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Friday, February 12, 2016

Special Teams Coaching

A few conflicting things out there about the staff.

For one, this is probably the first moment Carolina's had to address any of this.  But they have a logjam at special teams, a lot of which is out of their hands.

Profootballtalk has the Panthers "interviewing" special teams coaches.  

They have Bucs assistant Kevin O'Dea - who had been linked to the team because of his association with Dave Taub, once of the Bears and Eagles - as a possible interview, and 9ers assistant Thomas McGaughey as well.  

Current coach Bruce DeHaven has cancer, and had Russ Purnell standing by/standing in a lot of the year.   Former ST coach Richard Rodgers is still on staff, but now an assistant DBs coach, whereas that job was handled by Curtis Fuller up until this year - who still handles some of that, and assistant special teams.

Joe Person doesn't have the above O'Dea or McGaughey stuff, but does have that former LB Chase Blackburn might interview to come on staff as an assistant special teams coach.

So, plenty of moving parts there, see how it turns out.   Certainly at this point, there aren't a lot of pieces left to fill the job.

Carolina's had, including (right or wrong) both Purnell and DeHaven, four special teams coaches in five years. You can go five of six years if you include John Fox's team turnover from 2010.


Jerricho Cotchery and Roman Harper are no longer Carolina Panthers.

Some cheer - especially those who put 40 times over execution.  Some need the catharsis of change to help wipe away a bitter defeat.   Some lament time, or sentimentally hate to see what's quite possibly the last chapter to two long careers.

Lost in the rush is that this is how their contracts were simply written.

It's stated that they were written that way in most accounts, but the headlines state they "just voided" like Harper and Cotchery were decided upon during the flight home and ritually executed as they stepped off the bus.

I get it.  These two were never exciting hires.  They're not fast, they're not young.  They were simply the best of what was available at a time when the team needed two things - experience and leadership - at very low cost.  They both gave that, and did so where others failed.

They both taught a lot of young kids - most of which are still on the roster, most of which stood side by side on the world's biggest stage with these two - how to be pros.   Yeah, coaches do that, too.  Coaches are more responsible for the end result.  But, the coaches don't take the reps next to UDFAs.  The coaches are a voice, but not the only voice.

They've had their hard times - notably Cotchery picked a very Jake Delhomme way to go out, sadly, and some never embraced Harper because of his Saint days - but they helped make this team into this team, and I hope there's enough behind them in the future to carry on a tradition.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Devil's Advocate: Norman V/s Trumaine Johnson

In 2012, I saw a specific need at CB, and coming in as early as the second round I had my eye on two corners that would both go a solid bit later, Josh Norman and Trumaine Johnson.

Both were small school.  Both had talent and size.  Both looked like they needed some time, and did.  Norman started longer - partially because of his lost rookie year when they had nothing else, but Norman also made the absolute most of his 2014, too - where Johnson started at a very high level just this one year.

Now, with four years behind them both, they both find themselves free agents.   So my goal?  See if the two, unfiltered, without the loyalty or emotion, are both good fits here and see what the difference between them ends up being.

Norman's 6'0, 190, Johnson 6'2, 210.  

Both have four years' experience, which tells you nothing of value to delineate between them, so here are their defensive snaps over time:

   Norman     ------------   Johnson          
2015: 1061,  89%            906, 78.2%
2014: 632, 61.5%            433, 41.2%
2013: 102, 10.1%            871, 81.7%
2012: 769, 73.1%            353, 32.8%

So, totals:
Norman:                           Johnson
2564,                                2563

Well, I didn't figure that would be that close.   I mean it, I did this blind.  I'm not going to look it all back up again for special teams snaps to break the tie, either.  Close enough.  

Which if you take either, and divide by 4, you get about 640 snaps, or roughly equal what the average team's nickel DB plays.  It's irrelevant but that's also about 40 snaps per game.   Norman obviously sagged a good bit in 2013, shut out by missing assignments versus a more stacked DB room than 2012's bare cupboard, Johnson's 2014 knee injury meant getting in late in the season.

Johnson started 33 out of 55, Norman 38 out of 53 (though, far as I remember, Norman hasn't ever missed a game of injury, so in concept you could say out of 64 - I'm not going to recollect anything on Johnson outside of the 7 games he missed in '14, so a max of 57).

So, more or less inconclusive, not unlike snaps.

So, 2015.  Both had a great year.  Norman was an early Player of the Year candidate, 4 INT and a FF in the first four weeks.  As I anticipated, he'd be targeted poorly enough to be more or less stuck under 5-6 INT all year, and he did in fact finish with 4 INT.   PFF finished him with a major negative from the NYG and 2nd ATL games, which both hurt his final outcome.  They have him  as their top FA CB, however, 4th in coverage with a league-low 58 QB rating (why don't those match up?).

Norman also had 18 defensed passes, and 56 tackles, 3 FF, 2 scores.

Johnson?  7 INT. 71 tackles, 1 score.  17 defensed passes.   No FF.   While they had him as their 19th overall CB, Johnson was 2nd to only Norman in QB rating.

Johnson's story in '15 differs from Norman's.  While Josh was expected to start, Johnson was expected to be a nickel behind EJ Gaines, who got hurt.   He'd done fine in the role in 2012, 2013, being PFF's Secret Superstar from his rookie year.   While Norman's put together a stronger 26+ week body of work, and some skeptics will say Johnson's only truly started one year, he's got a stronger body of work over time.

Both hail from defensive head coaches with good DCs.   Both come from defenses that stop the run, run the ball, and rush the passer - all things that help a DB immensely.   Both are willing tacklers. both have the bulk and length that you look for.

I don't know as much about the Rams' scheme situation as I do Carolina's (primarily cover 3, then cover 1 Robber, with cover 2, cover 4 [four deep] and cover 6 [cover 2 on weak side, cover 4 on the strong side] all mixed in when leading).    

But what I see is a bail-technique, man style corner playing the outside corner spot, and doing it very well.  Not shut down, because of how they're used - regardless of what Bill Voth and Dave Gettleman argue about, that's the important thing there.   Most teams just don't use man coverage.    The Rams and Panthers use a SS they use in the box or otherwise don't expose a lot, a lot of single high safety, and the corners playing deep zone.  

Now, you might use Norman more to match up on the top receiver, but that doesn't mean man coverage.  In zone, you just cover the #1 guy outside.  Norman's ability changes the D that way more than that he's going to force the whole D into man or man with a single high safety.

So, if you're mostly going to play that cover 1, cover 3 defense look - which can still produce any number of fine corners including both Norman and Richard Sherman, among others -  is a top 20 corner good enough for a solid contract, or is a top five corner worth that much more?

In the end, yeah, I'd rather have Norman.  I worry about his cost, and find Johnson - if he, like Norman, even finds the open market - a good alternative.

Beason, Schwartz Cut; Beas WillRetire

Jon Beason had a solid Giants career when he could be healthy.   He couldn't be healthy that often, therefore he's no longer a Giant.   NY cut he and fellow former Panther draftee Geoff Schwartz, another guy who played very solidly when healthy.

For Beason, in the league since 2007 and retiring now, it's a somber occasion.  He was once one of the best, arguably impacting the game as much as any of the storied Carolina ILB (and there have been many).  Beason was the motive power behind the Panthers' D post-Peppers, and what Carolina was building Ron Rivera's new defense with.  Injury just ruined that outright, and then Carolina had Luke Kuechly (who quickly and quietly left no doubt as to who was the best Panthers ILB, and a time or two, was as good as any defender in this league so far).   Hell, in 2012 I worried of drafting Kuechly, because I believed so hard in Beason.   That's how football goes.

I'd be interested in either or both being on this next team.  But doing different things.

I'd pay Beason to just be around.   Schwartz, if he were interested, I'd have backing Trai Turner.  He'd be mammoth depth if he were inclined.  But he could possibly start somewhere.

So, back to Beas - we need that energy in the stadium.  Having Jon Beason on staff in some form - like assistant to the head coach, or whatever he'd be willing to do to start, I don't know if he's interested in coaching for instance - would ease some of my chemistry and leadership concerns.   Even just have him in PR.  Give him some media work.  I don't care.  I really don't, just bring him back and make this thing whole again.

I won't be covering every single cut, every street FA addition, but these two are noteworthy.  I like these two guys.   I wish them both tremendous luck wherever and whatever.

Also, the Panthers picked up 8 guys on futures contracts from the final Practice Squad - so, remember those guys, list them, they're back again.  Which is nice, almost no one from the PS was picked up all year - Lou Young came up from PS, Marcus Lucas went elsewhere - and everyone on this list was in camp, more or less.

ATD120: Shon Coleman

Now that we know where Carolina picks in the first - 30th - it gets a bit easier to hone in on things.  No, Carolina wasn't ever going to pick 14th this year, but some finality doesn't hurt (at least, not as much as not picking one spot later).  The harder part is, it's impossible to know who'll rise and fall in the next two months and change.   Remember, it's not just your valuation of a player that matters, it's the nutty bastard that will trade up in front of you to take the safety you don't like, and the perennial loser franchise that'll take your 3rd rated tackle at 15, that also matter.

The sting of that Super Bowl reminds me that the Panthers' OT group seemed to look too good all year.  That's hyperbole, of course, and the Panthers may never face a truly dominant front four like that again in years.   But there are flaws that you could see easily.  Mike Remmers isn't that physically athletic, and against a top rusher he's going to overextend.   Similarly, Michael Oher is more physically able but, as I've read so many times in the last few days, top heavy.

Oher and Remmers overproduced most of the year.  Credit Carolina for setting them up for success most of the time, too.   But there's room for improvement.  They have Daryl Williams, himself a guy who might have to overcome some level of balance issue possibly given his massive size, for RT, but I'm not interested in just a little improvement in pass pro.

Since they have both starters for one more year (Oher signed a two-year, Remmers is RFA), that gives Carolina one full year to develop a player.    Most spread type guys need that year, at least.  Lane Johnson and Jake Matthews are very highly rated guys who are just coming into their own.  I don't know if Luke Joeckel is there or not honestly, and I don't think it furthers the narrative either way to go look it up.

All of this to bring you Auburn LT Shon Coleman.

Tale of the tape on him - 6'6, 313 is more than enough, redshirt junior with two years starting and 33 SEC level games played overall, is currently rated in the top ten of OL and most likely goes first two rounds, but is currently looking roughly 5th-7th of offensive linemen and probably 25-35 if I were to guess right now based on various valuations.  I obviously don't have a draft board myself, if I even do this year, so I will rely on outside sources.

He has the frame, wingspan, flexible lower body that's blue chip, he's comfortable in space and has good feet.   As a run blocker he moves well, and Auburn does most of what Carolina does so it's not as much of a transition for him, he plays the power stuff, the cutback blocks, he'll play the inside or outside zone well, and so on... he's got great hands in both pass and run, good feet for the kick slide.

He does overextend sometimes, because he doesn't keep his feet moving when engaged - that leads to some lunging.  But that's something you can clean up, and he's a guy who lacks flaws that happen after that - being grabby, for instance - when you do clean that up.

He has a great story for those that like that type of thing- showed up in 2010 with a lot of promise but got leukemia, and spent two years beating it.  And he has.   He's going to be 25, an old rookie, but that also means maturity, and he's already almost done with his master's degree.  Underrated smarts.  Handling cancer means the stage is definitely not too big for him.  That age thing doesn't matter until it's time for a second contract - see Josh Norman, about to deal for his second, at 28, only a year younger than 2007 draftee Charles Johnson, who's 29 and finishing his 9th year here.   It'll be an issue with Kelvin Benjamin, too.   I guess that's one of those "good" problems, but it's something to consider.

I don't know if he'll be an immediate player, but one year isn't a hard thing to figure for Coleman.  Oher was a necessity - a LT who could adequately pass protect and get things back closer to the mean than Byron Bell could.  But it's time to do a bit better, and in that year to grow, Shon Coleman would definitely be better.

What Could've Been, Pt 2

This one lifted from Jonathan Jones*.   Sorry to spam twitter pics, but this is Charles Johnson, very nearly causing Peyton Manning to fumble at his own five just as Cam Newton did.

Game of inches, it would've possibly put Johnson on the same level as Ealy, Von Miller in that game.  Could've been a TD for Carolina, but that's a heavier what-if for a heavier drinker.   It's just worth noting that Miller's going to be paid a very hefty sum, Ealy's being installed in most minds as a cornerstone of the defense, Charles Johnson was inches from his second sack, probable fumble that would've put him on par with them in some ways, and everyone's automatically ready to dump him.   They're all based on single game performances.

I also didn't realize Von Miller facemasked Cam Newton quite so hard on his first fumble.  I don't know if that should be flagged, specifically - well, yeah I kinda feel like it should've, I just didn't realize it was this bad.  Between this and the Aqib Talib non-ejection, I don't know.  I still feel a little jobbed.

I'll go further and suggest, if Jerricho Cotchery's tone-setting drop was ruled a catch on the field, it probably doesn't get changed on review.   I've always worried that about review situations - it's about confirming whether the correct call could've been made, which is crap, it should be about getting the call correct.  Not about the integrity of the official's call.

So here's the thing about that.   I hope to be done blathering about all this.   I know it doesn't change anything about the outcome, but the outcome was so easily able to be altered.  This was a very winnable game despite poor play.

Carolina didn't make the necessary plays, and part of what I'm showing?  The plays are there.

*for what it's worth I truly like Jones.  I don't always like what he says, and shouldn't, including today, but he has his platform and he uses it well.  But he doesn't seem to be antagonistic or passive, the two most common traits in his circle of locals.

What Could've Been

Much is made about the Cam Newton fumble.   The concern for me isn't whether he gave good effort or wanted to not get hurt - the man's a warrior and puts his body on the line more than any other NFL QB.  That's not an opinion, he carries the ball at a historic level for his position.  I'm not worried about whether people like his action after the fumble.

He was taking a beating, and the bigger issue is him getting minimal pass protection.  Him fumbling twice within the shadow of his own end zone because he just didn't have time.

The below is an image of what could've been.  This is Cam about to get hit again at far left center, the arrow shows Devin Funchess getting open on the sideline.   That would've been a thirty yard gain, minimum, if completed.  That would have put Carolina near FG position, which had Graham Gano not missed his prior (or the refs had actually, correctly called human garbage Aqib Talib offsides), would've tied the game.    Since Gano missed it and we're running low on "what if" potion, let's pretend that Carolina would've overcome and they could've scored.   Up one, Carolina's defense becomes the dominant one (they'd held Manning to 1-13 on third down, for crying out loud) and Kony Ealy's talking about Disney World.

image shamelessly lifted from twitter

Or you could say he'd have floated it (he is good for that, and people that say that are unpleasable, just let me have my moment). 

Anyway, that's far from what happened, but Newton's one of a few who could make that throw, and the throw was there if he'd had time.