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Strickly Panthers: Plan plays out


SPARTANBURG, S.C. - In the latter stages of last season's struggles, Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross requested a meeting with team owner Jerry Richardson.

Gross didn't doubt that the Panthers had a plan for the future, but he didn't know exactly what it was.

So Gross went straight to the source.

"It was kind of a doom-and-gloom time for the Panthers organization, so I called Mr. Richardson and asked if I could talk with him, and I said, 'What's the plan?'" Gross said. "He told me that we were going to hire a defensive (head) coach, get an attacking offensive coordinator and a great QB coach. He told me we were going to draft a quarterback with our first pick and then be aggressive in free agency.

"I had faith in him, and it happened just the way he said."

The Panthers won just two games in 2010, but shortly after the finale, they hired renowned defensive mind Ron Rivera as their head coach and followed shortly thereafter with up-and-comer Rob Chudzinski as offensive coordinator and vaunted veteran Mike Shula as quarterbacks coach.

In April, Carolina drafted quarterback Cam Newton with the No. 1 overall pick. Then in the last week, the Panthers have re-signed a handful of core players, all listed among the top free agent prospects.

In the frenzied days leading up to the start of training camp, Gross watched from afar - and had to smile.

"I was up in the mountains, in the cool air of Idaho, and I had my cell phone turned off a lot. But every time I turned on my phone, I was getting a text about a new deal or a player re-signing," he said. "Most of the top free agents at positions were already on our team; we just had to re-sign them. It was great to see that commitment."

Now Gross, the second-longest tenured Panther behind Steve Smith with eight seasons in Carolina, can't wait for season No. 9 and beyond.

"Mr. Richardson told me those things in private in December, with a couple of games to go. I didn't tell anybody because he trusted me with that information, but now I'm singing his praises," Gross said. "It gives me a lot of faith and makes me feel comfortable about the direction we're heading.

"It's great to be here. I've got four more years on my deal, and hopefully I can be a part of the turnaround and win a lot of games."

BACK IN THE RUNNING: Running back DeAngelo Williams, one of those significant re-signings, said Sunday that he had other suitors but in the end he wanted to continue his career in Carolina.

"There were some other teams that were looking at me that gave me a pretty good deal too, but it ultimately came down to not wanting to leave," Williams said. "I love it here in Charlotte and like coming down to Spartanburg, getting used to the heat, getting acclimated to my new teammates and things of that nature. It's fun here. There's no reason for me to go.

"A lot of people were talking about how we didn't have players here; that we were 2-14 last year. But if you looked at the top free agents, we had some of the top free agents in the league at almost every position that we had out there. So that was a strong indication that we have players. That was one of the reasons that led me back."

Williams, a first-round draft pick in 2006, already owns franchise records for career rushing yards (4,211) and rushing touchdowns (31). He's also in the top 10 in NFL history among running backs for career yards per carry at 5.0 yards per attempt.


MORE RUNNING COMMENTARY: Count fellow running back Mike Goodson among those happy to have Williams back in the fold.

"To have everybody back, all the joking and fun times are back," he said. "It feels good."

With Williams and running mate Jonathan Stewart missing 12 games between them in 2010, Goodson broke out as a second-year pro with 452 rushing yards, highlighted by back-to-back 100-yard games.

Williams' decision to return could limit Goodson's touches - making a third-down role and kickoff return duty his first options - but Goodson isn't griping and isn't giving in.

"I'm trying to change it to 'Triple Trouble,' " he said, referencing Williams and Stewart's nickname of "Double Trouble."

ROSTER ROUNDUP: The Panthers' roster now stands at 89 with the additions of two players claimed off waivers: cornerback Michael Greco, previously with the Green Bay Packers; and linebacker Kelvin Smith, previously with the Dallas Cowboys.

MONDAY SCHEDULE: After the Panthers practice under the lights beginning at 6 p.m., fans are invited to stay on the hill and watch the football movie "Remember the Titans." The movie is slated to begin around 8:45 p.m., and popcorn, candy and drinks will be available for purchase.

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