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Minutes: Learning a foreign language

Posted Sep 16, 2009

A.J. Feeley throws during his first practice as a Panther. (PHOTO: ANDREW MASON / PANTHERS.COM)


CHARLOTTE -- A.J. Feeley arrived at the office at 8 a.m. and left at 10 p.m. -- on his day off.

Such was the workload for the newest Panther, who signed with the club Tuesday and spent 14 hours absorbing himself in playcalls, formations and learning the language of the team's playbook to where he could at least function adequately during practice Wednesday.

"(There is) a little information overload right now," Feeley acknowledged, "but I'll get more in as the days progress."

As a nine-year veteran, he can handle the basics: drop back, set up, throw. But knowing the offense to where he can run it in a game situation if the need requires?

"It's going to take a couple of weeks," Feeley said. There's a learning curve with a new offense. I'm going to put the work in and hopefully (be ready) sooner rather than later. I can't give you a timetable, and if you have to play you have to play."

The change is unusually drastic for Feeley, who spent most of his career with the Philadelphia Eagles, whose West Coast-based offense and terminology has remained basically the same since he broke into the league with them in 2001. Andy Reid was the head coach then, as he is now.

Going from one West Coast team to another is like learning French after mastering Spanish. There are differences, but they're both Romance languages, so certain linguistic traits are shared. Transitioning from the West Coast offense to the one the Panthers run, however, is a little like going from a language written in the Roman alphabet to one conveyed in Cyrillic letters.

It was therefore unsurprising that when Feeley left the locker room with a thick binder tucked under his arm Wednesday afternoon, preparing for another lengthy evening of study. He must not only understand what the Panthers do and how they do it, but also how to explain it in the huddle should he be pressed into service.

"It's a big change, but a welcome one," Feeley said.

As the preseason began, the plan for Feeley was to remain with the Eagles; he was listed third on their depth chart behind Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb, both of whom played Sunday in their 38-10 win over the Panthers. Along came Michael Vick, and the dynamics of the situation changed immeasurably.

"The way it went down in Philadelphia was a little strange," Feeley said.

The Eagles released him at the final cutdown, forcing Feeley to sit at home and wait for his telephone to ring. Multiple teams contacted Feeley, he said, but the Panthers offered the best fit.

"Just long-term, possibly, for me and where my career is," he said. "Looking at that, and seeing that the writing was on the wall with Philadelphia and I love those guys a lot and I love the place, but it's time to move on."

And he hopes that the move involves sitting on the bench for a while. Not because he doesn't hunger to play, but because of what it would mean -- that Jake Delhomme was either injured or ineffective.

"Hopefully I don't have to play this year," Feeley said. "That's the plan, if this is going to go as everybody wants it to go with Jake playing."

If all goes according to plan, Feeley can spend this year learning to become fluent in Pantherese, rather than being forced to speak it in garbled fragments.


Josh McCown was still a part of practice, even though his season ended Tuesday with his placement on injured reserve. (PHOTO: ANDREW MASON / PANTHERS.COM)

INJURIES STRIKE AGAIN: Safety Chris Harris remained on the sideline with the knee injury that kept him from playing Sunday, but Wednesday's practice also saw the Panthers make do without defensive back Sherrod Martin, defensive tackle Nick Hayden and running back Jonathan Stewart, who sat out with knee, toe and heel injuries, respectively.

Three players were limited: defensive ends Everette Brown and Charles Johnson and right tackle Jeff Otah, who came down with a shoulder injury but was unconcerned about it after practice.

"The shoulder's feeling fine," he said.

AS OTAH AND HIS FELLOW OFFENSIVE LINEMEN went back to work, they continued adapting to facing a different defense in practice than the one they faced daily last year.

Hundreds of paragraphs and thousands of words have been written disseminating the Panthers' philosophical changes on defense, but until this week, little has been made of its impact on the offense that lines up against it on the practice field. But as left tackle Jordan Gross noted, the offensive line hasn't seen as many exotic looks as it did in previous years as the defense adapts to a scheme rooted in pursuit and gang-tackling than unusual formations and applications of personnel.

So when the Eagles moved front-seven defenders around like numbers on a Price Is Right pricing game, the Panthers struggled to react.

"(That's) one of the results of our defense being more simple than it used to be," Gross said. "We used to see so much stuff, and we need to know we're not going to get as many looks during the week, and it's up to us to get it done.

"Of course, it would help if we went against something like that in practice all the time, but we don't," added Otah. "So we've just got to study more film and try to get on it visually."