2003 NFL training camp

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Wednesday, July 16
Updated: August 20, 10:31 AM ET
Panthers: Training camp report

Pro Football Weekly

 Stephen Davis
Former 'Skin Stephen Davis missed four games last year.
  Location: Wofford College, Spartanburg, S.C.
Preseason schedule:
 Aug. 9: Beat Washington, 20-0
 Aug. 15: Beat NY Giants, 20-10
 Aug. 23: at Green Bay
 Aug. 29: Pittsburgh

In Pro Football Weekly's third and final installment of training-camp reports, we look at the good (biggest positive), the bad (biggest disappointment) and the ugly (injury update) factors surrounding every team halfway through the 2003 preseason. We also set our sights on a rookie to watch on each team, for whatever the reason.

Aug. 19

Biggest positive: RB Stephen Davis has shown all the signs of being the runner he was from 1999-2001. Davis is exploding off the snap and running with purpose, and head coach John Fox plans to run Davis 350-plus times this season. The eight-year vet is up for the task and could give the Panthers the feared runner that they have lacked in recent years.

Biggest disappointment: Neither Rodney Peete nor Jake Delhomme has distinguished himself as the No. 1 starter at quarterback. Most observers felt that Peete would go into the season as the starter, and Delhomme would be pushing him at every turn, but it hasn't really happened that way. Peete still is solid, but he has been far short of spectacular. Delhomme, meanwhile, has looked a lot like the backup he was for four years in New Orleans. It's not a bad situation, but the Panthers expected better.

Injury update: Just before presstime, it was learned that LB Mark Fields has been diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease and will miss the entire season. He started chemotherapy treatments and has vowed to fight his illness. DT Kris Jenkins is nursing a sore ankle after rolling it in a non-contact drill, but he should be back at almost full strength by the start of the season. Peete suffered a jammed finger on his throwing hand after banging it on a helmet, and he has struggled some with the injury, but it isn't expected to keep him out of action. WR Steve Smith also is nursing a sore hamstring, but it isn't a big concern for the coaching staff.

Rookie to watch: WR Walter Young has wowed coaches with his consistency during workouts, and the seventh-round pick could make the team as a fourth wideout behind Muhsin Muhammad, Smith and Ricky Proehl. The Panthers don't throw the ball often, but Young could be a player who gives the team a spark.

Part 2 -- Aug. 12

Veteran to watch: RB Stephen Davis is coming off a season in which he was beaten up and wasn't as productive as he had been in the past, and there were some whispers that he was washed up. Davis doesn't quite feel that way. He reported to camp in great shape and has been focused on proving his critics wrong. He also has an explosive first step and has impressed coaches by doing the little things.

Player on the verge: DE Julius Peppers won NFC Defensive Rookie of the Year honors last season despite missing the final four games of the season while serving a suspension for testing positive for a banned substance. Peppers came to camp with a chip on his shoulder, seeking to prove that he -- and not some substance -- was responsible for his success last season. He has been flying all over the field and may have just scratched the surface of his ability last season by recording 12 sacks in 12 games.

Strongest position: Peppers is a star in the making, and he is complemented by DE Mike Rucker, giving the Panthers one of the more feared pass-rushing duos in football. Peppers draws double teams on just about every play and has to be accounted for every time the ball is snapped. Rucker benefits because he usually faces one-on-one matchups, and more often than not he wins the battle. The ends set the tone for the Panthers' defense.

Weakest position: For all the hype surrounding the QB battle, the truth is that neither candidate for starter is anything to write home about. Rodney Peete doesn't do anything great, and Jake Delhomme has two NFL starts in his career. Even third-stringer Chris Weinke has been mostly a failure at the pro level. On the bright side, the Panthers' offense doesn't depend on the quarterback to put up big numbers, and the team is hoping whoever plays quarterback simply will limit his mistakes.

Part 1 -- July 18

Most significant changes: Former Redskins running back Stephen Davis was signed to help bolster a running attack that ranked near the bottom of the league last season, and he will be the centerpiece of the offense. Veteran quarterback Jake Delhomme, who was lured away from New Orleans, gives the Panthers some depth and should battle starter Rodney Peete for the first-string gig.

Reasons for optimism: The defense, which ranked No. 2 overall last season, hasn't lost much outside of defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, and the Panthers are expected to dominate on "D" again. The addition of Davis should give the Panthers a much more consistent running attack, which should translate into more openings in the passing game.

Causes for concern: An injury to free-agent signee Kevin Dyson leaves the receiving corps a bit undermanned, although the Panthers believe wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad could have a big year. Davis has struggled through a couple of down seasons, and with little depth behind him, the coaching staff is holding its breath that he stays healthy.

Training-camp battles to watch: The Peete-Delhomme saga will dominate coverage in training camp, and Peete is expected to win the starting job to open the season. But head coach John Fox doesn't place a lot of emphasis on his quarterbacks, and if he sees something that he really likes in Delhomme, Fox won't be afraid to turn the reins over to a new man.

Don't be surprised if: Veteran wide receiver Ricky Proehl plays a major role in the offense early in the season.

Pro Football Weekly Material from Pro Football Weekly.
Visit PFW's web site at http://www.profootballweekly.com

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