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Sunday, September 23, 2007

V/S Texans

Short and sweet, this is what happens when you don't show up. Blowing a 14 point road lead is inexcusable, but I also don't believe the 14 points up indicated the relative abilities of these two teams. Regardless, the Panthers were handed a gift, and couldn't take advantage - running the ball against a front I underestimated, stopping Andre Johnson despite being the only threat on the field, nothing worked. It was a failure on every level.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

V/S Texans, Defense / ST

The Texans were efficient running the ball and made plays at opportune times; or, rather, Andre Johnson did. The rest of the cast were solid overall, and did enough to help win. The West Coast Offense under Gary Kubiak is predicated on zone running between the tackles, and getting the open man in space against underneath defenses. These principles match up well against the 3-deep, single gap ideals of the Carolina defense, but they're still stoppable.

Johnson, the only Texans first round pick to excel to this point, made two Pro Bowls and led the NFL in receptions last year; he scored the team's only offensive TD, and adding 7 receptions total for 142 yards. Stopping Andre Johnson is key, and no other Texan comes close to posing the same threat. Johnson isn't a Steve Smith style playmaker, and his yards/catch average back that ideal - Johnson also has never had more than 6 TDs in a season. Nonetheless, Ken Lucas draws a very tough assignment this week, and must limit mistakes. Expect a little help from Deke Cooper.

On the other side, starter Kevin Walter only caught one ball this week; RB Ahman Green (4 rec) and 3rd WR Jacoby Jones (2 rec, 33 yd) outplayed him. Walter has size, but lacks suddenness and has never made plays; his experience is all he has going for him, with Jones a raw rookie and and Andre Davis inactive last week. Jones is very fast, and can be a deep threat; he's an athletic wonder that will settle into a 3rd WR role but may start until the Texans develop another compliment to Johnson. Green is a solid outlet receiver that may see a lot of screen action this week; Owen Daniels is a developing receiving outlet at TE, but not a big threat. 2nd TE Mark Bruener isn't a guy to worry about unless he's left open at the goal.

The Texans' running attack obviously resembles the Broncos', but with less speed at tailback and less talent on the OL. Green, slowed from his Green Bay days, is still adept in short space, but doesn't carry the full load anymore; the Texans trot out last year's leading rusher, the marginally effective Ron Dayne, for almost as many carries despite being the lesser back. Both are between-the-tackles, and aren't going to outrun anyone. Green showed some burst, gaining 4.6 a carry, but Dayne rattled off barely half that.

UP front, the old Texans issue of offensive line issues stand true still; left tackle Ephraim Salaam pitched in 7.5 sacks last year on an offense predicated on quick throws. At this point, it's unsure as to whether Mike Rucker will be 100% (hamstring), and Stanley McClover is battling injury as well. Charles Johnson and Otis Grigsby may be platooning here, which may not be a great matchup for Carolina against a Texan weakness. On the other side, Eric Winston is a very light tackle with weight and strength issues (and, to boot, is backed by fellow former Miami alum Rashad Butler, a Carolina bust who had strength issues) with very good footwork but lacking in power to anchor and stop inside moves; Julius Peppers may be making a lot more power moves this week, or may move left while other, less agile but powerful ends work Winston on passing downs pushing the pocket. Expect a lot of chipping and help against Peppers, and after last week's early success doubling Peppers on the outside run, expect to see Bruener out there sealing contain.

Chester Pitts, former tackle, is a large guard that comes off the snap a bit slow but engages well. Pitts faces Kris Jenkins this week, who'll look to get his outside shoulder and penetrate; Jenkins may want to stay at home at times - Pitts gave up 4.5 sacks last year but is a solid run blocker. Vacating a gap may cost the team . Undersized original Texan Steve McKinney sits in the pivot, and is solid at getting to the second level. Dan Morgan must do well getting past these blocks, and stretch plays will require pursuing defenders to be wary of McKinney's cuts. Fred Weary rounds out the interior trio, a group that's been together since 2002 (Weary and Pitts were draft picks of that year), but only has 32 games' worth of starting experience in that time. Weary has solid control with his hands and does well getting into his man, and Maake Kemoeatu needs to show some power this week. Backup DT Damione Lewis had a solid week last week rushing.

The Panthers need gap integrity this week, and winning individual battles on defense. Getting the Texans off the field will keep them from feeding Green, which will lead to playaction back to Johnson.



Jones and fellow return man Jerome Hampton are each dangerouns, and in light of the moves Dante Hall put on Carolina, the coverage units need to be prepared. Punter Matt Turk, now in year 11, is still putting together solid seasons, and still gets a lot of air under the football. Kicker Kris Brown is a solid midrange option, and does well enough on kickoffs.
Anything out of Ryne Robinson would be an improvement in the return game, and the Panthers may consider returning to Nick Goings at KR if Robinson can't hit seams. The team also still appears to be tinkering with wedge style returns and second level blockers, which isn't adding any cohesiveness.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

V/S Houston - Offense

The Rams game showed the Panthers to be able to efficiently put together drives. Like last week, look for the Panthers to put up exotic looks to disguise more basic convention

Despite all the hype on Mario Williams, Demeco Ryans was the better pick last year for value and the better player out of the gate. That still stands, and hopefully the Panthers will not buy into the hype. If they put too many resources onto Williams, they'll be doing so for no reason. Last week's AFC Defensive Player of the Week simply isn't as good as the hype, but did make some nice plays last week. Ryans isn't an elite rusher, but does everything else well. He's undoubtedly the defensive leader, leading tackler, and a very good cover man as well.

From the Texans' standpoint, they'll be using Ryans to try to stop Jeff King; the young TE wasn't elite and won't be, but is a good route runner and the Panthers use him on 2nd down and long first downs to shorten the conversion distance. The Texans will be looking to keep blockers off Ryans, and have enough size on the DL to make it happen, and have enough talent on paper to challenge the zone blocking scheme. Nonetheless, space eating aside, the Texans aren't that active up front, and last year's unit fared 22nd in the league against the run.

Three high first round picks sit on the DL, with good size amongst all four. Amobi Okoye is 302, a top ten last year; fellow DT Travis Johnson, at 305, was a 16 overall in 2005; Williams, 290, was a first overall. Anthony Weaver, a 2nd rounder from Baltimore, is 280. The depth declines from there; ND Kalu, a situational rusher, is barely 260 and declining from his situational days; Jeff Zgonina, a Panther back in 1995-1996, is quickly aging depth at DT. One key to watch will involve passing while in Williams' area of the field; Jake Delhomme had a lot of batted passes at the line and Williams is 6'7.

The Chiefs ran for 4.2 yards/carry last week, and that's including being down by two scores. The Texans aren't impossible to run against, by any means, and only Ryans is an elite defender against the run. Williams is above average, and will be a task for Travelle Wharton in that regard; Wharton need only stay wide and open against Williams to keep him at bay against the pass. Mike Wahle takes on Johnson, Ryan Kalil takes on the raw Okoye, and Gross will draw Weaver, but will probably see some of Williams as well.

These matchups aren't unfavorable for Carolina, and this defensive unit can be moved. The key will be combo blocks, including on strongside runs trying to get Hartwig into Okoye and Kalil to combo onto Ryans. Morlon Greenwood, a 7 year veteran, can be pushed around on the backside and Deangelo Williams had a lot of success turning the corner on backside runs last week. Danny Clark was a very productive player for the Raiders a few years ago, but is limited athletically and hasn't done much since.

The Texans only had 28 sacks last year, part of the reason they picked manchild Okoye to add to the defensive line. Spending four consecutive first round picks on defensive linemen hasn't paid off nearly as well as you'd expect. Departed (and ill-fitting) former first rounder Jason Babin was their sack leader with 5; Williams and Ryans were the only others above 2. The Texans don't bring much pressure, and didn't make many plays on the ball last year (32nd in the league defended passes, 23rd with 13 INT).

Corners Dunta Robinson and Demarcus Faggins (whose high school career, despite the football background, must've been hell with that name) had 2 INT apiece, with 7 others chipping in one. Robinson has average size and is solid in man technique, but isn't a good matchup for them against Steve Smith. Faggins isn't a standout in any area and seems to struggle in all. The Texans brought in Jamar Fletcher to compete for the job, but failed to win it. The Panthers may be best to spread the Texans defense, simply giving more looks for Delhomme against questionable corners, especially matching Drew Carter against the smallish corners deeper. The Texans' corners don't jump routes, they don't contest passes, and while they generally stay in the vicinity of their man, they're not going to make you pay with punishing hits.

Underneath, Ryans is good in coverage; Greenwood is average, Clark well below. If the Panthers screen underneath, Ryans or Williams could be threats to the screen; both are relatively active defenders. Clark has the size to match to King, but is stiff and relatively unable to cover. Deep, safety is in flux; Will Demps, just signed, may start at FS, and Michael Boulware may or may not be starting at SS after being a preseason acquisition. Both are, on paper, very solid, but neither have been there long enough to take root and the Texans will be going simple on calls if they're both playing.

Overall, the Panthers need to establish the run and take some shots deep when the mood strikes. The Texans are susceptible and the Panthers would like to put them away early.

Friday, September 14, 2007

V/S St. Louis, Season Opener Thoughts

Just a few hghlights/thoughts of last week's Rams game:
  • The Panthers did end up moving Julius Peppers around, and moving Thomas Davis to the outside, at points in the Rams game. The team didn't have much success moving Peppers, but the defense nonetheless held. It gives opponents one more thing to prepare for, but to this point Peppers has been more successful just beating on his lineman for 60 snaps a game. Davis playing on the outside isn't his best alignment, but does position him to play man on the TE or let us move Peppers without having to bring in extra linemen; playing man on the tight end is considered a strength for Davis, who looks improved in coverage this year, and playing him on the outside more than just on blitzes keeps the alignment from being a coverage tell.
  • Defense, overall, tightened up after a first drive that looked like it was going to be thrown around the field by Rams' standout Steven Jackson, even with substitution. The pass defense showed to be solid, but wasn't tested in the middle. The linebackers, specifically, looked like they were playing a lot of man coverage, telling since that's not usually the case. Only one sack, with two linemen out for the Rams, which was concerning to a point - you want to see more rush.
  • Jake Delhomme is getting kudos for his efficiency and for nailing three touchdowns. The offense overall improved efficiency on 3rd down to 41%, added some big plays, and were very solid when able to keep out of 3rd and long.
  • Backs Deshaun Foster and Deangelo Williams excelled, each breaking some over ten yard runs, and combining for 150 yards, but each lost a fumble and neither made impact in the passing game. Brad Hoover made the most of two tough runs, gaining two first downs
  • Jeff King ushered in The Year of The Tightend, with 5 receptions. Only one was a first down, but three others made for short, makeable first downs (converted).
  • Special teams only had one major lapse, the long return by Hall, but overall performed well.
Overall, a solid game that looked better on paper than on film, but an opening win against a theoretically very good Rams offense, on the road, with no injuries is always a good thing.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

v/s Rams, Defense and ST

The Panthers will have their hands full with Steven Jackson, 5th in the league last year at 1528 yards and 1st in the league from scrimmage. With 90 receptions, Jackson caught more balls than any Panther last year. The key to stopping him is to stay in your gap, close out plays, wrap up, and make certain you get the Rams off the field early. Last year, the Rams took Jackson's hands off the ball early after getting down, but don't expect that to happen again.

Backup Brian Leonard, a rookie, is a talented all around player but not a playmaker; Madison Hedgecock is a punishing lead blocker that will look to isolate.

Jackson will be run between the tackles; last year's distribution was mostly inside, with most success off right end, and worst off left end. The Rams are best inside, but with two components new in the line, it's hard to say how good they'll be inside. Around 80% of their runs were between the tackles last year, so gap integrity is key.

Orlando Pace is still considered all-world, but injuries last year and giving up 4.5 sacks last year took some shine off; according to Stats, Inc., Pace has given up 19.5 sacks in the last 56 games, hardly elite. Mike Rucker won't likely make a lot of headway, but hopefully can pressure Pace with some inside moves. Against the run, this should be a stalemate, as Rucker doesn't get too far upfield before reading run. On the other side, Alex Barron struggled last year, giving up 8.75 sacks and 14 penalties; the Rams will undoubtedly chip with TE Randy McMichael but back help may be limited due to Jackson's importance in the passing game.

In the middle, the team will be missing Richie Incognito, pushing Milford Brown into action against Maake Kemoeatu. Brown's barely started in the league since 2002, is a decent wall off blocker, and is susceptible against the pass, giving up 10 sacks (and 8 holds) in 28 starts. It's important that Kemoeatu and Damione Lewis get Brown on his heels early. Kris Jenkins faces 2nd year player Mark Setterstrom, a solid movement type guard with average strength; Brett Romberg is the new starting center, elevating over Andy McCollum. Romberg lacks experience, but the Panthers won't be throwing a ton of looks at the Rams; Romberg also lacks size, and the team could do well to throw a lineman in between he and Setterstrom occasionally.

The Rams added weapons last year, putting Drew Bennett in to supplant an aging Isaac Bruce, who may not play much longer. Torry Holt is still at an all-pro level, and the trio make for a big, able trio. They'll miss the speed of Kevin Curtis, however, and the team lacks a secondary deep threat. McMichael, as well, adds some short game, but the team already had shorter game. This Rams offense is predicated on efficiency, not big plays, now that Greg Olson is calling the plays instead of Linehan; because of that, the players are expected to make the plays, but aren't set up for the kill shot.

The Panthers must keep zone discipline and find ways to keep the Rams off their game. With the trio of receivers, the Panthers do have good matchups; Ken Lucas on Holt, Chris Gamble on Bruce, and Richard Marshall picking up Bennett isn't a loss for Carolina. The TE is always a concern, and the underneath coverage and including SS Chris Harris will need to come to play, stay in their zones, and stay active. If the Rams keep drives alive all day, the defense will wear down, Steven Jackson will find his groove, and the Rams will be dictating the game to the Panthers.

Rams' special teams added journeyman coach Al Roberts and beefed up their talent to bring special teams back to respectability. Dante Hall, as a returner, has declined but still has something left to give; he'll be fielding kicks and punts. Donnie Jones, an RFA signing this year, was top ten with Miami last season. The lefty gets good hangtime and his balls tend to swirl coming down in wind, though that may not be as exaggerated in the dome.

Wilkins is an automatic kicker from most areas, Wilkins is a below average kickoff man, getting touchbacks 13.3% of the time. Coverage units could be better as well.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

v/s Rams - Offense

The curious thing about Jim Haslett's defenses are that they have significantly underperformed since leaving the Steelers; the former Buffalo linebacker and Steelers coordinator had a great D in 2000, as a first year head coach, but in general, the offense always outperformed until 2005, when the offense hit bottom after letting Mike McCarthy go. His Saint defenses had good pass stats twice, but overall were dogs; his Ram defense last year was no exception, finishing 28th in points/23rd in yards. Nonetheless, they were 4th against the pass, and Carolina will have to generate something there. Realistically, though, the team should run enough that passing should feature combo routes and playaction.

Much like last year, the key should be running the ball, and the Rams are small enough inside that this should be relatively easy. The Rams have methodically gotten rid of their bigger DTs, and now have penetration in 1st round pick Adam Carriker and former Saint Laroi Glover. Glover, a 2006 signing, and longtime Ram Leonard Little are the holdovers; Carriker and DE James Hall are new, Hall being traded from Detroit where he had 5 sacks last year.


Carriker, at 290, is new to DT; Glover is a generous 290. Hall, at 280, and Little at 260, don't add weight either. They don't get any bigger behind that, with Will Witherspoon at 6'1, 230 and Pisa Tinoisamoa at 6'2, 233. It leaves the defensive front moderately quick, but they haven't shown they can make big plays or stop the run to setup big plays.

Little will test Travelle Wharton early and often; Little's 13 sacks were 2nd in the NFC last year, and his moves are traditionally outside. Wharton must stay in front of Little and anchor, keeping Little upfield but without penetrating. Hall may be a curious matchup for Jordan Gross if Gross gives up too much room; Hall has a good bullrush and isn't much of an outside guy. Gross must not dropstep and give too much at the snap - he needs to engage Hall early and stop inside penetration. The need for TE help on Hall isn't expected to be much at all; the Panthers will probably be more likely to protect with backs, most likely to the left to aid Wharton. Little added one sack last year v/s Gross.

Glover had 2 sacks, 2 QB pressures, 8 tackles and a forced fumble against Carolina last year, facing Evan Mathis and Geoff Hangartner. This year's duo of Justin Hartwig and Ryan Kalil will have their hands full, but should be able to take on Glover at the under tackle easily enough. Hartwig will also be helping Mike Wahle with Carriker, who can get penetration as well. The team won't need to go to 3-step drops all day, but Delhomme should be getting the ball out quickly nonetheless.

Witherspoon and Tinoisamoa are active; Chillar is eager to get upfield, but can be suckered. Witherspoon had a tendency to get sucked into misdirection with Carolina, and weakside counters will probably be effective. All three are easily blockable, and once the zone blocking can get some movement on the front, the second level will be taken on quickly. Should the Rams bring a safety up, expect to see Carolina spread a bit more.

Carolina ran for 5.6 per carry last year against the Rams, including 114 for Deangelo Williams and a brisk 63 by Deshaun Foster on only 9 carries. Brad Hoover and Nick Goings even split 11 carries, getting 34 yards apiece. The key to continuing the push - run early and often, and with lead plays. Getting Hoover into the line on zone leads to clear paths will open up seams in the middle, and the Rams will only become more susceptible to counter plays and misdirection as the run starts rolling. Glover, specifically, has had a knock against him for wearing down against the run late in games, and getting Claude Wroten onto the field is a positive for Carolina. James Hall, as well, has been noted for losing contain, and Little is small and penetrates quickly, leaving a potential lane off left tackle at all times.

Holding the ball right will be huge for the running game - Carolina had 4 fumbles last year against the Rams.

Carolina's also expected to open things up a little - Steve Smith was promised being moved around a lot, but only saw a little in preseason. Whether the team pushes Tye Hill on Smith all game, or stays with a zone concept, it should be hard to double Smith and should it happen, look for the team to move him around more and add other split options, unbalanced looks including 2 TEs opposite twins, and so on. Expect to see Smith underneath a lot early if there's a lot of doubling; expect pump fakes to that side and crossing routes underneath Smith.

Hill, Ron Bartell, and backup Lenny Walls each have pro athleticism, speed, and size (Walls' 6'4, especially), but none of them play the ball well. The Rams only picked 8 passes last year, but contested 221. The Rams don't close out on passes, but get close; forcing the ball may have its moments. Hill has a knock, specifically, about not getting hands on the ball. Of the group, Jonathan Wade is the fastest, and most likely to step in front of a ball, but also gambles and is too green.

Bartell is more likely to face Keary Colbert in matchups; to this point, it's still unlikely we know what to see out of Colbert, but Bartell is pedestrian. Secondary targets like Jeff King and Dante Rosario can exploit the lack of height of the Rams LBs, and the backs will take advantage of that as well. Goings and Williams each made plays v/s the Rams second level last year in the passing game. Early pass penetration will see a fair dose of Little/Glover facing screens.

Safeties OJ Atogwe and Corey Chavous are solid safeties that need to be respected. Neither are Pro Bowl caliber players, but they're meeting their potential moreso than the players in front of them. Spreading formation can take reads away from the deep men, and running the ball as well as last year will ultimately force one safety in the box. This unit overall is very young, save for Chavous.

The Rams, overall, didn't do anything that should aid their run problems last year. They added to their pass defense, but only by trading for the often-injured end Hill. If Carolina's offense sticks to fundamentals and blocks well, everything else should be taken care of. Stressing short third down conversions and wearing down that small Rams front should be a key, and shouldn't be hard. Supplement the run with quick hit passes, and control the ball.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Rams overpreparing for Peppers

The St. Louis Rams have been taking the decoy, so to speak, though it's uncertain if that's what the Panthers intended. After Carolina showed a number of looks - much more than in a regular season game - against the Pats, which included an odd-front 4-3, a 4-4, a heavy dose of 3-4 with Peppers lining up at either OLB, and Peppers having to go out to the slot to cover a receiver, the team used a bit of unintended ingenuity to confuse the Rams' preparation.

Per the St. Louis Times-Dispatch, Rams DE Eric Moore has been wearing a No. 90 pullover in practice as he plays the role of Carolina’s Julius Peppers in scout team roles. “They’re moving him around a lot more,” Linehan said. “We noticed him in about five different spots in the New England preseason game, which is what you try to do with a player like him. We have to account for him wherever he is.”

So what was unlikely anything other than a pacing of Jon Beason's grasp of the playbook and a way of evaluating him in a hybrid role between WLB and MLB (and a fun way of keeping the vets interested), has given the Rams' offense fits, apparently.


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Possibly as a precaution due to Chris Gamble's minor ankle injury, the Panthers have cut 4th RB Alex Haynes and added CB Curtis Deloatch back to the team. Also, should Tim Shaw be active this week, he'll be wearing 97 instead of 49.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Practice Squad Set; Horn, Deloatch Cut; Butler to Houston

Carolina created its practice squad this afternoon, signing back DT Gary Gibson, FB Billy Latsko, OT Reuben Riley, TE Chad Upshaw, and S C J Wilson. All of the above were with the team in training camp. The team also cut WR Chris Horn and CB Curtis Deloatch to make room for Dante Wesley and Marquand Manuel.

Wilson, the only 2007 Panthers draft pick to be cut so far, will help the team out at CB and S; Latsko, a rookie out of Florida, beat out veteran Steven Jackson for the 2nd string FB spot, but didn't do enough to stay on the team; Gibson, an undersized second year player from Rutgers, was the only PS eligible DL left in camp not to make the team; Upshaw, injured much of camp, is a solid prospect at TE who lifted poorly and ran poorly in pre-draft workouts, but did enough to stay on with the team as well. Reuben Riley, a rookie from Michigan, was a natural guard pushed out to tackle his senior year, and will fill both spots in practice as needed.

The Panthers also added promising WRs Jason Carter (Vikings - 6', 205, 4.65), and Chris Hannon (Chiefs, 6'3, 205) to the Practice Squad. The decision to keep 2 WR was curious, given that the team had kept 6 before cutting Chris Horn today. Carter was a converted QB at Texas A&M, where he also played RB, WR, and returned kicks/punts, and caught 56/827 with 6 td as a senior. Carter will likely do scout team quarterbacking when trying to mimic agile QBs. Carter is a good route runner with solid moves, but has consistency issues.

Hannon, a Tennessee grad, was with the Chiefs' practice squad for 14 games, working on the active roster for the first and last games, both inactive. Hannon started 8 games as a senior, 20 total, for a career of 69/850 and 12 TD. His best season, as a Sophomore, included 21 receptions and 7 TD, falling off after that in his final two seasons. Hannon saw spot duty as a kick and punt returner. A minor storyline in camp on the HBO series Hard Knocks, Hannon lost his job to veteran Eddie Drummond. The series also featured former Panther Rod Gardner, with a somewhat sobering look at why he washed out here as well as everywhere else.


The decision to cut Deloatch instead of Quenton Teal made sense because of Wesley's experience in the system; with both Manuel and Chris Harris effectively learning the defense, a little more experience on the team isn't bad. However, it still casts doubt on the health of Nate Salley, and certainly removes much doubt of the team putting Wesley at safety.



Manuel will wear 36; Dante Wesley will wear 23, the number Ken Lucas vacated to take Wesley's old #, 21. Frank Omiyale was issued 76; Marcus Freeman, 82; Matt Moore, 3.

Manuel Reportedly Signed; Wesley In Soon

Marquand Manuel has reportedly been signed, to go along with Dante Wesley as veteran DB depth added this week. As of yet, there's been no report as to who may be released to make room, though S Quentin Teal may be released and signed to the practice squad if possible.

Manuel (6', 209) is another safety in the mold of Chris Harris - a young, talented safety who hits hard, gets to the ball, and struggles in coverage. He was a solid starter for the Seahawks in 2005, filling in for the injured Ken Hamlin; An executive in Seattle described Manuel as a "steady guy" who wasn't nearly as good as Hamlin. A personnel director for another team said Manuel was more effective playing run than pass. "One of his strengths would be being physical when attacking the line of scrimmage," another NFC scout said. "His weakness would be ball skills."

Manuel signed a long term deal with the Packers in 2006, and featured 1 TD off his lone career INT, and 81 tackles. But play was considered somewhat lackluster overall, and the Packers ended up replacing him this year. Once known as a special teams maven, some whispers around the Packers had Manuel not playing special teams anymore; another rumor had Charles Woodson and Al Harris lobbying for Manuel's replacement in the lineup this preseason, a move that eventually happened.

Playing at SS most of his career, Manuel may be pressed into FS duty here; all told, Nate Salley and Deke Cooper are SS types as well. The positions are interchangeable, but the responsibility still suggests a better coverage player at FS. Recently released S Lamont Thompson mayhave fit that bill, but the Panthers signed Manuel.

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No word as to whether recently acquired DB Dante Wesley could move to FS, but the team is likely to use him to replace CB Curtis Deloatch, the team's 4th CB. Wesley, an expert special teams player while here and in Chicago, will probably play one of the team's 'protector' roles on punt return teams, running the gunner away from the punt returner; he may also play the gunner role as well as playing contain on kick return. ST units desperately need a veteran voice, with various veterans leaving an underproducing squad this year.

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Recently waived WR Taye Biddle was claimed by Tampa Bay this week, and G D'Anthony Batiste was claimed by Atlanta. Each team had depth needs in those areas, and Tampa Bay needed a punt returner as well. Biddle returned one punt for the Panthers this preseason, a punt he fumbled.

Butler's Failure Sets Line Back

Rashad Butler's inability to show growth through two camps, after the team garnered a lot of criticism for taking him a little early and seeing him come in under strength and underweight leaves the team with little to no leverage regarding the contracts of Travelle Wharton and Jordan Gross. As well, current backup RT Evan Mathis is new to the position, and a restricted free agent in 2008 also. Currently, there are no offensive tackles signed for 2008 for the team, and there's an outside shot that Justin Hartwig or Mike Wahle may either have to fill that role or be cap casualties. Were Butler able to play some this year, we'd have solid depth and options in free agency next year. As of now, we're apt to give the bank to Gross, and possibly overpay for Wharton as well, instead of having any other options.

The rest of the 2006 draft class has been somewhat fruitful, but with Butler and Will Montgomery being released, the influx of offensive line talent we had hoped to receive has disappeared, with the team suddenly looking much less deep. Montgomery's talents were duplicated by Hangartner's, and replaced by Kalil's, but the team still lacks young depth to cultivate this year for future starting.

The team still has options inside, with four solid options this year and next for the three interior line positions, but little depth compared to where the team assumed it was. The ideal of drafting line depth every year is a solid one, but the team will need to start hitting more than missing to keep from having to throw out big paydays like Wahle's, and apparently missed that opportunity with Butler as well.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

More Roster Moves

Dante Wesley returns to play CB for Carolina, signed today. Michael Gaines was added to Injured Reserve today, and backup linemen Will Montgomery and Rashad Butler were released.

Montgomery, unable to beat out Geoff Hangartner and essentially the 4th C, wasn't able to play guard at a high level (much like Hangartner), but as a 7th round pick, wasn't a heavy price to pay. Butler, as a 3rd round pick, was considered a project and understrengthed, but had spent the last year as the backup left tackle. Butler never dressed for a regular season Panthers game. Gaines, a 2004 7th round pick, was retained as a restricted free agent for the cost of $1.3 million.


The 2 QB situation wasn't out there long, with the Panthers claiming QB Matt Moore from Dallas; also added off waivers were TE Marcus Freeman from Baltimore and OT Frank Omiyale.

Moore, 6'4, 193, was at Oregon State last year after transferring from UCLA in 2002; he was picked up undrafted by Dallas, and recently waived. Moore is an efficient, somewhat accurate but average armed QB who has some ability moving in the pocket and on the run, but has some problems reading and can force passes.

Omiyale, a 2005 5th round pick, played a limited role for Atlanta last year and was cut this preseason. A 6'4, 310 lb tackle, Omiyale played at Tennessee Tech, where he was all Conference. A project, Omiyale was under weight coming out with strength issues; supposedly, these issues were handled, but has since been released. Said to have good footwork, a solid wingspan, and some experience now, Omiyale still has to show he can get it done on the field.

Freeman, a 5 year player at Notre Dame, was primarily a blocker and roleplayer for the Irish, where he also played a key role as a special teamer and return blocker. At 6'4, 245, Freeman isn't an intimidating blocker, but can get movement in both run and pass blocking;
Freeman had 3 receptions for 9 yards against the Falcons, 1 for 15 against the Giants, and had 2 for 41 against the Eagles. If Freeman is active, expect to see him blocking on return teams and punt team initially, and contributing as a blocker later.

Cuts

QB Dalton Bell, RB Eric Shelton, FBs Steven Jackson and Billy Latsko, TE Chad Upshaw, WRs Taye Biddle and Kevin Youngblood, OLs Kenyatta Walker, D'Anthony Batiste, Rueben Riley, Thed Watson and Bobby Harris, DE Dave Ball, DT Gary Gibson, LBs Mickey Pimentel and Phillipe Gardent, CBs Christian Morton and Derrick Strait, Ss Cam Newton and C.J. Wilson were cut 8/1 by the Panthers, leaving them with the league mandated 53 players rostered.

Surprises:
*keeping 2 QB again this year
*Keeping 8 LB (9, if you consider Jason Kyle), 6 DE (and none of them being the solid performer Dave Ball)
*Nate Salley wasn't thrown to IR in favor of any other safeties

Eric Shelton is finally, and mercifully, gone. Don't expect Alex Haynes to be active on gameday.

Needs:
After cutdowns and preseason, the team could still use a solid backup FB (former draft pick Kyle Johnson is available, as a good enough blocker) but have players for the role from other positions; the team desperately needs a safety (possibly Marquand Manuel or

Saturday, September 1, 2007

v/s NE; v/s Pittsburgh

After going to the Patriots game, and a short-week Steelers game, it's time to focus on the groups rather than the games themselves. Individual play, for this purpose, is more relevant, and team play overall has been uninspired. So here are how our groups fared:

*The RBs look ready. After Foster, Williams, and Goings, Haynes looks solid, but may or may not make it and he's not especially needed. Eric Shelton has no reason to be here. Brad Hoover has shown enough to stay the starter, though his challenges have all fallen by the wayside anyway - Steven Jackson showed a little at the end of last year but nothing this year, and Brad Latsko isn't anything either. The backup FB will likely be shared between Goings and rookie Dante Rosario, though Jeff King might get some odd looks there too. The lack of a future behind Hoover is concerning.

*The TEs were led by Dante Rosario this preseason, who outplayed starter Jeff King. Rosario showed some playmaking in the passing game, and is now a stalwart special teams blocker as well; his inline blocking at TE could be a little better, though. King showed inconsistencies but made some plays, and is a solid blocker, and seems to be the one getting the starting nod. King is, naturally, a little bigger and more useful at the line, where Rosario will probably be in motion more.

Michael Gaines, expected to start per Marty Hurney's "we're bringing back 21 of 22 starters"**, has been a disaster, notably fumbling a short pass inside his own 20 without being touched. As a blocker, Gaines lacks effort, despite his size, wingspan, and experience; he can engage anyone in the league but even if he gets push, simply stops on plays. The team needs something better here. Jermaine Wiggins has ties to the team and to Jeff Davidson, but isn't the blocker we need as the veteran amongst these two young ends, and let's hope that there's some veteran influence from elsewhere.

*The starting 4 linemen look fine; #5 looks like Jeremy Bridges long term, and Ryan Kalil for right now. Tenatively, it looks like Rashad Butler and Kenyatta Walker will be the backup tackles, Geoff Hangartner will be the backup C, and Evan Mathis will back up guard. Whether Will Montgomery stays, D'Anthony Baptiste stays, or neither stay, it's also possible the team could cut one of the above after two games when Bridges returns from suspension. This starting unit should be solid, but the 2nd unit didn't impress and the team may not have the depth it was expecting, aside from Kalil.

*DE remains deep, DT is woefully underprepared for the season. Stanley McClover has shown excitement, if not technique or run-stopping ability, as a 2nd year end, while Dave Ball has quietly and consistently become the guy more likely to play in place of Mike Rucker. Charles Johnson's stupid mistakes aside this week, he's been a solid player and shouldn't be released.
Stephen Williams has shown as an OK big body, but Kindal Moorehead was pushed around against the run, and isn't looking up to par; the lack of Jordan Carstens isn't catastrophic, but Moorehead's just a lesser version of Damione Lewis. Lewis himself hasn't shown the explosion of last September, before his injury; the backup DTs of last year, where we were 6 deep and able, are a contrast to the lack of depth this year. It looks like dropping Tony Brown wasn't smart, but not having another run stopper is where the hurt comes. Guys like Brown aren't irreplaceable.

*LB looks almost as good as ever, with youth in Thomas Davis and Jon Beason being solid; veteran backing is at a minimum, but gone are the holdovers like Sean Tufts and Vinny Ciurciu. Nail Diggs may be the backup soon, giving some experience on the bench to help the youth; James Anderson showed a little ability at WLB when both Diggs and Beason were unavailable, and Tim Shaw showed good range and tackling despite being a college DE last year. The future at this spot is wide open; the hard part to figure is whether promising backup MLB Adam Seward will be the guy inevitably taking over for Dan Morgan, or if it'll be Beason moving inside. Seward had a great camp, better than last year's solid camp, but whether it translates to anything in the regular season is hard to say (as he faltered starting last year).

*DB held odd disappointment in preseason, with Chris Gamble and Ken Lucas giving up plays that they were in position to challenge; Richard Marshall was pedestrian as the 3rd CB after being given the green light to challenge to start. Curtis Deloatch is the 4th, most likely for his size and special teams play than for his abilities as a corner, but he showed more coverage than Derrick Strait, a physical hitter that possibly should've been tried at safety. Chris Harris still doesn't grasp the defense (or is more mistake prone than most realize), Deke Cooper looks slow to react at FS, and Nate Salley may never see the field (him going to IR may be the roster spot for Bridges if health doesn't improve). Quinton Teal has made the 4th spot, and a tenuous 4th; he has range and isn't an awful coverage player, but he's the only healthy depth behind Harris and Cooper to start the season and his last meaningful game was against Gardner-Webb.

*ST coverage got better as games went along, which is a good sign - more starting level players are in now, as opposed to sending the first ten guys to evaluate out there. Open field tackling specifically improved greatly. FG kicking took an alarming turn against NE with two blocked kicks, but that should be remedied easily enough. Returners never really showed themselves - Ryne Robinson showed a little pop as a punt returner but not as a kick returner, Chris Horn showed a little veteran ability as a punt returner but isn't a kick returner, and Nick Goings unfortunately looks like our best kick returner again. Goings isn't bad, but he's a very good upfield blocker, and Robinson was drafted specifically to return.


**Marty Hurney's 21 became 20 with Mike Minter, 19 with Keyshawn Johnson, and 18 with Gaines' implosion. Nail Diggs' health may mean 17, but Beason may be better anyway.
If you count Bridges' missing of opening day, that's down to 16. Let's not forget that not all 21 of the starters necessarily deserved to be out here anyway, that the 22 spot (FS) was somehow downgraded instead of upgraded, and that we let a lot of experience go that could have added solidarity. And finally, "21 of 22" was an explanation of a lack of addition to the team for quality, and that explanation now fails.