Panthers’ WR Muhsin Muhammad retires

The Carolina Panthers’ official website is reporting that receiver Muhsin Muhammad has announced his retirement. He’ll finish his career as the Panthers’ all-time leader in receptions with 696 and receiving yards at 9,255.

“Coaching Muhsin has been a pleasure,” said head coach John Fox. “He is the ultimate competitor, and you always knew he would give you everything he had. We shared some great moments, and his contributions were invaluable to the success we enjoyed. His receiving numbers reflect what kind of receiver he was, but he was also one of the best blocking wide outs to ever play in the NFL.”

“The first word that come comes to mind when you think about Muhsin is toughness,” said general manager Marty Hurney. “His competitiveness was contagious in our locker room. He was a dependable playmaker and a leader who brought very much to our team.”

I always felt that Muhammad was one of those players that never got his full due. He was a crafty receiver that always found ways to get past an opponent’s secondary, even during his final years when he had lost a step. He was the perfect complement to Steve Smith throughout the years (minus the three seasons Muhammad spent in Chicago obviously), and vice versa.

In other Carolina-related news, linebacker Thomas Davis is likely done for the year after he re-tore his right ACL during a recent OTA session. He tore the same ACL last November, but had been recovering ahead of schedule and was even recently timed at 4.47 in the forty-yard dash, which is excellent for a linebacker.

With Davis likely headed for IR, Jon Beason could slide over to the weak-side position with James Anderson starting on the strong-side. Panthers’ defensive coordinator Ron Meeks likes the action to flow towards the weak-side ‘backer, so Beason will get a ton of work this season. Either way, losing Davis was a huge blow to Carolina’s defense.

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Taylor Mays improving his draft stock?

Entering Senior Bowl week, Taylor Mays was drawing comparisons of Panthers’ defender Thomas Davis, which is both good and bad.

The good is that Davis has developed into one of the better outside linebackers in the NFL. He can play the pass just as well as the run and he’s a solid all-around playmaker and tackler.

The bad is that Davis was a safety in college, which is the position Mays played at USC. Mays would like to stay at safety, but reports have surfaced that pro teams view him as an outside linebacker or even a hybrid OLB/S in a 3-4 scheme. The reason for the potential position change is because Mays displayed poor ball skills in college and has trouble matching up with receivers in man coverage. He also plays too tall, doesn’t move his hips well and struggles in space.

That said, Mays is turning heads at the scouting combine. He ran an unofficial forty time of 4.24 on Tuesday, which would make him the fastest player at this year’s workout. He also turned in a 41-inch vertical and 10’5-inch broad jump, which are equally impressive. If he wanted to prove to teams that he can play safety at the next level, he’s certainly making a strong case at the combine.

Of course, the combine can only help a player so much. Once teams review film on him at Southern Cal, they’ll still see Mays’ weaknesses and might draft him as an OLB regardless of how he performs this week. Still, his numbers are impressive and he certainly didn’t hurt his draft stock in Indianapolis.

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Linebackers core of Panthers’ defense

In the weeks leading up to the kickoff the 2008 NFL Season, I’ll take a look at position groups that could potentially lift teams to new heights, or bury them and their postseason hopes. Today I take a look at how the Panthers have built a young, athletic linebacker corps through the draft.

Julius Peppers is the face of the Carolina Panthers’ defense – and deservedly so with his 56 quarterback takedowns in his six seasons at defensive end. But while Peppers often steals the spotlight, the strength of Carolina’s defense resides in its young linebacker corps.

Anchoring the middle of the Panthers’ defense is second-year player Jon Beason, the team’s first round pick in 2007. As a rookie last year, Beason recorded 140 tackles, one interception, and one fumble recovery. He was held out of the Panthers’ minicamps in May because of a wrist injury, but Beason is completely healed and expected to record another 100-plus tackles in 2008.

Playing alongside Beason will be another former first round pick in Thomas Davis, a converted safety from the University of Georgia. After playing at the strong-side position for his first three years in the league, Davis will move to the weak-side where he’ll line up behind Peppers on the right side of Carolina’s defense. With Peppers often commanding double teams, the athletic Davis will be free to roam sideline-to-sideline and thus make him a more dangerous playmaker.

Finally, veteran Na’il Diggs is battling former Bengals’ linebacker Landon Johnson for the strong-side spot. Diggs is expected to start, but Johnson could see the field in a rotation. Neither player is as athletic or versatile as Beason or Davis, but both are solid against the run and certainly won’t be a weakness.

Expect defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac to use all his linebackers in a variety of ways and even if opposing offenses try to spread the field, Beason and Davis have the closing speed necessary to excel in coverage. With both Beason and Davis, the Panthers should have one of the best linebacker corps for years to come.

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