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Strickly Panthers: Williams heads home

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CHARLOTTE - The Panthers have plenty of ties to the Chicago Bears borne out of a professional partnership, but for linebacker Jason Williams, it's strictly personal.

When Williams visits Soldier Field on Sunday, he'll be 15 minutes from his childhood home.

"Obviously, it's going to be an awesome feeling, finally getting to play in front of my hometown," Williams said. "A ton of family and friends are hitting me up, trying to get tickets for the game. It's going to be a lot like it was in high school."

Williams has faced the Bears before, but not in these circumstances. The Dallas Cowboys selected him out of Western Illinois in the third round of the 2009 draft, and last season the Bears visited Dallas in Week 2.

Williams appeared on special teams in that game, but Sunday he's slated to start at weakside linebacker for the Panthers, coming off a seven-tackle performance in his first start of the season.

"I'm incredibly anxious for the chance to play against the team that I grew up admiring," Williams said. "I've always been a huge Bears fan."

Williams doesn't remember his first visit to Soldier Field – his brother recently reminded him that they went to a game when he was very young – but he certainly remembers his last trip.

On Dec. 22, 2008, shortly after his college career ended, Williams attended a 20-17 overtime victory for the Bears over the Packers. The gametime temperature was 2 degrees, making it the coldest game at Soldier Field on record.

"I was completely freezing - couldn't feel the bottom of my feet," Williams said. "It was so uncomfortable."

The weather will be much better Sunday: The forecast calls for sunny skies, no precipitation and a high of 62.


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HOLDING THE LINE: Williams is now a key cog in a linebacker group recently rocked by injuries, while the Panthers' secondary has dealt with a couple of concussions of late.

On the defensive line, however, the Panthers are healthy and happy.

"That's our bell cow right now on defense," defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. "They've done a great job."

The tackle spot was set back by the loss of veteran acquisition Ron Edwards to a season-ending injury early in training camp. But Edwards has continued to lead a young group that's been holding the line – anchored by rookie starters Sione Fua and Terrell McClain.

Defensive end Charles Johnson has continued his recent run of dominance, picking up a sack in all three games. Bookend Greg Hardy also has continued to develop, recording two sacks and a safety so far in his second NFL season.

"Coming in, I heard Greg had a good rookie year but had a lot of room for improvement," McDermott said. "I think Greg would be the first to tell you that, and to his credit he's had a great start to his sophomore season, if you will.

"It comes from hard work and attention to detail. He's done a great job."


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WHAT'S IN A NAME: With a name like Legedu Naanee (pronounced "LEG-a-doo nah-NAY"), it should come as no surprise that the wide receiver's teammates refer to him by a nickname: "L.A."

Naanee actually has gone by the nickname since his childhood in Portland, Ore., a simple abbreviation of his first and middle name (Agbora, pronounced with a silent "g").

Naanee is of Nigerian descent, his first name meaning "Good is coming." His father moved to the United States to attend college.

His numbers have been modest so far (four catches, 48 yards), but his contributions have not. He signed as an unrestricted free agent after four years in San Diego – where he worked with Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski – and has started two of Carolina's first three games.

"We saw an opportunity to bring in a guy that knew the system, that could help the other guys learn the system," head coach Ron Rivera said. "When you watch Legedu with (wide receivers) Steve (Smith) and Brandon (LaFell), you see the rapport that has developed. It has served its purpose.

"He's a guy that has run the routes he's supposed to and has come down and blocked when he's supposed to. He's done the things that we expected him to come in and do.

"L.A. has done a great job for us."


HALL OF FAME NOMINEES: Five former NFL players with ties to the Panthers are among the 103 candidates for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2012.

The list of 11 first-year eligible nominees includes running back Stephen Davis – who played for the Panthers from 2003-05 – and wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, a Panther in 2006. Davis rushed for 1,444 yards in 2003 – the second-best season in franchise history – while Johnson played in final NFL season with Carolina and caught 70 passes for 815 yards.

Additional nominees include Sam Mills and Kevin Greene, two of the most productive defensive players in the early days of the organization. Mills was an original Panther, playing from 1995-97, and is the only player in the team's Hall of Honor. Greene played in 1996 and from 1998-99 and owns the two highest single-season sacks totals in team history.

Nominees also include Donnie Shell, a strong safety who was a part of the "Steel Curtain" in Pittsburgh. The South Carolina native was the Panthers' director of player development from 1995-2008.

The list will be pared to 25 semifinalists in November.

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