Carolina came up with a ten point win against solid competition, opening at home in preseason against New York. Here's how I graded:
Quarterbacks – C+. Clausen made a terrible throw on the pick 6, which should bring this grade down further than it did. It was one mistake, and Carolina didn’t have any others that cost them. Clausen was efficient, though, and that’s a start. The downfield throw to LaFell was nice, and he was fairly accurate. Turned a probable negative – throwing to a doubled Greg Olsen in the endzone – into a positive thanks mostly to Olsen.
Lots of excitement over Newton. A tall guy standing firm in the pocket is nice, but he’s still so green. He’s still inaccurate and fairly inconsistent – he could’ve made a lot more noise if he had hit Armanti Edwards in the endzone while open. He finished 8 of 19 so it’s not as if he was efficient.
Anderson looked solid, as he should as a vet playing in the 4th quarter. That he threw a TD and did allright on 3rd down was nice – that the other two failed to come up with a third down conversion should be troubling.
Running backs – C. Early exit from Jonathan Stewart meant a lot of work for Mike Goodson, who fumbled twice. That’s a concern, and he didn’t get that involved in the passing game. Tyrell Sutton looked fine late, Deangelo Williams looked good but had one good run and a few bad ones (not his fault) and was involved on the INT (bad ball but he didn’t seem aware). Screen was great. Tony Fiammetta looked good receiving, I’ll have to look at his blocking again.
Tight Ends – A. Can’t ask for more. Greg Olsen is going to be a beast, Shockey looks very steady. Hartsock isn’t in his element yet, being the blocker, but now’s when you feel him out for routes anyway; where’s Gary Barnidge been? He’s gotten plenty of chances at this, but looks like he’s finally getting everything he needs. Did as he had in camp – decent hands, routes; a bit of elusiveness from a guy who looked stiff. He has to work on his blocking, where I didn’t see positives or negatives, but his special teams work is suddenly fantastic.
Wide Receivers – B-. Brandon LaFell separated from Legedu Naanee a bit. 31 yard reception to open the game was nice, had another catch brought back because he stepped out of bounds for no reason. The problem is, one good reception apparently gets you a start? That’s not enough productivity. Naanee had one shorter pass, and that’s where he seems to excel. Armanti Edwards did well enough getting open; David Clowney failed to do enough to convince, as of yet, that he earned a job. Seems like Charly Martin played more, and sooner, than Wallace Wright, somewhat dooming Wright (an excellent special teamer who showed promise as a WR last year). Did Martin do enough to earn a spot? Hard to say. Especially if not starting, Naanee fills that vet WR/ST role. Kealoha Pilares made a great play on the screen ball – now let’s see some plays made on other balls.
Offensive Line - C. OK push in run game. Jordan Gross gave up more pressure than necessary – you shouldn’t stand out compared to Garry Williams – interior looked allright. Duke Robinson struggled, and at times seemed to struggle for breath – time to take your career seriously, Duke. CJ Davis looked like a solid backup C. I’m interested to go back and see how Mackenzy Bernadeau and Williams did individually, but I’d still feel better with a vet backup somewhere. Geoff Schwartz and Jeff Otah are fairly key to success at this point.
Offense Overall - B. Third downs hopefully weren't prepared, because they were awful until Anderson came in. That's concerning. Running game made it tougher, and Carolina did face a lot of third and longs. I don't anticipate that being as big a deal during the season.
Ends – C. Underwhelming pass rush so far. Kept good contain, and didn’t make mistakes, and they were down two of their more talented players (Charles Johnson, Greg Hardy). Eric Norwood was at left end, Everette Brown at right end; Norwood was singled out as being more physical, but it didn’t seem to be to his advantage yet. Was somewhat hoping to have heard that the offseason meant a more bulky Brown, which is more commentary than game analysis, but I doubt we’ll ever hear that. Ugo Chinasa was an allright backup that might make the PS because of his size.
Tackles – B+. Giants didn’t put up much on the ground. Starting pair Sione Fua and Corvey Irvin made plays on what may have been offensive miscues, so they’re not an indication of dominant performances, but when spot checked, both get off the ball very fast and into their linemen. Both did shed well on run plays, and Fua does show good short-range movement. He might not chase down the line like Julius Peppers, but he shows that he could still impact moving in the middle. Terrell McClain did well as a backup, another young DT that has a good first step. He can get into his OL a little lower, but if he gets there, he's probably dangerous. He can drive a guy backward when it happens.
Linebackers – B+. James Anderson stood out more in the pass than run, but Omar Gaither and Dan Connor didn’t leave much to clean up. That pair shows a starting level ability to stop the run. Gaither outside, otherwise, seems behind the top four, though I didn’t necessarily note anything that cost the team. Jordan Senn, so far, looks to have wrapped up a spot if he can keep it up – he’s a great ST player, and he showed up well weakside. Thomas Williams was active, though he seems to have become a preseason all-star for successfully coming on a blitz. He might be a practice squadder, if needed. Didn’t see too much of Lawrence Wilson yet, given his nose for the ball; hopefully he picks things up, because he should make the roster. I love our starting linebackers, but having spent on them as I wanted them to, it’s also apparent that they could’ve easily developed at least one guy to start.
Corners – C+. Some plays were made, but the top end players didn’t impress as you might hope. RJ Stanford and Kendric Burney made plays on balls as backups, but I’m going to have to go back and look for more positives from CJ Wilson to stay as a veteran (i.e., cost), and Robert McClain got picked on a bit. Could’ve been worse with top two guys out.
Safeties – A-. We have five good safeties. Charles Godfrey was fine, but Sherrod Martin stood out. Jordan Pugh made some plays, and veteran backups Kevin Payne and Sean Considine were active. All five could make it, even though there’s no reason to keep more than 4; it’s a lot to hang on Martin, but he might be our best cover guy, and he’s as good a nickel as we might have.
Defense overall – B+. Third down was fantastic. Run defense was good. Pass rush wasn’t, and blitzing will have to be as good as advertised.
Special Teams – A-. Good coverage, especially by new standout Gary Barnidge. Blocking on KR can still be better.