NFC South: Sal Sunseri

Around the NFC South

February, 9, 2012
2/09/12
9:58
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Time for a look at the top morning headlines from around the NFC South.
  • Reserve offensive lineman Andrew Jackson said new offensive line coach Pat Hill will bring passion to the Falcons. Jackson should know. He played for Hill at Fresno State.
  • The Panthers signed long-snapper J.J. Jansen to a four-year contract extension. They also re-signed linebacker Jason Phillips to a one-year deal.
  • Former Carolina Panthers defensive line coach Sal Sunseri talks about what he hopes to accomplish as defensive coordinator at the University of Tennessee. Sunseri had been the linebackers coach at the University of Alabama since leaving the Panthers.
  • Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant lobbied Georgia legislators to educate young athletes, parents and coaches about the dangers of concussions.
  • Here’s a look ahead at New Orleans’ situation at wide receiver in 2012. Interestingly, the speculation is that the Saints will keep their receiving corps pretty much intact. That might be a bit difficult from an economic standpoint since Marques Colston and Robert Meachem both are free agents.
  • Roy Cummings addresses Tampa Bay’s perceived struggles in finding assistant coaches and says we don’t know that’s really the case. Good point. Yes, the Bucs have been blocked from interviewing some candidates from other teams. But we won’t know for sure about the quality of Tampa Bay’s new assistant coaches until the team announces its full list of new assistants.

Wrap-up: Steelers 27, Panthers 3

December, 23, 2010
12/23/10
11:45
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Thoughts from Carolina's 27-3 loss to the Steelers.

What it means: I don’t know. I mean, I really don’t know. I’m at a loss for words at this point and I am open to suggestions. So we’ll just play it totally straight. The Panthers, a bad team, went up to Pittsburgh and got thumped by a very good team. Did anyone really expect anything else? The Panthers had their one-game winning streak ended and fell to 2-13. On the bright side, they held onto their lead for the first overall pick in the 2011 draft.

What I liked: At some point in the second half, I went out and got my satellite radio. After watching and listening to the brutal first half on television, I needed to turn to someone familiar, someone who could really feel the pain of how bad this season has been for the Panthers. I got Carolina’s radio broadcast and listened the rest of the way to Mick Mixon, Eugene Robinson and Jim Szoke. They are three guys I’ve known for a very long time, three guys I genuinely like and three guys who are very good at their jobs. I wound up feeling really bad for them and felt better that I wasn’t the only one at an absolute loss for words. At various points in the second half, Mixon, Robinson and Szoke were reduced to talking about how the game was being played in Heinz Field and the importance of ketchup in Pittsburgh and the “bright spot’’ that was Captain Munnerlyn’s nice punt return.

What I found humorous and sad at the same time: On Sunday, I joked that general manager Marty Hurney might use the trip to make a side visit to try to talk University of Pittsburgh quarterback Tino Sunseri into entering the draft early. Amazingly, that sailed right over the head of one writer to my mailbag, who asked if I thought Sunseri might be willing to enter the draft early and if he could be anything more than a fourth- or fifth-round pick. Look, I’ve known Tino since the days when he was a ball boy at training camp and his father, Sal, was coaching Carolina’s defensive line. Tino is a great kid and I hope he has a nice finish to his career at Pittsburgh, but my reference was a total joke at the time. Tino’s got a bit of an arm, but I’m closer to the stereotypical size for an NFL quarterback than he is. I wrote that item thinking that even if Tino was thinking about coming out of college early, he had no chance as an NFL prospect. But after watching another episode of the Jimmy Clausen Show, I’m seriously thinking Hurney should explore every quarterback on the planet.

What’s next: Although the extra days off might seem like torture to the players, the bright spot is that John Fox’s final game as coach of the Panthers will come on the final day of the regular season at Atlanta. Even if the Falcons have clinched home-field advantage and decide to rest their starters, the Panthers have no chance. Once this mess of a season is over, the Panthers need to turn the page, forget about Fox and decide who will be the next coach.

Wrap-up: Panthers 19, Cardinals 12

December, 19, 2010
12/19/10
7:17
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A few thoughts on the Panthers win over the Cardinals.

What it means: In this much-anticipated showdown between rookie gunslingers Jimmy Clausen and John Skelton, the Panthers won, but still might have delivered the worst possible result. Carolina’s still the leader in the battle for the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft, but, at 2-12, the Panthers now have only one less loss than the Cincinnati Bengals and the Denver Broncos are losing by 10 to Oakland as I write this. A loss would put the Broncos at 3-13. Carolina still is in pretty good shape if it comes down to tie-breakers. But, what if the Panthers do something really crazy, like finish John Fox’s regime on a three-game winning streak. If that happens, they better hope Clausen really finishes strong because they’ll be booting the chance to get Andrew Luck at No. 1, if he decides to pass up his senior season.

Positive Panther stat of the day: Clausen got his first victory as an NFL starter in what will probably be Fox’s final home game at Bank of America Stadium. Reminds me of something I heard about Clausen not too long ago: “He ain’t in Notre Dame anymore, that’s for sure.’’

Positive Panther stat of the day II: Jonathan Stewart rushed for 137 yards. When healthy, which wasn’t the case for much of the season, Stewart’s been very solid.

What’s next: The entire nation (maybe even some lucky viewers in Canada and Mexico) gets to see the surging Panthers on Thursday night as they travel to Pittsburgh. Word on the street is general manager Marty Hurney has planned a side meeting with University of Pittsburgh quarterback Tino Sunseri, the son of former Carolina assistant Sal Sunseri, to see if he can coax him into entering the draft if Luck runs out.
Getty Images
Kurt Warner’s Cardinals and Jake Delhomme’s Panthers have gone in different directions since their playoff meeting last season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando and Pat Yasinskas

The Arizona Cardinals did more than knock the Carolina Panthers from the 2008 postseason.

Their 33-13 victory in Charlotte delivered a knockout blow from which the Panthers' organization has yet to recover. What should be a Week 8 grudge match between playoff contenders is looking more like a mismatch.

Arizona is 4-2 and riding high following a nationally televised victory over the Giants, the Cardinals' fourth consecutive road victory dating to their divisional-round upset of Carolina. The Panthers are 2-4 and contemplating whether to bench veteran quarterback Jake Delhomme, who has more interceptions through six games (13) than he had in 16 starts last season (12).

What happened?

NFC West blogger Mike Sando and NFC South counterpart Pat Yasinskas pick up the discussion.

Pat Yasinskas: That playoff game changed the momentum for both franchises. Going into that game, the thinking was how the Panthers would thump the Cardinals. Arizona had beaten Atlanta in the wild-card round to get its playoff victory, but the Cardinals were ultimately a 9-7 team from a weak division. They would be no match on the road against a 12-4 team. The upset vaulted the Cardinals toward the Super Bowl while absolutely crumbling the Panthers. Carolina hasn't recovered from it, starting with the quarterback and extending to the defense. The game led to changes on the coaching staff. The Panthers still could have a mental block heading into the rematch at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Mike Sando: These teams share quite a few similarities. Both re-signed older quarterbacks during the offseason. Both made significant changes to their coaching staffs. Both faced salary-cap limitations in free agency after naming franchise players. The results have been vastly different.

Fateful QB decisions

Chris Keane/Icon SMI
Jake Delhomme and the Panthers haven’t been the same since last season’s playoff loss to Arizona.
Pat Yasinskas: After the playoff game, I personally had some doubts about Delhomme, as did a lot of fans. He threw those five picks and I thought there was a chance they would at least bring in someone to compete with him -- not to replace him, but to compete with him. They did not do that. He had one year left on his deal and they signed him to a contract extension. I understand the loyalty coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney felt toward Delhomme because he has obviously done a lot for that franchise and he is a leader in the locker room. But in hindsight, that game against the Cardinals and even a few late-season games last year showed that he was declining and they should have sought out alternatives.

Mike Sando: The Cardinals had little choice but to re-sign Warner. In the back of their minds, though, they would have been entitled to wonder when Warner might hit the wall. Quite a few other quarterbacks have faded at around age 38. Would Warner be next? He made the trip to San Francisco in free agency, but there was still a sense the Cardinals were bidding against themselves. Committing $22 million to him over two seasons was a necessary risk. In the end, Arizona could not walk away from the quarterback who put them ahead in the final stages of Super Bowl XLIII. The Cardinals made the right move.

Coaching turnover

Pat Yasinskas: I think the playoff debacle against Arizona contributed to a rift on the Panthers' coaching staff over the direction of the team. Defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac decided he no longer wanted to be a coordinator. His departure started a near-total disbandment of the defensive staff. Line coach Sal Sunseri left for the University of Alabama. Linebackers coach Ken Flajole bolted to become defensive coordinator for the Rams. Secondary coach Tim Lewis left for the Seahawks. On the offensive side, Delhomme's longtime position coach, Mike McCoy, became offensive coordinator in Denver. Fox had passed over him for the same position on his staff a couple of years earlier. Some on the staff felt McCoy should have gotten that job.

Jason Bridge/US Presswire
Kurt Warner has thrown for 1,672 yards and nine touchdowns this season.
Mike Sando: The Cardinals had a good thing going on the offensive staff when coordinator Todd Haley left to coach the Chiefs. I think Arizona is still sorting through the aftermath of that one. Haley and Warner were tight. Haley knew how to push players' buttons. He called the plays and the offense was in a rhythm. The offense is still finding its identity a little bit. On defense, Whisenhunt failed to land Keith Butler from the Steelers after firing coordinator Clancy Pendergast. He promoted linebackers coach Bill Davis instead. Either way, the defense was going to become more straightforward, with an emphasis on reducing big plays allowed. It's still too early to pass judgment on Davis, but the defense has played very well recently. Overall, Whisenhunt is certainly on the rise, whereas there's a perception Fox has possibly run his course in Carolina.

Pat Yasinskas: Absolutely, Mike. There’s a sense of that. Julius Peppers asked out after last season, shocking given that Fox is supposedly a defensive wizard. There was precedent for this. Kris Jenkins asked out for two years before Peppers did. People shrugged and said Jenkins was a flake. But when Peppers, who was born and raised in North Carolina, asked for the same, it raised some eyebrows. Fox used to build his team around the defensive line and suddenly you had the two cornerstones of that line asking to get out of there. That tells you something pretty major right there.

Salary-cap limitations

Pat Yasinskas: Franchising Peppers cost about $18 million total in cap space. The Panthers re-signed tackle Jordan Gross to a long-term deal. With those moves, they tied up their cap to a point where they could not do anything else. They did not sign any free agents. They had to let veteran cornerback Ken Lucas go. They could not even re-sign veteran snapper Jason Kyle, even though the savings for letting him go was only $600,000. That severely affected their depth across the board, which was demonstrated when defensive tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu went down with an injury on the first day of training camp and there were no decent replacements behind him. The Panthers have struggled on the interior of their defensive line ever since. They bragged coming into the season that they had 21 of 22 starters back, but the salary-cap issues meant they had absolutely no depth behind those starters.

Mike Sando: The Cardinals charged $9.678 million against their cap by naming Karlos Dansby their franchise player. They paid more than $10 million per year to Warner. Larry Fitzgerald was already making that kind of money. Re-signing Adrian Wilson ate up another huge chunk of cap room, although some of that seemed by design. Arizona did manage to sign cornerback Bryant McFadden from the Steelers in free agency. When defensive end Antonio Smith left in free agency for $8 million a year, the Cardinals plugged in second-year player Calais Campbell, who has played well. Again, the Cardinals' moves have simply worked out better.

Divergent outlooks

Pat Yasinskas: I think we're seeing the end of the Fox era in Carolina. The Panthers still have talent, but Delhomme appears finished. It’s time to blow up the roster and rebuild.

Mike Sando: The Cardinals are a good team with the potential to get better. The Cardinals were 4-2 at this point last season heading into their 30-24 regular-season defeat at Carolina. They should beat the Panthers this time. The rest of the schedule sets up favorably. Some of the games that once appeared toughest this season -- at Seattle, at the Giants, at Tennessee -- are either in the bank already or looking like they will be.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

In the end, the Carolina Panthers won.

It's not just because defensive end Julius Peppers is going to have to come to training camp with his tail between his legs after finally signing his franchise tender Wednesday.

 
  Bob Donnan/US Presswire
  Julius Peppers signed his one-year, $16.7 million tender under the franchise tag Wednesday.

The real reason the Panthers won is because they're keeping a player they wanted to keep all along. A guy they've built their defense around for seven years. A guy who, is no worse than the second-best player in franchise history. (Steve Smith is the only other guy even in the discussion.)

"If you go by actions, and we've known Julius for seven years, Julius has been the same guy for seven years and we really haven't seen any change in that," general manager Marty Hurney said. "He's always been a very competitive person, who's always shown he likes to be a Carolina Panther. That's not a concern at all. He's the same guy.''

Hurney's a big believer in actions speaking louder than words. I share the same philosophy and so do a lot of other people. But you have to at least ask the question about the words Peppers and his agent spoke back in February.

They basically came out and said Peppers wanted out of Carolina, wanted to go to a team with a 3-4 defense and felt he hadn't been able to reach his potential with the Panthers.

If those statements came from another player or agent, you could roll your eyes and say it was all part of a contract negotiation. But Peppers isn't like any other player. He's about the most quiet and private player I've ever encountered. When he says something of that magnitude, you have to assume he meant it.

So what's changed in the months in between?

Maybe nothing. Before you go out and start buying No. 90 Carolina jerseys again, remember that Peppers really had no other choice than to sign the tender. Carey had months to shop him to the rest of the league. Nobody will say for sure if any team offered anything for Peppers, but we can at least be certain no one offered enough to convince the Panthers to part with the guy they drafted No. 2 overall in 2002.

The only other option was a holdout for the season and that would have cost Peppers almost $17 million in salary, so it wasn't really an option.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Ray Hamilton, Brian Baker, Bill Johnson, Todd Wash and Robert Nunn have more in common than being defensive line coaches in the NFC South.

They also might face the biggest challenges of any coach on their individual staffs this season. There's a common theme through all the NFC South teams this year -- the defensive lines have to get better.

That's going to be largely up to the guys in charge of the defensive lines. Here's a look at the NFC South defensive line coaches and the challenges they face.

ATLANTA FALCONS

Ray Hamilton. He's a veteran and has long been recognized as being one of the best in the business. Hamilton did a fine job last year as veteran end John Abraham had a huge season and the Falcons were able to get by with the aging Grady Jackson in the middle of their line. But the Falcons had almost no pass rush outside of Abraham and Jackson is now gone. That brings new challenges for Hamilton. He's worked very hard this offseason with underachieving end Jamaal Anderson and there's hope Anderson can emerge in his third year. But the Falcons have Chauncey Davis as an insurance policy and drafted a project in Lawrence Sidbury. In a perfect world, Anderson steps up, Davis plays a role and Sidbury can be groomed as an eventual replacement for Abraham. Hamilton's also got a lot of work to do in the interior. Jonathan Babineaux has emerged as a very solid tackle, but Hamilton will have to break in rookie Peria Jerry next to him.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Brian Baker. He's new to the Panthers and so is most of the defensive staff. Baker has a fine resume and has gotten big results out of Leonard Little, Robert Porcher, Luther Elliss and Kevin Williams in his previous stops. That's a good start because the coaching of the defensive line has been a controversial issue for the Panthers for most of John Fox's tenure. Once upon a time, the Panthers had Julius Peppers, Mike Rucker, Kris Jenkins and Brentson Buckner up front and they were coached by Mike Trgovac, who was regarded as one of the best defensive line coaches in the game. But Trgovac moved up to coordinator in his second season. That led to the hiring of Sal Sunseri as defensive line coach and some raised eyebrows around the league. A lot of people thought Sunseri, who was new to the NFL and had a background with linebackers, wasn't ready for the position and was hired because he was Fox's friend. Some players on the defensive line also held that view and the perception never went away. For reasons that haven't been fully explained, Jenkins asked out and got traded to the Jets, and Peppers still is asking out. Sunseri left after the season to coach at Alabama. Baker inherits a group that doesn't have nearly the talent level the Panthers once did, even if Peppers stays. He's going to have to coach up rookie Everette Brown very quickly and get some role players to overachieve. In the old days, Fox's teams were built around the defensive line. That's no longer the reality, but Baker has to bring this unit up to a respectable level.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Bill Johnson. This was a critical hire as the Saints, once again, overhauled their defense and brought in coordinator Gregg Williams and a bunch of new personnel. Johnson's inheriting a group with lots of talent, but some players who haven't consistently lived up to their potential. It's Johnson's job to draw that from them and he'll start with defensive ends Charles Grant and Will Smith. In his first season with Denver, Johnson helped second-year pro Elvis Dumervil get 12.5 sacks. There's no reason why Smith and Grant both shouldn't be around the double-digit mark in sacks. One way Johnson will try to help those two is to give them some help from the inside, and the Saints have the potential to get that from second-year pro Sedrick Ellis, who had a solid rookie season. But Johnson's not counting on just Ellis. He helped bring veteran Rod Coleman out of retirement. There's history with Johnson and Coleman. They worked together in Atlanta and Coleman produced 28 sacks in their time together. Coleman's age may prevent him from being the force he once was, but he gives Johnson another guy who can make things happen up front.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Todd Wash and Robert Nunn. Wash is coaching the defensive ends and Nunn is handling the defensive tackles. That combo approach is probably a good thing because the Bucs need all the help they can get up front. The defensive line was a major player in last year's late-season collapse, and there will be at least two new starters as end Kevin Carter and tackle Jovan Haye have left the team. Wash's main task is to get third-year end Gaines Adams to be more productive. There's talent there, but Adams needs to add some moves to go with his physical skills. Nunn's got to get young tackles Roy Miller and Dre Moore ready quickly because Chris Hovan didn't look like he had a lot left at the end of last season, and Ryan Sims and Jimmy Wilkerson are role players. New coordinator Jim Bates is bringing a whole new scheme to the Bucs, but that transition should be helped by the fact that Nunn worked with Bates in Miami and Green Bay.

Evening roundup

March, 31, 2009
3/31/09
5:53
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Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Time for an evening trip through the local headlines in the NFC South.

FALCONS

This one should be a bit of a surprise to anyone who has ever flown into or out of Atlanta. Delta Air Lines Inc. has decided not to renew its sponsorship deal with the Falcons. Reportedly, the airline will focus its sports marketing efforts mainly on Major League Baseball and the New York City area. Kind of interesting when you've got Matt Ryan and the potential for the Falcons to be very good for the next decade in your own backyard.

There's been a lot of talk about how the Falcons have been so quiet in free agency. But Daniel Cox brings up a good point to counter that. He reminds us the Falcons re-signed defensive end Chauncey Davis after last season. They also signed receiver Michael Jenkins and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux to contract extensions in the middle of last season. In a way, you have to count those three as part of this year's free-agency class.

Chris Mortensen reports Michael Vick has reached a settlement agreement with the Falcons in which he'll pay the team either $6.5 million or $7.5 million, depending on an upcoming decision by an appeals court.

BUCCANEERS

Receiver Antonio Bryant insisted to the media that he's not unhappy about carrying the franchise tag, which guarantees him almost $10 million this season. But Bryant admitted he would have preferred a long-term contract, which still could happen. Bryant showed up for minicamp Tuesday and said all the right things. But he also sounded like a man with a chip on his shoulder. That's not uncommon for wide receivers. Actually, that formula worked quite well last year for Bryant when he was trying to prove himself after a season out of the NFL. Maybe keeping Bryant in that position and that frame of mind might be a smart move by the Bucs.

SAINTS

John DeShazier weighs in on the Saints' decision to move training camp to their year-round practice facility after three years at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss. He likes the move and it's likely the players do, too. As he points out, this move isn't a slight of Jackson because the facilities at Millsaps are excellent. But having the Saints train in Metairie will generate a lot more buzz and goodwill at home.

PANTHERS

Alabama outside linebackers coach Sal Sunseri isn't hesitant to tell his new players how he used to coach Julius Peppers. Sunseri used to be the defensive line coach for the Panthers and there was a fan-generated school of thought that he and defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac might have been part of the reason Peppers wants out of Carolina. But that doesn't hold any water. Peppers had a good relationship with both coaches and he hasn't reversed his desire to get out since Sunseri and Trgovac left.

 
  Getty Images
  Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers and Cleveland defensive tackle Shaun Rogers both want off their current teams.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas and James Walker

Apparently, being a top-notch defensive lineman in the NFL doesn't guarantee success. With the possible exception of Denver quarterback Jay Cutler, Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers and Cleveland defensive tackle Shaun Rogers might be the most disgruntled players out there.

Both have made it clear they don't want to stay with their current teams. Although Peppers could make almost $17 million if he stayed as Carolina's franchise player, he and his agent have spent the last few months telling anyone who will listen he doesn't want to be with the Panthers. Peppers and his agent have said he wants to be traded away from the only team he's ever played for and away from the state where he's spent his life.

Rogers has asked the Browns to release him from his six-year, $42 million contract and just recently returned to offseason workouts. Rogers was one of the crown jewels of Cleveland's 2008 offseason, but that was with an old regime. Rogers and Eric Mangini have clashed pretty much since the new coach was hired.

So why are Peppers and Rogers so unhappy? How did these situations get so ugly and how will they play out? ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas and James Walker take an in-depth look at Peppers and Rogers:

Why are Peppers and Rogers unhappy?

Pat Yasinskas: I'll leave the Rogers situation to James, in part because the Browns are his territory and the Panthers are mine, but mainly because there's so much ground to cover on Peppers alone. Let's start by saying none of us truly know the full reason Peppers wants out of Carolina so badly. He and his agent have been vague about that.

But there's a lot to read between the lines. Peppers has been careful not to single out anyone and the conspiracy theories were flying when defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac and defensive line coach Sal Sunseri mysteriously walked away from the Panthers. But that didn't prompt any change in Peppers' tune.

Peppers still came out and said he wants to play with a team where he'll have a better chance to reach his potential. He also previously turned down an offer from the Panthers that would have made him the highest-paid defensive player in the league.

Let's be blunt here. If it's not about money and it wasn't about the assistant coaches, you have to draw the conclusion that Peppers, whether he's wrong or right, just doesn't want to play for coach John Fox.

 
  Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
  Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Shaun Rogers was miffed at coach Eric Mangini.

James Walker: Similar to Peppers' situation, Pat, the quandary between Rogers and the Browns involves a lot of variables. This much I know: Rogers was unhappy with the way the new regime treated him, because this isn't exactly what he signed up for.

When Rogers was traded from the Detroit Lions a year ago, he was thought to be the missing piece to an up-and-coming Cleveland team that went 10-6 in 2007. Rogers, 30, had played on awful Detroit teams his entire career. He was finally refreshed, motivated, and playing for someone he liked very much in former Browns coach Romeo Crennel.

A year later all of that is gone. Not only that, new coach Eric Mangini refused to communicate with him, snubbing him on two separate occasions, and reportedly ordered a weight mandate when Rogers never had a weight problem all last season.

From a player's perspective -- a Pro Bowl player's perspective -- Rogers felt this was unnecessary. From a team's perspective, the Browns' loose culture needs to be changed and Mangini is a disciplinarian who is doing just that.

Also, there has been speculation that this is all about money. I'm not 100 percent sure that is the case. Rogers was unhappy in January, months before defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth signed for $100 million with the Washington Redskins. The deal certainly caught Rogers' attention and probably added fuel to the fire. But I don't think it was the start, or even central focal point, for his unhappiness.

Who shoulders the blame?

(Read full post)

Panthers hire Baker to coach D-line

February, 13, 2009
2/13/09
5:31
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Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

The Panthers have completed the overhaul of their defensive coaching staff. The team named Brian Baker its defensive line coach Friday.

Baker, who previously held that position for the St. Louis Rams, will join the staff of new coordinator Ron Meeks. Coordinator Mike Trgovac, defensive line coach Sal Sunseri, defensive backs coach Tim Lewis and linebackers coach Ken Flajole all left the Panthers for other jobs after last season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

John Fox is pushing hard for experience as he rebuilds his defensive coaching staff after four assistants left in January.

The Panthers just announced Richard Smith will be the linebackers coach and Ron Milus has been added to work with the defensive backs along with holdover Mike Gilhammer.

Smith comes with an extensive résumé and has previously been a coordinator with the Texans and Dolphins. He also coached linebackers for the Broncos, Lions and Oilers. But his biggest claim to fame might have come in a stint with San Francisco from 1997 through 2002 when he helped linebackers Julian Peterson, Winfred Tubbs, Ken Norton Jr. and Lee Woodall reach the Pro Bowl.

Milus has worked with defensive backs for the Rams, Giants, Cardinals and Broncos. Smith and Milus will join a staff that's now headed by Ron Meeks, who took over after defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac, linebackers coach Ken Flajole, defensive line coach Sal Sunseri and secondary coach Tim Lewis left the Panthers for other jobs.

A bit more on Carolina's crazy day

January, 22, 2009
1/22/09
9:50
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Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Details are starting to emerge as to why basically the entire defensive coaching staff of the Carolina Panthers has jumped ship.

And it has nothing to do with All-Pro defensive end Julius Peppers saying he wants to jump ship.

According to sources close to the situation, several of the assistants were more than a little perturbed that it took so long for the Panthers to offer them contract extensions. Apparently, the offers came only in recent days.

The coaches, who were under contract through Feb. 1, felt new offers should have come before the playoff game against Arizona. That's commonly what happens around the NFL. But it didn't work within that time frame in Carolina this year and it might have cost the Panthers three coaches (defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac, defensive line coach Sal Sunseri and defensive backs coach Tim Lewis). Linebackers coach Ken Flajole left, but that was a promotion as he took the St. Louis defensive coordinator job.

Coaches are people, too, and they have families and futures to worry about.

Not sure exactly whether the blame for this should fall on general manager Marty Hurney or ownership. But the word out of Carolina is that head coach John Fox isn't very happy about what transpired.

You can't blame him for that. He's suddenly got a defensive staff to fill and most of the good coaches already have been hired elsewhere.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Something really weird is happening in Carolina. As previously reported, defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac has told the team he's leaving to pursue other options, even though the Panthers had offered him a new contract.

Now, secondary coach Tim Lewis is leaving to coach the defensive backs in Seattle. This one adds to the strangeness of everything else because Lewis would have seemed like a logical candidate to move into Trgovac's former spot.

It also comes on the heels of defensive line coach Sal Sunseri leaving to become linebackers coach at the University of Alabama. That one was particularly shocking because Sunseri has been a very close friend to head coach John Fox.

Also, linebackers coach Ken Flajole has left to become defensive coordinator at St. Louis. But that move is different and unrelated to all the others because it was a straight promotion.

So what's really going in Carolina, where All-Pro defensive end Julius Peppers has said he wants to play elsewhere? Well, it's definitely not an intentional housecleaning. Lewis and Trgovac definitely were offered new contracts and it's believed Sunseri was as well. These guys are leaving by their own choice.

There are rumblings the Panthers were slow in offering contract renewals and the assistants started shopping around. But the offers were eventually made to keep them and they could have stayed. They chose not to and that's not a good sign.

In fact, it looks like people are trying to get off a sinking ship. Keep an eye on this situation because right now the way things are playing out, the events of this offseason so far make it look like the Panthers went 4-12 and not 12-4.

Trgovac leaving Panthers after all

January, 22, 2009
1/22/09
11:55
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Carolina's strange offseason is getting more strange. Just two days after the team and defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac said he's staying with the team, he's not.

General manager Marty Hurney said this morning that Trgovac, who's contract had expired, has said he's leaving the Panthers to pursue other options. The team had made a contract offer to Trgovac and he said Tuesday he planned to sign it in the coming days.

But that all changed and it's just the latest strange thing to happen to Carolina's defense. All-Pro defensive end Julius Peppers came out last week and said he wants out of Carolina. Then, defensive line coach Sal Sunseri abruptly left to coach linebackers at the University of Alabama.

The Panthers also lost linebackers coach Ken Flajole, but there's nothing strange about that one. He took a promotion to defensive coordinator in St. Louis.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

For all those fans who were wishing Mike Trgovac would be fired as defensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers, you're out of luck.

The Charlotte Observer's Charles Chandler reports that Trgovac has been offered a new contract and expects to sign it soon. That may be disappointing to the masses, but coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney didn't cave to public pressure and get rid of Trgovac.

That may not be popular in Charlotte, but I think it's the right move. Trgovac is a good defensive coordinator and people are too quick to blame him when the Panthers have defensive problems. Trgovac is an extension of Fox and he's running the kind of defense Fox wants. So put the blame on Fox when the defense struggles.

Also, there's been a lot of speculation that defensive end Julius Peppers' desire to leave the Panthers might have had something to do with Trgovac. I can tell you that's not the case. Trgovac is well-respected by the players.

I do think the departure of defensive line coach Sal Sunseri to the University of Alabama was interesting and may have had something to do with the Peppers situation. There long had been a perception among some players that Sunseri, whose playing and previous coaching experience was with linebackers, wasn't a great defensive line coach and some players felt he was only in that role because of his close friendship with Fox.

Don't put all the blame on Peppers

January, 18, 2009
1/18/09
3:01
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Just read through the lengthy interview Charles Chandler did with Carl Carey, the agent for Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers.

Some very interesting stuff in there, but one thing really jumped out. Carey says repeatedly about how much respect Peppers has for the Panthers -- specifically, the coaching staff and front office. That's all nice and diplomatic, but it doesn't ring true.

If you respect a coaching staff so much, you don't want to leave it. And you sure as heck don't make it a point to say you feel like you've got a better chance to reach your full potential somewhere else.

There are theories out there that Peppers is pointing the finger at defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac, defensive line coach Sal Sunseri or coach John Fox. Fact is, it's not any one guy. It's all of those three and probably some others.

This isn't something brand new. Peppers hasn't been happy in Carolina for some time now and he pretty much moped through the entire 2007 season when he produced a whopping 2.5 sacks. I thought maybe the situation had corrected itself in 2008, when Peppers had 14.5 sacks.

But it obviously didn't. It's easy to put the blame on Peppers and label him as a selfish malcontent. But that might not correct. This isn't about money. The Panthers made Peppers an offer that could have made him one of the highest-paid defensive players in the league.

Peppers turned it down because he's not happy with the situation in Carolina. If I'm Panthers owner Jerry Richardson and team president Mark Richardson, the question I'm asking myself is, why does perhaps the best player in franchise history -- a North Carolina kid through and through -- so desperately want to get out of here?

Then, I'm looking real hard at the people who chased him away.

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