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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Possible Smith Move Under Radar, Unannounced, Past Due

Steve Smith is primed for a huge year. He's beating very solid corners badly, and from pictures of camp, seems to be doing much more flanker this year. He'll get to move around more, more can be created, more plays can be made. And he's ready to take on that extended role. The position is much more suited to the smaller receiver, though there were no limitations to Smith playing split end.

Stuck at split end as a deep, deep consequence of a puzzling move in the 2000 preseason, Smith has been at split end because of Patrick Jeffers' injury in preseason 2000; Donald Hayes, possibly one of the dumbest Panthers ever, was Muhsin Muhammad's backup in 1999. He learned split end, having had years in it, and when Jeffers was injured in 00, Muhammad had to move because of it. The move left Muhammad miscast; not as useful in motion, not as likely to get the posession routes he'd earned a Pro Bowl and a receiving title in 1999. Muhammad played flanker exclusively from 2000-2004, the final year being a season he finally got to get under some deep balls and show some playmaking again.

And with Muhammad miscast, that left Smith, likewise, miscast.

One of the darkest days in team history left Steve Smith floundering under the weight of triple coverage while the rest of the team floundered; desperate, downtrodden, the Seahawks methodically took away Smith in an act of defiance that led to yet another posession player being miscast, Keyshawn Johnson, in that flanker role. Johnson, signed to keep that from happening, was a move in good faith, but the move Smith is undertaking may be the better solution. While the Johnson move is still puzzling, using Smith in this fashion and relying on Jarrett at a more natural split end looks to be for the best.

Beason and injured players sit, rest

Jon Beason still holds out - at odds over an incentive based bonus versus a straight signing bonus, the team seems to be the one being unorthodox and this could cost both parties. Meanwhile, Na'il Diggs is predictably hurt, leaving Terrence Melton as the theoretical starting weakside linebacker. While the truth would leave Tim Shaw or James Anderson, they're not in that position at this time, and theory in this case is useless. But it shows that Beason should be starting there, and Diggs is crucial depth.

Otherwise, Steve Smith sat today, Mike Minter sat yesterday, each prompting wild, unexcusable rumors. Other things have come and gone: rumors, suppositions, and accusations that buzz around the team one way or the other. There really isn't a ton to know for certain, but here are a few things - the practices have been spirited, where last year things were tenuous. Three things there - Steve Smith's injury last year, the difference between the Henning offense's lack of confidence and the buzz over Jeff Davidson's (or, possibly, simply hope), and three, the lack of expectation. This team knows it's good, but it has to prove it's that good this year. Last year, everyone wanted to tell them how great they were on paper, and paper folds. This year's team looks primed to prove.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Camp Day One

Day One started without Jon Beason, the first time a Panther missed time in training camp for contractural reasons since Bruce Nelson. Things don't look any better, either - Marty Hurney says that he may have stopped negotiations, and Beason's representatives suggest Hurney is looking to include unorthodox contract demands. Beason is unlikely to be there Saturday, and the holdout could run into next week.

Some observations culled from various reports:
  • Right guard looks gruesome right now. If the season started right now, the penciled-in starter Jeremy Bridges is on suspension from the team; his backup, D'Anthony Batiste wasn't good enough to dress last year, and 2006 starter Evan Mathis is backing up right tackle. Since Mathis hasn't been a tackle in years, and was moved to guard in college, things don't look good for him - unlikely to be able to fight for his old job, inexperienced at tackle, and possibly on his way to being cut for an experienced tackle.
  • Justin Hartwig is the starting center, something that hasn't been seen in action since last September. Hartwig doesn't want to play right guard right now, but if Kalil can handle center, Hartwig needs to go to right guard and plant himself there. In practice Friday evening, Travelle Wharton sat out, moving LG Mike Wahle to left tackle; Hartwig moved to left guard, and Kalil was with the first unit. Geoff Hangartner, last year's starting center, is the backup at LG, but has little power and isn't starting quality; Will Montgomery has more power but less experience, but can play guard and center. While Bridges serves his suspension, the two will both likely stay on staff, but if/when Bridges returns, there may have to be a choice made.
  • Stephen Jackson is getting legitimate snaps at fullback, as the 2nd fullback. Nick Goings, assumably now a fulltime RB, gives way to the team's largest true fullback in years; this enhances the chances that Jackson makes the roster. With Hoover in his eighth year, depth to develop isn't a bad idea.
  • Keary Colbert seems to be starting across from Steve Smith; a mild shock at this point, given that Colbert wasn't even active the second half of last year. Drew Carter is behind Smith on the depth chart for now, Dwayne Jarrett behind Colbert. Colbert hasn't started since 2005, and hasn't been worthwhile since 2004.
  • Kindal Moorehead has retained the 4th DT spot. No word as to whether Chad Lavalais or Stephen Williams is considered 4th; for now, Charles Johnson sits backing left end, Stanley McClover backing right end. No word on Dave Ball's place in the theoretical lineup.
  • Terrence Melton, the 205 lb. special teamer that may be as light a linebacker as anyone leaguewide, is backing Na'il Diggs at WLB, the spot Beason would be taking up if he were here. Adam Seward is still backing MLB, and James Anderson is still curiously behind Thomas Davis at SLB. Tim Shaw worked in various roles.
  • Chris Gamble is still working as a starting corner, with Richard Marshall still backing Ken Lucas.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Kris Jenkins On Time, In Shape - Carstens Gone

Though his weight was a mild surprise, it shouldn't have been a surprise that Kris Jenkins came in on time to camp. Though the media predicted a holdout because of a trade rumored to be pushed, Jenkins said he wasn't going to hold out and there was no reason to believe so. He's in camp, in shape, and ready to work. While he may not be in the shape trainers want him to be in, last year he came in overweight, off a knee injury, and made a Pro Bowl.

Jordan Carstens was released as well - the team needed to free up roster spots for the draftees (technically, the players aren't on roster until they're signed, so teams hire scrubs to take a look at them, and generally get rid of the worst ones early once picks are signed), but Carstens, a former starter, was tendered the second-round tender of $1.3 million.

That's a lot of money for a guy with health problems, especially for a 4th DT on a team that he really won't compete on. Carstens wasn't the big bruising DT that the starters are, and he's not the athletic player that Damione Lewis or even Kindal Moorehead are. With that pair, along with starters Jenkins and Kemoeatu, the team has plenty of depth and talent, and newcomer Chad Lavalais has almost two years' worth of starting experience as well.

Carstens is a hard worker, but the health concern was real and the team could've used that money on something better - a safety, for instance - the $2.5 million that Ken Hamlin will make as a Dallas Cowboy is certainly within range. This signing didn't make sense then, and doesn't now.

Jarrett, Kalil Signed

Friday afternoon saw, as hoped, the signing of 2nd round picks Ryan Kalil and Dwayne Jarrett. Both will be in camp, ready to work; however, Marty Hurney says that he and first round pick Jon Beason are still "miles apart". A prolonged holdout is nearly impossible, though, and the picks on either side of Beason are signed.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Beason Help

Though a holdout is still possible, the rumors that two sides are "far apart" per local news sources can be tempered by 26th overall pick Anthony Spencer signng a 5 year, $9 million deal. This sets a baseline for Beason, one pick ahead of Spencer. It may be down to luck, but if Hurney can get the two second round deals done tomorrow morning, Beason can realistically be done before Saturday afternoon.

Ryan Kalil should be signed as of Friday morning, and Dwayne Jarrett's contract should be close.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Wilson, Shaw in; Top 3 Remain

With Tim Shaw and CJ Wilson signing recently, the team only has top three picks Jon Beason, Dwayne Jarrett, and Ryan Kalil (all who could start) left to sign before camp officially starts on Saturday.

At #25, Beason is the most critical to sign. What happens around him could determine his draft value, as is typical. Above him, Dwayne Bowe (23) and Brandon Merriwether (24) are unsigned, as is (26) Anthony Spencer. After that, (27) Robert Meachem and (28)Joe Staley are signed, which will help. If any of the above sign, it'll help hash out what Beason may get.

Around Jarrett, the two defenders behind him have signed (#46 Lamarr Woodley and #47 David Harris) but the three offensive players aren't (#42 Tony Ugoh, #43 Drew Staunton, and #44 Sidney Rice). Since Rice, directly ahead of Jarrett, is also a WR, it makes things trickier.

Kalil has #57 Victor Abiamiri signed ahead of him, and having fellow C prospect Samson Satele behind him at #60 helps, but most of the 55-65 range picks haven't signed.

The Panthers haven't had a holdout since ill-fated center prospect Bruce Nelson held out 1.5 days in 2003.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Colts, Panthers both sign ends

The Indianapolis Colts signed Dwight Freeney to the richest defensive contract in history, and the Panthers signed 3rd round pick Charles Johnson, the highest draft pick to be signed so far for the franchise.

Freeney's $72 million contract has a lot of impact on Julius Peppers, who the team has tried to sign to an extension for a few years now. Peppers should command a contract at least as big as that, probably in the 7 years, $90 million range, with a total bonus payout of at least the $30 million Freeney received.

Johnson's impact on Peppers' contract situation is nil, the only connection being their position - Johnson would be a left end if Peppers were to leave, but Peppers is still under contract for two years and not likely to leave. Even if the Panthers couldn't come to terms with Peppers in 07 or 08, they'd likely franchise tag him for 2009. Nonetheless, Johnson being signed is a positive step, being one of the few first-day draft picks to sign and giving the team more time to focus on the 3 draft picks they have to sign in the top 60 players.