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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Workouts: Newton's Opportunity?

Jordan Gross and Travelle Wharton, two of the team's higher paid players and their two most consistent linemen, have started a players only team camp. Assembled at Charlotte Christian's playing fields includes about 35 Panthers, 15 or so free agent Panthers, and a paid Charlotte police officer to fend off media and fans.

Certainly, there are no coaches there. No scouts or staff. So Gross and Wharton are the defacto leaders. Not completely by accident, they're also the two players (aside from Steve Smith, who's absent) that still remember the Coryell offense from under Dan Henning.

Who else knows it? Well, Cam Newton, to a point. It's no secret that he's worked at IMG with Ken Dorsey, who played under Rob Chudzinski at Miami, and Chris Weinke, who was here in Carolina for Henning's tenure here. They drill the offense, along with other workouts, in his time there daily.

So, given that three guys know it, and there are no coaches there, it looks like a great time for Newton to step into a leadership role and help the other youth learn the offense. There's nothing but young receivers out there, for instance - great way to get to know them.

Speaking of opportunity, it'd be great to know the inner workings of this camp. For instance, if I was Gross or Wharton, clearly I'd have Mike Minter and Mike Rucker out there teaching the defense. I'd look hard at the costs of putting Dorsey or Weinke on a plane to help out. I'd have to hire someone trustworthy to keep things organized.

I know that this isn't necessarily about hardcore installation of the offense and defense, and it's not about drills. It's expected to be about teamwork, getting to know each other, and certainly establishing leadership on a young team that didn't see much of it last year. But there's an opportunity there, to bring in friendly faces to help.

Absent that, hopefully Newton takes the reins and covers that himself.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Draft Summary

As time goes, how these guys fit, who they really are, these things will be written. For now, there's time for a summary on what we did.

Draft Overview

A few quick hits on the 2011 draft.

*Cam Newton, right or wrong, is the star. We needed one, and a QB that you have to stick with.
*To go with that, Carolina picked up a shorter, but very explosive, receiver that fits the Coryell O and has both speed and production. They finished with two linemen that were great value.

What they missed:
TE. There were plenty of guys with quality left at the end of the draft, and I'm sure they'll come up with resolution on their two free agents, but it would've made sense to add a body.

*Hand picking two DTs was a good idea, and Rivera explained it well in relation to the LBs playing "sideways". Pairing that with a talented but unfocused CB and weakside LB fixes the major needs.

What they missed:
Value, possibly. McClain was good, but as quality as Fua is, he was maybe a round high. Hogan was in range, but risky prospects aren't good value. Wilson was good value. Picking for need rarely comes with great value, though, and with the existing youth they had to pick the spots to improve.

Any impact for special Teams?
Lawrence Wilson will definitely add something. If Hogan is healthy, he may contribute. Technically, our long snapper the last two years came from this draft in a 7th round trade. Otherwise, not a lot. Maybe Pilares plays a little here as well, having size and strength for his height.

Did they hedge against possible FA losses?
Not really. Wilson at LB might add back depth lost with Anderson probably gone and Davis still rehabbing. Didn't protect at TE but did sign Shockey.

They still can't afford to lose Charles Johnson or Ryan Kalil, but hopefully wont. They didn't need to guard against Deangelo Williams but spoke a few different times as if he was a part of things anyway.

Did they improve?
Assuming both DTs can play, or they add a vet to go with the new duo, they should impact the run defense enough to allow third downs to be more impactful. Hogan at CB will depend on his rehab.

It's impossible to really predict Newton's short term impact, and Pilares is a bit of duplication as a young WR, but might be their best slot player right now. The linemen probably don't play right off.

So, it looks like the DTs are 'it', and whatever happens with Newton, for immediate impact. But without a 2nd, and without free agency, three likely starters on a team that's terribly young isn't bad. Guys like Wilson, Pilares look like they can work onto the field situationally already.

*Lack of BPA
This team definitely took need players, and for that, they lost some value. They also, in some spots, took guys who might not be "ready" - linemen that could add strength, speed guys who are coming off injury.

That looks like a bad thing, and maybe it is, but it's a unique year. The team has tons of youth already, so they had to pick and choose who fit best, who might make the most impact - along with the obvious hole at DT.

The move away from BPA is, hopefully, a one year thing. This team's best picks have often come when not necessarily needed at that point.

*Moving Forward?
FA should still net a vet QB. There isn't much room for a vet WR now, and that may or may not still be true if Steve Smith is traded. There are now 4 young WR that need to see the field, and experience will be missed. Wallace Wright may not have room to stick, but his previous Coryell experience might mean he's not cut right away and might go into camp.

There's still room for a FA DT, and if they wanted, a FA cornerback, but neither would be huge signings. A backup tight end might make sense if neither incumbent returns.


It's no secret to anyone paying attention that it was hard to lose the 33rd overall pick in the draft, and as we now know the Patriots took cornerback Ras-I Dowling with the pick.

What else was there?

Carolina could've upgraded DT earlier, with the ox-strong but still athletic Stephen Paea; TE Kyle Rudolph would've been a great long term solution.

Two Linemen to finish drafting

At the end of the draft, I'll be honest, I was done. I finished the 6th round at a park with my daughter and finished the 7th at a bar with friends. Then my daughter got sick (rotovirus) and so I've just recovered from about five days of no eating. Coupled with a quick trip to Atlanta for Donald Glover, and Mother's Day, well, eventually you have to get back on the wagon.

At any rate: we finally picked linemen. Our final two picks were both compensatory picks, and both fill out the line roster with ability and smarts.

6 (203) - Zach Williams, G/C, Washington State (6'3, 306) is an interior lineman because he's a bit stiff in the midsection, but he has good enough feet for the zone blocking game we're running. He has a nasty streak, has a good punch in his blocks, and slides well. He has experience with the shotgun snap, is able to do so looking forward, and is a technically sound center with good ability to adjust and order teammates around.

7 (244) - Lee Ziemba, T, Auburn (6'6, 317) is a fairly athletic, long armed tackle who started for four years in the SEC. Considered by many to be a top 100 pick, Ziemba could've been picked from the 4th on and it wouldn't have been considered an issue. He's not a great physical prospect - he's already his size, but struggled to pull a 20 x225 bench press, and his 40 time was 5.6. But, he's an aggressive lineman with good feet that can become a good right tackle.

He was also the LT for Cam Newton, but that's a feel-good story and linemen aren't feel good stories.

Williams and Ziemba make a lot of sense, especially this late. While the line is all but set - assuming Ryan Kalil returns, and he should, it means 4 of the 5 expected starters are under contract at least two years - depth is an issue. Certainly, Jeff Otah can't be a guarantee, having missed more time in his three years than anyone on the line, and while Geoff Schwartz filled in well at G and T, he can't do both.

Plus, linemen picks are necessary every year. Did last year's lack of OL doom them last year? Not alone, but that, and lacking anything veteran, did skin them too close after apparently lucking out in 08 and 09 (it's still amazing that Frank Omiyale is so well paid now). This year's pair should work like 08's, to give them a roll of the dice and see who can play at a high level for cheap. You need players like this.