As always, Nunyo DeMasio writes so fluidly and with such insight,...he's just awesome. Thank you NinersLacking! Commentary to follow.
Steve Smith trudged off the field during the second quarter of last season's NFC Championship against Seattle, sternly flashing four fingers -- for the number of defenders who had covered him. Initially, I thought Smith's display was hyperbole until I viewed the replay.
During the regular season, the routine double- or triple-teaming of Smith didn't prevent him from leading NFL receivers in catches and tying for tops in receiving yards and touchdowns. But occasionally in Seattle's 34-14 rout of Carolina, Smith faced two linebackers plus a cornerback and a safety.
After Smith's Herculean playoff performances against the Giants and the Bears, Seattle discovered the best way to contain the 5-foot-9, 185-pound powder keg: virtually ignore the rest of Carolina's receivers.
But Carolina's signing of Keyshawn Johnson -- one of the NFL's best possession wideouts and a clutch performer -- will halt such tactics and catapult Carolina back to the top of the NFC.
"They will have to pick their poison," Johnson said on Thursday. "I might be slow, but I'm going to nickel-and-dime you to death while I let Steve slice up your ass. I dare a defensive coordinator to leave me out there by myself."
Supposedly, a potential problem is that Smith and Johnson are high-strung receivers with volcanic tempers and both have an insatiable desire for the ball. (After Johnson's rookie season in 1996, the top overall pick wrote a book entitled Just Give Me the Damn Ball. And Smith has a reputation for snarling when Carolina's offense turns run-heavy.)
So I'm not surprised that during Smith's and Johnson's first practice last week, the media scrutinized their interactions and highlighted exchanges. An Associated Press story noted them joking in the huddle and conversing during warmups.
"It's been comedy," Smith said, "because so many people are watching us: 'Oh, they're joking in the huddle.' Like it's breaking news. It's like reality TV. They are filming us conversing and stretching."
Despite the hunt for drama, I don't see any drawbacks. Johnson's addition should produce immediate results. The last time Carolina paired Smith with a big target (Muhsin Muhammad in 2003), the club reached the Super Bowl.
Johnson's image as a prima donna is exaggerated. He definitely has a healthy ego, which makes him a typical NFL wide receiver. (According to a 2005 story in the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, Dr. Arnold Mandell of UC San Diego studied NFL prospects in 1973 and reached the following conclusion: "The wide receiver shares many features with movie stars. He is narcissistic and ... brilliant and vain and not too friendly. He's rarely a popular member of the team."
And to think that the professor's finding was pre-T.O. and Randy Moss.)
Virtually all receivers blur the line between being competitive and being selfish. But the "Meshawn" image doesn't quite mesh with the 6-4 receiver willing to do the dirty work like blocking, and who has been described as being a positive influence by former teammates.
"I've heard it a hundred times: 'How are you going to handle Keyshawn?'" said Carolina coach John Fox. "At this point in his career, I feel he's a real positive with work ethic and preparation. I like some pizzazz in a personality. I don't want a bunch of robots."
Johnson clashed with Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden in 2003 over his role in the offense before being deactivated for the final five games. But I find it more telling that a disciplinarian like Cowboys coach Bill Parcells traded for Johnson after coaching him with the Jets.
I'm no Johnson apologist. When we crossed paths in the lobby of the Panthers' facility last month, I reminded him that the last time we met was in 1997. I was a St. John's beat writer for the New York Daily News subbing for the Jets beat guy, Rich Cimini, and witnessed Johnson berating a reporter in the locker room. Johnson chuckled at the recollection before adding that the reporter must have done something that merited a tongue-lashing.
With Johnson's brash personality, it makes more sense to watch his interactions with quarterback Jake Delhomme. Delhomme is a cocksure and excitable player who occasionally -- get this -- must be calmed by Smith. It's no secret that Johnson wasn't exactly Drew Bledsoe's biggest fan since the quarterback displayed the mobility of a mannequin, and held the ball too long.
Testy exchanges will inevitably occur among Johnson and his new teammates. But the Panthers -- who have one of the NFL's best defenses -- will win enough to suppress the egos. "It gets overblown when a marquee player has a shouting match," Delhomme said. "But we have that all the time. I'm not saying everything is going to be perfect this year. If it is, something's wrong. I expect us to get after each other."
Added Johnson, "Who gets the football is for the media and fantasy fans. I don't know what it means to have two high-strung guys at receiver. I know Steve is going to lengthen my career."
Last season, Smith quietly set NFL records with 38.3 percent of a team's receptions and 44.8 percent of its receiving yards, snapping Redskins great Art Monk's 1984 mark. Meanwhile, Carolina's second-leading pass-catcher wasn't even a receiver. It was tailback DeShaun Foster with 34; wideout Keary Colbert had only 25.
Still, I don't envision Smith's numbers dropping substantially. In 2003, Smith and Muhammad alternated in producing big games, depending on the defense. Smith amassed team highs of 88 catches for 1,110 yards and seven touchdowns. Muhammad had 54 catches for 837 yards and three touchdowns.
Although Johnson turns 34 in July, his skills haven't diminished. Last year, teams game-planned for Johnson as he produced 71 receptions for 839 yards plus six touchdowns. (Johnson was among the NFL's top receivers in third-down catches, with 25.)
Now, defensive coordinators face a quandary on whether to focus on Smith or Johnson. Smith's days of flashing four fingers are over.http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/200...son/index.htmlNunyo, Nunyo, Nunyo,...ah well, he has to be wrong sometimes.lol
Nunyo, you have to know the Panthers offensive philosophy my friend. Yes, the Panthers threw the ball more last season than in recent years but that offense is based on the run. You can say it sets the run up with the pass or vice versa but the Panthers offense has a superb O-line and those guys are always desirous to run block instead of pass block. Yes, Foster was the second leading receiver and he probably will be again, or the rookie RB Williams.
Johnson says he'll nickle and dime ya to death? Ya know why? He told ya why when he admitted he's slow. The Falcons could put Jimmy Williams, a rookie, on Johnson and he'd do just fine.
Nunyo is correct that the Panthers defense will be a good one but he fails to mention that unit's lack of quality talent at LB and depth at DB,...but then, all NFL teams can't be deep at every position.
It was nice to be right about the Panthers return to being an elite team as I predicted they'd bounce back last season after all those injuries that derailed them in 2004 just after appearing in a Super Bowl. The 1999 Falcons had the same thing happen to them. Then having the Bucs rise up again should be proof to everyone how tough the NFC South is to win. The Falcons and Panthers open the season in beautiful Charlotte. Panthers will wear white and make the Falcons sweat in their red jerseys and ugly black pants,...which reminds me,...I need to post more about that,...those cursed, ugly black pants gotta go!