Following the first practice since the firing of general manager Marty Hurney, veteran wideout Steve Smith said the Panthers don’t have time to feel sorry for themselves – not if they want to be competitive against Chicago.
The Bears (5-1) are off to their best start in six years and lead the league in scoring defense, giving up 13 points a game. They also are first in takeaways (21) and turnover differential (plus-13).
Smith rattled off a list of several of the Bears’ top defensive players, including former Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers, linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs and defensive backs Charles Tillman and Major Wright.
“They don’t really care what’s going on in our organization. They’re out there to play a game and perform,” Smith said Wednesday. “I can’t run my route going, ‘Oh, man, it’s been a tough week.’ I’ve got to go out there and perform.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who promised changes in the wake of Hurney’s firing, has altered the team’s practice routine. The Panthers held their morning walk-through in Bank of America Stadium for the first time Wednesday, then hit the practice field following a 30-minute break.
The Panthers used to do their walk-through immediately before practice, keeping them on the practice field for nearly three hours. Rivera said he and Hurney discussed making the change a couple of weeks ago.
Rivera also indicated there would be changes with personnel and play-calling against the Bears. The Panthers tried to establish a power running game against Dallas, and likely will emphasize that again this week.
MOVING BELL: Second-year offensive lineman Byron Bell is returning to right tackle after a one-week stay at guard.
After the Panthers lost Ryan Kalil and Geoff Hangartner slid from guard to center, Carolina moved Bell to guard while starting Garry Williams at right tackle against Dallas.
But Bell said he’s back to the position where he’s started since he was a rookie. He also said Jeff Byers may get the nod at right guard against Chicago.
“Coach is giving him a shot, and he’s taking advantage of it,” Bell said. “I’m pretty sure Byers is going to do a great job.”
STATIC SECONDARY: The Panthers are without their top corner the rest of the season, but their scheme doesn’t change because of it.
Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said the team will continue to use the traditional two cornerbacks on most downs, with Munnerlyn taking over the starting left cornerback position. When the team goes to nickel formation, second-year player Josh Thomas will go to corner opposite Josh Norman while Munnerlyn slides to nickel.
Carolina has allowed 16 and 19 points in the two games it’s used that personnel.
Both of those games have resulted in losses though, and compounded by the firing of GM Marty Hurney and the loss of Gamble, Munnerlyn said he’s had better weeks.
“It’s been a tough week,” Munnerlyn said. “Losing Marty kind of hurt. He’s the guy who’s been with this organization for a long time. He’s the one who drafted me so I’ll always have love for Marty. Then we lose Chris Gamble, the leader of the secondary who’s been here a long time and a big brother to me. But we have to step up, next man up, and continue to press on.”
BALANCED BEARS: Their sideline and press conference demeanors have been compared often, but how do Carolina’s Cam Newton and Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler compare statistically?
They’re nearly identical.
Newton is 101-for-173 for 1,387 yards. He has five passing touchdowns, six interceptions and a 79.3 passer rating. Cutler is 106-for-187 for 1,359 yards with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions. His rating is 78.3.
The biggest difference in the teams’ offenses has been in the running game. Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams have combined for 319 rushing yards; the Chicago duo of Matt Forte and Michael Bush has 608 yards.
“I feel like they’re a balanced team because the run opens up the pass and they’ve got a great quarterback who can take them down the field,” defensive end Greg Hardy said. “We have to stop the run and dominate the pass.”
TRANSACTIONS: The Panthers have claimed two players off waivers since Tuesday night. Linebacker Doug Hogue joined the team after being cut by the Lions; cornerback James Dockery had been released by Cleveland. Both could contribute immediately to special teams.