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Friday, August 28, 2009

Lombardi on Blue Chips

Mike Lombardi recently rated the league's Blue Chip players, and in his estimation Carolina is one of the more blessed teams, not one of the least. The former Oakland personnel man, who had been and is again a commentator for the league, rated Carolina to have as many as any in the league: six.

RB DeAngelo Williams, WR Steve Smith, DE Julius Peppers, MLB Jon Beason , LT Jordan Gross and CB Chris Gamble; he felt that RT Jeff Otah and DT Damione Lewis "almost blue".

It's absolutely impossible to argue against the blues, though of the list Chris Gamble is of the least accolades. Sure, Deangelo Williams hasn't garnered a Pro Bowl either, and he hasn't done it as long. But leading the league in touchdowns is a tremendous feat, one that should've gained him a Pro Bowl. Gamble's recent ascension into the best of the DBs for Carolina happened mid-2007; it was complete by late 2008, with Gamble getting a huge extension and Ken Lucas being cut. But Gamble isn't yet an elite playmaker, and we'll see how his physical style works with the bump and run coverage of the cover 2. Is a physical corner a good fit for

The other four? Indisputable. Pro Bowlers, and amongst the best at their positions. Gross has the most to live up to, to stay in that group, the others are almost perennially great.

That second group - "almost blue". There's no doubt that Jeff Otah is on his way to greatness, if he can continue to produce the way he did in 2008. The only thing that puts him above fellow young linemen Travelle Wharton or Ryan Kalil is his dominating size (which always suggests potential), and the idealism that OT is a tougher position than the others. Otah is more irreplaceable - tackles really are more important. But is Otah physically better? That's not a slight to Otah - Wharton and Kalil were huge last year for Carolina.

Also, is Lewis a dominant player? Of anyone on this list, Lewis is the least dominant; for a top pass rusher, he doesn't have a ton of sacks. He's a former top 15, of a big college program. We absolutely have to have Lewis right now, and he's a great fit for the new defense. Will the new, penetrating defense help Lewis' game? Hopefully. But without a legitimate starter opposite him, will it matter?

Meanwhile, Thomas Davis looks like he's on the fringe of the best in the league, and there's no doubt the scheme will benefit Davis, and therefore the team. It's my contention that losing Davis to bide time in the Julius Peppers situation would potentially wreck the defense.

The Chris Harris of 2007 and early 2008 would be in this list - we're just waiting for that player to return. Clearly, the team feels like Everette Brown and Jonathan Stewart are this type player, but let's let time cycle through on these guys.

So what does this mean, in the long run?

*Carolina's drafted well. Lewis is the only player of the eight players mentioned that has ever played for anyone but Carolina. All of them, of course, have been acquired by Marty Hurney and coached up by John Fox. They've made some mistakes, but this is remarkable.

*all but Lewis is under 30. Steve Smith is 30.

*the team can obviously use all the development they can get, but the need for stars is essentially over if they can keep who they have. The team needs strength, roleplayers, and a full roster. Right now they essentially have that outside DT.

*No bluechip QB. Jake Delhomme has never been that guy, and never will be. I don't think a John Fox QB ever could be, save one of the absolute best. There were 7 bluechip QBs; there were 2 bluechip backups. There aren't a ton to go around, and the Panthers aren't going to be that team for a while. The backups are no less blue collar.

*Does Steve Smith look like a John Fox guy to anyone? Not really. He's a hard worker and a gritty guy, but in the end he's the type star Fox would never let go because he's the type guy he'd never go get.

*Gross and Gamble were heady signs last year; looks like the problem with the cap will continue to be a problem when Davis becomes a free agent, along with Richard Marshall. Julius Peppers probably makes it back onto the franchise market. The team won't have enough money to do it all. They want to keep Davis more than Marshall, but will they get either? Davis, in this defense, should be a star, but it's hard to say that will help him stay.

This isn't an All-Pro or Pro Bowl type accolade, of course. There's no "you were the third best, so you almost get in". There's no numbers game. It's individual recognition at a team level.

As an aside, it's fantastic how blogs are. I found this blog, on a blog. Not only that, it was a blog of a fan, blogging about a blog of a writer, blogging about Lombardi, a commentator. It's interesting that blogs are no longer opinion - they're a cascading wave of thought, slowly adding thought to someone else's idea (if adding anything at all). Interesting, just as much as it slowly loses its commentary power to twitter.
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