Capers' old, new teams clash in battle of opposites
HOUSTON -- Ask Dom Capers about his memories of building the expansion Panthers from scratch, and he'll talk about the progress of his budding Texans.
Ask what emotions he'll feel Sunday when he faces Carolina for the first time as a head coach, and he'll talk about stopping running back Stephen Davis and neutralizing the Panthers' imposing defensive line.
You get the picture.
"I tell you what's going through my mind is getting our team ready to play our best football game. That's a challenge every week," said Capers, who is bracing for the added challenge of being without David Carr. The quarterback almost certainly will miss his first career start with a sprained right ankle.
Whether Capers likes it or not, he and the Panthers will be linked forever because of that expansion franchise's stunning ascension in its second season. Carolina, stocked with veterans signed near the onset of widespread free agency, rolled to a 12-4 record in 1996 and reached the NFC championship game.
The performance earned Capers an unheard-of 10-year contract extension, but the good times didn't last. His veterans aged, the salary cap forced Carolina to shed talent and the team quickly regressed. Capers was gone two seasons later.
George Seifert came and went as Carolina churned personnel. Now, seven years after their only winning season, the Panthers are parlaying a tough defense and reliable running game into a 6-1 start under second-year coach John Fox.
"We by no stretch have arrived yet, but based on our philosophy we really believe more games are lost in this league than won," Fox said. "We're a little bit more conservative, much like an investment style."
Capers has a similar reputation for fundamental football, leading veteran safety Mike Minter, one of the few holdovers from the Capers era in Carolina, to reminisce.
"Coach Fox and Dom, they're very similar in their approach and what they do," Minter said. "That's why I believe (Capers) would love a team like we have right now."
The landscape for Capers' Texans in their second season is vastly different. The salary cap and the limited availability of free agents have made creating an instant winner virtually impossible, so the Texans (2-5) are plodding forward with youth.
Nary a Texan is older than 31, an approach Capers appreciates as he looks long-term.
"I think that's the greatest difference," Capers said. "We've tried to take a good look at the ages of our players in terms of building for the future."
One of the few major free agents Houston did target in the offseason will debut at Reliant Stadium on Sunday -- as a Panther. Davis, whose 120-yard average is the best in the NFC, seriously considered signing with the Texans.
"It was a tough decision for me," said Davis, who is familiar with many Texans staffers he knew from his time with the Redskins, but who lives in South Carolina. "Both places would've felt like home to me, but I felt this situation was a lot better for me."
Houston turned to Plan B to fix a dormant running attack in 2002 by signing Stacey Mack. The Texans' ground game remained sluggish until two weeks ago, when Capers turned to rookie Domanick Davis, drafted in the fourth round -- the same place GM Charley Casserly took Stephen Davis at Washington in 1996.
Domanick Davis has posted consecutive 100-yard games, the first two in franchise history. He was the league's top offensive rookie in October.
"There's no question he has done an outstanding job," Fox said. "He breaks tackles. He makes people miss. I've been very, very impressed with that young man on tape."
Domanick Davis understands that with journeyman Tony Banks behind center instead of Carr, last year's No. 1 overall draft pick, he'll need another big game against a staunch Carolina defense.
"I wish David were still here, but injuries happen and Tony Banks just has to step up," he said.
Banks joined the Texans during training camp in 2002 and watched from the sideline throughout the team's inaugural season as Carr took every snap. He had taken a few snaps this season before Carr went down in the first half last week at Indianapolis, when Banks got his first meaningful game action as a Texan.
Banks started 75 games in six seasons with the Rams, Ravens and Redskins before coming to Houston, and believes he'll be ready for the Panthers after a full week of practice with first-team receivers Andre Johnson, Corey Bradford and Jabar Gaffney.
"Every time I go out to practice, I've been throwing the ball as well as ever," Banks said. "I'm just anxious to get out here with (the) guys. This is the best receiving corps I've ever had to work with."
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index