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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Robinson Signed

The Panthers signed their second draft pick so far, giving a four year deal to 4th round pick Ryne Robinson.

Robinson, of Miami (OH), and a Toledo native, comes to the Panthers short on high-level experience, but has world-class speed as a returner and receiver. Robinson is expected to be a major contributor on special teams and possibly a long term deep threat (especially considering that Drew Carter is a free agent after the year). Robinson shares with Steve Smith the pedigree of being a return man and will take over all of those duties; Robinson may also do a lot of Smith's dirty work on short WR screens and deep balls to free Smith up to create more opportunities in his own game. They also share the role of being the shortest receivers on the team - at 5'9, in a league full of players over 6'1.

The deal is worth a total of $2.013 million. The fourth year is an interesting situation - teams traditionally have given out three year deals because Restricted Free Agency is a solid way of ensuring that fourth year. Teams have right of refusal, get compensation if they lose the player, and almost always retain the player if they want to do so. However, as the cap has gone up, so have the stakes: to keep Carter, Jordan Carstens, and Michael Gaines (all second day picks or undrafted), cost the team $1.3 million apiece. Compare that to Robinson's total contract worth, and the fourth year makes a lot more sense to write in.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Old Offense V/S New - In Handy 200 pg format

The playbook we'll use this year and into the future

The 2005 book we used

Both require adobe acrobat (.pdf) or acrobat reader (just google it if you're missing it). Both are cumbersome files, don't print them unless you're aware of the paper needs required.

Snap Count and Cadence, Henning v/s Davidson

Yet more praise for the new scheme came in this week in the form of Mike Rucker and Mike Minter, at a minor cost to the past scheme. Minter and Rucker never mentioned Dan Henning, but did take a few swipes at the things Henning did - like not varying the snap count.

Yasinskas makes a bit of a leap in noting the "always going on one" issue. I've watched the team for years and after getting a lot of the tendencies down on how our plays were called, formation recognition toward plays, play calling in certain parts of the field, and so on, I can't say I've made much note of the snap count. I'm watching other things pre-snap, and certainly, it's not the first thing I'm thinking about. I can't honestly remember doing much with listening to the snap count honestly.

I can't say whether Henning did or didn't have the offense always go on one. If we always went on one, it'd be ultimately the HC's call on how and why - even if Jake Delhomme always called it on one, or was responsible for it, it'd be something Henning would undoubtedly notice and correct if it was necessary.

Little blurbs coming out about the past offense v/s new - notes of the team talking about things like audibles, cadence, snap count, excitement, and so on - have been flowing and suggest some things the team and players had about the way things were run. It's too bad we'll never get a full rundown of how the team felt about the offense, especially from guys like Mike Wahle who had esteem coming in and clearly had issues with the administration of the scheme.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Generic Offensive Player Signs; Punter Gets Mint

Jason Baker signed the richest deal in league history this week for a punter, coming to terms with Carolina on a $1.7 million per year extension that gives $2 million up front. Baker, sent to Carolina in 2005 along with a 7th round draft pick for Todd Sauerbrun, signed a lucrative 2 year, $1.8 million deal last year. This year's raise is much more significant, however, and the $8.5 million contract is a milestone and an indication of the impact of salary cap increases on minor contracts. Baker did increase his gross punting from 43.3 to 45.7, third in the league, without losing net, and had 3rd most punts inside the 20.

A team that franchised a punter just four years ago (only time in NFL history it's happened, and the only player the team has franchised) now has a second franchise level player, paywise at least, at the same position. Let's hope this one works out better - Sauerbrun didn't make it two years after being franchised.

Dante Rosario also signed - the 5th round pick is the first 2007 draft pick to sign with Carolina. The Oregon product seems to be a long term Nick Goings replacement - or possibly just replacing Goings' old roles so Goings himself can contribute more as a RB. A taller, stockier, slower Goings, Rosario can play TE or FB and will probably occupy some of both roles (but isn't quite squatty enough to get low at fullback), a role Goings played as a motion fullback spelling Brad Hoover in more exotic formations.

Cowher Rumor Officially Overplayed

Coach Chin, who was idly rumored to both NC State football openings in this decade because the championship winning head coach attended NSCU, is now getting rumored for NFL openings coming up. He had some links to Carolina this year, and Carolina's high on the list of rumors for Cowher's arrival next year as well.

Why? There's nothing to dislike with Cowher, a coach who may make the Hall and would be a shoo-in with another championship or five more years of winning (averaging 10 wins a year over the last six that includes one 6-10 season, 50 more wins puts him just shy of 200 total wins). He does have some local ties (though college isn't anywhere near the draw of both being born in PA, playing for the Eagles for two years and coaching the Steelers for an eternity), but seemingly having bought a house in North Carolina makes Cowher a prime suspect for every available football related position in the state.

That aside, the job isn't available and likely won't be available next year unless the players outright quit, which is the last thing that would seem to happen on a John Fox team.

And while we're on the subject, if 31 teams are supposedly looking at Cowher, why isn't anyone taking a look at Steve Mariucci? For that matter, this year he could've been had with a number of his old 49er staffers available as well.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

From Pro Fooball Weekly, Referencing Contracts

* After recently signing Pro Bowl WR Steve Smith to a three-year contract extension that makes him the second-highest-paid receiver in the game, the Panthers, we’re told, are now turning their attention to re-signing former first-round picks ORT Jordan Gross, whose contract expires after the 2007 season, and DE Julius Peppers, who still has two years remaining on his deal but is likely to command the richest contract for a defensive player in league history.

PFW's words aren't especially new or groundbreaking, but it's good to know things are in the works. My plea for a new contract for Smith in the wake of the Keyshawn Johnson release was timely, but I don't believe that either of these contracts is an absolute necessity right now.

The team cannot afford to lose Peppers, but that's also not likely to happen. Whether the team can afford to lose Gross depends partially on Gross, namely whether he can be the grizzled, athletic RT he was expected to be. Right now, Gross does enough to get by, beating opponents on talent but allowing himself to be walked back to the QB a lot more often than his sack statistics would suggest.

The problem? After a free agent session that saw mediocre linemen like Leonard Davis getting $7 million a year contracts, Steve Smith signed a deal worth around that much as well. To keep Gross, after that free agent session, may cost at least that much; getting a free agent tackle would certainly cost that much or more.

But is Gross, a second tier tackle at best, a better player than Smith, now one of the top 5 paid receivers in the league? Of course not. The team can't afford to lose Gross from a fiscal standpoint and can't afford to pay him like Smith or Peppers from a logical standpoint.

More Raves For New Offense

“I love how wide open it is,” Keary Colbert stated. “There are a lot of talented players, and I think we are utilizing that. I don’t think it’s focused on one particular run or pass or anything like that. We’re just putting the ball in playmakers’ hands and letting them do what they can do, and I think that is going to help us this year.”

The idea of a Carolina offense being wide open hasn't materialized much since 2000 unless it's under 2 minutes and Jake Delhomme's been in control (and we've been behind). Colbert's words may or may not be as transparent as it seems, but there are a number of things to consider in those few words.

Most notably - "I don’t think it’s focused on one particular run or pass or anything like that. " There's no doubt that Dan Henning's offense typically looked very simple; in some instances, a 3 and out could come from 3 different formations and 3 different personnel groupings, and yet still run the same in the 4 hole. A call for conservative calling seemed to have become a misinterpretation for oversimplicity. This new offense should have some similar formation variations, but without the predictable nature.

Without having made the field, the new offense seems to be a hit - there's a lot more positive talk and confidence about this offense than any the team has fielded, even following the 3rd ranked O of 1999. Whether it makes a difference or not is hard to say - whether it forces Jake Delhomme to stop making hasty mistakes, or if it could force David Carr to read a defense for the first time in his life, is hard to say. Whether the line can learn to run block, whether Deshaun Foster can be healthy, is hard to say. For now, the results look positive.

Monday, June 4, 2007

New Offense: Rave Reviews

Granted, every GM always gets his man in the draft and every player is optimistic this time of year, but Jeff Davidson's new offense is getting a lot of good press from the players.

Undoubtedly, there's an expectation of a good audible system and a lot of flexibility, both sorely lacking in the later parts of the last offense. Right now, those situations aren't vital; players are simply enjoying the new wrinkles.

As well, John Fox notes that the players are showing "new energy" and talked about a bit of excitement to go along with it. Jake Delhomme calls the new offense "fun" and says the concepts are "friendly", but notes that it's still down to execution.

Delhomme also praised the youth and the new faces "flying around", specifically praising Dwayne Jarrett and the speedy Ryne Robinson. Granted, this time of year, even Keary Colbert looks good, and who can't run a route being defended by stale air? Nonetheless, a good working relationship with Jarrett and Robinson never hurts, and if the new players can be this good while being defended, the offense will be a lot more potent on third downs.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Awakening The Dead: Momentary Bouts of Newsworthiness

The Panthers are back in voluntary workouts, essentially a minicamp, and not much is really known. Here's what's come out so far:

  • The internal media is keeping a lid on the Delhomme/Carr controversy, but the external media continues to take some stabs at it. Undoubtedly, August will be full of messy, even angry, arguments about these two from all sides. But it's unlikely that Delhomme loses his job in preseason, a move that rarely happens anyway; and once the season starts, backup quarterbacks are forgotten men unless the starter struggles.
  • On that note, Delhomme and Carr are throwing well in drills.
  • Kris Jenkins isn't around. A couple more vocal players are showing frustration at the (lack of) move on Jenkins' behalf, a few media outlets are painting it as a contract issue, and some even say Jenkins will never play for us again.
  • Ken Lucas is pissed off, which is good. Now he just has to find that killer instinct again.
  • Mike Rucker is back jogging, a good sign for his rehab.
  • The team apparently sees no need at all to find any safeties to help fill the need: Nate Salley has the first crack at the job, and after that, probably Deke Cooper.

Davidson almost a Panther staffer once before?

John Fox remarked that new OC Jeff Davidson isn't "new", he's just new to the staff. Apparently, he came close to finding his way on this staff before. Fox stated that Davidson "almost" joined the original staff, possibly being in the running for the OL coach or TEs coach jobs that were vacant in 2003.

However, the more likely explanation is that Fox had hoped to get Charlie Weis, his Plan A in 2002. Weis was rumored to consider leaving the Patriots to coordinate for good friend John Fox; the end sticking point was that Weis was an expensive addition to an inexpensive staff. Fox, a brand new coach, was cheaply paid (around the bottom of the league, estimated at $800k-1 million in his original contract), not in small part because the team was still paying off George Seifert and had just gotten out from under the contract of Dom Capers.

Weis, a highly esteemed coach who had just won a championship, could've tried for a head coaching job of his own. He was easily worth as much as Fox, and whether it came down to that for Weis, or came down to a cheap front office, is hard to say (and while Jim Mora Jr. was a painful problem to deal with in 2003 replacing Jack Del Rio, sources say that he strung the team along for monetary reasons as well). Coaching free agency was in full swing - coaches who had contracts coming up weren't renewing, and because of that various highly esteemed coaches were getting paid very well to go to new teams.

Either way, Weis stayed and got a sizeable raise. Fox went with "Plan B", a guy likely highly regarded and recommended by Weis, Dan Henning. Henning, a former coordinator for the Redskins, Bills, on Weis' staff as QBs coach, and Weis' successor for a year in NY, seemed to be the steady hand a new head coach needed. Had Weis come to Carolina, the fun irony is that Henning would've likely been QBs coach. Weis and Bellichick's choice for their staff in NE, Dick Rehbein, had died in the 2001 season and Henning (out of work after the failed Al Groh season) could've as easily been the QBs coach for the Patriots in 2002 if he hadn't come to Carolina.

Davidson, close to Weis and a guy who called plays for Weis for a short time in 2002, certainly would've come to Carolina as well. The idea of a Weis/Henning/Davidson staff in 2002 would've undoubtedly brought more success. Whether Davidson had any other shots at a job or not is hard to say, and he and Henning had no tie. Mike Maser and Dave Magazu did, which is probably what put them in their positions in 2003, whether Davidson had been available or been considered.