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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Rookies

I'm not huge on prediction, so I'm still feeling out how to do this
part.

I've been pondering the rookies - since, to a point, the rookies have
been the best way of improving this team for years now (I can't remember
the last free agent that got a deal more than two years out of this
team, excepting voidables). They're the great x-factor, the unknown.
They're arguably the most exciting part of the team, year after year.
And this year might not have quite the impact as the prior years,
because of circumstance, in that rookie year. Last year, Star Lotulelei
and Kawann Short greatly improved the middle of the defense and each
provided 60% of snaps (even after Ron Rivera suggested 30% for each),
and AJ Klein provided about 600 total snaps including special teams,
with UDFAs pitching in greatly (Melvin White, Robert Lester, Wes Horton
leading the way). This year there may be fewer snaps to go around.


Kelvin Benjamin

I've been preaching patience with this kid. He's raw. There's no way
around it. Receivers start slow anyway, and this one's all puppy. He
has two years real experience, and though he has maturity (partially
because he's an old rookie), it's still going to be a while before he a
while before you just assume he'll be pulling a lot of wagon. There's a
natural talent for him, that bit about grabbing it out of thin air on
one play and out of a defender's hands on the next. Some of that is
going to be his own fault early on, when he lets a smaller man get
position on him or he doesn't put up a great route but the ball is still
coming.

I've stated this so much now on Benjamin versus the other big receivers
- they're efficient, and he's not. He offers this other thing. That's
how I see him possibly starting out as a specialist, a 3rd down guy and
goal type guy. I don't see him playing 1000 snaps. I see the
suggestions of him getting 700 yards/10 TD and I just can't buy. He's
possibly going to have high TD numbers given that he's essentially a
shoe-in to play on goal, but on the average second down, I don't know.
I think the average rookie is going to have a hard time getting playing
time with these receivers.

That might be a nutty concept to some. Absolutely, in the grand scheme
of things, Benjamin is a player with limitless potential and Jerricho
Cotchery and Jason Avant are short-term rentals. Some believe these two
to be third receivers at best, and Benjamin a potential star. The thing
is, the experience is the part that Cam Newton hasn't had. Outside
Steve Smith, the average Carolina receiver has been marginally more
experienced than he is. His most efficient time included a 3rd and 4th
with starting experience, although Ted Ginn isn't a high percentage
player.

These guys do the little things right in the same breath that Benjamin
is working on getting some of the big things right. And that's OK.
There's still plenty of room for him to contribute, plenty of need for
him to fill. He could surprise, and beating on CBs that will soon be
UPS drivers can't hurt (nor can being a TE-sized WR with the NFL's
apparent once-a-decade crackdown on pass interference) to start off
with. But Benjamin just isn't an out of the box #1 receiver. That's
foolish. Arguably, Sammy Watkins might be, Keenan Allen exceeded my
already heightened expectations last year, but I go back to AJ Green
before I really find another immediate workhorse.

I don't know. What I see from Benjamin is about 400-450 snaps, maybe 30
receptions, and I feel like I have to throw 4 TD at him. Next year, I
expect him to start. But for this year, I anticipate him as a guy who
plays a box-out isolation route on 3rd downs (maybe 2nd and long), plays
at the goal, and otherwise mimics anything the coaching staff sees on
tape from Jimmy Graham in the slot.


Kony Ealy

It's early on the Greg Hardy thing. Some sources say he won't see a
suspension until it clears a jury trial, some consider the jury trial an
appeal and the NFL doesn't hold things for appeals (you'd just appeal
for years). I see Ealy playing about 400 snaps as well - he can play
about 10 snaps a game inside, 10 outside, and I'll throw in that he'll
start a game when a guy gets nicked up. Assume 30 extra snaps per game
Hardy is hurt. I could see about 20 tackles, 5 sacks, arbitrarily
I'll throw in a batted ball or two and 2 FF. He's obviously primed to
start for next year but 400 snaps is pretty good given the ends Carolina
currently has.

Trai Turner

1000 snaps, full on starter. Carolina needed this guy, a mauler with
attitude, at RG and we were (are?) focused on the issues at OT instead.
RG was a complete disaster last year and that was including absorbing
the LG issue with Travelle Wharton. Turner will learn to clean it up as
the season goes along. They've never been shy throwing a ready rookie
at the OL. Turner should improve the run game and they'll deal with his
pass snaps same as Amini Silatolu.

Tre Boston

I guess he's going to be ready for the start of camp with the sports
hernia issue, but hard to say. They have Thomas Decoud, and they've
been pushing Colin Jones to be ready as well. I see them keeping Boston
active for special teams , and that's a ton of snaps, but I don't know
that he plays safety this year unless something happens ahead of him.
He can flip to SS as well, but they have Robert Lester backing that.

Bene Benwikere

Right now, I see him concentrating on just nickel, and that's plenty for
a rookie. It might be dependent on Charles Godfrey's achilles, but
Benwikere has this job longterm. I see him logging 200 snaps minimum,
and if he fill that role all year, it's 600+. I'll throw 25 tackles
and 2 picks at him, since I am just guessing Godfrey starts the season
slow.

Tyler Gaffney

I'm essentially expecting he's just waiting for his moment on offense,
and should be a workhorse in preseason. 250 special teams snaps to
start with, and maybe 30 carries total through the year. But eventually
they'll need him and he could pop out a few surprises on you at that
point.

UDFAs

I don't see anyone making the roster, but the opportunity's greatest for
Denicos Allen, the short-stack LB from Michigan State. I don't know if
he'll ever be more than a special teamer, but he should be fantastic
there, and if there's a place you can succeed as a 5'11 LB, it's behind
this front. Maybe David Foucalt makes the practice squad despite being
a pretty raw OT.




So? I see one starter, three specialists, and two special teamers.
Carolina didn't have a ton of jobs open, and you could argue they
neglected one. This should be a solid draft class once 2015 hits and at
least two more are starters, but for now, your rookies are going to have
to scrap to find playing time.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The City Of Angels And Its Football Ghosts

I saw that the league was considering forcing the hand of The LA Issue by possibly pushing itself into the stadium business.  It makes some sense, since they're determined to have a franchise there.

The NFL from a business sense can do much more than any single franchise.  The problem becomes, does the NFL landlord treat that team differently than the other 31?   Does this become, to a point, a league-owned franchise?

It makes sense to have an NFL facility in the LA area, past the franchise, too. Super Bowls, for instance.  Another college bowl game. Maybe steal a Major Conference championship, like the Pac-12, steal a couple major concerts from the Hollywood Bowl.  I'm sure they'll try to force the Pro Bowl in there, if this stadium exists.

LA?  I get it.  Compared to, say, New York (whose teams play in Jersey, but hey, that West Side stadium idea was terrible; Brooklyn or Queens might've made some sense, but I'm drifting away from a point), which is a quite compact fanbase with two teams, LA is both geographically and sentimentally a massive area.  

But geographical fan-ships seem less important than in the past.  I started following Carolina because it was somewhat local, and starting around the time I truly threw my own shoulder into football a bit.  Older fans always had that Redskins/Dolphins thing, I guess, allegiances because of the same things that unwittingly force a person to choose loyalty to a brand of liquor, truck, or cigarette (or, put gently, dog whistle) because Daddy or Granddaddy did the same.   In retrospect, being a fan because you live in an area isn't much less archaic, but here I am.

Nonetheless, getting LA a team (or anywhere in Europe) is about providing a new fan something to call his/her own.  No more and no less.  But for those same reasons, it's so much easier to be a fan of something anywhere.  When I started following Carolina, the mechanations of the hows and whys of their team building came from the local newspapers. That's what you had.  Occasionally a national magazine would touch on something specific to your team or otherwise touch your interest.  For example, coinciding with Carolina's 1996 success, Sports Illustrated's Dr. Z did a series on a 1997 franchise startover that caused me to spend weeks on my own, thanks to this new nonsense called the internet.  Once I realized there was draft info on the internet, the whole thing got easier.  You could follow teams not near you, you could learn about players you'd never seen.

And that was before there was a league TV station, and a billion ESPN/Fox, and so on, regional channels.

It's easy enough now that, had it all existed in 1995, it might've been as easy to follow Buffalo.

Of course, the league's been trying to shoehorn someone into LA since the Rams and Raiders left.   Carolina even put that feeler out as bait to get Charlotte to throw some cash at them for needed renovations (truth be told, Charlotte got an NFL stadium for, up to that point, just tax breaks.  They didn't throw out any of the supposed $360 million needed for a private stadium or franchise fee, they didn't do anything else, compared to the two full stadiums they've built for the NBA), but more famously, the Jaguars and Vikings have been rumored hard.  After Ralph Wilson passed, it's been speculated hard about Buffalo.  In a few years, I'm sure, the Titans and Ravens, two teams to move since Carolina finished its stadium, will be on deck to push for new money or else.

Not coincidentally, the Vikings have gotten a new stadium, and a Super Bowl.  It follows of course, that over time the NFL would push a future Super Bowl to teams who help secure a new stadium, which of course throws Buffalo overboard.


I assumed, incorrectly at this point, that the easiest suitor was Oakland.  Al Davis was dead, and it made sense.  Hue Jackson even went off the rails and traded for USC and Fresno's own Carson Palmer.  Son Mark Davis, I guess, is the thing that'll keep that from happening.  

But, LA's lost three teams already (including the Chargers).  In an age where you can follow anyone anywhere, what does it matter?

Position Prognosis: Special Teams

A year ago, the kickers were struggling, the team had lost out
(reportedly) on some bigger names for the coaching vacancy, and the only
sure thing was Ted Ginn returning punts.

This year, that one sure thing is gone, but so much increased over time.

To start with coaching, Richard Rodgers has the respect and trust of all
involved, and the somewhat puzzling but welcome addition of Bruce
Dehaven has paid dividends.

K Graham Gano brought his game up a good deal with an 88.9% FG
percentage, led the league with a 77.8% touchback percentage, and
otherwise had a career year. He was 24-27, including making 6 FG from
50 yards out. He's always had a lot of leg, but he learned control.

That same narrative went for 2nd year P Brad Nortman. Another kid with
a big leg, Nortman was bit of a mess in '12, but learned how to throw a
little control into it last year. His gross average was 47.8, a team
record and 4th in the league; his 41.6 net was also a team record, and
5th in the NFL. Profootballfocus.com called him the best punter when
punting inside his own 40 (when you're punting to an open field), and he
was NFC Special Teams player of the month last year.

It was a career year for both players. Snapper JJ Jansen was perfect
for the year, as well.

With Ginn gone, Kenjon Barner has the inside shot at returning kicks and
punts, though he has to hold onto the ball. Tiquan Underwood has some
KR skill, as does Kealoha Pilares.



Of course, it takes more than just specialists to make a special teams
unit. Gone is Jordan Senn, a stalwart for years in the kicking game,
but there's plenty to go around.

Jason Williams, who blocked a punt, looks to take on the lead role. DE
Mario Addison and TE/FB Richie Brockel provide some of the heavy lifting
as big bodies that can tackle or block; as does starting LB Chase
Blackburn and his backup, AJ Klein. Colin Jones is the team's top
gunner on punt team, often flanked by Melvin White (though rarely but
hilariously by Greg Hardy). Young safeties Robert Lester and Tre Boston
figure to play expanded roles, and I wouldn't bet against Tyler Gaffney
contributing.

Eyes will be on TEs Brandon Williams, Ed Dickson, and Mike McNeill to
see if any can provide any help on special teams as well, especially if
any of them want Brockel's job (Ben Hartsock played 20% of snaps as
well).

If Josh Norman wants an extended look at CB, he might want to be willing
to play more than 13% of snaps; since Domenik Hixon played almost 20% of
snaps, one of the WRs will have to look at contributing a bit. Since
neither Jason Avant nor Jerricho Cotchery put more than 2% of available
ST snaps on the field, I'm guessing that will have to come from
Underwood (who played 5% of ST snaps last year) or maybe whichever of
the 5th best guys has something to add. I have a hard time buying that
Kelvin Benjamin will be running down kicks, though.

It's a unit that has to remain at least as strong as last year, for
Carolina to grow. You can't play ball control with a chump Special
Teams unit.

Position Prognosis: RB

The final positional review comes for RB - possibly as talented as any
other position, certainly as deep, and yet in a period of limbo.

Carolina and it's ball control, time of possession attack on offense
relies fairly heavily on the backs - 7th in attempts compared to 30th in
passes. While some of that comes from having a running quarterback
(22% of the team's attempts, whether called or not; 28% of its yards),
you can't base your running game on a quarterback.

It's been the Deangelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart show since 2008, with
the only break in that being for injury. That seems likely to continue
past this year - its seventh year in a row, Williams' contract voids
after '15 and Stewart is cuttable around that point. Regarding that
bit about injury, Stewart had his worst year, playing in six games and
recording one start. Started the year on PUP and was activated, only
get hurt after a few more games.

That left Williams carrying a lot of load, and the load-bearing fullback
Mike Tolbert being relief in both rushes and comedy. So far, Stewart
seems to be ready, and for Carolina to return to an elite level rushing
attack (3rd in yards, 2011; 9th in 2012; 11th in '13), it needs him to
be out there. For Williams to make the occasional homerun, he can't
take on quite as many of the hard carries; you could argue Tolbert would
be fresher as well, as he doesn't really do well with more than 12
touches a game.

As well, the team has thrown picks at young players at RB, hoping to
pave a little way for the future.


To start with the fullbacks, Tolbert is all you could ask for. A solid
blocker, a very good outlet receiver; a Pro Bowler. He runs possibly
with more power than anyone on the roster, and the .gifs of him running
over the average Falcon or Buc aren't any less entertaining than his TD
dances. He's a goal line specialist, which shows in his RB-high 5 TDs
last year (2nd in rushing to Newton's 6). His 3.6 yards per attempt?
Excusable when you see where his carries are. He's a flying brick and
if I could field a quartet of 5'9, 260 lb RBs that were clones of
Tolbert's, I'd run the ball 45 times. Tolbert finished with 361 rush
yards and 184 in the passing game.

Behind him, you get part-time FB/TE Richie Brockel - a solid blocker who
never really gets the ball (1 carry, 1 yard/1 rec 12 yards, and a
fumble) but is a TE who can simply play the position a bit; you have a
more pure FB in Michael Zordich, an undrafted from Penn State (and son
of the DB by the same name - Cards/Jets/Eagles). He has a good thump to
him, and played a little LB in college as well. That's everything the
team is throwing at FB.


At RB - you have Williams, entering his ninth year (that alone might
make you feel a little older yourself). It looked like his career was
nose-diving in 2012 - Jonathan Stewart was signed and named starter,
improbably, and immediately started his journey of getting hurt, the
only thing that really saved Williams (along with a heavy deal). A late
2012 burst against the legendarily bad Saints defense re-cemented his
place, and he's done allright with it. Without his steady 2013 (843
yards, 201 carries; that's 4.2 per; 3 TDs, including a game-winner of 43
yards against San Francisco), Carolina doesn't have its year. Tolbert
can only carry so much load, as can Newton. Like the other backs,
Williams only really gets used as a passing threat with a screen - often
on packaged plays. His 26 rec for 333 and one score gives him a total
of 4 TDs and 1176 yards from scrimmage, not bad for a 30 year old RB.

But, again, you have to have Tolbert and Stewart, minimim, for this to
keep up. 31 isn't kind to a RB. He's now absorbed 1370 carries, which
could've been even worse; he averages 12.3 per game, which most backs of
his stature may have absorbed 20-24, obviously double that. As well,
even a complimentary back would have a lot more than 1.6 receptions a
game career (more on that later). Williams has two years on his
contract before voiding, and who knows if he'll last through two more
200 carry seasons? That's not a huge amount of carries, but it's a good
bit at 30 years old.

Stewart? Who knows. He has to be healthy. The time off has to have
done him good, and there's nothing you can say about him getting cut at
the sideline to get re-hurt. No way around it. It's just bad luck.
He's another player that has two years (he'll be 29 after 2015's
finished, and still low miles, but so expensive), and somewhere in
there, they'll have to lean on him a bit more. He's been a good player,
but since being signed, he's given the team almost nothing. He's a
tremendously talented player that you can't help but root for, but to
take things to the next level, he has to be involved.

Then there's the youth.

Kenjon Barner turned out not to be Darren Sproles. As a rookie, turned
out, he was just a spread-offense guy who was small, fumbled a bit in
preseason, and then got hurt. His few carries as a pro in real
competition were a mess, going down on first contact and running
upright. I was losing hope in Barner. I recently read an article on
him (
http://www.si.com/nfl/2014/07/15/carolina-panthers-kenjon-barner-training ) that provided some insight to his work, and hopefully that helps. Might just be fluff, and God only knows I've caught enough about "Player X was working to overcome injury/adversity/gained weight/lost weight/trained like this" in the offseason to give false hope. But getting bigger, and training like a pro, is a good thing to hear out of a 2nd year.

Barner's not as shifty as Sproles, and the truth is, while he can be
good in space, outside the screen game he's not a player that's good
from scrimmage yet. Carolina doesn't ask any back to split wide much,
where Barner might be as useful; he certainly doesn't get the space to
work in that Sproles does. This just isn't that offense. Ted Ginn's
departure as a KR and PR means Barner has some room to spread into a
return job, but he's not really going to help you out with the rest of
special teams, and that's a lot to ask of a 4th RB (if you count
Tolbert).

And that's where Tyler Gaffney comes in. A gym rat, film rat, do
everything back, Gaffney's this year's new late-round back, possibly a
bargain since he left for a year to play baseball (otherwise, a guy with
junior experience in a pro style system and 1700 yards/21 TD would be
higher in the draft. A more solid 5'11, 227, Gaffney's just athletic
enough, but won't have the growing pains Barner did. He trains like a
pro, has already been in this system, and can run between the tackles.
The team singled him out for his pass blocking, suggesting it will make
things a lot easier in preseason. So, he can do a lot Barner hasn't
shown he can do.

The team could use both (Barner would be a good home run type backup to
Gaffney's possibly uninspiring but workmanlike rushing) and will
probably make room for all. But the back two, in the regular season,
won't get much play this year. In an ideal world, DW gets 13 carries,
Stewart 10, Tolbert a total of 10 touches, and Barner returns balls on
special teams while Gaffney runs them down. That's how Zordich
probably doesn't sniff this roster, and that might give a little life to
the backup FB and TE Brockel (if the numbers game doesn't also get him).



I know that Carolina's close to the vest ideals mean quick passes and
being very QB-friendly. But related to that, the backs carry almost no
weight in the passing game, a very significant portion in screens. Per
profootballfocus.com, Newton had 5th highest percentage of screens at 6%
of attempts; and yet non-screen situations, RBs were targeted only 9.7%,
4th lowest. A lot of that's in packaged plays; maybe some of that's
missing Stewart, so the carries had to be the priority.

if Stewart is healthy, maybe he gets more passes (history says no, 1.4
rec/game, only boosted by 2011's 47 receptions). Or Tolbert, playing a
more ancillary role, gets more passes as an outlet. I know the offense
can sustain it, as the mid-90s saw FB Larry Centers catch 100 passes in
a season. I don't want Carolina to be quite as easy to read, but it can
use the backs more. They do carry a load already, but there's room for
them to get you 6 yards on 2nd down (Newton's worst down) just as easily
as they can get you 4.2 rushing on first.

There's no doubt they have enough to carry a load. They depth and
redundancy. It's coming at a high cost, so they have to pull that
weight yet again.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Position Prognosis: LB

It's really hard to imagine a team strength gaining significantly in
ability and credability, but in '13, Carolina's LBs did just that.

It's not as if 2012 was awful. So far any year with Luke Kuechly and
Thomas Davis has been fantastic. But now, Kuechly is your reigning
Defensive Player of The Year, and while Davis was a Pro Bowl snub, tons
of analysts have him as the second best true OLB behind fellow snub
Lavonte David.

It's safe to say that Carolina has one of the best, most instinctive,
playmaking pairs at LB in the league, so let's move on and talk about
the rest of the unit. Kuechly's pass coverage improved - it still has a
little room - but the impact plays were just off the charts this past
year for both players.


Chase Blackburn is the strongside linebacker, and the guy that comes off
the field. Davis and Kuechly plaed 97.5% of snaps apiece, for what it's
worth, and Blackburn 20%. Adding in the opening day starter, Jon Beason
(remember that guy?), who took the first two games' worth of snaps at
62, and AJ Klein, who filled in for three starts? The SLBs only played
400 snaps throughout the year, or roughly 40%. That's the league now -
in shotgun 75% of the time, and a nickel corner is as much a starter as
the 3rd LB. Drayton Florence, who wasn't even with the team for a few
weeks and wasn't one of the top two CBs, played almost 60% of snaps, to
finish that thought.

But the value provided goes past the line of scrimmage. Blackburn
played 38% of special teams snaps despite his injury; Klein played 61%.
Backup Jason Williams played right at 50%. The now departed Jordan Senn
provided 70%, giving 4 LBs out of the top 8 in ST snaps logged. That
quartet provided about 2.2 seasons worth of special teams snaps along
with that third of a season of defense.

Nonetheless, that third LB job is important, along with being depth for
that top pair. It's critical to win those base defense snaps, and with
a front as strong as Carolina's 7, SLB is often the weak link, and you
can't afford too weak a link in there. The SLB combo didn't disappoint
- there are times where Blackburn isn't as good against the pass, and
that's to be expected. You don't get a ton of rush from this group,
though Klein is a good blitzer. What you get, defensively, is a lot of
instinct and knowledge of how the base offense is going to work, and
good execution.


Blackburn is, for all real purposes, the backup MLB. Klein was an ILB
in college, and a bit of a steal as a 5th rounder. Either could be
called upon to fill the top guys' shoes. Blackburn's veteran experience
provides the ability to hang with the top defenders, and another veteran
voice in the film room.

Klein looks to be a hyper-instinctive ILB, and he has solid athleticism.
He got hung the label "little Keek" for looking a little too much like
Kuechly during preseason, but when he stepped up at the end of the
season, he was starting to earn some of that. He might or might not be
athletic compared to the 4.4 40 of Davis (and Kuechly's 4.58 feels slow
compared to his playing speed), but he's a player who could fill in at
WLB or MLB and not be a liability. It's a great luxury, when you're a
good front like Carolina's, to be able to replenish with such a late
pick.

Williams, looking to pickup Senn's slack as the top ST LB, originally
came over in 2010 and started two games. Since then, he's been a
special teamer, and a very good one. His blocked punt against NY Jets
made a massive difference in that game.

That's the top 5 - and Carolina will keep at least six, if not seven.
They may look at cutdowns for another special teamer, but the first shot
comes from the back end of the roster.

Ben Jacobs was a '13 camp hand who made the practice squad; he has solid
size at 6'4, 245. DJ Smith is an AppState player who played in 22 games
for Green Bay, and didn't do much for the Texans last year. Billy Boyko
is a 2nd year who was in camp with Oakland last year.

Of the rookies, you have Florida Atlantic's Adarius Glanton, an
undersized prospect, and the fire hydrant sized Denicos Allen (5'11,
225). Allen was a three time All-Big10 selection whose height is a
legitimate concern, but he's a hardcore football player with good speed
and decent athleticism. He seems ideal for special teams and is the
type of player that could, in a pinch, do well behind Carolina's strong
front.

Projecting that out, it's an open competition past the top 5, but I'll
guess on 7 staying including Jacobs and Allen.

Two more to go - RB and Special Teams. SO whether you're enjoying this
meandering series, just suffering through, or just scrolling past, it's
almost over.

Re: Position Prognosis: CB, S

I totally neglected the 3rd string guys when talking secondary, and
wanted to rectify that. Dealing with the starters and the nickel
combatants is crucial, but it's not the full picture.

Colin Jones, for instance, is a critical special teamer that plays in
essentially all phases. A missile that runs a sub-4.4 40, Jones is the
gunner on punt team and is essentially a lock to make the team. Last
preseasaon, Jones started showing more aptitude for free safety, and had
two picks in a game. It's clear they're continuing to develop that
side, and while they have Tre' Boston, the team's 4th rounder, Jones
will have plenty of looks in preseason as well.

Boston is a vocal FS with good athleticism and length, and while he's
studious, he has to be careful of not freelancing himself. His
outspoken personality is one that has to shine through at the right time
- it's the difference between being a respected competitor and being a
mouthy rookie.

Behind all that, Anderson Russell is a guy who's spent since the back
quarter of 2012 with the team, and had some good special teams hits when
playing in preseason last year.


As well, I neglected James Dockery at CB. With the top 3 outside
players and two nickel players possible at CB, Dockery seems the first
man outside the bubble, but he's hung around for years now and is always
in the mix. He has good length and ball skills, and is another player
in the mix at the outside CB spots. I don't know if Bene Benwikere or
the possibly still ailing Charles Godfrey will play much outside in
preseason, so there might be a lot of room to make impact out there for
Dockery.

There aren't likely to be any UDFA surprises compared to last year, when
the spotlight was on Melvin White and Robert Lester almost directly
after signing. Carrington Bynum of Texas is the only other rookie.

Of the street guys, De'Quan Menzie has slot experience at CB. A 5th
rounder in '12 by KC, he was a two year Alabama star after JuCo, and got
hurt early in the process there.

Carolina's only carrying the six safeties - the three mentioned above,
likely starters Decoud and Harper, and likely first off the bench guy
Robert Lester. They hold nine corners.

Five safeties are a lock for the roster, assuming everyone is healthy;
it could be up to five corners, too. But the lynchpin of the corner
conversation is on Godfrey's health; if he starts the season on PUP, it
won't look as good for him and Benwikere gets a 6-9 week trial as the
slot by default.

The rest is on whether Norman can play within the system, or if Dockery
climbs the ladder over him.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Position Prognosis: QB

In the wake of the Greg Hardy nonsense, let's take a stab at an easy
position group, quarterback.

Way back, the idea of a running quarterback at all used to provide me a
bit of fear.

It's easy to capture the imagination of the 'freebie' bit that a runner
gives you. It's easier now than three years ago, but 15 years ago,
Dameyune Craig was all the rage. All I wanted was a guy who would
execute the offense properly, and Craig just didn't look like that.
Inconsistent from one snap to the next, the backup battle of Craig v/s
Jeff Lewis held people's attention while the brittle Steve Beuerlein
handled his own business, running the offense. If it weren't for
Steve's age (and the eventual issues between he and George Seifert that
got him cut), it wouldn't have mattered, but for most years since, the
backup QB has possibly mattered more than it should (often disastrously,
from Randy Fasani to David Carr, the sad reminder that exactly one QB
backup has exceeded expectations since the already-expeerienced
Beuerlein - Matt Moore. Remember that guy?).


You have Cam Newton, and then a traditional QB backing him. That's how
it's always been. It's not that anyone's not familiar with Newton, and
outside knowing how he'll play with the ankle fixed, there's not much to
say. Derek Anderson, once a Pro Bowler in this offense, and seemingly
snakebit by being around Brady Quinn just like most things Quinn brings
his dark cloud of misery around, has always been enough as a backup, and
I'll get on Anderson a bit more later.

This year, Carolina reached out in free agency and changed that up a
bit.

Having held Jimmy Clausen (a bystander casualty of the Quinn misery,
perhaps) on IR last year, it was somewhat expected that Clausen wouldn't
make the '13 team anyway, and come '14 as a free agency, he's a backup
Bear fighting for the 2nd spot with Jordan Palmer.

Enter Joe Webb.

Since the start of Cam Newton's second year, there's been this urge.
Remember when Newton was just a guy who ran around? That magical dive
against Cincy in preseason, his scramble TDs and occasional QB draw
early in '11? Then it became a part of the offense, and later in 2011
the read option became a legitimate NFL play. It became officially
adopted by about 20% of teams in 2012, and since it's been a pretty flat
curve (Buffalo, I guess, adopted it, certainly Chip Kelly in Philly, but
even with Philly's success, there's no real push in '14 to further it
league-wide).

Nonetheless, since '12, watching Newton run that part of the offense,
there's been a push to draft a backup with a similar skill set to Cam
Newton. Problematically, you don't realize how unrealistic it is to
find a guy who fits most of the criteria of (6'5, 240 lb QB), (QB who
runs 4.6 or so), (QB that can run and throw), (QB with massive arm).
There was one guy who fit most of that bill in last year's draft, Logan
Thomas, and despite more playing time, he was far too raw for that.
Meanwhile, fans push guys like Tajh Boyd.

The most famous of the "we have to have more than one Cam Newton"
sweepstakes? Russell Wilson.
Drafted a few picks after Jacksonville picked a punter (yes, that
happened), Wilson was the first new-breed mobile quarterback to win a
Super Bowl. Since he played for three years at NC State, a lot of the
locals here adopt him even though he left for baseball and Wisconsin
(some of which isn't totally his fault). A ridiculously accurate
Wisconsin QB under Paul Chryst's Coryell O, he made sense. But a 3rd or
4th for a backup was a lot to ask.

It's also a lot to ask for a player who's being designed to run a small
part of the offense. Now, that said, it's not like Wilson the prospect
was a run-only QB. He has enough arm, and I don't know if I really
breached the "can he overcome his height" thing, but I don't remember
arguing he couldn't be an NFL QB (and I argued that on Tim Tebow, better
at winning than throwing, and mystifyingly, not that good at running the
read option sometimes, often missing his reads). I don't know that
anyone saw Wilson winning a ring in year 2, though it's hard to say he's
as much of the "why" as Newton in Carolina.

Nonetheless - the idea of a running backup had a more limited value to
me than to others.

This year, we'll see how that goes. Webb is a running quarterback.
6'4, 230, so he has some size. He clicked in faster than Newton at
combine, a year earlier. In a bit of a nod toward "we're kinda loading
up for preseason", in the same way that the team stated RB Tyler
Gaffney's pass blocking will give other players a better look in
preseason, I guess Webb will be running the read option in exhibitions.

I don't know how good he'll be - he was an OK passer at
Alabama-Birmingham, and hasn't had much time to play pro QB. As a
rookie, he was a QB - he was 15/26 for 129, 2 INT in a relief role, and
started the next week with 17/26, 195 yards (no TD/INT); he had a
rushing score in each game.

in '11, after the Vikings threw Christian Polder on the pile, Webb was a
solid backup, but ended up being pushed to WR by '12 fulltime. An adept
runner who seems worth about 60 yards/1 TD on average when playing QB,
he adds that ability. I don't know how strong his arm is, but he seems
setup to take the dumpoff most times. I don't know how well he does at
reading the defense, either.


I still believe that running the offense is more critical than more
easily running a small part of the offense. A Derek Anderson Carolina
Panthers team, good or bad, probably executes what's needed from
Carolina more (make the third down stuff happen, be efficient, but test
the D deep now and again, manage the game). That's still a team that
helps the defense out more.

The team gave Anderson a two year deal for the first time since he'd
shown up here; it's been year to year prior. Webb won't test Anderson
for #2 and I don't think that's how things should go. There's no
doubt that Webb is a talented player who can become something better
than he's been, too.

So, that said, I don't know if I believe the team will keep all three
QBs. But preseason should be interesting. You'll get to see more of
the full offense in preseason, and it's not like running the read option
a few more times will give anything away.

I'm also excited to see a little Matt Blanchard. An accurate 6'3, 225
lb backup, he spent time on the practice squad last year.