NFL Nation: Sione Fua

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Sione Fua felt "lost" when the Carolina Panthers switched him from defensive tackle to offensive guard in early November.

A week later, he was cut.

Now he's in the Super Bowl as a reserve defensive tackle for the Denver Broncos.

Fua's NFL career has been a crazy ride for sure. After being selected by Carolina with the 97th pick of the 2011 draft, he started 11 games before going on injured reserve.

[+] EnlargeSione Fua
AP Photo/Greg TrottFormer Panther Sione Fua has found a home as a reserve defensive tackle in Denver.
He had only one start in 2012, and then the Panthers selected tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short with their first two picks of the 2013 draft. All of a sudden, he became the fifth tackle behind Colin Cole, Dwan Edwards and the two rookies.

Carolina moved Fua to the offensive line in an effort to keep him on the roster, but it just didn't work.

Here's an interview reporters had with the 25-year-old player of Tongan descent during Wednesday's media availability at the Super Bowl:

Weren't there a few days there where you were going to be an offensive lineman in Carolina?

Fua: I was, for a couple of days, just with injuries and everything that happened in Carolina. We had a couple of offensive linemen go down and we had extra defensive tackles -- we had five D-tackles that they kept this year. So they asked me if I could help out the team. I practiced O-line for a couple of days, but then right after that I ended up getting released."

How long had it been since you had played offensive line, if ever?

Fua: High school. It's been a while.

I imagine it wasn't an easy transition, because there's a lot of technique involved and learning the playbook.

Fua: I felt lost. There's a lot of technique, and especially the terminology. With defense, being in it for so long, you understand a lot of the different terminology. Me going over there, I was lost. But luckily the coaches there and the players around me were able to help me out a lot.

I suppose that if you had done that for awhile, your experience as a defensive lineman would've helped you. But you also didn't want to do that for long. You are a defensive lineman.

Fua: I wanted to play defense, but I wanted to be a team player and help the team with whatever they need me to do. So that's why I told them I'd do the O-line thing. But my heart was in playing defense.

And then a couple of weeks elapsed and you got the call from Denver?

Fua: About 10 days or so passed and I got the call from Denver, worked out and they signed me.

Over the past few days, have you had time to reflect on going from a low point -- getting released -- to being a Super Bowl player?

Fua: It's crazy. From where I came from to where I am now, it's just a great experience. I feel lucky to have the chance to go to a team like this where there's great veteran leadership, and here we are playing in the Super Bowl. A lot of guys go throughout their career and never have this experience. They play 12, 13 years, and here I am in my third year, getting released by the Panthers, coming here to Denver and having the chance to be on a Super Bowl-winning team.

Did you follow the Panthers' push to the playoffs?

Fua: Oh, yeah. I followed moreso the defensive line, because those are my friends. We were pretty tight. Greg Hardy was just in the Pro Bowl, and [I followed] some of those rookies. So I was mainly watching them, seeing how they did, and I was happy for their success.

Bringing Star Lotulelei in really anchored that line, right?

Fua: They drafted two rookies and had another veteran they brought in, Colin Cole, and they had another veteran, Dwan Edwards. All four of them were solid this year, so they were able to play fiery and penetrate and get after it up front.

How important is it for them to re-sign Hardy?

Fua: I'll say very important. I think he's the mainstay on that defensive line, but I don't really know the business side and what the Panthers' cap room is. So I don't know how that will work out for them, but I definitely think he's a player they need to sign.

What were the factors that allowed the Panthers to bounce back from that 1-3 start?

Fua: There were just small, little mistakes that we were making early in the season. But we had our core guys and a system in place, so basically we just had to execute. And that's what it came down to later in the season, executing and being able to win those close games. We lost those games the previous two years.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos held kicker Matt Prater out of Friday’s practice, the second consecutive day Prater was not on the field with the team.

“He’s got a virus, sickness,’’ said Broncos head coach John Fox.

Asked if Prater was too sick to practice or if he was held out of the team’s activities to keep other players from getting sick, Fox said; “A combination of both, like most sick players. We sent him to the doc. They deal with it, give him medication. He’ll be fine."

Prater is still slated to travel with the team Sunday to the New York/New Jersey area.

Prater led the NFL in touchbacks on kickoffs during the regular season and was 25-of-26 on field goal attempts in the regular season, including 6-of-7 from 50 or more yards. Prater is 5-of-6 in the postseason, including a 4-of-4 performance in the AFC Championship Game this past Sunday.

Also, Friday defensive tackle Sione Fua (calf) was held out of practice -- he was limited in Thursday’s practice -- while defensive tackle Mitch Unrein (knee) and running back Knowshon Moreno (ribs) were limited.

Unrein was held out of practice Thursday. Both Moreno and Unrein are expected to be available to play in Super Bowl XLVIII.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There are always plans. Draft plans. Free agency plans. What-if plans.

And the Denver Broncos have certainly made their share of plans over the last year in an attempt to fill out a roster good enough to, as executive vice president of football operations John Elway routinely puts it, "win a world championship."

But sometimes things don't go according to plan. Somebody gets hurt, somebody gets suspended -- or in the case of linebacker Von Miller, both -- or somebody simply doesn't play as well as expected.

So that takes a course change here and there. With the Broncos set to open their postseason play Sunday against the San Diego Chargers, here's a look at how some of their just-break-glass signings have gone so far and where those players figure to fit in the postseason.

DE Shaun Phillips: In the wake of the fax fiasco that resulted in Elvis Dumervil's release by the Broncos last March, the team felt Dwight Freeney and John Abraham had priced themselves out of the team's budget. So during the draft weekend the Broncos signed Phillips to a 1-year, $1 million deal, with incentives for sack totals that start at eight. Phillips played 770 snaps in the regular season (68.2 percent overall) and led the team in sacks with 10 but has had just one over last six games.

CB Quentin Jammer: Jammer was originally signed May 30 and the Broncos intended to move him to safety to play him in some of their coverage packages. But that didn't go well and Jammer looked far more comfortable at cornerback, so the Broncos left him there. He's been a situational player, with 217 snaps (19.2 percent of the defensive plays). His playing time in the postseason could depend on how much the Broncos play Kayvon Webster with a cast on his surgically-repaired right thumb. If Webster is put back in the rotation, Jammer's potential playing time gets reduced.

LB Paris Lenon: The Broncos signed him Aug.20 when Stewart Bradley went to injured reserve. After bringing him in for a workout, the Broncos quickly saw the 36-year-old had kept himself in condition and they signed him with the hope that he could provide depth. But over the course of the season and as the Broncos have searched for answers on defense, he has been moved into the base defense at middle linebacker -- replacing a team captain in that role in Wesley Woodyard -- and has played at least 23 plays in each of the last four games. The Broncos need a big postseason from him because offenses figure to pound away at times against the Broncos to keep the ball out of the Peyton Manning's hands.

S Michael Huff: The Broncos signed the former first-round pick Nov. 19 to a 1-year, $840,000 deal ($49,412 each week on roster in regular season). He's played 40 snaps on defense, all in the last two games as defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has begun to use him in some of the specialty packages, often lining him up at what is essentially a weak-side linebacker spot or using Huff along the line of scrimmage in the pass rush. With the number of open formations with three and four wide receivers the Broncos would figure to see in a multi-game postseason run, he figures to see more of those kinds of snaps.

DT Sione Fua: Signed a two-year deal with the Broncos after he had cleared waivers in November -- no signing bonus with $555,000 base salary this year, $645,000 in 2014 so it is essentially a one-year deal if the Broncos want to move on after the season. The Broncos like Fua's potential and he's played sparingly thus far -- 12 snaps overall with 10 of those coming against the Titans. Figures to have a difficult time getting in the rotation in the postseason unless there is an injury or the Broncos face a run-heavy offense.

DE Jeremy Mincey: The Broncos signed him Dec. 17 to help bolster things at end with the uncertainty around Derek Wolfe's return to the lineup -- Wolfe has practiced just twice since suffering what the team has called "seizure-like symptoms" on Nov. 29. Mincey, who played for Del Rio in Jacksonville, was moved into the lineup quickly, having played 60 snaps combined in the two games since he was signed. He figures to be in the mix in the postseason and will play in the base defense as well as some situational work.

Reasons Chandler can succeed on OL

November, 8, 2013
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- That the Carolina Panthers have converted two defensive linemen to the offensive line -- including Nate Chandler, who will make his first NFL start at right guard Sunday at San Francisco -- doesn't sound like a recipe for success.

[+] EnlargeNate Chandler
AP Photo/Brian GarfinkelThe Panthers' Nate Chandler, far right, turned heads in the offseason working on the offensive line.
Had you described this scenario to coach Ron Rivera before the season, "I would have been shocked."

But it's not as unusual as you might think. And Rivera has seen first-hand how it can work.

As a linebacker for the Chicago Bears from 1984-92, Rivera played with two defensive linemen -- Mark Bortz and James "Big Cat" Williams -- who were converted into Pro Bowl offensive linemen.

Bortz was drafted in the eighth round as a defensive lineman but immediately switched to guard. He had 155 career starts and made two Pro Bowls.

Williams was drafted as a defensive tackle and spent his first couple of NFL seasons backing up William "The Refrigerator" Perry and Steve McMichael. He was moved to offensive tackle in 1991, and from 1994-2002 started 134 games. He was a Pro Bowl alternate in '98.

So Chandler and Sione Fua, who made the switch Tuesday after starting guard Chris Scott sprained a knee and backup Jeff Byers had season-ending Lisfranc surgery, shouldn't look at this as a last-ditch effort to stay in the league.

It also speaks to the feelings Rivera has for the players on his roster.

"They're the right kind of guys you want in the locker room," he said. "They're both very smart football players and talented young men. We want to make the most of their opportunity to play."

Chandler made the switch during offseason workouts after the Panthers used their first two draft picks on defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. He basically was told if he wanted to stay on the team, moving to offense was his best chance.

Line coach John Matsko had his eye on Chandler since last year when the second-year player out of UCLA impressed working as a tackle on the scout team as an emergency fill-in.

Chandler now believes his future is on offense. Fua isn't totally convinced, keeping his locker in the middle of the defensive line where his white practice jersey stands out among their blue ones.

But both believe any member of the defensive line could make the switch if necessary.

"If anyone of these guys put their mind to it, they could do what I'm doing," Fua said.

This won't come as a shock. Defensive end Greg Hardy says he could start anywhere and be successful.

"Have you ever seen me fail?" he asked a teammate that doubted his sincerity.

Moving offensive linemen to the defensive front is another story. Defensive players bring an aggressive attitude that helps in their adjustment when swapping sides. Not all offensive linemen have that.

"My pass rush moves would be the worst you've ever seen," said veteran guard Geoff Hangartner, re-signed Tuesday to provide depth behind Chandler.

He then turned to Chandler and added, "Be honest, how many of us could really play defensive line?"

Chandler responded, "OK, there aren't as many offensive linemen that can play defensive line."

Rivera mentioned two that possibly could in tackle Byron Bell and center Ryan Kalil, but it's not something he wants to visit.

That most definitley wouldn't be a recipe for success.
 Star LotuleleiRuss Isabella/USA TODAY SportsCarolina drafted a defensive tackle, Star Lotulelei, in the first round for the first time in team history.

In the first draft of his tenure, Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman did something predecessor Marty Hurney never did.

Heck, Gettleman did something Bill Polian never did. He did something Dom Capers and George Seifert did in the brief windows when coaches held general-manager powers in Carolina.

Gettleman drafted a defensive tackle in the first round for the first time in franchise history. He drafted Utah’s Star Lotulelei with the 14th overall pick.

It’s not a fancy move, but I think this is a great start for Gettleman, who wasn’t bluffing when he said at his pre-draft news conference that he believes the game starts up front and that he likes big defensive and offensive linemen.

In Lotulelei, Gettleman and the Panthers are getting a huge defensive tackle that once was being talked about as the potential No. 1 overall pick in this draft. Lotulelei had a bit of a health scare around the scouting combine, but reportedly later received a clean bill of health.

I don’t know Gettleman well yet, but I know enough about him and his scouting staff that I’m sure the Panthers wouldn’t have taken Lotulelei if they had any doubts about his health.

If they’re right, the Panthers got a steal. If they’re right, Carolina suddenly has a heck of a defense.

Think about it? Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, last year’s NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, suddenly has someone to jam up the middle. That’s going to allow Kuechly to roam freely. Same for outside linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis.

And picture Lotulelei taking a little blocking attention away from defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, who each had double-digit sacks last season? Carolina’s secondary still isn’t loaded with talent, but the front seven might be able to compensate more for that now that Lotulelei is on the roster.

Carolina’s defense suddenly is looking like a major strength. It might even be the best in the NFC South.

That’s a pretty major statement for a defense that was horrible two years ago. Coach Ron Rivera’s tenure got off to a rough start because of the defense in 2011 and coordinator Sean McDermott took a beating from fans.

Things started to improve last season, but there still was a gaping hole in the middle of the defense. The sad part is Hurney, who was promoted to general manager in 2002, might still have the job if he had used a first-round pick on a defensive tackle sometime after 2007.

It was after that season that Kris Jenkins, who had a brief stint as the best defensive tackle in the NFL, left the team. Jenkins (a second-round pick in 2001) had to go because there were chemistry issues between him and the coaching staff at the time.

But Hurney never devoted the resources to fully replace Jenkins. He did overspend for veteran Ron Edwards coming out of the 2011 lockout. Edwards promptly got hurt in that training camp and never really got healthy. Edwards never really contributed in Carolina and the Panthers released him in one of Gettleman’s first personnel moves.

Hurney also tried to address the defensive tackle position by taking Terrell McClain and Sione Fua in the third round of the 2011 draft. But you don’t get stud defensive tackles in the third round. You’re rolling the dice and Hurney didn’t get lucky with McClain and Fua. McClain no longer is with the team and Fua is best suited to be a backup.

There’s only one way to get a dominant defensive tackle (and we’re only going to briefly mention how Capers once gave up the farm to get Sean Gilbert in a trade that went wildly bad back in 1998). If you want success in the middle of the defensive line, you need to draft a defensive tackle in the first round.

The Panthers never had done that before. That means it’s time to review the overall history of this franchise. Since coming into the league in 1995, the Panthers have had only four winning seasons.

Maybe that’s largely because the people who ran the show in the past never saw the importance of plugging the middle of the defense with a big-time talent.

Maybe Gettleman just made a move that can help put this franchise on a path to consistent success.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers will be without several key players Thursday night.

Running back Jonathan Stewart (toe), linebacker Thomas Davis (hamstring) and right tackle Byron Bell (ankle) all have been declared inactive for the game with the Giants.

Either Bruce Campbell or Garry Williams will start in Bell’s place. With Stewart out, DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert likely will take on bigger roles. Davis has been rotating in as a situational player, so the Panthers likely will have to stick more with their starters.

The other inactives for Carolina are quarterback Jimmy Clausen, safety Colin Jones, guard Mike Pollak and defensive tackle Sione Fua.
Since last week’s signing of New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, it’s been a pretty quiet few days around the NFC South. Well, that just changed.

The NFL just announced that Carolina defensive tackle Andre Neblett will be suspended without pay for the season’s first four games for violating league policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Neblett made Carolina’s roster as an undrafted free agent in 2010. He has appeared in 19 career games and got four starts last season when the Panthers were devastated by injuries at defensive tackle.

With Ron Edwards, Sione Fua and Terrell McClain all returning from injuries, Neblett would have gone to training camp with a chance to compete for a backup job. He still will go to training camp because his suspension doesn’t start until the beginning of the regular season, but the Panthers could look at other candidates to replace him. Neblett will be eligible to return to Carolina’s active roster Oct. 1, following a Sept. 30 game against Atlanta.

NFC South draft analysis

April, 28, 2012
NFC draft analysis: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

The 2012 NFL draft won’t be remembered as the flashiest in NFC South history. That honor belongs to the 2011 draft -- probably forever.

It’s tough to top a draft in which quarterback Cam Newton went No. 1 to Carolina, Atlanta traded up for receiver Julio Jones and New Orleans traded back into the first round to get running back Mark Ingram. Aside from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' pretty good splash, this year’s NFC South draft wasn’t filled with drama.

Instead, it was filled with very deliberate picks that addressed big needs all around the division.


No pick set the division's tone for this draft better than Carolina's selection of Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly at No. 9 overall.

There’s nothing really flashy about Kuechly, but the Panthers didn’t need flash this time around. They got that with Newton, and he gave them a prolific offense. But that offense was only enough to carry the Panthers to a 6-10 record last season. Carolina couldn’t play defense, and opponents have run all over the Panthers the last few seasons.

A lot of people thought the Panthers should go with a defensive tackle in the first round. But there were two reasons they didn’t. They weren’t enamored of any of the first-round prospects at that position. They also feel pretty good about what they already have at defensive tackle. Ron Edwards, a big free-agent pickup last year, is coming back from an injury that kept him out last season, and the Panthers think he can anchor their defensive line. They also used two third-round picks on defensive tackles Terrell McClain and Sione Fua last year.

The Panthers believe they have the personnel to clog up the middle. Kuechly should be able to come in and do what he does best. He can roam the field and be the kind of tackling machine he was in college. This guy had as few flaws as any player in the draft and is ready to make an instant impact. It remains to be seen whether Keuchly or Jon Beason will play the middle and which one will slide outside. It doesn’t really matter. Either way, the Panthers now have a deep linebacker corps that should be able to stop just about any running game.


You could say the Saints made a risky move by using their first draft pick on a player who didn’t even play his college ball in the United States. They drafted Regina (Canada) defensive tackle Akiem Hicks with the No. 89 overall pick in the third round.

The fact Hicks didn’t play against elite completion means there is obvious risk with this pick. But why not take a shot when you’re this late in the third round? Hicks has tremendous upside, and he was good enough to be recruited to LSU before leaving for Canada. The Saints have a great history of discovering gems (Jimmy Graham, Jahri Evans and Marques Colston) later in the draft. They took a risk, but it might pay off.

[+] EnlargeMark Barron and Doug Martin
Kim Klement/US PresswireThe Bucs made headlines with their first-round draft picks, S Mark Barron and RB Doug Martin.
Hicks should at least have a chance at some playing time early on. The Saints don’t have much behind Brodrick Bunkley and Sedrick Ellis at defensive tackle. Hicks could end up in the rotation very quickly, and the Saints could end up looking very smart for taking this risk.


The Bucs haven’t been exciting in any way in quite some time. But they provided virtually all of the excitement within the division in this draft. General manager Mark Dominik shrewdly made some trades that gave the Bucs the ammunition to move up twice and come out of the draft with three instant starters.

Get over the fact that Dominik used the No. 7 overall pick on a safety, Alabama’s Mark Barron. The Bucs weren’t sold on LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne for reasons we don’t know. They were sold on Barron, and safety might have been the weakest position on their roster heading into the draft. Trading down from No. 5 to No. 7 started a process in which Dominik was able to manipulate the draft with trades that gave him two other starters -- running back Doug Martin and outside linebacker Lavonte David.

The Bucs traded back into the first round to get Martin late Thursday night. They were without a second-round pick Friday night. But they saw David sitting there, they had the ammunition, and they pounced. No NFC South team needed more help from this draft than the Buccaneers, and Dominik made sure they got help that will matter right from the start.


Atlanta’s selection of Wisconsin fullback Bradie Ewing in the fifth round might not seem like a big deal on the surface. For now, Ewing is probably nothing more than a special-teams player. But the Falcons also were looking a year or two down the road when they made this pick. Veteran fullback Ovie Mughelli is coming off a major injury, and he’ll turn 32 in June. It was time to find someone to groom as Mughelli’s eventual successor.

Panthers regular-season wrap-up

January, 4, 2012
NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 23
Preseason Power Ranking: 31

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Bob Donnan/US PresswireQuarterback Cam Newton's rookie season probably exceeded even the Panthers' expectations.
Biggest surprise: The critics said the Panthers were taking a huge gamble by drafting quarterback Cam Newton first overall in April. They said he wasn’t an accurate passer and might take a long time to pick up an NFL offense after running a “simple’’ one at Auburn. Throw in the fact that the Panthers had a new coach, a new offensive scheme and that the lockout prevented offseason workouts, and it's clear why the expectations for Newton at the start of the season weren’t very high. But all that got tossed out the window as Newton came out and threw for more than 400 yards in each of his first two games. His accuracy and intangibles turned out to be better than even the Panthers dreamed. Newton got better as the season went on, and Carolina’s offense became highly entertaining for the first time in franchise history.

Biggest disappointment: The injuries on defense were stunning. New coach Ron Rivera came with a defensive background and inherited some talent on that side of the ball. The early expectation was that Carolina would be good on defense, but it would take the offense time to develop. It played out in the exact opposite way, as Carolina had a dismal season on defense. It started early in training camp when free-agent defensive tackle Ron Edwards, who was supposed to solve Carolina’s problems against the running game, went down with a season-ending injury. It got even worse once the regular season started. Middle linebacker Jon Beason and outside linebacker Thomas Davis each went down early with season-ending injuries. The Panthers never recovered from that.

Biggest need: Edwards is expected to make a full recovery, and it’s the same story for rookie defensive tackles Sione Fua and Terrell McClain, who each had their seasons cut short by injury. But even with those three back, the Panthers can’t afford to sit still when it comes to the middle of their defensive line. They haven’t been able to stop the run in recent years, and that needs to change. At least one more big body, via the draft or free agency, is needed to make sure this problem doesn’t persist. With Davis suffering his third ACL tear in two years, the Panthers also need to add an outside linebacker who can bring some speed as a run defender. If the Panthers can improve their defense, they could be playoff contenders next season.

Team MVP: It’s Newton in a landslide. Although he certainly wasn’t perfect in a 6-10 season, he had one of the best seasons ever by a rookie quarterback. Newton became the first rookie to throw for 4,000 yards in a season, finishing with 4,051. He had 21 touchdown passes, becoming one of only five rookies in history to throw for 20 touchdowns in a season. Newton also ran for 14 touchdowns, the most ever by a quarterback. If Newton was that good as a rookie, imagine what he can do after having a full offseason to work with the coaches.

Best comeback: There was speculation throughout the lockout that veteran wide receiver Steve Smith would leave the team. Smith later admitted even he wasn’t sure he’d be back. But Smith, 32, was back, and he had one of the best seasons of his career. He had 79 catches for 1,394 yards and seven touchdowns. He quickly developed a chemistry with Newton, and looked as quick as he did earlier in his career. There’s no doubt Smith was revitalized by Newton’s arrival. The quarterback could end up adding years -- and some huge numbers -- to Smith’s career.

NFC South Stock Watch

September, 6, 2011
We won’t start our leaguewide Stock Watch feature until next week. But I’m going to go ahead and do one for the NFC South this week because we have more than enough to work with.


[+] EnlargeTampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Aqib Talib
AP Photo/Gail BurtonAfter a turbulent offseason, Aqib Talib needs to step up on the field and stay low key off of it.
Aqib Talib, cornerback, Buccaneers. We’re starting his stock low because he had a turbulent offseason and he’s going to be under the microscope. This guy can’t afford a wrong move on or off the field. He’s got to stay focused on football and get his career on a good path.

Mike Peterson, linebacker, Falcons. All indications are the veteran has lost his starting job to Stephen Nicholas, who got a big contract to stay with the team. Peterson re-signed for the veteran minimum and Nicholas got first-team work throughout the preseason. But the good news is Peterson’s the kind of guy who can handle a backup role and be a mentor. He also still might be able to step in and play a little bit, if needed.

John Kasay, kicker, Saints. He starts off the season on the hot seat after missing a field goal and an extra point in his preseason debut with New Orleans. Released by Carolina earlier this summer, Kasay’s a proven veteran who has made many big kicks throughout his career. He was signed to fill in while Garrett Hartley is out with a hip injury. But coach Sean Payton isn’t the most patient guy in the world when it comes to kickers, so Kasay better get on track in a hurry.


Garrett Reynolds, guard, Falcons. He won the starting job at right guard by beating out Mike Johnson. This is a chance for Reynolds to pave the way to a nice, long career. He’ll be playing next to right tackle Tyson Clabo and that will help. Offensive line coach Paul Boudreau is a master at working with guys who were drafted late or not at all and turning them into reliable players.

Sione Fua and Terrell McClain, defensive tackles, Panthers. Ready or not, the two rookies are going to play extensively. The Panthers tried to buy them some time by signing free agent Ron Edwards, but he got hurt. The Panthers tried a few other veterans, but they either couldn’t play or were hurt. The Panthers are just going to have to throw McClain and Fua out there and hope they grow up in a hurry.

Julio Jones, receiver, Falcons. We’re going to start this rookie’s stock very high because that’s exactly what the Falcons have done in the preseason. They’ve showcased their first-round draft pick, throwing to him often and letting him run reverses. You generally like to save those things as surprises for the regular season. But my guess is the Falcons wanted to go ahead and make opposing defenses very aware of Jones because that may free things up for some other offensive players.

Carolina Panthers cutdown analysis

September, 3, 2011
Check here for a complete list of the Carolina Panthers’ roster moves.

Surprise move: The Panthers waived fullback Tony Fiammetta, their starter last season and the man who had the misfortune to replace fan favorite Brad Hoover. Fiammetta didn’t do a lot to endear himself to the old coaching staff and that didn’t change after Ron Rivera took over.

The Panthers recently went out and signed Jerome Felton. Presumably, Felton will move right into the starting lineup. Being the lead blocker for DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart could make him look pretty good.

No-brainers: The Panthers released defensive tackles Nick Hayden and Corvey Irvin, who had gotten a fair amount of playing time in recent years. That leaves them with only three defensive tackles, which was the weakest spot on the roster the last few years. There was no sense holding onto Hayden or Irvin because the Panthers already knew they weren’t the answer. This is a position where the Panthers are far from done. Although they have high hopes for rookies Terrell McClain and Sione Fua, they’ll take a look at who else around the league is available. It’s a safe bet they’ll sign a defensive tackle -- maybe two.

What’s next: In addition to defensive tackle, there’s still work to do on this roster. General manager Marty Hurney was very aggressive coming out of the lockout. Look for him to jump back into that mode quickly. The Panthers need a starting right guard after placing Garry Williams on the injured-reserve list. They could also use help at cornerback and wide receiver.

Three things: Panthers-Bengals

August, 25, 2011

Three things to watch for in Carolina’s preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. ET:

1. Cam Newton versus Cam Newton. Really, there is a way Newton still could lose out on being the opening-day starter at quarterback. He’d have to go into Cincinnati and throw four or five interceptions, mess up a few handoffs and look like he doesn’t know the offense. Anything less than a truly horrible performance and Newton will get the nod. The Panthers know Newton is their future and their future begins Sept. 11 in Arizona.

2. Newton’s chemistry with Steve Smith. It looks as if Smith will play this week after missing the first two exhibitions with a hand injury. Newton and Jimmy Clausen struggled without him as the other Carolina receivers failed to get consistent separation from defensive backs. We know Newton and Smith worked out together some in the offseason and before the hand injury. Still, it would be nice to see Newton gets a chance to throw a few passes Smith’s way in game conditions.

3. Rookie defensive tackles Sione Fua and Terrell McClain. The Panthers have had trouble stopping the run the last couple seasons and Reggie Bush was able to run between the tackles in the last preseason game. The Panthers had hoped that signing veteran free-agent Ron Edwards would solve all this, but he suffered an injury that’s expected to keep him out all season. Unless the Panthers find gold on the waiver wire, they might just turn the starting spots over to McClain and Fua. Both were picked in the third round and the Panthers might as well let them grow up together.

Panthers put Ron Edwards on I.R.

August, 11, 2011
We knew this was probably coming, but it still is a harsh reminder that the Carolina Panthers lost one of their top free agents for the season.

The team just officially announced defensive tackle Ron Edwards has been placed on the injured-reserve list. Edwards, who was signed from Kansas City and was expected to start immediately, suffered a torn triceps muscle early in camp.

The Panthers filled his roster spot by signing DelJuan Robinson. Unless Robinson does something really surprising, Carolina could be looking at starting two rookie defensive tackles.

Terrell McClain and Sione Fua both were drafted in the third round and the initial plan was to pair McClain with Edwards in the starting lineup. The front office and coaching staff believe McClain can make a significant impact right away, but believe Fua might take a little more time to develop.

Fua’s timetable could be moved up now. Robinson was a backup with the Houston Texans in 2008 and ’09 and has made only three career starts. The other defensive tackles on Carolina’s roster are Corvey Irvin, Nick Hayden, Louis Ellis, Andre Neblett and Tommie Duhart.

Irvin and Hayden have some experience and could be in the mix to start. But the team might decide to bring in another veteran later in the preseason.
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- It took far longer than expected, but the Carolina Panthers just announced they have agreed to contract terms with third-round pick Terrell McClain.

A University of South Florida product, McClain was the 65th player taken in the draft. Although he’s missed a few days of practice, McClain has a chance to start at a position that’s been a glaring weakness the last couple of years. Even the missed practices aren’t a huge deal since the Panthers won’t practice in pads for the first time until later today.

McClain and Sione Fua both were drafted in the third round. The Panthers also added free-agent defensive tackle Ron Edwards from Kansas City and those three could end up being the top three defensive tackles.

Panthers keep working on D-line

July, 27, 2011
Yes, John Fox is gone from Carolina. But it looks like the Panthers are going back to the philosophy they followed in his early years.

They’re building around the defensive line. A day after agreeing to terms on a deal that will keep defensive end Charles Johnson with the team, the Panthers have addressed what’s been a glaring weakness in recent years. They just went out and spent some decent money on a defensive tackle in free agency.

They’ve agreed to terms with former Kansas City defensive tackle Ron Edwards, according to Adam Schefter. He’s agreed to a three-year deal worth $8.25 million.

Edwards is a pure run-stopper and that’s something the Panthers need. He’s never had more than four sacks in a season, but the Panthers can get those from Johnson and others. They’re bringing in Edwards, 32, to help solidify the run defense.

He’ll act as a bridge and give rookies Terrell McClain and Sione Fua some time to develop.




Sunday, 2/2