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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Right Guard Revolving Door - Two More Pass

In the quest for a right guard to start opening day, the team has now added Ryan Kalil to the pile. Kalil succeeds Geoff Hangartner, whose tryout as the first team right guard was short enough not leave footprints in the grass where he lined up. So far, the team has tried Jeremy Bridges, Evan Mathis, Justin Hartwig, Kalil, and Hangartner, leaving only D'Anthony Batiste and Kenyatta Walker to not be elevated.

It's unlikely that the team pushes anyone else from a starting role over to RG - Wharton, Wahle, and Gross are all staying where they are, and Hartwig's quick tryout there against the Eagles wasn't successful. For now, it looks like the team will work with Bridges after the 2nd game of the season, but will look for a body to put in the spot for the two game tryout while Bridges is suspended.

Long term, the team wants Kalil at center, where his lack of ideal size and strength won't hurt him as much, but they apparently feel he can swing out to guard and not be a hindrance. Hangartner, another career center, lacks the functional strength to play against DTs; it's hard to say whether Kalil can, but we'll find out.

Unfortunately, despite competition at RG, in addition to safety and 2nd WR, the team hasn't really solved any of the battles in camp so far.

Monday, August 20, 2007

v/s Philadelphia, 8/18/07

After making significant headway, the Panthers took a big step back against the Eagles, losing 27-10 and looking significantly worse against the Philadelphia first string than against the Giants.

High points
  • Dante Rosario is quietly showing to be a good pass catcher and a solid addition for blocking at TE or FB
  • Nick Goings is showing versatility as a return man in addition to being a good RB
  • Jason Baker is still booming kicks, and coverage units look improved.
  • LB play was solid in coverage and improved in open field tackling, and DL play was again solid overall.
  • Mike Rucker returned from injury and looked solid in all phases.

Low points

  • The team came out unfocused and looking uncoordinated, on their way to being embarassed against a potential playoff team
  • Jake Delhomme regressed, throwing off his back foot and having problems protecting the football; David Carr didn't make much progress and had flashes of good play combined with bad decision making as well.
  • The offensive line regressed, and while Ryan Kalil and Justin Hartwig had different roles, the rest of the OL looked mistake-ridden and overmatched as well. Recently demoted backup Jeremy Bridges didn't stand out amongst an undersized backup line.
  • 3rd down conversion, just as overall production, declined significantly.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Panthers Sign Ex-Nemesis Walker; Line Gets Shake-up

Carolina signed OT Kenyatta Walker, a 73-game starter from division rival Tampa Bay, this week in an odd move rekindling old memories for defensive end Julius Peppers. A former 14th overall pick in 2001, Walker is Carolina's 2nd largest free agent signing of the season, behind 2001 #1 overall David Carr (a backup for Carolina now after 75 starts in Houston).

Walker is most known to Panthers fans as "the guy Peppers beat twice a year"; after a pair of spirited games v/s TB in 2003, Walker had 3 personal fouls plus numerous false starts, Peppers had thrown a punch, and Kris Jenkins had this to say:
"When you have to hit somebody's facemask every play because you cannot block people fundamentally by yourself, you are supposed to be in the CFL," Jenkins said. "You aren't supposed to be in this league."
So far, Walker is saying the right things, and Jenkins/Peppers have been reserved about the move. Rumors abound as to what the move means, which is directly related to some other movement along the line this week.

Line Shifts - Kalil In, Bridges Out
Jeremy Bridges, last year's starting RT, has been shuffled out of the lineup. Ryan Kalil moves into the starting center role, and Justin Hartwig will take over at RG for Bridges. The move is likely more a sign of confidence for Kalil than anything else - while Bridges did struggle a bit at guard in the Giants game, the line executed very well and looked potent enough to start the season. Bridges has a 2-game suspension to fill at the start of the season, but team officials kept Bridges first string.

Now, Bridges is out of the starting lineup, a move that might cost him his job overall. A non-starting Bridges is still a versatile backup, but if you have Kenyatta Walker, Bridges' value as an experienced backup goes down.

So far, there's no word as to how the team will adjust the second string with Bridges' demotion and Walker's addition: both can play tackle or guard.
  • Kalil's upgrade leaves either Geoff Hangartner (as of now, backup LG) or Will Montgomery (before this week, 3rd string C) as the backup center. Hartwig would likely play if Kalil couldn't, but if the team pits the two young backups against each other, it'll likely be either one or the other making the cut.
  • Evan Mathis, last year's starting RG and currently backup RT, and/or backup LT Rashad Butler may be demoted for Walker and/or Bridges.
  • Mathis may move to backup RG if Bridges moves back out, but Butler can only play OT.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

V/S NYG, 8/12/07

Carolina showed about what it always does, with some nice additions, in preaseason games when playing NY this Saturday.

Some individual defensive standouts, fairly strong offensive output initially and a few plays later combined with overall sputtering. Winning 24-21, the game ended with Carolina running the clock out versus the Giants' attempts in vain to make something happen to win (even including Tom Coughlin eagerly burning timeouts while Carolina sat on the ball in Giants territory with a minute to go).

The highlights so far:

  • Jake Delhomme looks comfortable, calm, and steps into his throws again.
  • Third down isn't a stress. We converted a lot of them, and we simply use options.
  • We use the TE. We don't have a lot of talent there (yet), but we'll still use it.
  • This offense sustains drives instead of killing them. Build drives, march. No worry of whether a long bomb will work, but room to take the shot.
  • The OL gets to the line quickly and works crisply, together. No coming to the line slowly, waiting for the play clock to drain away (and drain the energy).
  • Our youth at LB looks active (with exception to Anderson, who started at WLB). They still have some room to learn, and must.
  • Steve Smith can effortlessly become the playmaker without it all being on his shoulders.
  • Chris Harris looks like an active defender (but with the coverage problems you'd expect).
  • Ken Lucas and Julius Peppers are still killers.
The defense looked solid for starters. Adam Seward made some plays as a starting MLB, but James Anderson looked lost and easily blockable. Thomas Davis looks like he can make things happen if he's on his man, and the interior DL looked very good.

At DE, Stanley McClover really helped himself in the year since he came to camp in 06, and looks like the starter when Mike Rucker isn't in. Looks like Charles Johnson can play the run and use his power on OTs, as well. He has quickness, though, and needs to use some of it. Dave Ball even looked active. Otis Grigsby made a lot of waves in the 2nd half, but there probably isn't enough room. DTs didn't really stand out, but there seemed to be good pressure on first look and not a lot of room to run inside. A second look at the game will be more enlightening on the starters and backups. Kindal Moorehead did stand out, on run defense, in that he was getting blocked out. Apparently Moorehead just isnt' that functionally strong, and probably shouldn't make the cut. Stephen Williams is a big guy, who got some push, but Lavalais didn't show anything.

The DBs were hard to judge. A couple good plays here and there, a couple bad plays here and there. Nothing remarkable out of Deke Cooper, or any of the backups.

The WRs were erratic, save for Taye Biddle, who caught a couple easy balls for TDs, and Smith, who hauls anything short of ten feet over his head. Robinson showed some RAC ability, but Carter only caught a single 7 yard pass and Colbert went catchless.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

More Players Out

Dan Morgan and Mike Rucker won't play, to be added to Dwayne Jarrett and Nate Salley. Steve Smith, reportedly, won't play either. It's a safe guess that Julius Peppers won't be out there for extended time. Certainly, Jake Delhomme will be playing one series if it's a good one, and might even if it's not.

The starting OL will be intact and probably play the half; no word on whether they're going to pull Wahle and play Hartwig at guard with Kalil getting some first half center; if so, expect Geoff Hangartner to play the second half at C. If not, Kalil will play the second half and Hangartner will play left guard.

Preseason Opener: What To Look For

Carolina opens its preseason tonight on the road after a strong camp, looking to put all the pieces together for the first time since last year, visiting an always tough and deep Giants team with strong ties to John Fox.

Nate Salley and Dwayne Jarrett didn't make the trip to NY, as well as a few other lesser known players. First round pick Jon Beason will probably play, but won't see much time after being in camp only a week so far.

This squad won't necessarily resemble an opening day roster, but this is as deep and talented a squad as the team has put together, and certainly one of the younger squads to have this talent. Still, there's plenty to see - the new running attack, a new offense overall, new faces on both sides, and the maturation of draft picks from the past few years. You'll see guys fighting for their starting roles, guys fighting to keep their paychecks, and guys playing knowing they have no chance but doing so for the love of the game.

More importantly, take a look at some of the specialist times - the return games, the nickel defense, the 3rd down offense. This will be where you'll see some changes that may resemble what September will bring.

Expect a lot of second half offense as the experienced 2nd string OL battles a fairly thin backing defensive front for NY, and Alex Haynes/Nick Goings/Eric Shelton each try to find a place in the new offense. Ryne Robinson looks to have a solid late evening making the most out of short passes, and new TE Dante Rosario will be tested as well. Watch and learn 2nd string QB David Carr, and see if Brett Basanez deserved the playing time he got last year.

And have fun. Football's back.

For reference, here are the jersey numbers of the key newcomers:
8 David Carr QB - 2nd string QB
10 Ryne Robinson WR/RS - top punt returner, second string WR, fourth round pick
27 CJ Wilson CB/FS - Current 2nd string FS, seventh round pick
35 Deke Cooper - likely starting tonight at FS
41 Curtis Deloatch CB - fighting for the 4th CB job with Derrick Strait
43 Chris Harris S - starting tonight at SS
49 Tim Shaw LB - Utility LB, sixth round pick
52 Jon Beason - possible starting WLB, first round pick
65 Ryan Kalil C - possible starting center, second round pick
80 Dwayne Jarrett WR - Fighting for the starting split end role, second round pick
88 Dante Rosario TE - fighting for TE duties, fifth round pick
91 Chad Lavalais DT - fighting for the 4th/5th DT spot
95 Charles Johnson DE - second string DE, third round pick
96 Dave Ball DE - Fighting for 4th DE/utility DL
98 Stephen Williams DT - fighting for the 4th/5th DT spot

Friday, August 10, 2007

Minter Retires; Team Youth

Not much can be said about Mike Minter that hasn't already - thanks, Mike, for a decade of top notch play and incredible leadership. Minter went through some of the great times - 03, 05 playoffs - and was around for the worst - 1998, 2001 - but played hard throughout it all. Praise will flow for years for a grizzled veteran, and the first significant player on the team to be drafted, play through his career, and retire for Carolina.

The next thing, of course, that comes along with this type retirement - besides the sentiment, and the tears as noted by his retirement announcement (where even John Fox was teary) - is talk about statues. Don't necessarily expect a Minter statue anytime soon, and this year's retirement wouldn't face cause for such a thing this year anyway. But after seeing the retirement announcement, there's a push for such a thing to happen.

Minter's loss only further outlines the difference between last year's veteran nature and this year's youth. While the team didn't seem to upgrade, the team is in fact at least younger at safety. Deke Cooper, who spent time on our practice squad and spent two years starting part time for other teams, is the aging veteran in his 5th year. As well, the team took a major step toward youth at WR this year, and the team constantly adds to their list of drafted LBs and OL (though the constant lineman drafting, while solid in theory, didn't keep them from spending a troubling amount on linemen in 05 and 06).

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Beason Signed

Jon Beason is ready for football, and at no small cost.

His total value is more in line with the Panthers' original pick at 14, with his contract being a 28% raise over the player behind him. His bonus is in line with Anthony Spencer, the defensive player behind him in the draft, but more of it's up front.

Regardless, Beason is in camp with the contract he wanted (i.e., more of it), and the Panthers settle on not paying the 2nd year option bonus. Instead, the team moved a signing type bonus to a third year.

So what does this mean from here on?

With Beason in camp now, the potential to move him around has essentially gone; the team will likely work him into some reactive snaps at WLB, and won't play him at MLB. He may or may not play the nickel before the season starts, and chances are James Anderson will be the 'starter' in the nickel until Beason is ready. Beason, depending on Diggs' health, will probably start before October.

Terrence Melton looks to be headed to Injured Reserve, clearing the spot for Beason on the roster. Melton had been working at WLB in the abscence of Diggs and Beason, and Anderson started this past week's Fan Fest at the spot after practicing at SLB. Right now, it's anybody's guess what will happen at the two-deep depth chart with Beason in, but Beason and Diggs will be the 1-2 at start of season, most likely. Chances are, Anderson will split time at both outside spots, and Tim Shaw will see time at SLB or MLB.

Who'll start at the Giants, in a week, is harder to say. Diggs may not be healthy, Beason likely isn't ready. Anderson is a natural weakside, but has been put behind Thomas Davis at SLB for most of his career - long term, he won't be able to stay at WLB because of Beason and Diggs. That's the extent of our options for Saturday - chances are, Anderson will start, and play a half. Beason will make a few appearances and probably hand the job over to special teamer Brandon Jamison.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Johnson Deal May Boost Beason's Chances

Calvin Johnson's new deal has no option bonus, a deal that may help other teams get their rookies in. Notably, this is the hanging point on Jon Beason's contract, and all the other essentials (term, overall value, signing bonus, salaries) are hashed out.

Sources say that a new deal was offered today that saves face for both sides. Pitched before Fan Fest, it's still in the works, but Beason may be in camp before Monday. And just in time, too - with Na'il Diggs and special teamer Brandon Jamison already injured, Adam Seward and Terrence Melton were both injured in today's scrimmages.

Panthers Trade for Harris; Minter Done?

The Panthers gave up a conditional 5th round pick in 2008 for safety Chris Harris, a third year starter from the Bears. Harris (6'0, 207, Louisiana-Monroe) is an aggressive, in the box type safety who started at both free and strong safety in his two years there - breaking into the lineup in his second pro game, Harris started the rest of the season minus two injury games. Harris started a total of seven games last year, and all three postseason contests.

His 5 INT over the last two years were most for Bears' safeties in those two years; he ranked 8th in tackles in 2005, 6th in 2006.

Pro Football Talk quotes a league insider saying it was "a steal" and "a hell of a move." The Bears laud the deal for their acquisition of young safeties in the draft and the addition of big-money hype machine Adam Archuleta.

With a minor injury history, Harris lost his FS job to Danieal Manning for an ankle injury, and after one week back as a reserve, hurt his quad and missed three more. Harris also missed two games near the end of his rookie season to a knee injury, but regained his position.

In a related move, Mike Minter has been sitting some practices out, and the aging safety has announced that he may or may not make it through training camp. Minter said he would use the month to determine whether he could handle another year's grind, especially on his knees. This was likely what prompted the move to trade for Harris, and more action may be coming for Minter's replacement if Minter does make the move.