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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Cap Not Catastrophic

Due to creative maneuvering, the Panthers aren't above the cap; no player has been restructured or cut, but they sit suddenly with some cap room. Per this story in the Rock Hill Herald, the team has plenty of room. Summary: We get credit against Julius Peppers, who didn't earn a $1.5 million Pro Bowl incentive; the team got creative with the re-signed contracts of Na'il Diggs and Jason Carter, saving $6.7 million. A move on Steve Smith's contract, per the team an expected move, finishes the job and gives them another $4.8 million.

This means the team has some room to work - they can, if they want, franchise Jordan Gross (which would cost $7.55 million) and have Peppers play under his final-year cap hit of $14 million. Let's hope they don't, however - doing so only leaves them in worse shape for 2009 while adding little benefit now.

It gives them room to be creative for the future - extending Thomas Davis, perhaps; cutting a dead-wood player if they're so inclined; signing a few really talented players, or a bunch of decent ones.

A Word on Assistant Coach Hires
I'm getting more and more disenfranchised with coaching moves. The initial Parcells re-hire, which almost happened in 2002 and happened in 03, a lot of coaches started taking less advance time on contracts - it became renew, year to year, around this time.

And while it doesn't necessarily bother me that sitting coaches, like Al Saunders or Gregg Williams, have been replaced without word on a staff where there's no head coach, it's that they were replaced before there's a head coach.

The good ol' boy network, largely dealt from networking and familiarity, has always ruled the NFL. It's why they have the Minority Hire rule. But owners snapping up free assistants, replacing sitting coaches without prior notice of being fired?

More than that, owners picking up assistant coaches to be coordinators, without the approval of a head coach? Without a head coach on staff? It's not like they're picking up former head coaches, just guys who are out there. Just guys who are available, and forcing them on new hires. You either take the team AND the coordinators you're being offered, or else.

It used to be, getting a staff together with a plan, and knowing you had connections to do it, helped get you the job. Now you have to know you can have a good relationship with an assistant and his staff, which he's already gotten the OK to make hires on, and pick amongst the guys left to make relationships with, and his schemes or else you're doomed. NFL HC jobs don't come along every year for guys who don't have jobs. Look at a lot of talented guys, who failed once, or even just got fired too soon, and they don't get looks because they're 'damaged'. You can't damage yourself with those decisions, especially when they're not yours to make.

I guess the moves with Washington mean that Spagnuolo is the new head coach. Which is fine, he's OK, maybe not the most deserving, but he's there. He did a good job this year. It would be analogous to what Parcells did in Miami, where he hired a QBs coach, a line coach, a defensive coordinator, an assistant head coach/defense (why is this position becoming prevalent, other than to snap up assistants?), and the rest of the defensive staff within a day or before the head coaching hire.

But, like many seedy things, this is on Jerry Jones, who gambled (and apparently won, though it'll be his demise in various ways) on getting Jason Garrett, a young QBs coach who was on an awful Miami team, in as the coordinator before a head coach was hired. Jones didn't even end up getting his original hire, Norv Turner, because Turner wanted to pick his own assistants.

It undermined Tony Sparano, who was the playcaller in 06, and who took the best assistants available with him to Miami, negotiated while he was still a Cowboy. It undermined the expected head coach hire in Dallas, and while that worked out, 2nd choice Wade Phillips's immediate exit from the playoffs meant rumors that they'd fire him and place Garrett. Garrett's salary is now the same as Phillips', and the team will ultimately be divided. Now, they have the two coaches, most of their assistants (responsible for the continuity) are on another team, Jones is poised to make awful moves in personnel, and the whole thing's going to tumble around him.

But, now owners can hire assistants to undermine head coaches. Great job, Jerry! Don't forget to mortgage your future on a young RB because he's from where you're from.

Former OL Coaches Move

Paul Boudreau was fired earlier in the month from the Rams; Mike Maser, 2003-07, is now the line coach for the Dolphins; Tony Wise is out in NY where the Jets have landed Bill Callahan, former Raiders OC, then HC, and then Nebraska HC ; Wise will land at the University of Pittsburgh. Jim McNally, who the Panthers never should've let go in 1999, was injured on the sidelines in mid-2007, and has retired.

Coaching Changes Seem Unlikely
It looks like the coaching staff will stay remarkably static this year; possible staff changes echoed, most notably at Danny Crossman, Sal Sunseri, and in my opinion, line coach Dave Magazu; as more coaches, such as Steve Loney and Mike Solari filter through the ranks, the options are becoming much more slim if changes were to be made. The team did dodge a bullet by keeping Tim Lewis aboard; the new DBs coach was not allowed to interview for the Bengals' DC job. Speculation arose that Mike Trgovac is in trouble; indeed, if MT was fired, Lewis would probably be the guy to replace him. However, that change is also unlikely, and the team wasn't expected to make coordinator changes.

Atlanta Staff
The union of deposed GM-turned-President Rich McKay and Tom Dimitroff has spat out a nontraditional name in Atlanta; the team has turned to Jacksonville DC Mike Smith as head coach.

The untested coach has tapped Mike Mularkey as OC, and Bill Musgrave will stay on as QBs coach. They brought up Gerald Brown from the college ranks as RBs coach. They add WRs coach Terry Robiskie and keep the other "go-to minority interim head coach", DBs coach Emmitt Thomas. Brian VanGorder, former Jags LBs coach, will be the DC; Ray Hamilton, the Jags' DL coach, is now the Falcons'. I was a little surprised they let Hamilton walk, but VanGorder had already accepted a college job, getting him out of Jacksonville early. They lack an OL coach, and will work on that next; they lack a lot of pro experience, but have enough college time to say they can mold young players. VanGorder should be a good DC for them, and Mularkey runs a fairly diverse offense.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

A Graded Year In Review

This is delayed, and comes from the Fairmont Olympic in beautiful downtown Seattle from a laptop while watching playoff football. (edit - by the time I got this done, it's now the next Saturday - sorry). But, here goes:

Quarterbacking - D.
This year goes in four steps, offensively, because of quarterbacking. The Jake Delhomme period had competent quarterbacking, with his hottest start ever.
David Carr followed, looking efficient but ineffective, and then just ineffective. Vinny Testaverde was efficient and promising, and then wore down in his final two games. Then, Matt Moore stepped in, and the team took back the energy it had with Delhomme. No QB hit 1000 yards - first time in franchise history that four QBs started, first time one (two, actually) QB would start on the team after not being with the team in camp; no QB beat the 8 TDs that Delhomme had in three games.
Prognosis for 2008: Delhomme's risky surgery leaves doubt; Moore has earned being a backup, and Brett Basanez will fight for the 3rd job. The team should pickup a veteran, however. With any hope, David Carr is cut as soon as possible.

Running Back - C+
The running game improved significantly - 14th in the league from 28th. Deshaun Foster played most of the year as the starter, and ran hard inside; had he finished the year as a starter, the team would've had its first 1000 yard rusher since 2003. However, fumbles and a low yards/carry average hurt, and Deangelo Williams took over, making more plays and averaging 5 ypc v/s Foster's 3.5.
Prognosis for 2008: Williams is expected to start. Who will backup? Foster looked to lack the explosion he had in years' past, but can hit the hole well now; he does all the little things well but not for the expected $6 mil pricetag. Struggles may be a decline in ability for a 7th year back, which may earn him his release. Nick Goings is under contract, but spent last year on IR. Alex Haynes played late in the year. The team could look for a bigger back to replace Foster's inside runs.

Fullback - C+
Brad Hoover started all year, rushing and receiving for under 100 yards but blocking fairly well in the zone scheme. Nick Goings was injured early, and never replaced.
Prognosis for 2008: Hoover is a free agent. Goings isn't a starter. The team has flirted with having a true blocker in this scheme, but hasn't ever gone with one. In a competitive sense, it makes more sense to go buy a Tony Richardson or Dan Kreider before it makes sense to return Hoover, who would be going into his 9th season. Hoover could stay, if the price is right, and that would probably prompt the team to draft a young player: besides the rightly hype-laden Owen Schmitt of WVa, there's Peyton Hillis of Arkansas and Jerome Felton of small-school Furman.

Tight End - C+
Starter Jeff King caught more balls than TEs had in the past, adding production to offset problems at WR, but wasn't a consistent blocker. The team picked up Christian Fauria mid-year to remedy blocking, and Dante Rosario proved to possibly be better than King by the end of the year.
Prognosis for 2008: King, Rosario will be here; the team needs an able vet, but cap and needs at other spots will limit this to a roleplayer.

Wide Receiver - D
Steve Smith was up and down, based on QB issues; The 4th year guys (Drew Carter, Keary Colbert) weren't good enough; the rookies (Dwayne Jarrett, Ryne Robinson) barely saw the offense. It's not this group's fault that QBs weren't playing well, but the 4th-years were supposed to step up and failed.
Prognosis for 2008: A vet is needed; preferably a bigger player who works well in the slot. It's a good year for this type player - Ernest Wilford, Bryant Johnson; other alternatives include David Patten, Andre Davis. Smith and the two rookies return. The 4th year guys are both free agents.

Offensive Line - C-
Jordan Gross, while unspectacular, was the best lineman. Consistent inside pressure, and a struggling Travelle Wharton, held the pass blocking back, while none of the starters run blocked well. Jeremy Bridges was replaced in December, Ryan Kalil struggled when in, Justin Hartwig underwhelmed. Geoff Hangartner, the underpowered backup, put together one of the better performances, working his way on the field as a blocking TE and then into the lineup.
Prognosis for 2008:
Hangartner is RFA; so is Evan Mathis, the backup G/T the team may have given up on. Gross and Wharton are UFA. Mike Wahle isn't cuttable yet, but isn't dominating for his money. Hartwig and Bridges are cuttable. If the team didn't love Gross so much, it's suggestable that the team could start all over with Hangartner and Kalil fighting for the starting center and four new players around them. But that, and the cap, mean that Wahle stays, Gross will be paid dominant money for average work, and the team will build around that.

Defensive End - D
5.5 sacks from starters, 1 sack from backups. Starting OLBs gave this same production, so certainly the ends weren't up to the task. If you know what's going on with Julius Peppers, you know more than I do. I only have guesses and hopes. Mike Rucker was solid, consistent, and non-impactive, and backups Charles Johnson and Stanley McClover did nothing relevant.
Prognosis for 2008:
Rucker was the only DL to start all 16 games, and one of three defenders to start the whole year. He had more sacks than Peppers, more tackles, and more QB pressures. This may be more of a reflection of Peppers than Rucker, but Rucker had one of his normal years. The problem? With or without Peppers, the Panthers need more, and may not be able to wait for the youth to give it. The team likely needs an impact player ASAP, and resolution of Peppers' contract status in one way or another.

Defensive Tackle - C
Kris Jenkins failed to dominate despite being thinner and more ready than 2006; Maake Kemoeatu again had issues holding the point of attack at times, and Damione Lewis continued to lack the explosion seen in the first half of 2006. Still, Lewis closed on the team lead in sacks, Jenkins brought some pressure (2.5 sacks and 13 pressures, 3rd best on team in each), and the trio helped the team close to 4th best in yards/carry against the run. The overall number wasn't as good, based on awful time of posession, but the averages are good, and that's a good sign.
Prognosis for 2008: Lewis and Kendal Moorehead are free agents. Kemoeatu isn't cheap enough to cut yet, but isn't earning his money because of issues with leverage. Jenkins suggested a trade already for 2008 after having to endure trade rumors in 2007 - if Jenkins went, the team would be starting completely over.
Still, the team will try to keep that quartet together, or at least will keep the starters; they could draft a player, but a high one would only happen if Sedrick Ellis fell, or if a top one-gap prospect was there in the 2nd. The team could spend on Ryan Sims or WIlliam Joseph as backups, furthering the reclamation project style backup issue, or go with a young backup like Ian Scott.

Linebacker - A
Thomas Davis became a playmaker, and Jon Beason emerged as an NFC star. Beason's 160 tackles were 2nd in the NFC, and the most in team history for a single season (previously held by Michael Barrow, 156). Na'il Diggs had his best year. The trio was good against the run, and remarkably solid in pass defense. Diggs tied for first in sacks, Davis for third. To put in some negatives- after showing a strong preseason as a run stopper at WLB, James Anderson was awful as a MLB and Adam Seward wasn't healthy enough to make a difference as depth early.
Prognosis for 2008: With Diggs recently signed, the trio comes back for 2008 and beyond. The team should start looking at an extension for the dynamic Davis, who has two years left. Seward, an RFA, is a good backup and a special teams ace; Anderson and Tim Shaw are under contract; ST players Brandon Jamison and Donte Curry probably come to camp. Dan Morgan wants to come back, but hopefully Diggs' signing means they won't put forth the effort with Morgan again.

Cornerback - B-.
Panthers' corner play was solid all year, but unspectacular. The team lacked in INTs, and dropped from last year's stellar 3rd down marks, but held solid despite a complete lack of pass rush. The position was led statistically by Richard Marshall, who only started four games to Lucas' 16 and Chris Gamble's 12, but had more tackles, INTs. Marshall, specifically, also led the team in special teams tackles, and added one sack, two forced fumbles, and co-led the team in interceptions (3). Gamble (1) and Lucas (2) could only equal Marshall's mark, and the team needed more overall. The group also had fewer defensed passes than last year (Lucas 11, Marshall 8, Gamble 6).
Prognosis for 2008: The trio should come back, and the team may bring back Dante Wesley. However, is Gamble worth starting? If not, is he too talented to be a backup? None of the corners had a "bad" year, so should the team unload one, namely the 4 year veteran that'll be a free agent after 2008? It would be easier to find a cheap veteran nickel corner (Hank Poteat, Drayton Florence, Sammy Davis) and shop Gamble for a bigger need, than to easily fill all of our big needs.

Safety - B+.
Chris Harris, despite some early struggles, came in and owned the strong safety spot from day one. Two regrets - he would've been better if we would've made this move when we should've, and he never got to play next to Mike Minter. Harris would've benefitted to know Minter, and had some dirty hits this season. Nonetheless, he was a rare player in turnovers - one INT, but a franchise-history-best 8 forced fumbles. FS Deke Cooper led the team with 3 INT, but had no defensed passes, and was a non-factor.
Prognosis for 2008: The team needs a better FS. Draft is the consensus amongst the people pushing an opinion, and Kenny Phillips' name gets pushed there, but the more logical solution is in free agency - Eugene Wilson of the Pats, or Gibril Wilson of the Giants. Another option is to push Richard Marshall to FS to let him cover more ground, and acquire another corner.

Special Teams - C
As noted above, Richard Marshall led the team in tackles here, followed by rookie Tim Shaw, who was active in 14 games. Nick Goings, new ST captain, went out early in the season with a concussion, and replacement Donte Curry had 11 tackles in just 7 games. Adam Seward came back in week 7 to add 11 tackles as well.
John Kasay had a top notch year kicking, making all 27 PATs and 24-28 FGs (including the one that the wind stole against Seattle). Jason Baker regressed, but is still one of the top punters in the NFC, and held touchbacks to a minimum. The pair failed to do well on kickoffs, and the team hired Rhys Lloyd for the season finale to kick off, signaling a look toward other optiosn.
Prognosis for 2008: Seward, Marshall, Shaw will return; Goings should. The specialists should all return, unless something happens with Kasay, and the team would do well to bring back Curry to cover kicks.

Coaching Overall
John Fox took criticism for not going to players like Moore and Williams earlier, and possibly correctly. He took criticism for very conservative gameplans again. But his players kept playing for him, and took on some stout teams with pride after being young and aimless early in the year.
Coordinators: New OC Jeff Davidson called some incredible games, and a few stinkers. The 3rd-and-2 sweeps aren't something you call unless you know you can convert them; the screen game took forever to come to play. Still, the opening Indy drive was a gem, the audibles worked while Delhomme was healthy, and most of the problems Davidson inherited weren't fixed, but weren't of his causing. Promoting OL coach Dave Magazu may not have been the right move.
DC Mike Trgovac did a good job with a defense that had no rush - but takes a part of the blame for having no rush. Blitzing didn't work, so calls were up and down.
STs coordinator Danny Crossman has no reason to be on this staff at this point.

Front Office Overall
Marty Hurney crowed about getting 21-of-22 in camp, showing disregard for attempting to improve the team, and then proceeded to cut a few. Cutting Keyshawn Johnson was unfortunate, especially because the youth didn't step up. That makes the decision to get Dwayne Jarrett, KJ's replacement, less useful as well - if you keep Johnson, Jarrett is a guy you're developing. If you lose him, Jarrett has to be ready. He wasn't, so you could've kept Johnson and reached for a safety. The team lost at WR as noted, lost at TE, and didn't improve the OL. It didn't anticipate the changes at safety, despite putting Mike Minter on notice and claiming they'd add two safeties, and had to scramble to make the Harris move.

Nonetheless, the Harris move worked; so did the trade down to get Beason, who ended up being better than all but one LB taken ahead of him (at 9, Willis). The pair revitalized the defense, and it was in need. But the remaining draft looks high on promise and low in production; the 2007 free agent session was a bust (Carr made the team, though apparently unfortunately; Dave Ball didn't make the team, and the only other guy worth naming was Kenyatta Walker, who came in during camp and left during camp). The front office must keep up the drafting without losing sight of a number of free agents needed to bolster this team.

Sunday, January 6, 2008


It's not just a word for how the Panthers played in their many blowout losses this year mid-season, or what our fans do when games aren't going our way.

Sources state that Jerry Richardson, Marty Hurney, and John Fox have retreated to the mountains to convene on the future of the franchise. The meeting involves the three decision makers of the franchise, reportedly does not involve Mark Richardson, the coaches under Fox, or the staff/scouts under Hurney.

It does appear under logical assumption that the trio will all be involved in the making of next year's football team. Essentially, it comes down to this - will keeping the pair mean more of the 2007 approach - stay with what you have - or will the team realize that sweeping change must come? And to that end, how much change?

Front Office
  • Will Hurney stay as GM, or move to an executive Vice President role? Hurney's current role is much more of an executive approach anyway. He doesn't do the evaluating, he finds solutions to get everything together under the constraints. He doesn't manage the cap himself, he doesn't negotiate the contracts, and he relies heavily on pro personnel man Mark Koncz and college director Dick Gregory
  • Do Koncz and Gregory stay? The team hasn't gotten a lot of bang for their high-dollar buck in free agency long term, save for Ken Lucas; their low dollar approach put them in this position. Gregory's drafts seem to have been solid, but could go if the staff determines a need to start over underneath him.
Offensive Staff
  • Will the team keep new Offensive Coordinator Jeff Davidson? A former player expected to bring toughness along with elements of the New England offense, the end result left the team without that much of either, though much was beyond Davidson's control. Davidson, who called some very good games and some poor ones, only rarely opened up the offense after Jake Delhomme went down, and struggled overall.
  • How about Mike McCoy? Put in charge of the passing game as its coordinator, it was the lowlight of the team. As of right now the quarterbacks total 5 games, 4 starts for QBs behind Jake Delhomme, between Matt Moore and Brett Basanez (on the logical assumption that David Carr need not return to Mint St), and a more experienced QBs coach or even former coordinator would make more sense behind Davidson.
  • Dave Magazu? The OL struggled all year to have consistency. Pass blocking wasn't bad overall, but run blocking was. Some feel that Magazu wasn't the right hire, and that he and new TEs coach Geep Chryst should've stayed in place where they were, or could've gone away with OC Dan Henning and former OL coach Mike Maser.
Defensive Staff
  • Is it time to replace Mike Trgovac? The defensive wizard/pariah has taken a lot of flak for not being Jack Del Rio, for not blitzing more, and for Julius Peppers' health. The defense finished 18th/run, 12th/pass: they were 23rd in INT, and an awful 31st in sacks, but 1st in fumble recoveries/forced fumbles, 4th in rush yards/attempt, all without Julius Peppers at full speed and with Mike Rucker coming off injury. The back 7 play was spectacular considering the team got hardly a sack and a half per game.
  • How about Sal Sunseri? Another guy who's gotten criticism because he was a replacement coach, Sunseri is a quality coach but his units have underperformed overall.
Special Teams
  • Danny Crossman, another coach with no pro experience coming into Carolina, has disappointed despite bringing in talent specifically for ST play. A disappointing key toward the late surge put on by Ryne Robinson for returns, was note that Steve Smith, not Crossman, was working with the rookie during the change. Crossman has a deep history with Fox, going back to playing under Fox, Sunseri, and Scott O'Brien, but just hasn't performed. Assistant Tony Levine isn't critical one way or the other.

Personal Wishlist
With the staff still in need of tweaking, here are some suggestions:
  • Move Hurney up a level. Make him in charge of dealing with the community, overseeing the entire staff, coordinating ideas and making things happen as he already does. That's what a VP does, not what a GM does. Put Donnie Shell directly under him, giving the should-be Hall of Famer more power and find another former NFL player - Gerald Williams, perhaps - to help cultivate current and former players. Increase PR toward the community through programs led by the team and players; put the players in accessible reach of school children to better facilitate the young fanbase.
  • Bring in a GM. Taking the focus off John Fox and his assistants doing these jobs, they can take a more active role growing players and innovating. Candidates: Tom Heckert, Philadelphia, if ATL doesn't take him first; Reggie McKenzie, director of Pro Personnel for Green Bay; Ron Hill, VP with the NFL; Charles Bailey, pro personnel exec with the Jaguars; Ideally, the hire would be for McKenzie.
  • Let that GM make a determination on Koncz. The draft under Gregory has been good enough. Add scout to each side.
  • Keep Jeff Davidson. The scheme is good, but he needs help. Fire Magazu, hire deposed KC OC Mike Solari for the offensive line. Fire Mike McCoy, and go get an experienced coach - maybe recently fired Rams OC Greg Olson or local hero Steve Logan.
  • Reassign Chryst, and add Pete Metzelaars as TE coach as we should've last year.
  • If Richard Williamson retires, hire Charlie Joyner.
  • Add Mike Rucker to the coaching staff. The technique-driven, aging star is a free agent, and if he'd let us, he'd be a killer coaching assistant. If he responds, he has a strong future; if not, put him in the pro personnel department, or put him in player development under Donnie Shell. Or just put him on Julius Peppers, to teach him good handwork and keep him on the right track.
And, after that, it'd be time to tackle personnel, which is more complicated.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Coaching Carousel Spinning Furiously

Brian Billick has been fired, theoretically along with all of his staff - however, Rex Ryan has appeared to be a front-runner for the job and therefore may be looking toward keeping the assistants.

Brother Rob, with the Raiders, was rumored to be out of a job, following a nasty downturn of a once powerful Oakland defense. But rumors of his release have been replaced by rumors of a veto by head coach - I mean owner - Al Davis, who supposedly overruled Lane Kiffin.

Herm Edwards has dismissed half of his offensive staff - including longtime OL coach and last year's coordinator, Mike Solari, and Hall of Famer/WR coach Charlie Joyner. Solari, as line coach, was the architect of a long-standing incredible OL for KC, and will be a hot prospect in the future for the vacant line jobs.

Mike Nolan is staying, but has released Jim Hostler, offensive coordinator, and may release the rest of the offensive staff. 49ers quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti interviewed Thursday at the University of Tennessee for the position of offensive coordinator on Philip Fulmer's staff. Nolan was rumored to want Brian Billick, Cam Cameron, and Mike Martz in that order, but rumors abound that new GM Scott McClanahan has vetoed Martz. N9netheless, the first and seemingly best candidate is Chan Gailey.

Gailey, along with Mike Mularkey, came available due to unfortunate means, and become no less unfortunate to see the continued retirement of Bill Cowher.

Cam Cameron is officially out, as is GM Randy Mueller. The Dolphins cleaned house, keeping only LB coach George Edwards and a third tier assistant. Parcells has already hired one of his own - the Cowboys' Jeff Ireland, as GM, and looks to interview Cowboys OL coach (and default coordinator after Sean Payton left, but before Parcells left) as head coach.

Sparano and OC Jason Garrett are both interviewing for the Ravens job, but literally almost everyone is. Sparano has the added draw of hiring deposed DC Mike Zimmer as part of his staff, though the Parcells tie makes him (and Zimmer) more likely to go to Miami.

Atlanta Update
GM Rich McKay has apparently not been fired - and is now instead running the show again in Atlanta. He's going to be critically involved in the hiring process for the division rival Falcons.

For now, that looks to be including the GM process, starting with Tom Heckert of Philadelphia. The tricky part is that Heckert, who doesn't have total control in Philadelphia, would need to receive full control from ATL to leave.

The Falcons, as well, have jumped on the bandwagon for Tony Sparano, but apparently declined to interview Jason Garrett. They interview Rex Ryan on Monday. They will interview former Wake Forest head coach Jim Caldwell, partially as a Rooney Rule candidate, and would consider pairing him with Colts assistant GM Chris Polian, though Heckert is much more likely to be hired.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

What Could've Been, Three Times Over

It was funny watching Kerry Collins, gray in his hair, piloting the Titans to the playoffs. It's not unlike letting your kid sister drive into the driveway from up the street after you drove across the country. But, Kerry still has a good ball, and it's hard to begrudge him after 9 1/2 years. Still, he set us back, and so did Dom Capers with that decision (among others).

Coincidentally, this week both Dom (Dolphins staff) and Vic Fangio (Ravens staff) were let go; it probably increases the chance the two work together on a staff together, but it's ironic that they're out of work right now when most of the league isn't.

Also coincidentally, the odd pairing of former Panthers coordinators John Marshall and Gil Haskell with the Seahawks are running in the playoffs.

Another "almost was", of course, retired today. Warren Sapp is done in the league,

Sapp probably was never seriously considered in Carolina with the first, or even fifth, overall pick. Not only was he falling from the top few spots before the draft, but predraft rumblings about marijuana meant that he wouldn't be the new face of a franchise. Nonetheless, he teamed with Derrick Brooks to build a dominant defense that still holds intact today: during the 1998-2001 slump defensively for Carolina, Sapp was at his best, making a Pro Bowl each year and being 1999's defensive Player Of The Year.

Sapp would've most definitely been a dominant lineman in the 3-4: we never had a dominant down lineman in the Dom Capers era. He, along with Greg Kragen and Mike Fox, would've been a very good trio inside, and would've likely given us less reason to haphazardly go after Sean Gilbert. It's inevitable that Sapp would've ended up causing some trouble and eventually leaving, as that was always going to be in his nature. Still, it's intriguing to think what could've happened.

v/s TB, 12/30

The final game of the year was, just as with 2006, unfortunately a useless game for both the Panthers and their foe. After playing division champion New Orleans in week 17 in '06 having been eliminated from the playoffs, the Panthers again traveled to the year's divisional champion without anything to play for and with their opponent's seed in the playoffs cemented.

So, just as last year, we get hope, some of it false, in some strong player performances. Individually, Matt Moore again looked good, Deangelo Williams took a solid stake in being an every down back, and Dante Rosario made another push toward consistent playing time. Richard Marshall had a sack, an INT, and led the team in tackles. We came out with a solid win, and Vinny Testaverde was able to kneel on the game, the season, and his career.

It was a bit of a struggle for Thomas Davis, who was penalized and then was caught in the wrong place behind QB Luke McCown on a 50 yard scramble; Davis couldn't chase the QB down. It was a bleak contrast from the last two games, which had game-changing plays made by Davis, one of which won the game. He's shown a ton of growth as a player, and he's been a force this year. Wasn't fun seeing him not be able to catch a white kid at QB, though. It won't matter that he almost had the sack, or that he flushed the QB, or went off-balance trying to get the sack. That footrace does kinda suck. But, Davis isn't a lesser player for it, and it took long enough to get ten other players in camera view.

Ryne Robinson struggled, too - another fumble, to negate the positivity of a 60 yard KO return.

Tampa sat some starters early, but still kept some vets in. Despite that, the starting line was out there, and we got pressure for once. Without Garcia, it's a different game, though. He deftly sliced through our secondary, using aging Ike Hilliard to put us in the hole before the game had barely started.

It's always nice to finish strong, and with pride. The last month gave us more Deangelo, a little hope in young receivers Rosario, Jarrett, Robinson; the team went down early in these last games and didn't fold. That's the minimum, whereas now we need a good deal more.