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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Taking advantage of Mike Goodson

With last year's 2000 yard, 3rd overall rated running attack, Carolina identified two backs better in their class than anyone they've had - Deangelo Williams set new marks for TDs and yards, while Jonathan Stewart shattered team rookie marks (Stewart's season was 9th best all time for the franchise despite having only one year - just behind 8-9 year players Nick Goings and Brad Hoover). But with a tough schedule in store, and with the team unwilling to rest on its laurels for 2009, they went back to the well to get Mike Goodson. So what can he bring that the other two can't?

The dynamic duo of 2008 can do almost anything, and neither gives away anything to the other - running inside, outside, catching the ball, blocking. Both are complete players. But they likely didn't just bring Goodson in for a few draws and swing passes. Taller and thinner than either Williams or Stewart, he brings receiver ability and specialization to the fold.

The Panthers drafted Goodson and immediately intended him to return kicks, and identified him as being able to play the slot receiver - . What this does more speficially, however, is let them have a specialized player that they can mold week to week to what they need. Most of the below won't be things they couldn't do with Williams or Stewart, but the convenience and specialization would still be better suited to a player like Goodson.

*mimic - One of the easiest things for a team to do is recreate what another team did. If Carolina hasn't run a bubble screen out of trips right, but the Falcons use it against a common opponent to success, it works. If the Saints torch the Patriots with Reggie Bush, for an unlikely example, by running a series of plays designed for him, the Panthers can try those snaps without having to prepare the starters for it, leaving more room for detail.

*Wildcat. The Panthers have never mentioned this as a possibility. Goodson, as well, has never played significant time at quarterback, having been a tailback since high school. Deangelo Williams always used to take these snaps, since 2006; that was before he was a premier back, and if the Panthers want to use anything like this, they can take aside Goodson without keeping Williams from preparing for the base snaps.

*slot. As mentioned before, the Panthers have made it clear they want Goodson to try this role as well. Having a tailback split wide gives you numerous things a WR (especially less-experienced WRs like our backups) won't have experience with - taking pitches, handoffs, ballcarrying behind blocking. Most flanker screens end up setting up similar situations to RB screens, and having a RB on reverses or blocking inside for outside runs would be a benefit.

*Practice. It's not something you draft a RB to fill, but Goodson does fit a different mold than the other RBs, and therefore can act out an opponent's actions in more detail than the starters would. Scouting for an opponent would also show some of the ways that Goodson can perform we hadn't thought through.

*Formation versatility. It goes without saying that a player who can play RB or WR helps you - but when you can go into an empty set from a one-back formation, or split from motion and still have that WR ability, it sets things up. Putting Goodson out with Williams or Stewart leaves the ability to put either back in motion or line up either player anywhere.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Future at LB

2010 is still a year away with 2009 technically yet to start. The LBs are firmly entrenched for this year, but things will be in flux next year when WLBs Thomas Davis and James Anderson become free agents.

The team should look to extend Davis, and Davis should have a good year in the new, more open speed scheme - but with the pending Julius Peppers issue, would they have the money? Davis won't take priority over Peppers, and the team has shown for two years they'll spend as lightly as possible in the event a deal with Peppers is possible.

Anderson, who costs roughly $1.5 million coming into camp, was a restricted free agent, so he's only signed through this year. Having played in only 8 games last year, and no starts (both career lows), Anderson may not make it out of camp at his current price. The one thing that may save him? The threat of losing Davis. As a theoretical four year understudy, Anderson isn't a playmaker, but is a solid coverage LB and an average player if required to start. In a pinch, Anderson could be good enough to start and mentor a young 3rd or 4th round LB from the draft - and Ron Meeks hasn't been able to handpick a LB for his defense yet.

If either or both are retained, it may be the end of the line for Landon Johnson: Johnson is unofficially a backup at all three spots, but Dan Connor is the backup MLB. Anderson is the backup for WLB. If Na'il Diggs stays in a starting spot, would the team keep Johnson as a backup to any of these spots?

Carolina bypassed linebacker in the 2009 draft for the first time since 2003. It was a well deserved break, including two first rounders since 2005 and a 3rd in 2008 and 2006; but the team may need to go to that well again next year to add youth.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Camp battles and a restart of this blog

**No updates for a while into the past. I'm still going to have to recap the back half of the draft from my eyes and may do so. But, with computer problems somewhat solved for the moment and my baby daughter still theoretically two monts or so out, I wanted to re-start some dialogue on this site.

So, here's a few camp battles to watch.

With 21 of 22 starters returning, and #22 being a cut by choice, there aren't many camp battles coming up that will have implications on the base offense or defense. But specialists and depth will take center stage jockeying for roster spots and playing time.

1. Backup QB - it wouldn't be preseason if there wasn't a fight at QB or a fight of opinions over two QBs. Josh McCown wasn't in camp last year and became the uncontested backup since Matt Moore was hurt; it wasn't an outrageous position since he had starting experience and Moore didn't, but the two have never battled. To complicate, Moore became a 2007 hero by winning two of three starts late in the season, after having not been in camp that year. So, now will be the first time the pair will be in camp together, fighting for the backup role.

Impact: None, if Delhomme stays healthy and performs well. History shows it should happen. Odds are that McCown wins and Moore stays 3rd,but history suggests the 3rd guy can get cut for a new player. The team picked up Moore the first week of 2007, and traded for McCown the first week of 2008, having cut previous players at final cutdowns before.

2. Longsnapper - after having the steady but aging hand of Jason Kyle since 2001 (and truthfully, only five long snappers in the franchise history), the team now looks toward a group of unexperienced players -rookie Nick Sundquist from Cal and former Packer/Notre Dame snapper JJ Jansen. Jansen was traded for, giving him a slight edge.

Impact - none, unless miscues happen. Then, it'll be a scramble.

3. Backup DT - The incumbents (Damione Lewis, Ma'ake Kemoeatu) have to prove their worth in a new system, but last year's lack of depth for the aging pair got even worse with letting Gary Gibson go. Rookie Corvey Irvin can penetrate and rush the passer, but there are no backup runstoppers. Strong 2nd year player Nick Hayden struggled, and doesn't fit the new scheme. Marlin Favorite was a gem this time last year at LSU but fell hard, with good reason.

Impact - as it stands, they will have problems putting enough quality on the field, much less giving that pair quality rest in-game. Unless a backup emerges that can hold at the point of attack, the run game may suffer.

4. Backup OL - many are calling this the most critical battle, but ithas the fewest long term implications. The starting line is returning,with three signed long term and a deal for Ryan Kalil is hopeful. Three backups were useful last year; none return, so no experience backs up astrong starting five. At OT, Geoff Schwartz looks to be in their plans at RT; Mackenzie Bernadeau looks to backup Kalil at center. Duke Robinson looks to have some potential at RG. None are guarantees, though, and there's no experience backing up LT. The team invested heavily in undrafted FA and 5th round Robinson in place of experienced backups.

Impact - the top three in the system are all good run blockers. They may struggle if called on, but likely make the roster and play if needed- hopefully they won't. Whoever makes the roster as the 9th player, hopefully won't play any more than these players, and for now, none of them are needed for the future.

5. DE - Julius Peppers has a spot at right end. Tyler Brayton probably starts, but his role seems to be limited - a few base snaps, then moving inside to DT on a passing down or two. Charles Johnson started at rightend with Peppers out in the offseason, and could very well take the role away from Brayton fulltime. And there will always be an urgency to put 2nd rounder Everette Brown on the field. Plus - will Hilee Taylor evenmake the roster as the 5th DE? Separate from the issues at DT, DE is much more talented and yet no less complicated.

Impact: The team should improve in rush, but preseason will be important in determining who will fit what roles and what we can spare to put at DT in a pinch.

6. Nickel CB - The starters seem uncontested - Chris Gamble got a vote of confidence in a $9 mil per year contract, and Richard Marshall looks to receive the other job by default without any other experienced players to challenge (it's fitting that, with 21 starters returning, the one new job is essentially handed to the next player in line).

Impact: The job looks like former afterthought CJ Wilson's job, who had a great camp last year after moving back from safety. 2nd round pick Sherrod Martin will have to prove otherwise. Veteran Dante Wesley looks most likely just a special teamer.

7. Backup LB- it's an outside shot that Na'il Diggs could lose the starting SLB job, but Landon Johnson couldn't do it before. Johnson does fit better in the new scheme, where he can pursue. Some have penciled Dan Connor into the role as well. James Anderson may stick around, but the 4th year backup hasn't shown anything so far and is justa special teamer - at a salary of $1.5 million, they may find a cheaper 6th man.

Impact: None for now. Anderson and Johnson likely aren't around past 2009, and Connor doesn't fit the new scheme. Even if he did, he'scoming off ACL surgery. These backups will likely only play specialteams.

8. Backup TE - Jeff King and Dante Rosario were used specifically enough to suggest either or both are safely on the roster and in theirroles. 3rd string TE Gary Barnidge is similar to Rosario, and 4th man Kevin Brock is a blocking specialist who was undrafted. There's not likely much room for change, but Brock is a former WR with solid ability for his pricetag, and at 6'6, 275, could be that goal TE that they used guard Geoff Hangartner to fill last year.

Impact: last year only the starting two played extensively. The third player will have to block on special teams, occasionally at the goal,and hope for a chance next year with King a free agent.

9. Slot WR - Dwayne Jarrett is the eternal heir apparent at WR, and can be a good outside receiver when expected to contribute. But at hisheight and weight, his ability to box out corners and outjump defenders doesn't translate to the route-running or improvisation needed at nickel. It might not translate to anything, but Ryne Robinson is a good fit, and rookie RB Mike Goodson has a shot at taking these snaps as well, having been asked specifically by the team to handle the role. The pair also duplicate each other as returners and match speed roles.
Impact: If the team chooses to use Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad as the outside receivers, and they should, the 3rd guy needs to be a good slot player. Chances are they'll mix these players situationally and none will have a ton of receptions. If there's an injury up front, Jarrett likely gets the job essentially uncontested and therefore a big share of receptions.

10. Kick and punt returner - Goodson and Robinson could complement each other as kick returner and punt returner, or one could easily take both roles.
Impact: Either could have a big impact on field position from this role.Both are gambles, and may be downgrades from Mark Jones,