CHARLOTTE Despite his hectic schedule including his involvement in a number of Charlotte-based businesses and taking care of his six children former Panthers wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad still keeps a close eye on his old team. Though he didn’t make it to training camp this year, he said he does plan to attend a couple of the team’s practices next week.In a lengthy interview with the North State Journal, “Moose” addressed how Carolina can avoid the well-documented “Super Bowl hangover” phenomenon, how this year’s wide receivers compare to the ones on the ’03 team that went to the Super Bowl and whether he thinks Steve Smith Smith will retire a Panther, among other topics.NSJ: What will it take for this year to be considered a successful season?Muhammad: I think that the only successful season for these guys is winning the Super Bowl. It’s got to be Super Bowl or bust. There’s no other way to look at this thing. They’ve won the division the last three years. They won the NFC this past season. So it really is Super Bowl or bust. I think the teams that put that pressure on themselves, like the Denver Broncos did last year, they showed up and they wind up getting to the championship game.How can the Panthers avoid the struggles that so many teams have the year after losing the Super Bowl?The Super Bowl hangover can be attributed to quite a few different things. I would say in our case, you look at what happened in 2004, we had some significant injuries. We lost Steve Smith in the very first game of the year. That pretty much sent us reeling. Free agency crept in and we lost some good players. We had a number of symptoms, man, things that occurred that we had to adjust to.In a lot of cases, I would say that there’s probably some complacency. It could be that now you’ve got a target on your back, and you’re just not ready. You go from being the hunter to the hunted, and that’s a completely different position to be in when you’re starting the season.Hopefully with the Panthers, they avoid that. I think this team is still the hunter. I think they’re still the hunter because they haven’t quite accomplished what they wanted to accomplish. … I think overall, you look at the motivation, you look at the character at some of the guys that they have down there. For these guys, getting there is not enough.Wide receiver Devin Funchess drew a lot of praise throughout training camp. What are your impressions of him?I always thought highly of Funchess. Last year, when I looked at Funchess, I saw a guy that may have been a little discouraged by the amount of activity he got during the course of the games and the season. And maybe that sort of contributed to his sort of lack of enthusiasm, I would say, to compete. But he was a guy that, when I looked at him, had all the skillsets, all the tools to be very successful in this league. He’s got the big body. He’s not a blazer on the field, he’s not going to run away from you, but he knows how to use his assets to create opportunities for himself. He knows how to use his body and box people out and go up and make the big catch. He runs solid routes. He’s a hands catcher, not a body catcher. All those things equal success in my eyes.The question for me was, “Does Devin want it?” … It doesn’t surprise me that coming out of the starting blocks, he’s competing at a very high level. It doesn’t surprise me one bit, at all. I’m looking forward to him having a big season. He made big catches last year, they just came far and few between. Can he do it on a consistent basis?Do you think this could be one of the best groups of wide receivers the Panthers have had?Absolutely. I think [wide receiver coach] Ricky Proehl’s done a phenomenal job of putting this squad together. But you’re talking about this group versus me, Ricky Proehl and Steve Smith. You look at longevity. There’s consistency and longevity versus talent. We were a talented group that had longevity and sustainability. These guys are just talented; they don’t have the other piece yet. Do they have the potential to out-perform us? Absolutely. They have the speed. They don’t have a dynamic player like Smitty was, but they have the size. They have guys like me. I don’t know if they have the blocking skills that I had, going down in the box. Can they play multiple positions, all those different things? I don’t know that piece of it, but as far as myself and Ricky Proehl, yeah, they have that. Smitty, it might be a little bit difficult to replicate just how dynamic of a player he was with the combination of speed and tenacity. But they do have the capabilities of out-performing us. Let’s see what happens though.Who is the biggest threat to the Panthers in the NFC South?I think Jameis Winston has the ability to have a great year this year. For some reason, I don’t know why, I just feel like Tampa Bay should be a force to be reckoned with. Atlanta doesn’t really scare me, at all. And the Saints are sort of in a tailspin. I think they’re really reeling, trying to get everything together. Drew Brees and the contract situation I think is going to be enough of a distraction. And I think they’re still trying to figure it out on defense, too. I think Tampa’s probably the most viable threat.Who is one under-the-radar NFC team to keep an eye on?My sleeper in the NFC would probably be the Rams. With Aaron Donald there on the defensive line, they’ve got a tough defense. And then their running game. I just think all-around, they are very undervalued. For some reason, I just feel like St. Louis [L.A.] is going to make a run this year.Steve Smith is expected to retire after this season. Do you believe he will do so as a Panther?I hope so, I do. Because what Steve Smith brought to this city and brought to this team, you can’t quite put it all into words. The same passion that fueled him to go out and compete is the same passion that led to his departure. But I don’t think you can overlook what he did for this city and what he did for this organization.Can you see Smith and GM Dave Gettleman putting their differences aside for Smith to sign a one-day contract to retire a Panther?I’m hopeful. It’s hard to sort of say when you don’t know where both sides stand. I would encourage it. I will be an advocate for it. I know that Steve still lives in Charlotte, still loves this city, still loves the fans here. I think it would be good for both parties. The tough thing about this game is that there’s a business aspect to it and a lot of times, when business gets in the way, it gets personal, it gets emotional and tempers flare. The same thing that drives Gettleman and probably a lot of people on that staff and their passion for the game fueled one side. Just like Steve’s passion fuels him. That can be very combustible. But over time, one would hope that cool heads prevail and you can step back and still think rationally about the big picture.
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