CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -Jeff Davidson came to the Carolina Panthers looking to install a complex, balanced offense designed to feature star receiver Steve Smith.
More than halfway through his first season as offensive coordinator, Davidson has had to abandon much of that plan.
Blame it on losing the starting quarterback for the season - plus injuries to his backup and the backup's backup, who's four years older than Davidson.
Oh, and an undrafted rookie QB has played in four games, too.
``As the season progresses you hope that each week you grow and by the end of the season you've got what I consider a whole package in,'' Davidson said Thursday. ``That we've been lacking. Each week we've stayed fairly fundamental and haven't had a lot of growth within the system. We haven't had a chance to evolve.''
It's shown. The Panthers (4-5) have scored two offensive touchdowns in the past three games. They rank 28th in total offense and third-down conversions and are averaging 16.6 points per game.
They rival last season's numbers that got old coordinator Dan Henning fired: 16.8 points per game, 25th in total offense, last in third-down conversions.
``I would say that inconsistency is a word that we've used a number of times,'' Davidson said.
The burly Davidson, a former NFL offensive lineman, could never have envisioned his quarterback mess.
Jake Delhomme was lost for the season in Week 3 with a right elbow injury. Backup David Carr was ineffective, then hurt his back. Vinny Testaverde was brought in off his couch and started four days later.
Then Testaverde got hurt. Carr came back and sustained a concussion. Matt Moore, signed in September, was forced into four games.
Instead of slowly building the offense, Davidson has been forced to keep things simple and adapt to the various quarterbacks' styles.
And while it's been a struggle, Testaverde, who turned 44 on Tuesday, is impressed with how the 40-year-old Davidson has adjusted.
``He's not saying, 'OK, this is our playbook. These are our plays. This is what we're going to run no matter who is in there,''' Testaverde said. ``Guys can be stubborn that way. But Jeff is pretty flexible and pretty smart and we're all trying to get better.''
The Panthers have been inconsistent in the running game and have had much difficulty getting the ball to Smith. The three-time Pro Bowl pick, who led the league in catches, yards receiving and touchdowns in 2005, has been a non-factor in several games.
Smith, who during a spring minicamp equated Davidson's and Henning's offenses as ``like sitting in coach and then moving up to first class,'' has done little since Delhomme was injured. Teams have consistently sent a safety toward Smith to provide double coverage, and the Panthers have struggled to find a way around it.
``I'm not so sure I'd use 'frustrating' yet,'' Davidson said. ``I'm going to continue to challenge myself to find ways to do it. I think that's obviously what we want to be about offensively. We want to get the ball to our playmakers and he's certainly one of our best playmakers.''
While the injuries have prevented Davidson from opening up much of the playbook, many have questioned the conservative nature of some play calls.
On Sunday, the Panthers ran a draw play on third-and-18 in a tie game late in the fourth quarter. Atlanta got great field position on the ensuing punt and won the game on a last-minute touchdown pass.
Henning was constantly criticized for third-and-long draw plays, too. But it's part of the ball-control offense that defensive-minded coach John Fox wants. And Fox is involved in the offense.
``During a game he's part of the discussion,'' Davidson said. ``We have an open line of communication. We discuss things during the drive.''
Davidson remained upbeat Thursday. The former assistant in New England and Cleveland is determined to salvage the season despite the quarterback uncertainty.
``It's unfortunate but that is where we are right now and we have to find a way to get ourselves out of that,'' Davidson said. ``And it starts with me.''

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