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Panthers: Special teams must keep scoring points

By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2002

The Panthers' special teams have a history of being, well, special.

The Panthers' special teams have a history of being, well, special.

Punter Todd Sauerbrun and return specialist Steve Smith went to the Pro Bowl last season, the fifth straight season the Panthers have had a special teams player go to Hawaii.

In their seven years, the Panthers have returned seven kickoffs for touchdowns and four punts for scores.

With that kind of history the Panthers aren't just hoping to get big plays from their special teams; they're counting on it.

"Sometimes you rely on one phase more than the others based on how you match up with your opponent, and we think we match up very, very well in this league on special teams," coach John Fox said, "So it's definitely very, very key."

IT AIN'T OVER: Chris Weinke may not be the starter for the season-opener against Baltimore, but the former Florida State star hopes he will regain the job soon.

"My goal is to work hard, to go out there everyday and prove that I'm capable of this," he said. "In my opinion, my days as a starting quarterback for the Carolina Panthers are not done."

LETTING BYGONES BE BYGONES: After losing an NFL record 15 consecutive games last season, the Panthers (1-15 in 2001) say the key to this season will be forgetting the last one.

"You start fresh every season," Fox said. "It doesn't matter what your record was a year ago."

NO WORRIES: The secondary figures to be the team's biggest weakness. With the departure of free-agent Doug Evans, one of the league leaders last season in interceptions, the team is left with several unproven players to patrol the corners.

They include Reggie Howard, Fred Vinson, Terry Cousin and rookie Dante Wesley, who is already out with an injury. Cousin, who saw a lot of playing time with the Dolphins, is perhaps the team's most-tested cover man. The others have played sparingly.

Even though the Panthers' young secondary will face game-breakers such as Tampa Bay's Keyshawn Johnson, New Orleans' Joe Horn and Atlanta's Willie Jackson twice each season, Fox isn't worried.

"I haven't seen it be a glaring weakness at this point," Fox said of the secondary. "They are a feisty bunch, and they're working real hard. We'll just keep evaluating it every day."

ONE SEASON IN THE SUN: Receivers coach Richard Williamson's one shot at being an NFL head coach lasted only 19 games, going 4-15 with the Bucs in 1990-91.

Williamson, 61, who replaced Ray Perkins in late 1990 and was let go in favor of Sam Wyche after the 1991 season, said he has considered coaching in college but wants to stay in the NFL even though he worries his chance to be a head coach again may be slipping with age.

Still, he said he isn't bitter.

"This is a unique business because things happen to a lot of people. You move around some, and a lot of people don't stay head coaches a long time. You go someplace else," he said. "It's just a unique business, and that's the way it is. As long as I've been in it, you learn that that's the way it is. Whatever happens, you just roll with the punches."

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