CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -With Carolina Panthers backup middle linebacker Adam Seward unable to practice last week with a calf injury, outside linebacker James Anderson was told to learn a new position.
Anderson, Carolina's third-round pick in 2006, had never played middle linebacker, going all the way back to Pee Wee football.
``Played a little quarterback, tailback, tight end, I even played kicker,'' Anderson said. ``Safety, too, but never (middle) backer.''
But when starter Dan Morgan went down with a variety of injuries Sunday in Atlanta and with Seward inactive, Anderson was inserted at middle linebacker, charged with calling the defensive plays.
And with Morgan and Seward sitting out practice Wednesday and Thursday this week, Anderson could start in the middle Sunday against Tampa Bay.
``It's just a different feel actually running the defense,'' Anderson said. ``Playing strong side or weak side you have some of the same responsibilities, but now I'm the guy in the middle calling the plays or making the checks.''
Anderson had been playing behind Thomas Davis while rookie Jon Beason manned the other outside linebacker spot. With Morgan's history of injuries, Beason was drafted in part because he played both outside and middle linebacker at Miami.
But Beason, the 25th pick of the draft, said he's not ready to switch to the middle.
``It's not that I don't know it, but getting the signals in and getting everybody lined up,'' Beason said. ``It's that part of it, being the actual quarterback of the defense. Not so much what the (middle) backer has to do. That aspect, you have like four seconds to get (the play) and it's fast paced and I wouldn't want to mess anything up.''
Which makes Anderson's quick grasp of the position that much more impressive. He replaced Morgan late on a Falcons' touchdown drive early in the third quarter. Atlanta managed only one field goal the rest of the way in Carolina's 27-20 win.
``He's a special guy. He's a valuable linebacker who can play all three spots,'' Beason said. ``Even in our goal-line package he knows everything. He's really a sponge and you can always go to him. I'm asking him questions all the time.''
Anderson started two games at outside linebacker as a rookie when Davis was injured, and had two sacks and two forced fumbles in the season finale against New Orleans. He's also a regular on special teams.
The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Anderson is known in the Panthers' locker room for his diverse interests. He earned his degree at Virginia Tech in studio art and spends his spare time painting.
But Anderson hasn't had much canvas time this week as he studies his new position.
``It's different to a degree but it's not completely different,'' Anderson said. ``Because in the scheme all linebackers have to be interchangeable on a given play. So you just try to figure out where you fit as opposed to what position you are on that play.''
The key, Anderson believes, is to have everything down so that it comes quickly to him on the field.
``The more you think the slower you play,'' Anderson said. ``In this league you've got to play fast. So you've got to take the thinking out of it.''
History would indicate Morgan, who has missed 40 of 99 games in his career, won't play Sunday, while Seward hasn't practiced for more than a week. That means Anderson would be the guy running the defense Sunday when the Panthers face the Buccaneers for the early lead in the NFC South.
``He's a guy we have high regard for,'' coach John Fox said. ``We'll see how he does this week.''
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