Originally created 01/18/06

Backups are paying off for Panthers



CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Al Wallace almost quit football the day he was told he'd been traded to the Carolina Panthers.

It was July of 2002 and Wallace had spent the last year out of the NFL, working as an assistant principal at Palm Beach Lakes High School in Florida. He signed with Miami that spring, open to attending training camp and trying one last time to make it with the Dolphins.

A week before he was due to report, the defensive end was sent to Carolina.

"Football was a game that had kicked me around pretty good for a few years," said Wallace, who contemplated telling his agent he was ready to give it up. "I almost called him and said, 'Hey look, this isn't for me. I'm going to move on with my life.' "

Wallace's wife talked him into giving Carolina a chance, and the Panthers are grateful. He's the key backup on Carolina's vaunted defensive line, just one of the many misfits and throwaways the Panthers have relied on to make it to the NFC championship game.

There's safety Marlon McCree, a free agent addition who reported to training camp fifth on the depth chart. But when first round pick Thomas Davis struggled in the season-opener, McCree replaced him and hasn't looked back.

Or punter Jason Baker, acquired in a trade with Denver when Carolina was desperately bidding to rid itself of troubled punter Todd Sauerbrun. Baker made the Panthers never miss the talented Sauerbrun by earning first alternate to the Pro Bowl.

And don't forget running back Nick Goings, an undrafted free agent who will once again be called on to rescue the Panthers. With Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster out with injuries - Foster broke his ankle in the NFC divisional playoff win over Chicago - Goings will be the featured back when the Panthers play the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

It's a job Goings has held before: When injuries ravaged Carolina's running backs last season, he vaulted from sixth-string to starter and finished the year with five 100-yard rushing games.

Coach John Fox has tremendous confidence in all of his replacement players, largely because they almost always deliver.

Wallace is Carolina's "other" defensive end, the guy called on to spell Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker. Only he's used his limited time on the field - he estimates he plays just 40 percent of the defensive snaps - to earn his own name recognition.

Wallace tied his career high with five sacks this season, while adding 34 tackles, five quarterback pressures, two interceptions, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

"If I play 15 or 20 snaps a game, I want to make a game-changing play - whether it's getting my hand on a fumble, making a sack or an interception - something to make a difference," Wallace said.

The Panthers only got Wallace because they insisted the Dolphins add in something extra when they were shopping defensive end Jay Williams.

"It was dumb luck, when you get right down to it," Fox said. "He came in here and picked up on the things that we were doing, and it's all history from there."