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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Hill To Practice Squad?

The rules on the practice squad are still hazy - and a player's willingness to sit on the practice squad is apparently better than sitting at home.  Former 2nd round pick Stephen Hill is now a part of the team's second line roster, with the team terminating LB DJ Smith from the same roster.

Hill is an intriguing athlete - it's hard to call him a receiver honestly.  He was only a deep ball guy in the Georgia Tech O, and he was drafted almost purely on potential.  Two years in, he's still gotta show that.

But, practice squadding in this league can show what you're made of.  It can show you're willing to work.  If Hill shows improvement, he might end up on the active roster, but the issue there is he can be signed to anyone's active roster, too.  He's essentially a free agent while making his $6300 a week in practice squad salary.

Interesting.  In an ideal world, he'll correct some mistakes and earn a roster spot, possibly keep the team from having to throw a draft pick at WR.  Worst case, he's gone in a few weeks.

The Corner Boys

I binge watch The Wire, so I think I'm attempting to be clever with the
title.

I recently ran down the safeties, so I figure with the season opener
upon us, why not go through some other positions?

Corner isn't a heavy worry in my mind. Compared to two years ago, the
aftermath of losing (the always under-rated in my mind) Chris Gamble,
you saw Captain Munnerlyn (at the time only good in the slot), Josh
Norman (remarkably undisciplined) and James Dockery/Josh Thomas. That
unit, plus the aforementioned safety issues of the year, really held
back what could've otherwise been a top defense.

That unit, plus White and free agent Drayton Florence, held down '13.

This is, by no means, a cornerstone of the defense now, either. But
Norman's the 5th best corner and the remainders of 2012 are gone. Yes,
losing Munnerlyn set the team back, but with the cap issues, that was
inevitable. A team that has to play with one year deals will
inevitably deal with that - it will again next year. But, we'll get to
that in a minute.

Melvin White was barely on the active list for week 1 of 2013, an
undrafted rookie that had sqeaked by on the 53 based on usage. By the
end of the year, he was a productive starter. He's the team's only
longterm player at the position now. Long, active, and tough, White has
a future in this league. He was one of the higher rated players in the
league this preseason by Profootballfocus, though that's somewhat
anecdotal based on their +/- system. I don't have access to their full
DB to see what his QB rating was throughout '13 (wish I did - I'm being
cheap), but it appears White is trending up.

He started an afterthought (he didn't get an opportunity with Thomas'
injury v/s Buffalo, while Norman squandered his), and started the last
10 regular season games and the playoff game.

Antoine Cason has been treated as an x-factor - it's harder to say what
they have there. I'm not concerned with his ability in coverage, though
both he and White struggled a little against New England (Carolina was
without some rushers, NE was doing a fair bit of max-protect). Cason's
going to be a tough tackler outside, and physical. But, physical can be
an issue this year, and that's my worry. If he can be effective without
grabbing, great. He's the talented player of this group, a first
rounder from way back around a group of 3rd day players and undrafteds.

Norman has the same issue as Cason - as the 3rd outside guy, I don't
know how much he'll play. The defense is setup to have the RCB and LCB
move only when there's a 2 WR setup that goes slot without a
corresponding TE/RB splitting the other side; with 3 WR in, a nickel guy
comes in. Before, it was Munnerlyn moving in with an outside guy
filling; it's how White got a chance; now, it's why you probably won't
see as much of Norman this year. His gaffe in coverage in Buffalo gave
up the game-winning TD. It appears his play overcame his hotheadedness
against KC; they do still like the now-3rd year CB.

Munnerlyn's free agency left the door open at nickel corner. Cason's an
outside guy; Ron Rivera and Steve Wilks tried him at nickel in '09 and
it didn't work, took him until the following year to gain a foothold on
the outside again. White, as well, is an outside guy. The nickel job
being vacated is a whole other skill set (not unlike how some spread
college teams are treating outside and inside WRs as separate positions,
the slot corner is starting to become a separate position for some teams
along with its own coach). That was the shoe that couldn't drop this
offseason.

Enter 5th round draft pick Bene' Benwikere and vet safety Charles
Godfrey. A third-day draft surprise, the team traded up for Benwikere
and then announced he'd fight Godfrey, who hadn't been dealt with
contracturally to that point. Godfrey has some nickel ability - he
certainly fills the need of tackling (though at S he had good and bad
years) and is a good blitzer. He was a corner way back when, and
keeping him in shorter space makes more sense with the achilles injury.
He's had an allright time at CB in preseason, but didn't play outside
corner at all; neither did the rook.

Benwikere, so far, has gotten rave reviews. I don't know if Godfrey's
presence at S against Pittsburgh was totally a vote of confidence for
Benwikere, but so far, so good. He didn't get targeted much in
preseason, seems suited to the nickel job, and it's not been too big for
him. Seems to have a good football IQ to him, fills his role.


Now, for the PS - Carrington Byndom. The 5'11, 180 lb UDFA has
quickness - 4.35 on a fast track at pro day. He's less laterally quick,
and he needs to get more physical. He seems like he's an outside corner
by this team's estimation, and yet he has a thin build. He's gotta get
better at tackling, and he got at least one INT through his hands in
action. But, he's a guy who, if he can keep his head down, might make
the 53 next year.


Then, there's next year. Cason is on a one year deal. Norman will be
on his final year - he, White (going into year 3) and Benwikere (into 2)
are on rookie contracts, so they're manageable.

Godfrey took a sizeable cut to stay, with what appears to be a $5
million base in '14, so he really needs to show his value to earn it.
His initial bonus is fully prorated to '15 now, regardless of what they
do; there'll be a $1 million bit in '15 and '16 from his year 2 signing
bonus, so cutting him means dealing with year 3 (so, $1 million). He'll
have to either re-do his deal again to stay, or just go. If he ends up
playing SS in significant amounts, that seems to be his best chance at
staying; I don't know if he'll play much over Benwikere.

There could be room to keep drafting - but for now, it's up to what
Cason does. The trend is, the rush will make him look good and he'll be
on to a nice, new contract, and another inexpensive, high value player
will take his spot. But at least it's a little less of a tossup in the
secondary compared to the '13 team - it pivots on the young guys
growing, and the vets proving just enough worth.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Captains!

The team voted on captains, and the team's announced them:

Offensively, Cam Newton, Greg Olsen, and Ryan Kalil; defensively, Thomas Davis, Luke Kuechly, and Charles Johnson.   It's the first for Johnson, and I believe Olsen as well.  Last year's squad had six as well, but four were offense (also Steve Smith and Jordan Gross).

No special teams reps.  It's nice that five are Panthers draftees, not to slight Olsen.  Johnson returns after an absence last season.

Still interesting that Charles Godfrey was a one-time captain in 2011.  He was voted first-time the same year Davis' first captain year came.


If it's interesting to you - Brenton Bersin now wears 11, Bene Benwikere 25, and Fernando Velasco is now 75.

Stephen Hill

Former Jets, Georgia Tech WR Stephen Hill is apparently in for a workout, alongside former LSU star Kadron Boone.


Boone returns punts, possibly got overlooked a bit on a talented LSU team, and sounds like Philly Brown's southern cousin - 6'0, 190, 4.45 speed, just good enough.

Hill, of course, is off-the-charts measurables, the only reason he was a 2nd rounder -  6'4, 215(certainly thin compared to Kelvin Benjamin, and definitely shows it in a more Moss build than KB's Fitzgerald/Vincent Jackson build), and ran a 4.36 40. Sounds great, right?

Well, 21 starts later, he had a total of 45 catches for 4 TD.  You can go back and forth on hands (there's a claim he only dropped one catchable ball last year), you could argue he doesn't run good enough routes to get open.

Hard to say.

What I do know?  Hill type WRs don't come along that often this time of year; the Panthers deep game has some needs.  But, so does KR, and so I don't know if it's really more useful to have Hill take up Bersin's 100 snaps a year than it is for Boone to be an option to Brown's punts.

Hard to say.  Ricky Proehl apparently used some level of voodoo on Benjamin, and if he could on Hill, Carolina's got a great 1-2 punch.  Maybe they sign him and then put a pipe to his knee to hold him for next year.  Who knows?  It's an odd distraction.

Proehl's agent is Hill's agent, so I guess there's that.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Practice Squad!

Ten Panthers get to continue the journey, just at a lower price.

The full list:

CB Carrington Byndom
S Robert Lester
LB Adarius Glanton
LB DJ Smith
DT Micanor Regis
DT Casey Walker
WR Tavarres King
WR Marcus Lucas
OL Andrew McDonald
RB Darrin Reaves

Of those, I'm somewhat surprised both Lester and King wanted to stick, but glad they're eligible.

Most of these guys played well, which hopefully speaks to the depth on the roster.  Lucas is the biggest project here, but all 10 have value.

It's Impossible To Play S For Carolina

It's been a tough crowd at S since Ron Rivera came to town.  I don't know that I blame him, or anyone really.

But, entering the fourth year, there's almost zero continuity year to year.  Inheriting young guys Charles Godfrey and Sherrod Martin, you'd figure they'd be somewhat set.

2011 had Godfrey regressing mightily with a new contract in hand.  Martin also started all year, but they talked up 2010 draft pick Jordan Pugh and suggested he'd play, too.  None played well, but Martin struggled hardest.

They pushed him with special teams ace Haruki Nakamura, who stunk worse.  They both got hurt around the same time (mercifully) on what otherwise could've been a decent 2012 defense; they finished the year with Godfrey (who was still at SS) moving over to FS and rookie DJ Campbell providing some hope in late play.

2013?  They had Godfrey at FS, and threw in Mike Mitchell at SS.  A former 2nd round pick no one had heard of, Mitchell racked up personal foul after personal foul in preseason, freaking the team out and pushing in Quintin Mikell off the street the first week of the year.

Of course, Godfrey got hurt but didn't look at home at FS.  Somehow, the team took Mitchell from a backup, stupidity-ridden SS to a fulltime, productive, playmaking FS.  Mitchell and undrafted Robert Lester combined to make a pretty solid SS, and I'm sure if they had a way to throw Mikell's mind in Lester's body, if for no other reason to get away from the wear and tear of the 33 year old, they would.

Mikell wasn't really in the plans for the year; Lester couldn't make the team.  Anderson Russell, a guy who worked on the very fringes of the team since 2012, got snaps ahead of him; which also doomed him to being cut.

Now, it's Thomas Decoud, a reliable starter from Atlanta, and Roman Harper, a war-torn, gray-haired SS who can do most of the in-the-box stuff Mikell could and the blitzing Mitchell could; he can't cover.  Godfrey's a corner.  Then again, he played safety again this week, because why not?

It's tough out there.  Now, without Lester on the team, the mantle of young player in residence?  Tre Boston.  Who hasn't played yet, or as far as I know, practiced more than a few times.  Colin Jones is, at least, being seen as more than just a missile for return teams, but his coverage in preseason was up and down.  At the least, playing special teams for this team has staying power.

In the meantime, Harper has to stay healthy to have a shot at longevity.  Decoud, he has miles left, and has played well.   Otherwise, next year they're right back where they were.

Cuts/Final 53

Late to the party!  Saw these yesterday and felt like it deserved more attention than to try to paste on my phone browser to my email.

Let's get right at it.  I'll bold the ones I was a little surprised by.

LB Denicos Allen R Michigan State
CB Carrington Byndom R Texas
G Derek Dennis 1 Temple
CB James Dockery 4 Oregon State
LB Adarius Glanton R Florida Atlantic
WR Tavarres King 2 Georgia
S Robert Lester 2 Alabama

WR Marcus Lucas R Missouri
T Andrew McDonald 1 Indiana
S Tom Nelson 3 Illinois State
DT Drake Nevis 4 Louisiana State
RB Darrin Reaves R Alabama-Birmingham
DT Micanor Regis 1 Miami (Fla.)
LB D.J. Smith 3 Appalachian State
CB Josh Thomas 4 Buffalo
DT Casey Walker 1 Oklahoma
FB Michael Zordich 2 Penn State

They injury-settled with TE Mike McNeill and S Anderson Russell, and cut G Chris Scott. 


Lester has a ton of promise, but the SF playoff game and the bit of time he did play in preseason, he struggled more. To that end, the team is keeping four safeties including special teamer Colin Jones, the turftoed Roman Harper, and the never-seen Tre Boston. I guess they have Charles Godfrey as a swing player.

CB isn't a massive surprise - they brought three players to the position including Godfrey.  But, Dockery and Thomas have logged a ton of games under Ron Rivera, and covered a lot of snaps when no one better was around.  Byndom looked like he had an outside shot as well.

King bites it despite being a solid preseason feature receiver - he struggled to do anything in game four, and maybe that's what did it.  But as much as anything else, he wasn't playing special teams - Philly Brown will return kicks, and Brenton Berson will run them down.   The 4th best receiver the last two years played 100 snaps.  There's that future loss with King, but that's about all you're losing.

Scott appeared to be the 2nd string guy at G, possibly even starting at Tampa if rook Trai Turner's groin didn't heal.  I figured, at one point, McDonald would be here.  Andrew Foucalt makes it along with Andrew Norwell; Norwell played very good, at least in the first game, Foucalt didn't, though he seemed to replace Garry Williams well enough last week and wasn't a negative the other games.  Word on the street was, with Foucalt being the 10th guy, it was better to hold onto him than risk waivers.



The 53?

Looking at what's left, I see eight rookies (draft picks Benjamin, Ealy, Turner, Boston, Benwikere; UDFAs Norwell, Foucalt, Philly Brown).  Other newcomers are vet FAs - Avant, Cotchery, Dickson, Decoud, Harper, Whittaker, Webb, Ben Jacobs at LB, Velasco at G/C, Cason.   18, by my count, that are new; that's one third.  To balance out those rookies ,there are seven players with 10+ years experience - Cotchery, Dwan Edwards, Derek Anderson, Chase Blackburn, Colin Cole, and Thomas Davis.

They start with four on IR (TE DC Jefferson, G Ed Kugbila, C Kevin Matthews, QB Matt Blanchard), though that's not as static as it used to be, some of them can be released with settlement.


3 QBs, 4 total RBs, 4 TEs, 5 WR, 10 OL.

5 DE, 4 DT (9 DL), 6 LB, 5 CB, 4 S.

3 specialists.

Very offense-heavy, 26 to 24 players despite all the special teamers that traditionally come from the defense.