebacker) position because we have the opportunity right now. You really just want to determine the best three guys right now. The only way to do that is to move guys around and see what that equation is."

Beason worked at weak-side linebacker for three seasons at the University of Miami and it's the position he was drafted to play here back when the Panthers still had Dan Morgan in the middle.

"I don't think it will be hard transition," Beason said if the move becomes a necessity. "It might be easier than the Mike (middle linebacker) because it's something I've done... My number one goal is to win. If that's something the coaches want me to do then I will do it to the best of my ability."

Beason said he's convinced yet the move will be permanent.

Panthers coach John Fox said he's not settled on how best to adjust to Davis' long-term absence.

"There are a lot of options," Fox said. "At this point, I'm not going to get into all of what they are. It's similar to what we went through and adjustments we had to make a year ago. That's part of this game."

However, Fox said he "feels good" about the guys the Panthers have.

Along with Beason, the Panthers could also use Jamar Williams or rookie Eric Norwood there, or wind up moving Anderson back to over to the weak side.

"First of all, with a guy like Thomas, my heart goes out to him," Fox said. "Just going through that, personally, is hard. So I'm disappointed for him. I'm not sure you replace a guy quite of his abilities. We had some guys step in last year and do a good job."

Right now the biggest thing is getting the best three linebackers on the field, and that likely means some combination of Beason, Anderson, Connor and Williams.

"It's a new unit but we have guys with experience," Beason said. "The thing you're looking for now is chemistry. I can tell you what Thomas is thinking and Na'il Diggs is thinking without even talking to them. So that is one thing we're going to miss but we're going to develop that."


DT Ed Johnson
Andy Lyons/Getty
--Defensive tackle Ed Johnson has a new view on football and life.

"Sitting out last year gave me a lot of time to put things in perspective and see where I need to be at on the field and off the field and see which direction I need to be heading in," said Johnson, 26, in his first interview since signing with the Panthers.

The Panthers signed Johnson as a free agent this past offseason, hoping he can resurrect a once promising career with the Indianapolis Colts and become the interior run-stopper they need.

Signed as an undrafted rookie in 2007, Johnson wound up starting all 16 games for Indianapolis following an injury to Anthony "Booger" McFarland and led the Colts defensive line with 63 tackles. But Johnson, who was already on a tight leash after being suspended three times and expelled once at Penn State, was unceremoniously booted by the Colts the following year after being arrested on charges of speeding and marijuana possession.

At the time, Colts general manager Bill Polian said, "Ed was well aware that his past history required him to be in complete compliance with club rules. He was repeatedly told this during the off-season. Along with his teammates, he was reminded as recently as yesterday of coach (Tony) Dungy's rules of behavior. Unfortunately, he chose to violate those rules. Given the circumstances surrounding Ed's original employment with the Colts, we feel in this case that we have no choice but to take this action."

However, the Colts brought him back last year and Johnson played well enough to earn back his starting spot.

But four games into the 2009 season, the Colts cut him again.

There was some speculation Johnson might have got himself in trouble off the field, but nothing ever became public and the Colts cited "performance" as the reason for his release the second time around.

"I'm not really sure why (they released me)," Johnson said. "People get cut every day; people lose their job every day. I don't agree with it. But you have to move on."

Nobody picked up Johnson last year, including the Panthers who were desperate for help at the time at defensive tackle.

However, Carolina coordinator Ron Meeks, who worked with Johnson in 2007, helped convince the Panthers to take a chance on him this off-season and it's a move that could pay off. Johnson has worked some with the first-team defense in OTAs with Tank Tyler still nursing a knee injury and not participating in team drills.

The hope, of course, is the 6-2, 296-pound Johnson can return to his playing level in 2007 and keep his nose clean off the field.

"We have done a lot of research on Ed," Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said in a statement after signing Johnson. "When we took into account what people around him said and the impression we got when meeting with him in person, we felt comfortable giving him this opportunity."

Coach John Fox said the Panthers strongly considered Johnson's background before signing him.

"That was big," Fox said. "But I think he has gotten himself straightened out. Guys understand that down their career they've got to step up, and we think he'll be able to do that. There's no question whether he can play football."

Johnson called being out of work last year "very frustrating" but added he kept faith that he'd get another chance.

"It was one of those things where I have great faith in God and kept believing that he will work things out," Johnson said. "I just put it in his hands and I just try to stay positive and see this as another opportunity... I look at it as I'm a free agent again coming out of Penn State without a job and now I have to fight for my life to get a job. "

--LB Jon Beason said with Thomas Davis out he'll have to take on a bigger leadership role.

"I think you have to be more vocal," Beason said. "Last year you make the call and you didn't have to do the checks. Guys would check themselves. Now you may be saying anything just to see if you're on the same page and see what (the other linebackers) are thinking."

Beason said he has complete confidence that Dan Connor will do well at middle linebacker if he moves outside.

"It was always a chance with Thomas going down, even last year, that Dan could come in and play the Mike," Beason said. "That's a tribute to him. He's a solid football player with great technique. That's the way we're working right now, but that's because he can do it. I look forward to him making plays."

However, Beason admitted it's tough as a whole to replace Davis, who is faster and more athletic than most of the defensive backs on the current roster.

He called Davis "the best in the NFL" at his position.

WR Mushin Muhammad
Chuck Burton/AP
--WR Muhsin Muhammad, Carolina's leader in receptions and receiving yards, announced his retirement at a June 10 press conference.

Muhammad played 11 of his 14 NFL seasons with the Panthers after being selected in the second round of the 1996 NFL Draft by the Panthers. He spent his first nine years in Carolina and three seasons with the Chicago Bears before reuniting with the Panthers in 2008 and helping Carolina to an NFC South title.

He holds the Panthers team records for career receptions with 696, receiving yards with 9.255, and is tied with Steve Smith for most touchdown passes with 50. His 155 games are the most for any starter and his 141 starts are tied with Mike Minter for the most in team history.

"Coaching Muhsin has been a pleasure," said head coach John Fox. "He is the ultimate competitor and you always knew he would give you everything he had. We shared some great moments and his contributions were invaluable to the success we enjoyed. His receiving numbers reflect what kind of receiver he was, but he was also one of the best blocking wide outs to ever play in the NFL."

--It's been an anxiety-filled couple of weeks for Carolina Panthers rookie quarterback Tony Pike knowing the rest of his new teammates are practicing and getting better while he's been forced to sit and wait. But now that the University of Cincinnati has concluded its quarter-semester exams, Pike is back with the Panthers and looking to make up for lost time.

He certainly has a lot to learn before OTAs wrap up next week, most notably adapting to being under center here in Carolina after working out of the shotgun the past few years at Cincinnati under coach Brian Kelly. It may sound simple, but it can be a big adjustment for some guys.

"The biggest thing is making the reads as you're dropping back," said Pike, who was selected in the sixth round and currently stands fourth on the depth chart behind Matt Moore, Jimmy Clausen and Hunter Cantwell.

"In the shotgun you can kind of see everything and now you're making the reads and adjusting on the fly. But coach Kelly did a great job of giving me some reps under center in practice. We'd even have practices where we worked exclusively under center. But being under center isn't the big part, it's just making the reads as you're going and, of course, learning the new system."

--Carolina's last two remaining unsigned restricted free agents signed their tenders on Tuesday, meaning they've committed to playing this season with the Panthers. Linebacker Thomas Davis and CB Richard Marshall, both of whom have been participating in OTAs with their teammates, signed their deals one week ahead of the deadline.

Davis, who was injured Tuesday, will make $3.268 million this year while Marshall will earn $1.759 million, far below what they might have commanded in the NFL open market had the rules not changed this past off-season regarding their eligibility to become unrestricted free agents.

Both players would have been unrestricted free agents and free to sign with any other team if NFL owners hadn't decided to end the collective bargaining agreement after this season. However, the new rules left Davis and Marshall restricted free agent with few options.

The Panthers didn't attempt to sign either player to a long-term deal.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Never, I would have bet a million bucks it wasn't the ACL. I thought it was scar tissue and having the surgery I know you can go through it ... it's just crazy." -- Jon Beason on the injury to friend Thomas Davis, who re-tore his ACL while backpedaling during individual drills.

MEDICAL WATCH: It's only June and the Carolina Panthers have already suffered their first major injury of the 2010 season. The Panthers learned Wednesday that outside linebacker Thomas Davis re-tore the ACL in the same right knee that kept him out of the final eight games of 2009. Although the team isn't ready to declare Davis out for this season, it would basically take a miracle for him to make it back on the field.

Davis injured the knee during Tuesday's practice while backpedaling during individual drills with Jon Beason, but appeared fine as he walked off the field under his own power alongside trainer Ryan Vermillion. However, tests revealed the worst.

Reached at home, Davis said he will need surgery again but declined to go into details about the injury.

"He's worked so hard and you just feel bad because he's done everything you asked," Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said. "It's sad news. He's an explosive player and it's setback for sure. I'm sure he will get back and start working hard. You just feel bad for Thomas."

The injury raises speculation whether or not Davis rushed back from the injury too early. He talked about making it back on the practice field in May exactly five months before having surgery to repair his ACL, which seemed a remarkable feat at the time. He even talked about running a 4.47 in the 40-yard dash.

"I think anytime something like this happens certainly those are the questions you ask yourself," Hurney said. "But the rehab process was similar to the ones we have done in the past. The rehab he had been doing has been the same thing for the last couple of weeks. You always ask yourself why, but I don't think the rehab process was much different. It's something that happened."

The Panthers aren't going to put Davis on injured reserve right away.

Instead, he'll go on the active PUP (physically unable to perform) list for now and then be moved to reserve-PUP after the team makes cuts. The Panthers would then have a window of 12 weeks to decide whether or not to bring him back. But clearly Davis having any chance of playing this year is a long shot.

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