Work in Sports
Addition of Smith may light defensive fire
The Carolina Panthers opened their training camp at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., on July 16. Here are a few questions from Sports Illustrated's Dr. Z, followed by CNNSI.com's perspective on some of the issues facing the Panthers this season. SI's season preview will post Aug. 23.
Dr. Z wants to know:
1.) Granted, the Rams' pass-catch unit is the best, but would you award the silver medal to Steve Beuerlein throwing to Muhsin Muhammad, Patrick Jeffers and Wesley Walls?
2.) When will RB Tim Biakabutuka finally have an injury-free season and what kind of numbers will he put up when he does?
3.) The division's fairly soft, but look what happens to the Panthers when they step out of it -- no opponent had a losing record in '99. Is this too much pressure?
4.) Gone is Kevin Greene, who had slightly better than one-third of the team's sacks (12 of 35) last year, replaced by Atlanta's relentless pass-rusher Chuck Smith. Do you agree with me that if he can light a fire under Sean Gilbert, whom he'll be playing next to, then it's a terrific pickup for the Panthers?
The Panthers can make the playoffs if ... they build on last year's strong finish. Carolina won five of its last seven and only a tiebreaker kept the Panthers out of the playoffs in the weak NFC.
Pivotal games: Sept. 3 at Washington; Nov. 5 vs. St. Louis. The Panthers get a test against the early NFC Super Bowl favorites in Week 1 and their first head-to-head meeting with the Super Bowl champions could shape the division race.
On the hot seat: The secondary last year allowed 225.3 yards per game and that must improve for Carolina to entertain thoughts of going deep into the playoffs.
Up-and-comers: Wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad enjoyed a spectacular breakout season (96 catches, 1,253 yards, eight TDs), as did Dallas castoff Patrick Jeffers (63 catches, 1,082 yards, 12 TDs).