HOUSTON -- Running back Stephen Davis went through the Panthers' light workout yesterday and coach John Fox said he expected Davis to be at full strength well before Sunday's Super Bowl. Davis, who suffered a thigh injury in the playoffs, split time at the running back position with DeShaun Foster during Carolina's NFC Championship victory over the Eagles.
"He looked just like he's looked all season," Fox said after the 55-minute workout at the University of Houston. "He's definitely healthy. We rested him all last week and he's full tilt."
Fox said he does not anticipate having anyone on the injury report for the game. The Panthers have today off and will return to practice tomorrow. Yesterday's practice was the first since a brief workout Saturday in Charlotte.
"We had what we call a 10-10-10 practice," Fox said. "We worked all three phases, got them out there, got them in the new environment and got the trip out of our system. We basically reviewed what we put in last week."
Fox said about 75 percent of the Panthers' game plan was implemented last week.
"To keep the players interested and keep them focused, we'll put in 25 percent this week," he said.
Only six Carolina players were made available to the media yesterday. The speakers, in addition to Fox, were safety Mike Minter, linebacker Dan Morgan, wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad, quarterback Jake Delhomme, defensive end Michael Rucker, and guard Kevin Donnalley . . . One of the questions asked yesterday: Do the Patriots have an advantage because Bill Belichick has two weeks to prepare for the Panthers? The response by Minter: "Coach Fox can coach with anybody. I am not concerned about Belichick having two weeks. We have two weeks, too. We are going to look at as much film as they will on us. Coach Fox can coach with anybody in this league." . . . Fox on the same topic: "We'll be well-prepared, also." . . . Muhammad is a dead ringer for a 30-year-old LeBron James . . . Delhomme thinks he can't go wrong no matter who's behind him in the backfield, Davis or Foster. "DeShaun is a rookie not playing like a rookie," Delhomme said. "Having those two guys is great for our offense." Foster sat out all last season, his first, after suffering a knee injury in an exhibition game against the Patriots. So, in effect, this was his first season . . . Many of the Panthers still find it hard to believe they're where they are after going 1-15 two years ago. "I would say the secret of going from the outhouse to the penthouse is to just shut the door when you leave the outhouse," Muhammad said. "It is cold on that walk to the penthouse." . . . Carolina was 7-0 in games decided by 3 points or fewer . . . The Panthers are underdogs, but that doesn't bother them one bit. They weren't supposed to win in St. Louis or Philadelphia, either. "We really don't care what the line is," said Morgan. "The game has to be played on the field, and all of the outside stuff can really get thrown out the window." . . . The Patriots' defensive backs may like to get their licks in, but so do those of the Panthers. "You guys have seen us play the Cowboys, the Rams, and Philadelphia," Minter said. "You know what our secondary can do. You see how physical we can be. It's going to be a hard-hitting game. It is going to be fun to see the two secondaries match up and see who comes out with the hardest hits."
Minter was asked what the difference was between the team's 1-15 season two years ago and this Super Bowl season. His answer could be summed up in three words: Coach John Fox. "First of all, it was the lowest point in my career," said Minter. "You just set a record for losing 15 games in a row, that is not what you want to do. As a competitor, you don't think you can lose 15 games in a row. At the time, we didn't know the direction we were going in. Then all of a sudden here comes Coach Fox. He came in and gave us the direction we needed as a football team. We had the talent, we just didn't have the direction. He came in and he gave us that and gave us confidence." . . . Muhammad cautioned against reading anything into a slow start by Delhomme. "It usually takes Jake a couple of mistakes during the game, and then he'll be really jacked up and you'll really get the best out of him," said Muhammad. "We always joke about how he practices on Friday and Saturday. Usually he has to throw an interception or make a mistake on Friday or Saturday for me to feel comfortable about him playing a game. Then we go into the game and he's money. He's hitting everything." . . . Much has been made of comments by Tampa Bay defensive lineman Warren Sapp, who said Carolina's defensive line is a mismatch for the Patriots' offensive line. Morgan hopes Sapp is correct. "I think they have a good offensive line, a good offensive line that works together," said Morgan. "We obviously have a great defensive line and guys that can really get after it. I hope Super Bowl Sunday comes around and that will happen. I fully expect that to happen."
Ring of truth
Rings that came from Super Bowl XXXV were quite prominent upon the Panthers' arrival in town. One was worn by center Jeff Mitchell, the other by Fox. For Mitchell, it was understandable; his Ravens won that year. But Fox? He was defensive coordinator for the Giants, who were thrashed, 34-7. So why would he wear his ring? "I wear it just as a reminder," he said. "This game is only fun when you win." . . . Count Jermaine Wiggins among those who enjoyed the new look offensive coordinator Dan Henning went with four times in the NFC Championship. On the first two plays from scrimmage in each half, Henning called for a set that resembled the old "Wing T," with two tight ends, one of them Wiggins, in the backfield flanking Davis. On all four plays, Davis ran the ball, never getting fewer than 6 yards, 29 in all. "You like stuff like that," said Wiggins, the East Boston native and former Patriot who is No. 2 on the Panther depth chart behind Kris Mangum. "It's different, and you get to show your versatility."