Carolina Panthers expect different 49ers offense this time

jjones@charlotteobserver.comJanuary 9, 2014 

On Sunday, the Carolina Panthers likely will see a different-looking San Francisco offense from the one they saw in the second half of Week 10’s game against the 49ers.

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick had to work the entire day without wide receiver Michael Crabtree and the final two quarters without tight end Vernon Davis. Sunday, he’ll have both, and that means different personnel groupings for the 49ers.

Whereas the 49ers used mostly 12 and 22 personnel – one or two running backs and two tight ends – in the second half, middle linebacker Luke Kuechly expects more sets involving one tight end Sunday.

“With Crabtree out there I think they’re going to lend themselves more to having him on the field than another tight end,” Kuechly said. “We’ve got to prepare for all situations. Maybe they’ll come out and run the ball. It’s one of those things that we have to adjust on the fly, but I think there’s more of a chance that they’ll be in that kind of situation.”

The 49ers – specifically Frank Gore – had success running the ball against the Panthers. Gore’s 82 rushing yards were third most against the Panthers’ stout rush defense all season.

Meanwhile, Kaepernick has rebounded well since what was statistically one of his worst games in 2013. He’s thrown 13 touchdowns and three interceptions in the eight games since Carolina’s 10-9 victory, averaging 218 passing yards per game.

“We do know they are a very dynamic offense,” linebacker Thomas Davis said. “They have a great quarterback in Colin, and he’s playing extremely well right now. Their running game is one of the best running games in the league, and they got one of their star receivers back. We know it’s going to be a challenge, but we’re up for it.”

McDermott staying for now: With Jay Gruden taking over as the Redskins’ head coach, Sean McDermott will remain the Panthers’ defensive coordinator for now.

McDermott interviewed with Washington during the Panthers’ bye week, and the Redskins announced Gruden, the former Bengals offensive coordinator, as their coach Thursday.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said there was a sense of relief and closure with Gruden getting hired in Washington.

“Yes, without a doubt. It’s something that’s not going to be hanging over us obviously because Sean did interview, and deservedly so,” Rivera said. “But at the same time knowing that they’re going in another direction, that it’s no longer a question, I think that helps us. The players didn’t really talk about it, but I know some of the players were thinking about it. That’s a plus for us.”

McDermott’s getting passed over doesn’t guarantee he’ll be back with the Panthers next season, but Rivera said he did not know of any other pending interviews for McDermott.

Tennessee, Cleveland, Minnesota and Detroit all have head coaching vacancies.

Flair bows out: The Ric Flair-Panthers-49ers controversy may have come to an end Thursday.

In a statement through his agency, Flair said he would not attend Sunday’s game.

“What can I say? I’ve always been a very good heel!” Flair said in the statement.

Flair, a former longtime Charlotte resident, gave a pep talk to the 49ers before their game against the Packers and told the team his heart was with the 49ers. That frustrated many in Charlotte and complicated the “give me two claps and a Ric Flair” celebration the team has done in the locker room following wins this season.

Rivera said he was surprised at how much attention the story had received this week.

“Ric’s a good man, and I’m excited that he’s friends with both of us,” Rivera said. “Ric’s a good dude. I’ve met him a couple of times, and I’ve appreciated our conversations. It’s not that big a deal to me. I get it, I understand. And the best part about it is Ric doesn’t dress up and get on the field.”

In July, the Observer reported there was a warrant out for Flair’s arrest for not paying his estranged wife more than $32,000 in spousal support. A warrant for Flair’s arrest is still outstanding as of Thursday evening, according to the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office.

Keep pounding: Members of Sam Mills’ family will be in attendance to bang the Keep Pounding drum before the game.

Mills, who played linebacker for the Panthers from 1995-1997, coined the “Keep Pounding” phrase that has become the motto for the team when he used it in a speech before a 2003 playoff game.

Mills died of cancer in 2005.

Two of Mills’ four children will bang the drum. Sam Mills III, who is an assistant defensive line coach for the Panthers, won’t participate because he’ll be in the coaches’ box before the game.

Stars come out: A couple of well-known faces were at Carolina’s practice Thursday, and there will be more here Sunday.

Former Super Bowl-winning quarterback Terry Bradshaw was at practice on assignment for FOX, which will broadcast the game. Bradshaw is a member of FOX’s pregame show panel.

Elevation Church lead pastor Steven Furtick was also at practice. Wide receiver Steve Smith and running back Jonathan Stewart are friends with Furtick.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is expected to be at Sunday’s game. The Panthers announced Thursday rapper Flo Rida will perform at halftime.

Staff writer Joseph Person contributed.

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9

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