Tuesday, August 25, 2009
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With Beason out, Connor grabs Carolina's MLB job

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[August 25, 2009]  CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Dan Connor was Carolina's most surprising draft pick in 2008, seemingly destined to end up at the bottom of the depth chart at the Panthers' deepest position.

Connor walked off the practice field Monday holding a much different role: starting middle linebacker.

With Pro Bowl pick Jon Beason out indefinitely with a knee injury, the ex-Penn State star and third-round pick has received a promotion in what has been an impressive preseason. Recovered from his own knee injury that ended his rookie year early, Connor is ready to take on Carolina's most critical, and complicated, defensive position.

"I've been studying hard, and with Jon going down that puts a lot of pressure on me," Connor said. "But that's why I come out here and work every day, to get the opportunity. Now I have to make the best of it."

Panthers coach John Fox was typically vague when discussing Beason on Monday. The team's leading tackler the last two seasons suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee in Saturday's preseason loss to Miami.


Beason was getting treatment when the Panthers practiced Monday and unavailable for comment. Agent Drew Rosenhaus said a day earlier that Beason was hopeful to be ready for the regular-season opener Sept. 13 against Philadelphia.

"The regular-season opener is a ways away," Fox said. "There a lot of day-to-days before then."

So enter Connor, who seemed an unlikely choice with the Panthers needing help at several positions -- but not linebacker -- in 2008. Despite leaving Penn State as the school's career leader with 419 tackles, Connor acknowledged he was "shocked" to go 74th overall to the Panthers.

The 6-foot-1, 233-pound Connor had few memorable moments in the preseason. He earned a spot on Carolina's special teams, and had four tackles in the regular season before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in Week 3 against Minnesota.

After surgery and rehab, Connor lost almost 10 pounds to fit into new defensive coordinator Ron Meeks' system, which puts an emphasis on speed. He then declared his knee 100 percent before the start of what became a busy training camp.

Connor moved to middle linebacker midway through the first practice when Beason left with a strained hamstring. Beason returned a week later and Connor moved outside while Thomas Davis was sidelined with a sore knee and backup Landon Johnson (groin) was out.

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It's been hectic, a lot of learning," Connor said.

Connor started to show the ball-hawking skills that helped him make 145 tackles as a senior, the second most in Penn State history. He had a team-high eight tackles in Carolina's preseason opener at the New York Giants, then had six more after taking over for Beason in the first quarter Saturday.

"Having the middle linebacker spot open, I've got to be more vocal, and try to fill the leadership role that Jon did, at least on the field," Connor said. "That's a hard one, so I've got to work on that one."

Beason, who quickly became one of Carolina's defensive leaders, calls the defensive signals. The soft-spoken Connor will likely have that duty in Saturday's game against Baltimore.

"It's a lot of thinking and a lot of talking on the ball," Connor said. "So it's a big role, it's an important role. It's something you have to study a lot and be confident in when you get out there."

All Connor has to do is replace a guy who has recorded 319 tackles in two seasons with the Panthers. Uncertain how long the job will last, Connor aims to prove the Panthers made the right choice with their draft gamble a year ago.

"I've got the right mindset," Connor said. "It's a tough situation, but I'm looking forward to it."

[Associated Press; By MIKE CRANSTON]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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