By Ted Fleming
The latest issue of the Panthers Injured Reserve Weekly has the continuing story of players who are unable to finish out the season for one reason or another, leading to a number of transactions that more resembled the final days of training camp than preparing for the final four games of the year.
Safety Sherrod Martin and defensive end Antwan Appelwhite are the latest casualties, bringing the number of Panthers on IR to 13. In addition, offensive lineman Jeremy Bridges was released while three others were added to the team’s 53 man roster: running back Armond Smith and offensive lineman Thomas Austin from their practice squad and signing defensive end Mario Addison off the Redskins practice squad.
Martin, 28, was a given being that he tore the anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in his right knee with just 1:47 left in the first half of Sunday’s game against the Chiefs. He was brought to the sideline where he was taken to the locker room by cart. He had played in all 12 games this year recording 23 tackles, three passes defensed and a forced fumble.
Applewhite, 26, is another story. The fifth year pro out of San Diego State has not played since the five point loss to the Cowboys on October 21 due to a hamstring problem that never seemed to respond to treatment or rest. The Panthers ultimately decided that it was getting too late in the season to hope for a return.
Bridges was active in three games playing in the last two at right guard. A 10 year veteran out of Southern Mississippi, the 32-year old was a member of the Panthers from 2006-2008 appearing in 41 games with 28 starts.
Smith, 26, is a 5-foot-9, 190 pound back out of Union College and has played in three NFL games with the Browns with just three carries for two yards. He has been on and off the Panthers’ practice squad a number of times and saw some action in the preseason rushing for 150 yards, 85 in the final game against the Steelers.
Austin, 26, was signed by the Vikings as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Clemson. A Camden, SC native, he played in three games last year with the Texans as well as being active for a pair of games with the Panthers this season without seeing any action.
Addison, 25, has played for three teams, the Redskins, Bears and Colts and joins the Panthers with 15 games of NFL experience in his two year NFL career. The 6-foot-3, 257-pounder out of Troy has ten tackles to his credit, four solo.
It seems like just yesterday that everyone was in a panic about the quarterback situation in Carolina – not two years ago but earlier this season – because Cam Newton was seemingly in the throes of a sophomore slump and having postgame meltdowns that were more of a story than his play on the field. A lot has changed since then and while wins are still hard to come by, the Panthers can actually look forward to working on things that will make him and the team better in 2013.
In Newton’s first seven games he had thrown for just five touchdowns and picked off eight leading the Panthers to just one victory. While he has just one win since then, his stat line has changed quite a bit throwing a TD in each of the last five (he had three games with zero before that) including three against the Chiefs on Sunday. Over that span Newton has 10 touchdowns and only two interceptions and only once has he had a passer rating under 95.8, the game where he picked up those two INTs. Before that? Five with one game at a lowly 40.6.
The play calling has been a key to Newton’s success, but it is his poise and decision making that has seen the greatest improvement. His biggest flaw earlier in the season was that the league had caught up to his style of play and he never really adjusted thinking his talent would rise above that. It didn’t only it seems he has caught back up.
That growth is giving Panthers’ fans the kind of hope they need heading into the offseason. Stay tuned.
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.