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Sunday, August 21, 2011

v/s Miami, 2nd Preseason

What a mess. Looks like, to a point, a young team came in a lot less ready, and possibly more full of itself, than last week.

Make no mistake, Cam Newton isn't ready. He lacked last week's poise, and had more bad mechanics plays than last week. There were a few runs, and suddenly it was realized that simply taking off isn't worth a first down anymore. Needless to say, Newton's going to be involved this year, but it's a lot less than many anticipated. Of course, 7-14 looks better than last week's 8 of 19, but there weren't many downfield passes. And I don't believe 4 rushes for 18 yards was what he envisioned out of his first start, either.

Jimmy Clausen was an efficient 9 for 15, but didn't often come up with any more efficiency than Newton. There was only one deep shot downfield - a David Clowney shot that came back - so the theory of a deep ball offense ended up looking more West Coast than Coryell. There was no Derek Anderson - the guy who came in at the end of last week and was not only the first guy to get a 3rd down conversion, but also a scoring drive. At this point, I know they will have to field Newton doing something, but I almost want to see Anderson starting more than Clausen (who deserves another shot here, if possible, before eventually being sent off for value). At this point the team is more important than either young QB, both of which are just so green. I also wouldn't mind winning a few football games and don't see it happening without third down conversions.

The defense, of course, got plenty of work in, 2010 style. They couldn't get off the field, in the same fashion that the offense couldn't stay on. They had trouble stopping Reggie Bush, the perfect guy to thwart a blitzing defense - his draws and swing passes gave him 88 yards from scrimmage quickly. A rusty Thomas Davis had some great plays, and some misses. Same for James Anderson. The backup defense quickly entered around the second quarter, while the expensive Miami OL pounded them for long drives.

Complex v/s Simple; Conservative v/s Simple

Very interesting to read ongoing discussion about the changes in scheme, and that’s one of the great things about regime change in the NFL – the newness extends out to the systems and why the new system is going to be ‘better’. I don’t mean that derisively toward the new coaches – I legitimately like what both coordinators have installed. Past that there’s a relative guarantee that any well coached team will have success, and that change to a new system brings an initial bump of play from players who were ground down in the last one.

But we’re definitely more complex this year, a bit of an issue that has cost coaches the ability to install plays with young players. The offense is significantly pared down, and the defense may not be able to work in much multiple-front defense (3-4 looks, moving personnel around, and things like the newer fads – Psycho defense, one or two DL type sets). A simpler set might’ve been almost fully installed by now.

Some of this is prompted by this very good article about the implementation of a simple philosophy coach (Tom Moore) into the world of a young quarterback and OC combo (Mark Sanchez/Brian Schottenheimer). The Jets are a Coryell team like us, and because that means 100 ways to do one thing, it definitely clashes with the ideals Moore uses (which allowed a quarterback more options on the field).

Story here:

In that, you see that success is the end goal, and scheme isn’t.

Steve Smith, for instance, has legitimate gripes about some things. Maybe in past years he lined up at Split End/ X receiver too often. I’m sure the Dan Henning years meant Smith at X, a middling tight end or Ricky Proehl as the inside option (to QB’s right), and Muhsin Muhammad or inadequate stand-in at the flanker/Z receiver. Smith had a lot of success at that. Last year, having had the ability to chart some plays for a company interested in such a thing, Smith did actually move around a lot, and obviously spent a lot more time in the slot than he had since becoming a starter in 2002 (If I remember right, even as a reserve in 2001, he got mostly outside plays), and he did move sides of the field a lot. Of course, in the article above, you read that Marvin Harrison sat at the X, Reggie Wayne at the Z, and that’s just how it was. That seemed to work out allright. It seemed to work that Smith’s best years were being stuck over there on the left side – it’s not as if he went to the Super Bowl running all over the field in motion, or won the Triple Crown in 2005 working from the slot.

It brings up, extended from that, whether the criticized offense from 2010 was held back from greater success because it lacked creativity. More to the point, was simplicity the problem?

Being conservative certainly hurt, as it likely did for much of John Fox’s tenure. But was simplicity part of it? It seems that conservative play would’ve been the right thing for a timid, unready rookie quarterback.

Clausen’s conservative nature didn’t help, either. He rarely displayed his deep arm last year (even Brian St. Pierre – remember him? – could, having thrown an 88 yard TD against the Ravens’ solid defense), and the one thing John Fox definitely wants is to lure you to sleep on offense and eventually take a deep shot (especially if you ever get to the opponents’ 35, or directly after a turnover). Clausen did more dumping off than most, and yet was still inaccurate on shorter passes, completing under 60% of them. Even Matt Moore completed over 80% short.

On the complex side, Jeff Davidson gets a bad rap. Certainly, he needed to go down with the ship, but play design wasn’t of the most timid; I often read things like “we need to line Dante Rosario up wide”, and can immediately remember that happening many times. I read all these exotic things that seemed improbable, and unlikely to work ideas that fans stated Davidson wouldn’t ever do – I remember specifically a 3rd and 12 from Carolina’s own 15, trailing on the road against Cleveland in a game they almost won. Clearly, John Fox draw territory. It was a 3 WR, shotgun formation, atypical of draw formations; it had max protect with two backs, again atypical of a Panther team that kept 2 TE on the field more than almost anyone. Scissors draw to Rosario. Of course that seems like a bad place to give a guy his first NFL carry, but there’s strategy to it.

Of course, none of that excuses a lack of execution, or an owner’s decree that we needed more youth that meant having no veteran players outside Steve Smith in the passing game. Two rookie receivers and a rookie quarterback is, at the least, something that tends toward confusion rather than success. None of it excuses Davidson’s biggest failure over the tenure, the screen game he promised would open things up (and the easiest misdirection pass to execute if you drill it right). The Pats ran it flawlessly, and this was that sytem. We were given the idea that there were tons of ways to run it, with various players; already it feels like we’re a better screen team than we were over those four years.

In the end, you have to tailor to what works. It’s good to see that there’s apparently some one-read stuff in Cam Newton’s future – hopefully not too much – and that some Wildcat will be out there. I’ve got mixed feelings about the option, but as long as it doesn’t cost us points in the redzone (the assumed place you’d throw a read option in), it fits what we can do. if that means that Sean McDermott has to be oversighted on exotic blitzes, do it (I’ll say our LBs are experienced enough to handle it, though); if you’re running with a young QB you don’t have to pull out all 900 pages of playbook.

So, maybe the lockout benefits a complex team afterall – the necessity of short time creating a more compact, more simple philosophy. For this year, anyway.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Dorsey joins Panthers Amid Controversy?

Ken Dorsey, who worked with Cam Newton at Chris Weinke's IMG Academy, is now an Advance Scout with Carolina., as it often does with Carolina, attempted to drum up controversy, suggesting that Dorsey had directly worked with Newton as a Carolina employee in waiting. There seems to be no backing behind the rumor.

Nonetheless, Dorsey, the former Miami Hurricanes quarterback, joins Carolina at a very interesting time. As one of the winningest college quarterbacks of all time, Dorsey played under current Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski; that franchise - I mean, program - has come under heavy fire recently suggesting that a booster has given thousands upon thousands to UM players, which apparently could include Panther Jon Beason and possibly new Panther/Beason's 7th floor crew mate Greg Olsen.

This is essentially a non-story for Carolina - despite its heavy UM influence this year - in that nothing negative could come from the players or coaches here. That franchise seems somewhat screwed, but for Carolina's own benefit, it seems to have gotten some of that Miami swagger. Hopefully it comes without too much of the controversy.

As for Dorsey, he won't be working with Newton (at least, not now) - he's an advance scout, a pair of eyes on the next opponent. He'll work, with former Redskins TE Don Warren, under pro scouting director Mark Koncz. The pair both have a long history with the Coryell offense, with Warren winning three rings under that offense. Neither are coaches, neither will work with players. It's an interesting link, however, and it's rare that the Panthers talk much about their scouts.

Dorsey, of course, could be groomed to coach, and the IMG experience couldn't have hurt. Dorsey was also interested in high school coaching before being hired by Carolina, and had at one point taken on a job as a high school's offensive coordinator. So, the want is possibly there.

As a less interesting sidenote, Dorsey was with Chudzinski as a Brown in 2007; he competed with new Panther Derek Anderson for a job that year, with the pair losing to Charlie Frye in week 1; Frye was traded that next week, and Anderson went on to a Pro Bowl year.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Grades, V/S New York

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.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Starting Opening Day, Toda

If I had to guess on the Panthers' starting lineup today, based on everything up to fanfest:

QB: Clausen - he's led the group out every time so far. I know they have no determination on this yet, but he's got more experience. Even with this being the case, I would anticipate Newton will play select portions of every game. Anderson and Pike are in a separate group.

RB: Williams - there's no doubt. I also imagine that he'll only continue to get more features with the new contract.

WR: Smith, Naanee - games will play this one out. I think Naanee's experience and size will matter. Will he stay a starter? Probably not - his production longterm hasn't been great (less than LaFell or Gettis).

TE: Shockey, Olsen. This pair has worked together a good bit, so I imagine they'll start games together in lieu of FB Tony Fiammetta. Look for Hartsock and Barnidge to work together, awkward since they're probably fighting for one roster spot.

OL: Gross-Wharton-Kalil-Schwartz-Otah.
No other options if everything goes well, but the focus would be on the RG if so. Schwartz has been the best, most consistent player outside of the top 4, but could see Mackenzy Bernadeau starting instead. Watch their pass blocking to see who's better.

LDE: Johnson.

NT: Fua. Unless someone else is picked up in the meantime, I'd suggest Fua is the starter and Andre Neblett is his backup.

UT: Irvin. It's a nice surprise that Corvey Irvin is playing well. Can he hold off Terrell McClain?

RDE: Everette Brown. He's more ideal for this D, but Greg Hardy didn't help himself with the injury either.

LBs: Anderson, Beason, Davis. Assuming nothing bad, there's no other options to decide excepting whether to keep a 7th LB (Gaither, Connor, and Lawrence Wilson should have an exceptional preseason, they're all players; none of them could overtake this trio however).

CB: Gamble, Munnerlyn. Concern isn't this pair, it's everything behind them, excepting a good vet pickup.

FS: Godfrey, Martin. Martin impressed the team enough that Ron Rivera said that Sherrod Martin might move to CB for nickel. It makes sense - but maybe Jordan Pugh can play well enough to move Martin down permanently.

Fanfest: Naanee Makes Team

Made it to fanfest, and I'll just run down observations in a list.

*Only thing I tweeted about: Naanee. Wearing 6, this was his first practice, but you'd never know it. While he doesn't look fast, he's very sudden in shorter space. He doesn't look 220 lbs, either, which is big for any WR. His combine numbers included a 4.41 40, and that's actually relevant to a WR.
He came in and did very well at redzone receiving - a nice jump considering he landed in town the day before. Assuming he hasn't forgotten how to play special teams, he's in. I don't know who's out - Pilares and Edwards were both good, LaFell and Gettis were both hurt. Clowney was solid outside when used and Wright had a couple nice catches. If I had to guess at this point, Wright and Clowney become casualties of numbers and Gettis is traded (if he can get over his hamstrings and show up on-field).

Naanee was the only thing that I truly learned of interest, but plenty of observations were confirmed.
*Clausen is efficient. Looks like his release point is higher. He's more accurate, you can tell that coach Shula has done some positive things there. He doesn't push the ball downfield much, which is a shame because he has a solid deep arm. He just doesn't pull the trigger.

*Newton has a big arm. Newsflash, right? Still has trouble with accuracy on some outs. One thing that was new? Screen. There was a good screen to Goodson where he was able to do more than just fade a little bit. I see that in our future, a fake bootleg that draws more defenders in, and then dumps to the screen. Most screen action by the quarterback keeps a backpedal, instead of flipping the hips and moving around.

*Pike and Anderson took no snaps in scrimmage type situations. Weird. I guess they start running out of numbers but why not give someone like Pete Hoener, who has coordinating experience, and Scott Turner as coaches to oversee a B-team offense? Get some other players reps on the other half of the field. I think guys like Tyrell Sutton or Darvin Adams, who would've looked good in a normal Fanfest, got almost no time at all. I think they were low on linemen, though, so may have been hard to put together two extra units.

*short on CBs, and no one distinguished themselves. With Chris Gamble still gaining strength after stomach issues, and Captain Munnerlyn having a calf issue, that left CJ Wilson and new pickup Chevis Jackson as the most experienced CBs out there. Neither were standing out, and the young corners were worse.

Gamble and Munnerlyn are probably enough to start, but any team out there will look to spread Carolina and get a subpar corner on the field. I guess Kelvin Hayden wants too much money, because otherwise he's the best physical corner out there.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

WR Naanee signed

Carolina, after having offered WRs Santana Moss and Malcolm Floyd low contracts, gave one to Chargers WR Legedu Naanee.

The 6'2, 220lb former Boise State receiver was a special teamer only in his first two years, and openly complained about the role. Getting more time the last two years, he caught 24 balls for 242 yards in 09, with 2 TD; he caught 23 for 371 yards with 1 TD last year.

He was also arrested for public intoxication, at the scene of a homicide, while in Indianapolis over the offseason.

That aside, Naanee is a top flight special teamer who has direct knowledge of our offense. He's a tall posession receiver who's been mildly productive.

So is Wallace Wright, and so is Charly Martin (exceptng the part about our offense).

While I don't want to marginalize the youth, and specifically Brandon LaFell, it seems as if the big WR/Special Teamer is a position on this roster. That trio - Naanee, Wright, Martin - looks to be fighting for one spot.

It's hard to say what will happen with the rest - Steve Smith is on, and you can imagine LaFell and David Gettis have an inside line. There's one from the trio above for a special teams role, which makes four; that leaves one slot guy (Armanti Edwards or Kealoha Pilares). Maybe both of the last two will fit, but with three of the top four guys being bigger players, it's likely Steve Smith ends up in the slot.

I'm glad that it was Naanee, and not a greater, more esteemed player. Naanee can earn a spot on the roster, or he can be let go. It's a one year deal, no harm no foul. If there's an injury, there's probably no competition, which leaves us with a bit of a comfort level.

Now, for a cornerback.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Carolina Doesn't Need Malcolm Floyd

Recent rumors from Jason LaCanfora put Carolina in the hunt for WR
Michael Floyd.

A big, prototype Coryell receiver that just happens to come from the Chargers, obviously the same team that HC Ron Rivera and OC Rob Chudzinski left this offseason, Floyd does make sense here. Looking around, Pat Yasinskas says Carolina took a run at Santana Moss with a 3 year, $15 million contract that Moss had the Redskins match. If that's the case, I wonder why the team didn't make a stab at Derrick Mason, who
would've been a fairly cheap one year deal.

Until you look around and see what else we have.
Some are lower on David Gettis or Brandon LaFell than I am. I see their combined 1000 or so yards with terrible QB play, and see promise. I don't see Gettis as a one route guy at all - I don't see LaFell as a big stump with no hands. That's absurd. What I see is what I see in Floyd - a pair of big, tall receivers with a wide catching radius. In Gettis I also see the ability to get deep, a necessity in this offense. LaFell can even get deep when needed (see the amazing should've-been catch, bad officiating call from the end of the Cleveland game) and come down with a ball. Honestly, if you could get Gettis a little thicker, you'd have an almost ideal player once he has another year on him.

But, let's negate that. Let's say the 2nd and 3rd WR are less critical. I'd disagree - you have to have quality anywhere possible - but on the surface, I see the need to target Steve Smith with 10 balls. I see the need to get Deangelo Williams 15 total touches, and Jonathan Stewart and Mike Goodson should split around 20. Split Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey for another 10 at least. All those sound reasonable. And
that's 55 plays before you throw to any of four young receivers.

Floyd would be a steal at the $3 million a year being quoted. The staff knows him. It seems ideal, had we not burned four draft picks on wide receivers.

Monday, August 1, 2011

King/Newton - Quiet Fued

Peter King may have been mad as he'll be all year, during his training
camp visit.

It was a good time to visit - in the wake of bigtime signings and the
CBA, of which owner Jerry Richardson had a major part, and early in the
camp process for an energetic young team. Before the pads come on, and
while the young skill players can still run around in shorts (what they
do best at this point). Before technique matters, before a guy larger
than you is bearing his weight on your shoulders.

But King's goal was a snippet from Cam Newton, by all means the ongoing
biggest story in camp. Newton is a lightning rod, and always will be.
He's had a very good offseason, by all means, working hard and saying
the right things, but as King found out, Newton isn't always talking.

John Ellis, of the212radio, was within arm's reach of Newton snubbing
King. King was livid - he's a name national reporter in a sea of
content, one of the few old-guard print guys to have fully grasped new
media to continue his place in the conversation. Newton, rumored to be
unhappy about a pre-draft exchange where he'd said the now-famous
"entertainer and icon" line, walked by without saying a word.

"I was walking with Charlie Dayton to the parking lot after practice, and here comes Peter King, pissing and moaning about Cam", Ellis said. "He told Charlie that he came down here to get an exclusive and now he was being blown off."

I'm not always a fan of King's, but reading his MMQB column today I
notice that it could've been a fine pulpit for him to decry an immature
Newton and cause waves for a guy who has had character issues in the
past. He declined to do so, and spoke highly of the team and camp
environment in general. He praised Greg Olsen, working with a Juggs
machine. He praised the way things were run there, and talked about the
aura a personality like Newton brings, and how long he signed
autographs. Nothing about the snub.

That's professionality, and hopefully Newton notices and learns, rather
than feeling like he got away with one. Now's the time to build a
relationship, clear the air on something that caused neither any harm,
rather than drag on a grudge.

Newton's actions aren't the type that I worried about pre-draft (or
post-draft). The last thing I honestly expected of him would be to pass
up media. Is it that big a deal? Honestly, no. But, being a #1
overall means being a face of the franchise. It means building good
will, not squandering it.