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Strickly Panthers: Latest linebacker

Posted Oct 20, 2011

CHARLOTTE - In four seasons at Texas Christian University, linebacker Jason Phillips started all 50 games.

Now, in his third NFL season, Phillips is slated to make his first start when the Panthers host the Washington Redskins on Sunday.

"I didn't get much of a chance in Baltimore to play much defense, so now that I'm getting the chance here, I'm going to do the best with it," Phillips said. "I'm going to run around, fly around and try to hit everything I see."

The Panthers claimed Phillips, a fifth-round draft pick by the Ravens in 2009, off waivers on Sept. 19. He started out helping on special teams – also his principle role in Baltimore – but saw some snaps last week at Atlanta and will now get the start at weakside linebacker.

"We're starting our eighth different linebacker this week and our seventh different lineup on defense. That's where we are right now, trying to mix and match and find answers while playing a lot of guys that weren't in camp with us," head coach Ron Rivera said. "Jason is a very heady player, a good downhill, physical player. His father was a football coach, which always bodes well. He understands the game really well, has a good feel for things.

"He's got decent lateral movement. The only thing you could question is his top-end speed, but he's smart enough to understand angles and how to approach ballcarriers."

Phillips is the only player to earn All-Mountain West Conference honors four consecutive years. He suffered a knee injury in training camp as a rookie that sidelined him the entire season, and last season he made his mark on special teams.

Phillips said he learned a lot from legendary linebacker Ray Lewis in Baltimore, and now he's quickly gotten up to speed with the Panthers.

"It's a new system with a lot of new working parts, and it's starting to come together," Phillips said. "The last few weeks have been rough, but they have showed us what we need to get better at. We'll work to that point."


ROOKIE REMEDY: Rookies Sione Fua and Terrell McClain will continue to start at defensive tackle, but Rivera said the duo could see some relief over the next few weeks.

"They're kind of going through the rookie wall right now. They're used to playing 12 games; this is their 11th game, including the preseason," Rivera said. "The next couple of weeks they may be a little sluggish, so we're just trying to manage that, trying to head it off before it becomes a situation."

Rivera said that veteran defensive tackle Ronald Fields could see more snaps, and defensive ends Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson will continue to occasionally line up at tackle in passing situations.

The Panthers also are more likely to have eight defensive linemen active. They sometimes dress just seven.


BACK TO THE WELLS: The newest addition to the 53-man roster is a familiar face.

Offensive lineman Reggie Wells, signed Tuesday to fill the spot opened when Jeff Otah was placed on injured reserve, spent a week with the team last month.

"I understood what was taking place, and it was very professional how the organization handled everything," Wells said. "I understood the numbers game, so I just wanted to stay ready in case there would be a situation where I'd be able to come back."

Wells, a nine-year veteran, has started at right tackle, left tackle and left guard in his pro career and even has played some center.

"I have game experience at every position," he said. "It's good to be versatile because if you're not a starter, you kind of have to get in where you can. It helps to be able to play numerous places."


ANOTHER NEWTON: The Green Bay Packers have a new player on their practice squad with a familiar name.

Offensive lineman Cecil Newton is the older brother of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.

During a press conference Wednesday, Cam Newton gave his brother a hard time, saying he had to find out from others that his brother had signed.

"He's on my speed dial. I don't want to have to find out from teammates and people congratulating me," Cam Newton said. "I wish him the best – that goes without saying."