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Monday, August 31, 2015

Kevin Norwood?

Carolina traded a late, conditional, not disclosed pick for Seahawks WR Kevin Norwood.  6'2, 200, 10" hands are good measurables, got some marks against in the draft process (2014 out of Alabama) for not having long arms (he's 32 1/8).  

Team captain on a national championship team

Here's what I had to say last year, pre-draft: 

"Alabama's Kevin Norwood is intriguing.  6'2, 200, 4.44, seems to do it all well in summary - good routes, good body control, good hands,

Norwood is 25, which drops his value (he has a Master's degree and is a reliable, mature player however). He never led the team in receiving, he's been only somewhat productive in a good scheme with a good QB. He's not strong (8 reps x225) and doesn't play physically strong, he's not doing well at outmuscling for the ball and he's going to have to play press if he's ever good enough - so he'll have to get to work in the weight room. 

He reminds me of Jason Avant to a point, and there's nothing wrong with that.  I have him around the 4th, as a guy who can play inside or outside."

That lack of strength might be why he's struggled to play on special teams (a potential sticking point in Seattle) or why he's not a great blocker (a potential sticking point in Carolina now). 

As of right now, I see him playing the flanker (strong side, off the line, plenty of motion).  In his game tape I see a lot of back shoulder stuff, I see a lot of him being a great improviser with the QB running.   Corner routes, posts.  

Totally didn't see this coming.  Interesting stuff. 

Practice Squad?

First let me make this clear - this is a guess for who won't get cut by Tuesday based on the practice squad, and who Carolina may want to keep through then.

That in itself could be faulty logic, because cuts after week 4 of preseason have to clear waivers to be signed to the PS, whereas right after cuts players that are already unclaimed can be signed (i.e, Lee Ward, who I do hope would make it).

Outside of Ward, the 8 players cut don't really add much to the practice squad, so I'll somewhat dismiss that concept for now.

So, I'm going to guess on a quick, compact 53, to show who won't make that 53.  Of that group, you assemble a practice squad, and so my hypothesis is, those are players that probably won't get cut right now.   This also doesn't project any injury situations.

(For reference here's my 53 from two weeks ago)

QB - 3.  Newton, Anderson, Webb.  I'm happy here.
RB -  5.  Stewart, Tolbert, Whittaker, Todman, CAP.   I fell into someone else's fool-hardy thinking with Whittaker.   For this situation, however, Artis-Payne is probably inactive.
TE - 3.  Olsen, Dickson, Brockel.  I am assuming Brockel is healthy.  If not, Scott Simonson
WR - 5.  Cotchery, Funchess, Ginn, Brown, and Boykin.   You could argue on Boykin v/s Brenton Bersin, or Bersin v/s Brown.  I even think that Brown could clear to the practice squad for a bit.  But this is how I see it going down, initially with Brown being inactive.
OL - 9. Oher, Norwell, Kalil, Turner, Remmers.  Williams, Scott, Silatolu, Folkerts.
I'm a bit gunshy of Folkerts, but I think they keep him.  I'm also uneasy about the backup Gs. Only one backup OT is also a little tenuous.

That's 25.

DT - 5. Lotulelei, Short, Cole, Edwards, Love.  I almost want to put Redden here.
DE - 4.  Johnson, Ealy, Addison, Horton.  Alexander's injury definitely gives a deserving Horton more time.
LB - 7.  Kuechly, Davis, Thompson, Klein, Mayo, Trusnik, Jacobs.
CB - 5. Norman, Tillman, Benwikere, Williams, White
S - 4.  Harper, Coleman, Boston, Jones.

That leaves what I'd construct as a Practice Squad including
S Marlowe,
OT Foucault,
RB Wegher (most likely to get other offers)
WR Byrd
WR/TE Lucas
TE Simonson (with or without Lucas, but more likely to be called up if Brockel is on IR)
FB Ward (though that seems less likely being cut two days before the first deadline).
DE Cox

So, I find those guys less likely to be cut by Tuesday.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Ealy Is RDE

The buzz today in camp is that Kony Ealy is the starter at RDE.  That isn't fully unsurprising, he's been a bright spot, but maybe not quite as bright as it might look.

He does still have some run struggling in his recent past, and his two sacks in preseason have come from a TE blocking him (v/s Miami) and no one blocking him (v/s New England).  He's put on some pressure both inside and outside, however, so that's a positive.

While he's the "starter", I do hope there's still some liberal subbing for Wes Horton (against the run) and Mario Addison (v/s pass).  Addison probably plays if/when Ealy plays some 3/5 technique stuff inside as well.

And, with that, all the starting positions are claimed, and the key specialists claimed, outside of WR.  Devin Funchess did practice again Sunday, which is great - definitely helpful since Jerricho Cotchery couldn't (groin).  The team needs alternatives to push Corey Brown badly, and Brown was the one "starter" preseason week 1 since Kelvin Benjamin is obviously out.

It feels likely Cotchery would revert to one starting spot.  But that's not settled.  None of the three key WR positions are settled, where everything else on the team is.  For everything else, it's figuring out who that last backup is, the guy who'll play special teams.


First round of cuts have been announced, va -

Cuts: OT Tony Hills, WR Paul Browning, WR Avius Capers, DE Steve Miller, LB Kevin Reddick, TEDallas Walker, FB Lee Ward, P Matt Wile

Not a ton of surprises there - for instance, Browning was one of the newer players on the roster.  But, Browning did catch a TD in the first preseason game.   Wile wasn't terrible as a punter.  Capers, people liked because he was a local.

Reddick was on the roster for three games last year, but that's a numbers game.  Being the 6th LB for 3 games is tough when they add three more LB.

Then there's Lee Ward.  Good blocker, unnecessary recipient of the massive hype machine.  If a highlight reel isn't a good way to scout a WR, why is it a good way to scout a fullback?

This one's potentially the most meaningful cut, though.  Ward is still a decent player. and I legitimately hope he makes it to the practice squad.  Could've used a guy like that when the first two FB types got hurt last year (and one's a little banged up now).  But, he's a single-use, single talent player behind a guy who catches, runs, blocks, and plays special teams, and makes occasional Pro Bowls.  That's a tough act to follow, especially when the team has two other guys who can do enough at fullback (Ed Dickson, Richie Brockel).

That cut doesn't necessarily say a lot for Ward one way or another.  You could argue it's a numbers game.  But there are certain sites run by people who should consider being more careful about advocating for players to overtake veterans.

It's slim pickings from other teams' cuts, but one to pop out is Titans C Fernando Velasco.  With Carolina from camp to the end of '14, Velasco started some games here for Trai Turner until the rook had both health and command of the position.  Velasco isn't perfect, but he'll know the offense and could be an upgrade inside if Bryan Folkers remains banged up/playing poorly.

These aren't all of the cuts - these are eight, and they need seven more by Tuesday.

I would hate to guess, of course.

Certainly, it's hard to imagine who'll make the 53 with accuracy, either.

But, LB Brian Blechen is a guy I haven't seen much.  The various Wallace kid at OT - Davonte and Martin - I don't know if I see them coming up.  Out of sheer numbers, they might have to cut 1-2 DT - they have 9, but they'll probably barely play the two vets and won't play the two top-flight youngsters.  I'd guess Alekxih and Horsley.   I'd also guess TJ Heath, Lou Young at CB.

v/s Patriots, aftermath

This will essentially be a focus on the roster, more than the game - in general, I was pleased with the team v/s the Patriots, more than the two prior.  It's better to see Cam Newton be efficient than Joe Webb, better to lose by 1 in the 4th against 2s/3s than to have to come back to win by 1. 

I was heartened by the defense - without starters on the DL.  There weren't the specific heroics from Shaq Thompson this week, but still good play.  The defensive secondary was solid, first and second team.  You can't be mad for Thomas Davis being a second early to put his hand where the ball would be, then falling down.

The hard part, of course?  The drops.  

Greg Olsen, Josh Norman and Bene Benwikere, but absolutely, Corey Brown well above all.  Poor guy didn't have it in him tonight.  When Cam Newton and Thomas Davis come together to console you mid-game, you're having a bad night.  He was getting open, and just wasn't closing the deal, including dropping a sure TD reception.  He got booed by a nasty home crowd (I'll be honest, I don't love booing one of our guys, but I absolutely don't love booing the team for sitting on the ball

So, Brown cotinued to play, at some points taking snaps from guys who could help out. 

To that end, the team isn't panicking with Brown.  But, I'd feel better to have seen more time with the 1s by Ted Ginn, Jarrett Boykin.  Do I think Brown gets cut?  No.  Will various braying jackasses from the fan community get their wish for some name-receiver panacea?  No.   

But, week 1, is Brown a starter?   I don't see that either.  I think, next week with Derek Anderson starting might be the place that's found.  Brown, Ginn, Jerricho Cotchery.  Certainly, we'll see Devin Funchess, mercifully, and finally.   That's what's there to be worked with.   But Boykin could work his way in there.  If Funchess can't hold court yet, and it's early to ask that of him, Boykin looks like he could go in and be a solid X receiver.   He high-points the ball.  He's not explosive, and if you don't have the overpowering size of Funchess/Kelvin Benjamin, I don't know if two separate slower receivers on the field can be that helpful, so in a way you're choosing between Boykin or Cotchery.

But, at least early on, Carolina needs more sure-handedness, good routes, execution.  

Another low point was Bryan Folkerts with the 1s at center. There was a potential ankle injury there, but as much as anything, with Ryan Kalil out, you have to continue to play well on the OL.  There were a few jailbreaks there.  I don't mind the starting five, and Daryl Williams is good enough right now to be one of those five.  Credit both Williams for being good enough, Mike Remmers for holding him off, and John Matsko.  Matsko and Ray Brown have found two starting RT that weren't there mid-season last year, and I've still yet to worry much about Michael Oher on the other side.

But I'd feel good if some realistic depth came in on the OL.  Would a street guy work better at center week 1 if necessary?  I don't know.  But depth is thin.   I definitely don't feel like anyone on the street can help you at WR.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

DE Battle

Wes Horton's strip-sack was a crucial piece of data for the young end, but he had a leg up before he'd made the play Saturday.

With Frank Alexander out for the year, the best hope for a solid two-phase defender at RDE went away.  It's going to be a platoon again this year.  

Alexander and Kony Ealy provided the best hope on paper, with both having bulk and skill.  Horton played run downs last year, and Mario Addison took on a speed rush role in relief.   Ealy had a sack early, on the same play that unfortunately (and unrelatedly) injured Alexander.  

Ealy's shown rush skill, and finished the 2014 season on a high note against the pass, but didn't do well against the run.  That stands to reason to a point, he came out with 22 x 225 bench, barely adequate for trench duty, and got dogged a bit last year by teammates for what you might consider effort-related ability.  It didn't help that Greg Hardy's immediate and unexpected absence put a lot on a rookie's shoulders, at a position that's notoriously slow starting. 

So, what I see?  Horton, regardless of whether the rushing skill shows up that he claims will happen, will start again this year.  They'll liberally sub, in which Ealy looks like he can contribute inside or outside, and Addison can provide outside rush.  And Charles Johnson will be taking on a heavy load on the other side again. 

Next Man Up – Ryan Kalil

Ryan Kalil’s mid-game knee injury has turned out to be a legit sprain – in the way we know sprains to more commonly happen, as opposed to Ron Rivera’s technically correct but false-hope diagnosis of Kelvin Benjamin. Kalil will be out the rest of preseason, and they’re "aiming" for him to return week one. Let’s hope he gets to that point, because I’d rather sit him week 1 and 2, have him healthy all season after, than see him trudge through the season at 80%.

Kalil’s injury happened during the Carolina goal-line stand, happening on 2nd and goal but Kalil not coming out until the series ended (on downs).

Behind Kalil, we have Bryan Folkerts, a 2012 undrafted from Washburn (6’3, 305), who was not a combine attendee but showed a solid 5.18 second 40 and 35 reps of the bench at the Kansas State pro day (Washburn is apparently near KSt –I really don’t know – I went as far as learning that Washburn’s team name might be even worse than Wofford [Terriers] – they’re the Washburn Ichabods). He did time with the Saints that year, getting cut in camp, and played for the Arena League’s San Jose team as a fullback when being picked up by Carolina in ’13. He was Kalil’s fulltime backup by ’14, but has not started any games.

Mike Remmers also quietly learned center in the offseason, and the late-’14 surprise at RT will get time there as well. It’s hard to say what will happen there, if Remmers as the experienced blocker or Folkerts as the experienced center will be the first to start against New England. So far they’ve split time.

It’s a bit of a blow to lose Kalil, potentially not as much based on last year’s stats as his prior Pro Bowl cred might suggest, but Kalil remains a very steady hand at center and the only real center Cam Newton has known, excepting the 11 game stretch Kalil missed in 2012. Kalil graded positively by for run blocking, and negatively for pass blocking. It’s also tough to fully hold Kalil to that standard, in a way, given the total nonsense around him on the OL. Was he doing too much? It’s easier to handle just your assignment in run blocking. It’s harder in pass blocking.

I hate to take a hardcore, longterm Panther and speculate past this season, but Kalil will be 31 next year, making $7.5 million in base salary, and holding 5.9 million in bonuses that were prorated – but, 2.57 mil or so of that is on for 2016 no matter what. So it may be that, if Kalil struggles to live up, this year is his last.

That’s a tough statement, but I’d say that’s something you could saya bout essentially anyone. Kalil wasn’t asked to restructure in 2015.