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Friday, August 31, 2012

Pittsburgh – Preseason Aftermath

Some starters played a series or two – some starters none at all.  In a game that seemed to take forever, Carolina fell one point short after missing two field goals and a two point conversion.  A quick wrapup with a concentration on what it meant for the roster battles:

It appears Carolina came out unscathed from injury, a resounding positive.  Beyond that, the ideal was to come in and provide some closure on a few battles.

First, at QB – Derek Anderson had middling success at first, but led a long drive for a FG.   Jimmy Clausen led what could’ve been a gamewinning drive, threw for 2 TD (more than he’d thrown in any game as a Panther prior) and 160 yards (more than all but four games as a Panther), thanks in no small part to a 79 yard touchdown by Lamont Bryant, one of the rookie free agent WR – the other TD caught by fellow UDFA Jared Green.  Clausen has trouble connecting on the deep passes, and had a couple skittish moments in the pocket, but is finally looking like a guy who already has a year starting in the NFL.

RB – Tauren Poole came off concussion; he and recent roster re-add Armond Smith took most of the snaps and did a fantastic job running in the zone.  It’d be nice to get one on the practice squad.

WR – Ajirotutu and Louis Murphy started; Murphy is clearly the better receiver over time and while Ajirotutu knows the offense and has a little more experience, I wouldn’t put him ahead of Kealoha Pilares for the #4 job. Pilares has grown and has a lot of ability, and the deep speed to take advantage of safeties floating into his area.  So that leaves Ajirotutu versus Armanti Edwards, who had a middling night returning and failed to come down with many of his targets – he does fine when uncovered, but doesn’t get much separation.
Green is fairly explosive for a UDFA and should stick on the PS if he’s able to clear waivers; Lamont Bryant’s size might’ve pushed him there, too.

TE – didn’t get much feel for Ben Hartsock tonight.  He probably stays, but he doesn’t get much separation and outside of the one diving catch this preseason, hasn’t impressed me much.  Gary Barnidge got some good looks (so did Joe Jon Finley...) and should be the #2, but doesn’t block that well.   Richie Brockel, who can play both spots, might stick, but it would come at the expense of another spot.

OL – the preseason TV squad got the starting lineup wrong, and it was hard to keep track as players moved around.  The young starters didn’t play.  Mike Pollak is a solid center.  Jeff Byars was OK at guard, but not a good center over preseason.  Bruce Campbell is definitely on this squad and likely active; good trade.  With he and Pollak as the 6th and 7th guys, but I really have no idea who else should be kept.  I would suggest Garry Williams has a spot, but I don’t feel that confident in him myself; that probably would leave a random guard – Browning, Wells possibly – as #9 if they kept that many.

DT – does appear that Frank Kearse is still as good as we have. I didn’t see Andre Neblett much but it’s suggested he played – see you in four weeks, goober.  Terrell McClain had a great pressure early but still has inconsistent technique and pad level.  I didn’t see many gap integrity issues overall, so that’s a start.  Right now it appears, minus Neblett, that Kearse starts with Edwards, Fua and McClain are regular contributors depending on whether there’s room for both on the active roster; I would also suggest that both Nate Chandler and Ryan Van Bergen are worthy of the practice squad.

DE – Charles Johnson sat; Greg Hardy had a couple rushes and went out; Antwan Applewhite came in occasionally and worked a few packages before being pulled, leaving the remaining rushes to Frank Alexander and Thomas Keiser.  Keiser’s all over the place, constantly making things happen.  Alexander is clearly still learning; both made some big plays.   All five make the squad.  Van Bergen got time at end as well, and did OK for someone as slow as he shows from end. He’s not exceptional in either role, but makes sense if Carolina needed to call up a body later.

LB – with the three vets sitting, Luke Kuechly played a series or so and got out.  Jason Phillips did his customarily solid job between the tackles and it was nice to see him here under a full camp.  Jordan Senn struggled a bit but made his customary run plays (he also looks a lot like the burgular in those awful CPI Security ads). Jason Williams was active and rushed from OLB a few times, potentially seeing if he can mirror Applewhite. Kenny Onatolu didn’t play, and that may make a difference.   David Nixon was fairly sharp for a 3rd teamer, and I wouldn’t be opposed to him staying on in the practice squad; Kion Wilson not as much.

CB – Chris Gamble sat; Captain Munnerlyn was out for only a while, and Josh Norman worked the half. Norman didn’t, that I’m aware, get a target, and appears to have been playing a fair amount of man coverage.

S- DJ Campbell got his first real action of the preseason, putting in 4 tackles and 2 assists. Nice to see extended action of the 7th rounder.  Reggie Smith played, and didn't stand out despite being a veteran.

Preseason Wrapup

So what did we learn in preseason?
Special Teams could continue to be special in the wrong direction. Hope not.
We learned that you can pick up backs off the street and they can have a level of success in the right situation.  Tauren Poole and Armond Smith were fantastic by the end of preseason.  I love Jonathan Stewart, but I worry about the overall monetary commitment.  Is Stewart that much better?  Absolutely. Would a scatback type like Poole that can hit the seam well enough and catch a ball or two do fine enough in a massive emergency?  Probably.  Actually, i don’t remember seeing Poole or Smith block, or do much in the pass at all, so who knows if either can. 
Which, between the level of contribution that the 2012 draft has provided, and some of the talent Carolina picked up as undrafted free agents, their scouting department is hitting on a much higher level than, for instance, 2009 (which was a disastrous draft) or 2010 (potentially obsolete, minus Brandon Lafell and Greg Hardy).  It doesn’t hurt to have a full offseason, to know what you already have (an issue in 2011) or even just stability in coaching (09-10’s issue). Hopefully that’s a good sign for the future.
From my perspective, I saw growth from the defense, which was necessary.  It’s hard to say how much of it’s legitimate growth, and how much of it’s just the addition of new guys (including injury return guys).  Obviously, Luke Kuechly’s as good as advertised.  Jon Beason will make a huge difference.  Ron Edwards looks like he can penetrate well, hold at the point of attack well.   Josh Norman seems legitimately as good as advertised – good, since on night two of the draft I was legitimately interested in him in round 2 and he went in the 5th (yikes).  Haruki Nakamura should make a difference in simply getting to the right spot at the right time, adding some fire to a lackadaisical secondary (Norman adds some swagger that’s been missing, too). At least four of them bring a level of experience and ability to communicate that should improve the team IQ, and limit the mistakes.
So, five new starters.   Is that enough?  It can’t hurt.  But what about the existing pieces?  Luckily, those pieces did well for us last year, and those other 6 seem to have better depth behind them than this time last year. But will there be more production, more ability, in those six?   It’s hard to say, still.  James Anderson, for instance, might get freed up, but he’ll have no real shot at the tackle numbers he had – will he be more effective with a smaller load? 
The ends, hard to say as well, and more blitzing won’t affect their numbers positively. More depth might mean a little more overall production, and certainly options. Chris Gamble might get more targets if he’s working on the left side more, and he’ll have to earn his low QB ratings all over again.   Charles Godfrey might get more time off the line, instead of playing close to the TE.  He’s more comfortable playing back, so that may help. 
Two new specialists?  Thomas Davis was fantastic as a nickel LB. It’ll be interesting to see how he’s used and who with – I can only hope for some 3-3 nickel – and maybe Sherrod Martin will be used in some big-nickel alignments in a more focused role.  Hopefully, that matters.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Carolina Cuts Mare, Harris

Carolina continued to get younger, dropping 39 year old Olindo Mare as kicker and veteran Nick Harris as punter.  So, for now (and subject to change, as this is definitely not official until it’s official), the kicker is Justin Medlock, and the punter is rookie Brad Nortman.

Medlock (5’11, 200 lb) was a 5th round pick for the Chiefs out of UCLA after being first team All PAC-10, and a consensus All-American in his senior year.  As a Chief, he only hit 3 of 6 FG in preseason, and signed a veteran out of camp.  Similarly, he signed with the Rams the upcoming year and lost out to Josh Brown.  He turned to the CFL, and had stints with the Toronto Argonauts and various other teams, before coming to Carolina, where he out-kicked Mare.

Mare himself was a terrible choice based on sound ideals.  A fantastic kickoff guy, Mare was signed to a 4 year deal before the team dropped John Kasay – essentially the team’s patron saint, and original Panther from day 1 – under the idea that he’d take both roles.   It came with, unfortunately, $12 million of revenue, some of which will count against next year. He was, as promised, a fantastic kickoff guy who didn’t deliver on field goals.  It didn’t work out, so at least Carolina didn’t prolong the inevitable with another year of sticking it out.

Whether the replacement is Medlock, or someone else, is harder to say.   Medlock has been fantastic at times on long field goals, and no less accurate overall than Mare, though the goal is to be better.  His kickoff range is fine, but his consistency isn’t – his short kickoff is a major cause of the Trindon Holliday touchdown v/s Houston.  Medlock has the ability, but up to now hasn’t been able to stick.  Time will tell if he’s won the job, or just hasn’t lost it yet.

On the other end, draftee Brad Nortman seems to have a stronger hold on his job.  A strong legged punter, Nortman got excellent hang time and distance on his kicks, but worked on ball placement as well over camp.  As one of the team’s draft picks from this year, he outpaced the veteran Harris, who had been replaced by 3rd rounder Brian Anger earlier in the offseason by Jacksonville.

Personally, I feared they’d go with the safer veterans, but have gone with what appears to be the better talent.   I’m also a bit surprised the team didn’t wait another week for the move, and instead chose to sit at 75 players to divine the difference between the 2nd and 3rd string in their entirety.

Other Cuts, Moves

Carolina made some choices in the kicking game today, but also made other moves to get from 90 players to 75:
*WR David Gettis stays on the PUP list, limiting his chances to participate until week 6;
*CB Brandon Hogan’s ongoing knee puts him on injured reserve;
*Releasing 4th round DE Eric Norwood
*Last year and older undrafted players released:  WR Darvin Adams, RB Josh Vaughan;
*Current undrafted players released: WRs Rico Wallace, Brenton Bersin, Michael Avila; RB Lyndon Rowells; TE Greg Smith; OL Will Blackwell, Roger Allen

Interesting that RB Armond Smith has made it so far; he’s likely to take a big role in the upcoming 4th preseason game. 4th TE Joe Jon Finley will inevitably make it through a lot of reps this upcoming week to find himself out a few days later.

Letting Norwood go continues to tarnish the pre-2011 draft record for Carolina; Norwood as a 4th rounder was highly touted, and I’m still surprised he didn’t do any better in the hybrid scheme under Ron Rivera. He seemed made for it, but just didn’t pick things up in the new scheme.  This time last year, he had a shot at a starting role, and couldn’t pull it in.

So far, all the safeties have made it.  Clearly, Charles Godfrey, Haruki Nakamura, and the recently displaced Sherrod Martin will make it; but, the team may only keep 1 from amongst Reggie Smith, Jordan Pugh, and DJ Campbell.  Smith is the veteran, and he played the ball well this past week; he’s been somewhat invisible, however, for a starting-level player with the 2s.  Pugh is active, but still makes a lot of mistakes; Campbell isn’t a guy I’ve even noticed so far.

At corner, the top 3 are essentially solved; it appears that the remaining will come from Josh Thomas (last year’s defacto 3rd guy), Darius Butler, or RJ Stanford.  The least of these will probably be cut.  At LB, Nixon and Wilson appear destined to make it no further than this week; Kenny Onatolu may make the team but has to get healthy.

On the OL, struggling linemen Garry Williams and Jeff Byars get another day.  Williams may still make the roster. Bryant Browning, Matt Reynolds, Justin Wells hang on as well; that group likely battles for the last 2 line spots.

It will be interesting, as Jonathan Stewart rehabs the ankle sprain and Mike Tolbert deals with a minor knick as well, what happens with fringe players Ben Hartsock and Richie Brockel.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

State Of The Team: Week 3

It's a crucial week 3, following a quite good week 2 against Miami; despite it being mid-week, and this will be the most interesting preseason game (most time for the starters; as well, cutdowns happen right after), doesn't seem like there's a lot of news.

So, I'll throw in a few links, and a few observations:

*Steve Smith is out with an infected foot.  I have no idea what that means, and Smith isn't going to miss any regular season time.  It's not that Smith's foot isn't infected, but well played nonetheless, 89.
That means we get to find out who the 3rd guy is - whoever starts the other side.

Seyi Ajirotutu has played more, it seems, with the starters, but Louis Murphy seems the more natural starter on the other side.  Odds are on one of those two, and I'd put Kealoha Pilares behind them, followed by Armanti Edwards.  Joe Adams, to my knowledge, hasn't played much if at all.

*Haruki Nakamura started against Miami, and is now #1 on the official depth chart at FS.  He hasn't made plays, but he tackles surely (and it didn't cost us the 8 pick to add a little tackling) and doesn't blow assignments.  Hopefully it works out.  I don't anticipate Martin to be gone, FWIW, and he's killing it on special teams.  Maybe he can come in on some nickel alignments as the big nickel type alignment the Raiders and Giants have been using.

*Speaking of moving guys around - despite Josh Norman being listed 3rd string, he played extensively in nickel and is clearly the 3rd guy.  Almost as interesting, he took the LCB spot, and Chris Gamble moved over to RCB.  Doesn't mean much of anything for Gamble, but it was interesting.

*Not looking great for David Gettis - who might stay on PUP for 6 weeks - and Brandon Hogan, neither of which are practicing still.   Jon Beason will be held out this week, it appears.

With that said, Thomas Davis is active in pads, and who knows if he does play a few snaps this week.

*It's weird having a sunday night preseason game, when they're almost always Thursday through Saturday.  Works out for me, though - I'll be on the coast through Sunday afternoon.   I like the late Sunday 3rd preseason game - good scheduling, Carolina - and hopefully that means a couple extra days of eval for the youth, and practice for the vets.

*No pregame for the Jets here - but everyone talks enough about the Jets.   Enjoy the game.  I hope someone gets Tim Tebow square across the forehead a few times.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

V/S Dolphins - Preseason Aftermath

Victory!  prior to the game I wanted to set some rational objectives to suggest a real victory, regardless of the scoreboard in some situations.  Here's what I wanted to see at least 3 of:

*A win (check)
*A halftime lead (check)
*three defensive turnovers (only one)
*a breakout player (not really)
*no injuries (check)

They definitely hit hard on the first two, and luckily/most imporantly, no injuries. 

The 17-0 first quarter lead was fantastic, and set into a 20-3 first half lead.  Carolina held on for a 23-17 win.  

The first quarter set up with an initial drive by Carolina, starting at its own 16, with a 15 yard Deangelo Williams run up the middle, a quick hitter by Jonathan Stewart for 4, then a playaction strike up the right sideline to Greg Olsen for 27.  Bang, bang, and then the big play.  Get used to that, and it's certainly more interesting than the old "three clouds of dust and a yard" John Fox run-run-pass.  See, there are various ways to do things, and this is just better.  Unfortunately, a good screen to Williams was brought partially back by a Brandon LaFell hold, and Carolina couldn't pick up an odd 1st and 2 from the Miami 31, where Justin Medlock kicked from 49.   

Other highlights from the drive: a miscommunication from the center of the line had Ryan Kalil passing off Randy Starks to no one , so Cam Newton took a hard hit on the Olsen pass. I almost pinned it on rook Amini Silatolu, but it was passed to the right from Kalil. 

Carolina defense, including a batted ball from Charles Johnson, held the Dolphins to a long 3 and out (the 1st down, a 1 yard run, was nullified by a Greg Hardy offsides; Miami couldn't pick up 2nd and 2 or 3rd and 2 after a 3 yard Reggie Bush run).  Receiving the ball at their 34, Carolina came out throwing, with an incomplete deep shot to Steve Smith that would ignite a battle with Vontae Davis; after a 2nd incompletion, Newton hit Brandon LaFell for 25; two plays later, a Williams run turned into Carolina's favor as Davis was hit for a personal foul retaliating on Smith for a hard block; the block took Davis out of his shoe and his helmet; Smith also realistically took his dignity, and fifteen yards.    Next play, Newton hit backup TE Ben Hartsock on a laser for 18 yards; down to the 1, two plays later Stewart would leap in for the score. 

Another 3 and out for Miami left Carolina with the ball at the 20; a skinny post to Smith went for 15; a five yard Williams run and a 6 yard out to Olsen picked up another first down; a big pass interference on the Dolphins' Shaun Smith left the ball at the Miami 10, and Williams dove in for the 9 yard score two plays later on a short screen.  

If Carolina can play that well all year, it'll be a long, productive year, but Miami's not the team Houston was.  Now with a 17 point deficit, Miami abandoned any sort of gameplan and went no-huddle, and often shotgun, much of the remaining game, and now Cam Newton and most of the starters were out. 

The remaining game was done with backups, the most notable things being the bullish Mike Tolbert knocking over Miami's Chris Clemons, and then fumbling onto him; and the game-ending INT that was pulled in by RJ Stanford. 

A few impressions on the game:
*Newton was very sharp. 8/11, with incompletions only on a deep ball to Smith, and two screen balls that didn't connect (the timing looked off on both, but otherwise it wasn't repeatable). 

*Derek Anderson was less sharp than last week, but made some plays. Highlights included a great end-around to Louis Murphy (31 yards), a quick slant to Kealoha Pilares right before the half for 32 that set up a FG; 

*backs were excellent, minus the fumble, before the backups.  

*TEs were good, as each of Olsen/Barnidge/Hartsock brought in 15+ yard passes. 

*Line play was OK, minus the early hit on Newton and the Silatolu miss on a run play that got Williams hit hard; the backups started to be poor and Jeff Byars is on his way out at backup C.  Byron Bell wasn't noticeable, which I'll take in any game.

*The defense overall held early.  It did help that Miami threw so much, and didn't run; it gave the defense the ability to pin it back and take their shots. 
But, with that said, they did hold the run well, too.  Charles Johnson looked like a star out there, easing any worries about last season's bad back or the offseason's knee surgery.  Backups Frank Alexander and Thomas Keiser grabbed both sacks and pressure; 

*Josh Norman had his debut - I thought it was interesting he played RCB, and Chris Gamble moved to LCB, for nickel.  Only other time in recent memory I remember that, was when Gamble was coming off the bench in 2010 (despite playing as good of ball as he ever has).  Norman was not called for PI, nor targeted, outside of a screen to Davone Bess that got 0 yards.  The other two CB played far off their men, and Gamble did give up a couple of INT dropped deep into his zone.  Expect more man-technique cover 3 than what he was doing out there, so I was not concerned Gamble was targeted. 

*Not much movement in the S argument - Martin and Nakamura were both good, but unspectacular; Reggie Smith wasn't heard from until later. 

*LBs had another solid night, with Luke Kuechly getting turned around on a 3rd and long completion but otherwise doing allright in all phases; Jason Phillips looks, again, like a solid 2-down backup ILB; Jordan Senn was active as a reserve again.  I can't wait to see Jon Beason back on the field. 

*Special Teams was much improved, not giving up much in coverage, and tackling better.  Sherrod Martin continues to be a force on coverage units now that he has to fight for a job.  

*Armanti Edwards had a good punt return nullified; still, he has no realistic shot at the job.  I did see Edwards as a gunner on one punt, and he got creamed.  

Friday, August 17, 2012

v/s Miami, precursor

Rookie Ryan Tannehill starts for Miami this week at QB, under new head coach Joe Philbin and OC Mike Sherman.  Sherman coached Tannehill at Texas A&M.  That pushes David Garrard and former Panther Matt Moore to the back burner. A day ago, Moore was determined #1 on the depth chart, so the team has technically had two new starters at QB while lacking a game to have been played until tonight.
Miami isn’t the team of recent note – having transitioned from outgoing coach Tony Sparano’s approach to head toward the more spread-leaning version of the WCO that Philbin and Mike Sherman have used previously in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers (in separate stints).   Like most approaches of this nature, it relies on precision passing to timed areas, and the full use of any and all receivers when possible.  It’s an offense that relies on getting the ball out fast.   The problem is, to who?  The Dolphins could put any of the 3 QB out there at any point and that’d be somewhat reasonable, but likely starting receivers Davone Bess and former Panther Legedu Naanee aren’t exactly the biggest world-beaters.   Behind that is Julius Pruitt, and Jeff Fuller.   Anthony Fasano is a solid enough receiver, and Reggie Bush is always an effective receiver out of the backfield, but that’s about it.   They drafted Michael Egnew (TE, Missouri) in the 3rd round to supplement Fasano’s efforts and Lamar Miller (RB, Miami) in the 4th to add a more traditional backup behind Bush and the smallish Steve Slaton.
A line anchored by LT Jake Long and center Mike Pouncey is good enough, with rookie 2nd rounder Jonathan Martin (Stanford) likely at RT.  There’s not much else to speak of on the line, and they lack much depth. 
It may be worth seeing if Miami tries anything hurry-up – their camp antics of using two teams to constantly run scrimmage drills against each other was innovative, but they may look to up the pace in preseason games as well.

Defensively, they rely on Cameron Wake, now transferring down to rush end from 3-4 OLB, and former Cardinals MLB Karlos Dansby.  The one-gap 4-3 is piloted by DC Kevin Coyle, a DBs coach for the Bengals for the last eleven years.   Jared Odrick currently starts at the other end, with 3rd rounder Olivier Vernon (Miami) backing.  Paul Soliai (NT) and Randy Starks (under tackle) look to shield Kevin Burnett and Dansby at LB.
Former Panther Richard Marshall starts at CB with Sean Smith, with Nolan Carroll and Vontae Davis behind.

So what is success in this game?

To me, any three of these: 
*A win
*A halftime lead
*three defensive turnovers
*a breakout player
*no injuries

I will, however, take just the last one and be somewhat happy. 

I also don't believe this Miami team is better than Carolina, but I don't know their depth well enough to suggest it should be a win.  But I definitely want to see better energy and intensity.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Vets Muddle WR List

With WR David Gettis still on PUP, you’d have figured for some of the young WR to step up.  Some have, they’re just not necessarily the homegrown variety.

The Panthers have three different slot-type receivers, drafted between the 3rd and 5th the last few years, in Armanti Edwards, Kealoha Pilares, and Joe Adams.  But as of right now, it appears the step-up guys are the more experienced duo of Louis Murphy (trade, Oakland) and Seji Ajirotutu (SD, waivers last year).  That pair, along with a still-nursing Gettis, appear to be what’s behind Steve Smith.

I’m sure more time in games will distinguish further what’s happening (a bit of input from Gettis couldn’t hurt either), but it appears that experience is a critical piece in the puzzle.  Last year, while he split time with Brandon LaFell, Legedu Naanee clearly was the starter when able.  He had more experience, both in the offense and in general.  Same with Murphy (Oakland was a Coryell while he was there) and Ajirotutu (obviously, San Diego) – both have the nuances of the offense down a little better. Hopefully, for Carolina’s sake, the pair will be better than Naanee, who was a liability.

But that leaves a matter of numbers – if Gettis comes back, he’s one of the top 5.  So what do you do with the other three guys?  The three shorter, less experienced guys have to fit somewhere, too.  Mental note – somehow keep Carolina from continuing to draft small WR.

Jared Green, who can still barely be mentioned without noting his lineage as son of Darrell Green, appears to have done well enough to possibly stick on the practice squad. The team does still like Darvin Adams, who’s still eligible. They’re not short for WR, clearly. They just have to sort through and find the ones who are most able.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

V/S Houston, Aftermath

What a disappointing contest.  I knew Houston came in with a little more talent, and have the more established team, but I didn’t like the tone Carolina set coming into the game.  Continued sloppiness, confusion, and not enough people stepping up to make a play.


Starting first with the more critical, still struggling unit:
*Carolina’s still having some gap integrity problems, and could simply use more strength up front.   Ron Edwards does his, Kuechly takes care of his end, and Jon Beason will handle his.  But I have yet to see that there’s much to offer at the 3-technique, and James Anderson will have to come correct with his as well.  I’ll hold on resolving the contain and end situation with more looks on Greg Hardy – I’ve seen enough of Charles Johnson to know he’s fine there.  FWIW, I believe a sideline shot of Johnson had him a little heavier than he was last year.  Hope that’s not the case, as he plays better light (see 2009, where he was 290).

*I will give some props for causing two straight turnovers, after that first long drive.  The team is consciously working on this, which is nice.  On the Phillips INT, notice that a blitzing Munnerlyn has a QB pressure.   FWIW, Munnerlyn isn’t the guy they want at CB – he’s not the long armed, fast guy they crave.  But no one’s met the needs yet.  It’s a shame – Munnerlyn isn’t that great at coverage either, but he’s a football player.  He blitzes well, he plays the run.

*Luke Kuechly looks like a natural.  He just plays the ball well.   That’ll make a difference, and having Beason return will help a lot as well.  Maybe  Anderson can return to worrying about his gap more now, and less on freelancing.

*Haruki Nakamura doesn’t look necessarily like he deserves a start, but he’s mixing it up.  He had a hard hit on a receiver, and we need that (though it probably will cost him money this week, and it’s the first time I’ve seen a helmet come off a defender and then return itself during play).  He’s a sure tackler, and the incumbents are awful there.   On the back end, he didn’t stand out with the 2s.  While it’s hard to get a great feel for DB play in preseason, where angles are even tighter to formation than normal, I didn’t see anything special anywhere in the defensive backfield.  I didn't see vet Reggie Smith doing much.

*There was a little 3-4 in there already.  It made no appreciable impact, and I don’t know I saw the first unit in it.  I haven’t really broken down tape to see who was where, but Fua was the NT, and Edwards had retired for the day.   To not give up too much to scouts, I might not worry too much about seeing it with the 1s, at least with traditional personnel.   You might see some changeups, like Charles Johnson at end and Greg Hardy standing – contrary to a few reports it was definitely Johnson standing, not Hardy, last year – but probably not what Carolina intends to run mid-season.

*The backup DTs aren’t that good.  Neblett got some play with the 1s, so maybe they retired a whole group early, but Nwagbuo was getting handled.  I saw little of the depth you might hope could come from a year of growing.

*At end, Applewhite is clearly still the guy.  Frank Alexander is playing the run well.  He has to use his hands better to separate in the passing game, because he gets into his man hard but doesn’t release to make a play well enough.  He has the ability, but it may be next year before he really contributes.

*Backup end Ryan Van Bergen is stout at the point of attack but doesn’t add much for rush.  No idea why the team has allotted him as a right end.  He looks interesting enough to put on practice squad, where a 290 lb guy with hustle can learn.



*Cam Newton finished 2/6, not impressive.  The run was fine, and he naturally has a good feel for the pocket, but held the ball too long for the primary receiver instead of dealing with his secondaries and was a part of letting pressure get into him.  One time he did check down, to Tolbert, there was a drop.  Hopefully it’s all rust.

*Newton and too many of the other 1s just didn’t play long. If you pull Steve Smith, fine, that makes sense.  He could use a little more time with Brandon LaFell, and he could use more time with the other WRs.  Get a guy or two in there at TE with Olsen.  The starting 3 backs were gone after a very short session, it would’ve made sense to get some play in with Tolbert at halfback.  The limited usage was fine, but I don’t have as much confidence in the 1st offense as I might want.

*Derek Anderson was the best of the QBs, and connected with newcomer Louis Murphy a few times, but then (around the time of the PI calls), he completely changes his throwing motion and started heaving up balls to the sidelines.  It was weird, and coincided with a string of passes that appeared to be back shoulder fades and some of which were pass interference.   But, Anderson had good accuracy on regular balls and appears to continue to be competent.  As he should be.  He was the best QB of last preseason as well.

*Jimmy Clausen wasn’t dealing with the best protection but looked highly rattled. Clearly a guy with talent, I stand behind not feeling that Clausen is a good fit for the offense.  He needs a fresh start, with the ability to have some motivation toward moving forward.  Here there’s nothing – not that he’s unmotivated, but there’s gotta be a demoralizing feeling about becoming the guy, and then everyone’s here around you with the new guy while you flounder. Either way, it’s not working here.

*I am encouraged, to a point, on the line blocking for the run.  There will take some time to get ready for the pass, still.  Clearly there were some breakdowns, and the team says there were only basic protections in there.   Carolina always has run success, and in preseason, this offense doesn’t setup any sort of consistent running game, or with any specific attack in mind, so I don’t have worries there. Amini Silatolu had some miscues, but nothing major.

*Poole definitely gained ground on Josh Vaughan at RB.  I don’t know if Carolina keeps either guy – they could very well go with just the 3 guys, plus maybe Richie Brockel if they wanted.  They don’t require a traditional 3rd back at all.  But, Poole looked like the better runner.  Vaughan didn’t do a lot, and had a dropped ball.

*Louis Murphy with catches of 20, 22. This guy could gain on the field.  Seyi Ajirotutu appears to have had the first shot at the 3rd WR spot, after I'd written him off.  He had a reception for 12 yards as well.  Actually, while only Murphy and TE Gary Barnidge had 2 receptions, 5 of the receptions went for over ten yards (out of a paltry 12 completions).  There is speed on this roster, and even the guys without a ton of speed are getting upfield.

*TE Ben Hartsock doesn't seem to block well and is a blocking specialist.  May be time to find someone else for that 100 or so snaps.  Maybe if he's not cut this year, next?  The draft is the ideal place to pickup roleplayers like Hartsock's role would fill.  6'7, 255 lb Joseph Fauria (UCLA) or 6'6, 270 lb Michael Williams (Arkansas - of course, Arkansas. Whoever recruits for them has a fat fetish - remember Jason Peters?  He was a 325 lb TE for them).  You can get guys cheaper, with a future, than Hartsock.


*Worried at DT and CB, still.

*Plenty of talent, but it has to do something out there.

*Gotta have less jumpy QB play.  That may come with gameplanning and actual running, too.

*The youth looks good so far, through the 4th round.   Coming right off injury, Josh Norman didn’t look interesting yet.  We’ll see how that continues. Nortman looks passable as a punter, hard to tell much difference from the veteran.

The Julius Peppers Situation

Let me start by offering this statement: I’d rather have Julius Peppers than not.  If it cost us Charles Johnson a year later, I’d have been OK with that, and I wanted Johnson back at all costs.

The below doesn’t change that, nor the somewhat recent revelation that Peppers, who’s never been a guy I’d consider “strong”, doesn’t lift weights at all.   He definitely should’ve played stronger for a 285 lb left end, but that’s another story (as is that he’s never really achieved what any of us thought he could, in the face of other players regularly hitting 15, 18, 20 sack seasons).  Still, rather have him.  And, honestly, I think the team has always felt the same.

While we’re on it, I’m married to a UNC alum, and outside of them not playing my own alma mater on any sort of reasonable terms, generally don’t hold anything against the university, or its sports teams.  I kinda dislike guys who overhype UNC people, but that's a different thing.

Recent allegations have come out stating that Julius Peppers was a key example of the Carolina Way not being quite as pristine as many had hoped.  That the indiscretions were not dating back to 2007 and Butch Davis/football, but maybe before Peppers himself, and probably including Peppers.  Disturbing, to a point.  Somehow, his transcript came online recently as well. 

Peppers’ ‘advisor’, Carl Carey, provided influence to instructors to get some classes passed.  Peppers’ own transcript has come out, and let’s just say it features as many failures as the Dan Henning offense.  At least Dan intended on setting up the punt.   Peppers clearly didn’t do well in school, providing a little more insight to a very private person – and I’d say he himself isn’t happy with the attention he’s helping bring to himself or his alma mater.

I never trusted Carey, the advisor who magically turned agent, who has just the one client ( I don’t know if Julius himself wanted out, or Carey was a guiding force there, but Carey was a guy I always felt helped bring misery to the team since 2007.  The more recent stories have shed light on the ethics of both Peppers and Carey over time, and it’s hard to say that there’s a better identifier of what’s going on than this:

Dan Kane is the reporter at the Raleigh N&O digging into this story, and recently there was a website created to blast Kane and discredit his reporting – setup by Carey himself, with his own business name and contact information involved.  The website is more or less innocuous – but it shows Carey’s own continued ties to the situation, despite being an agent or adviser Peppers’ going pro, and most likely a little guilt, too. Carey taught a class at UNC while attempting to persuade another UNC client, Robert Quinn, to sign with him.  To this point, Carey has only represented UNC alumni.

Also thought it was interesting that Peppers attempted to put a 300’ restraining order against the public regarding the water behind his house.   Not as sure what to make of that, but didn’t know it until now.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Update: Stewart's Contract Numbers

Stewart took $ 36.5 million total, with $22.5 million guaranteed.  That's 6.5 million less than Deangelo Williams took one year ago, but with $1.5 million more guaranteed.

I do anticipate, having done the deal this year, that the $22.5 million, or at least most of it, spreads across all six years.

Williams' Contract

I don't believe this is in play, or yet a worry - but, there will inevitably be questions now that both Deangelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have contract extensions from the Panthers.

While it's hard to say what Stewart will sign for, it won't be cheap.  So the natural leap becomes whether Carolina would get rid of Williams, and at what cost?

Williams is on a 5 year, $43 million deal that's two years in.  Past salary doesn't matter, and current salary doesn't really enter in either - they won't cut him this year obviously.   The $21 million bonus reported doesn't jive with other info I had - it appears they guaranteed year 1 as well, but didn't prorate it.  Carolina reported $16 million as prorated over 5 years at $3.2 million a year.

Two years have counted, and assuming correctly he makes it through the season, a third year counts regardless of whether he's here or not.
*So in 2013, you have Williams' $4.75 million salary, and a $250,000 workout bonus, for $5 mil in cuttable salary, versus the remaining two years of bonus to accelerate ($6.4 million).  Net loss.
*Another option is to drop him in 2013 as a June cut - the second year moves to 2014; 2013 would show Williams counting an additional $3.2 million versus the $5 million total earnings that would save; a net savings of $1.6 million, at the cost of counting Williams on cap space through 2014 ($3.2 million)
*2014, the fourth year of bonus proration counts, regardless of what happens; Williams has $5.75 million salary, and a workout bonus of $250k more - 6 million. $3.2 million, 2015's bonus amount, would count against the cap, so there's a $2.8 million savings there.

I don't think Carolina anticipates that happening anytime soon, but if they do, it appears two more years of Williams is about right before letting him loose.

Jonathan Stewart Extended

RB Jonathan Stewart has been extended, signing a 5 year extension, states Carolina staffers.

The deal, with Stewart facing his final year, likely stretches bonus money over six years.

I don't have any numbers at this point, but I would anticipate it nears Deangelo Williams' 5 year, $43 million deal.  I can't imagine that Stewart's worth any less than Williams, but if they got him done for less, bravo.   Recently Ray Rice signed for 5 years, $40 million; Matt Forte signed for 4 years, $32 million.

Carolina had cap space - $8.5 million - coming into the year.   I anticipated that this could've been one of the ways to spend that reserve.   Stewart's 5 year, $14 million rookie deal was set to expire in a year.  He was to count about $2.5 million total.  I anticipate that Carolina will break up the bonus amount into this year and next year, if it's more than $15 million (and I'd anticipate it is).

V/S Houston Preseason 2012

Houston comes in much like in late 2011 – a talented team with high aspirations – but this time they’re less injured.  Just a preseason game so I won’t go over the hardcore points – they’re a team similar to Carolina in many respects, similar lineage.

The offense is different in principle – a WCO derivative attack – but they use a similar zone blocking scheme. They feature a lot of cutback running, and counter plays; they prefer a bigger receiver.

On defense, Wade Phillips uses the 3-4 as a one-gap, attacking scheme. They’re big and powerful up front but they’re not playing their lineman to the flow, they’re attacking a gap and trying to get after the ball.  Blitz schemes are there but aren’t complicated, nor would they be in preseason anyway.

It’s just preseason, but unless Carolina makes some big plays, Houston’s currently a better team – and they may begrudge late last season’s loss.  I anticipate a Carolina loss, but hope to see the following:

*better tackling
*better return and coverage units
*inspired play from all units
*some big plays from the backup receivers
*plenty of running

And will be watching the following battles closely:

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Random NFL thoughts:

As info pours in from training camps, it’s hard to make too much of it relevant, but I have a few to say anyway:

*Looks like Peter King is skipping Panthers camp this year.  There was an unpublished, to King’s credit, snub from Cam Newton when King showed up last year (Roger Goodell was there as well, if I remember correctly).   King could’ve made that a big deal, and didn’t, which is great.   At the time, Newton wasn’t established, and a ‘character concern’ type gripe would’ve killed off some momentum he was gaining.   But, King was also fairly upset by it.   And, since apparently this team is one player, now I’m going to give King a little grief for not showing up – it’s fairly classless, especially when it’s right on his way.  You can’t say much positive about Spartanburg, but if it’s anything, it’s on the way between Atlanta and Washington, directly in his waddling path.  I imagine I can deal with not hearing about whether or not he approves of the local coffee or beer, or hearing about his travels.  Or what the Red Sox did while he was in Spartanburg.

It’s hard to say.  I regularly read King, and then I immediately follow it up with Kissing Suzy Kolber’s teardown of everything he stands for. Read both, FWIW, if you can.

*NFL traditions – I’m all for using the best system for your players, and your coaches – you have to have a good fit there.

I like the philosophies of each, but it’s weird, for instance, that the 49ers have a Coryell system under Harbaugh, and the Raiders are running a West Coast.  I know Oakland had bouts of WCO with Shanahan and Gruden, but even then they were longball teams.   The Raiders are putting a lot of work into doing what’s best, but it’s just weird without Al Davis’ imprint on the team for the first time in almost a half century.   For them not to be a deep passing Coryell/cover 1 and man defense system is weird, to me.  It would be weird for the Steelers to not be 3-4.  It would be weird for Cleveland not to be awful.   I hate to be sentimental, but if and when Norv Turner is mercifully killed off in San Diego, it would be weird for them not to be a Coryell team just as it would for Dallas.   It’s that continuity that is interesting, and too many owners/GMs tend to overcompensate when changing regimes.  Old guy was defensive?  New guy is offensive!  Old guy was offensive and ran the WCO?  Let’s get some former Pittsburgh goober and run the ball!

I can’t caution that enough – I get the wanting to not stay the course.  Scheme success is about personnel, coaching, and execution as much as anything, which are the majority of breakdowns in a needed coaching change, and that inadequate personnel always means turnover, including sometimes at GM.  But I do caution too much change; teams that keep on elements of what the prior regime have done can create ongoing success.  If the Panthers had hired a 3-4 coach in 2002, no Super Bowl run is likely.  To go back to Norv Turner, keeping both systems gave the team years of success (if not, ultimately, the success they wanted).  There is a case to be made for legacy teams continuing that legacy, and just working on doing it the right way again.

*Hall of Fame – having started to get through guys who were big when I started having interest in football, I get that Curtis Martin, and Cortez Kennedy, were important to the game.  I even get that Kennedy, as a star in a small market, is a part of representing something bigger.   But I don’t know if either, having seen them, impressed me as that HOF-worthy.  Unfortunately, I don’t think either former Panther LB in question is, either.  I love Sam Mills, and despite his massive failures, Kevin Greene, but I don’t know either is more than just useful to this team’s history, and the prior history of each.

I don’t know that anyone on roster, past or present, deserves that, either.  Cam Newton might, with a title or two, and more longevity than a lot of running QBs have had.  Steve Smith, Julius Peppers would’ve been close, but both will have to achieve in their 30s at a level as high or higher than their best.  And I don’t see it happening that way.

And Willie Roaf?  I don’t know.  Always felt he was over-rated. To me, he was Chris Samuels, who wasn’t found out quite as early to be a fraud.  I think modern day metrics would betray him.   Somewhat related, I’ll always remember him mugging Mike Rucker, blatantly, in a game (I believe 2001, am not looking it up right now) that I felt like Carolina should’ve won.  I’ve had respect for division rivals that definitely earned their way in, but I’m less convinced in this case.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Anderson: Rest

James Anderson has been the most overworked Panther for the last couple of years. 
Football can be a game of attrition, and that part Anderson has beaten.  Now a 7th year LB, Anderson has fairly low miles, starting only 10 games in his first four. 

But, in the last two and a half years, he’s started 38 of 39 games and totaled a massive 2111 snaps in the last two years.  In 2011, the only time he played less than 95% of a game was the Cardinals game, the only game that started both Jon Beason and Thomas Davis.
Most teams’ strongside linebackers play roughly 50% of the snaps – and are the most likely to go out of the game in nickel (on average, the third linebacker and third corner play about the same amount leaguewide). Over those two years, Anderson’s play has been very good – he had an incredible 2010 against the run; his 2011 was a bigger struggle (in coverage, a declining 111 QB rating) despite his team-record tackles (174).
Part of the good, and bad, came with the revolving door around him.  His MLB in most of that span, Dan Connor, was himself very good for the first half of 2010 before getting hurt; he only had Beason at MLB for 8 games in 2010, and one in 2011 (Connor declined quickly under Ron Rivera).  He played, and he was needed. 
So, with a more stocked LB group this year, Anderson probably gets more rest.  He may, or may not, come out of the game for nickel – I imagine that part becomes more clear over the next month – and there may be times he’s a good matchup for nickel, or times he’s not.  It’s hard to say if they’ll use both Beason and Kuechly – a sizeable lineup for nickel – as the two remaining LB, if they’ll sub out Beason at times to keep him fresh post-injury, or if they’ll limit Kuechly’s snaps to not overwhelm – maybe neither ever happens.  Maybe they occasionally sub in Thomas Davis when able, instead.  Either way, there are various reasons to suggest that Anderson may tend toward a two-down LB at times.
I’ve suggested in the past that a 3-3 nickel alignment would be as good or better than the traditional 4-2; that would give more matchup and blitz looks, and go with the idea of a pro multiple defense that has already been acknowledged.  But, so far that hasn’t been shown, limiting the chance of Anderson and the other two LB playing more (honestly, a 3-3 lends itself as much to one of the three LB being a rush guy like Antwan Applewhite as anything).    LBs don’t get the rest that DL do, but hopefully having a good, athletic  LB like Anderson for 80% of his usual snaps will bring his per-play abilities up a hair from last year, and keep a bit fresher legs over time.   Since I anticipate Anderson will be blitzing more, it’ll be nice to have him fresh.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

CB Battle Profile

Cornerback came in with plenty of need - with requirements of upgrading at both nickel and left CB - here's a basic idea of what Carolina is dealing with:

#20 Chris Gamble – As a formality, here’s Chris Gamble (6’1, 200).   Gamble’s rock solid pair of performances in 2010-2011 (despite his comments to get benched) once again leave him the team’s top CB, and a player who some believe could receive Pro Bowl credability should it continue.  His 27 INT are a team record, though his last two years show a relative lack of targets and few interceptions.   Gamble’s main weakness is his missed tackling, a problem for the team in general as well.

#41 Captain Munnerlyn – The incumbent (5’9, 185).  Munnerlyn enters year four a lot less comfortable than when he showed up in camp last year – having more or less been given the other CB job, having also had a good 2010 playing on the outside while Richard Marshall played the slot.  Munnerlyn himself struggled in Marshall’s role and had to give up punt returning.  A good football player who may or may not be able to handle a full game of coverage, Munnerlyn does a decent job at tackling, blitzing (2 sacks last year), does most of the little things right, but he’s the least able to match up against the big receivers in this division.

Munnerlyn’s in a contract year, has already released a statement that he’s not giving up the job, and is the most experienced candidate for the other starting spot.  He won’t magically grow, and it will be tough to find a guy who can do the little things as well as he can out of the below contenders, but it’s still an obstacle that he’s not taller or more able to match up.

#21 Brandon Hogan (5’10, 190) – a physical, somewhat smart (on the field), and very talented corner, Hogan’s taken a rough course to get here.  Suspension, DUI, and a still-fresh ACL injury were part of his portfolio when drafted at the top of the 4th last year.  He received immense credit for a play against the Texans in which he rode a bigger receiver out of bounds, and since the receiver didn’t immediately establish himself back in play, that player’s catch was overturned.  It was a heady play, but one play.  Hogan can play in man or zone, and is a bargain in the 4th round if you discount that he couldn’t play last year.  He’s the most likely contender, and probably the most talented outside of Gamble, but he still has to show it on the field, as he’s essentially an incoming rookie.

Darius Butler (5’10, 183) – A former 2nd rounder (2009, out of Connecticut), Butler was cut after two years as a Patriot, and picked up by Carolina while in need.  Butler had solid play as a Patriot, but was still cut by the DB-needy team in camp in 2011.  As a waiver pickup, Butler saw extensive time (detail how much) on the outside.  Butler has done a good job of staying with his man and has greate speed and athleticism, but doesn’t always play the ball well.

Josh Norman (6’0.5, 200) – the Coastal Carolina star is a rookie, coming in through the 5th round though many (myself included) felt he was a higher rated player.  He slipped somewhat due to a slower 4.55 40 time, and his lower level of competition.  Norman always attacks the ball high in the air, has good ball skills, long arms, and is a player Carolina will want to develop into an outside corner.  The only question is how quickly that would happen.

Josh Thomas (5’10, 190).  The University of Buffalo star was a draft pick with Dallas in 2011, claimed by Carolina.  Thomas barely saw the field, and will get camp to see if he can show enough to be a reserve.

The solution?
Naturally, competition should settle through a lot of the questions.  But, you’d assume Carolina has Hogan in position to succeed first.   The easiest thing may be to see where Hogan can contribute, and start working him there.  Does he start out as an outside guy, or a slot guy? Whatever he can handle, I’d put Munnerlyn at the other spot. I wouldn’t want either player handling some of each, as easy as it might be to say that Hogan is the better outside guy so Munnerlyn starts and moves to the slot when needed.

Munnerlyn likely succeeds more if he’s given a role and sticks with it, and isn’t relied as heavily to do everything.  And that would likely go for the younger guys, most of which seem like outside players.   It’s just up to one to show enough starting ability to beat the Scrappin Cap’n and put him on the bench.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Meet Ron Edwards

Edwards (6'3, 325) is a forgotten man.

The returning NT was in the news twice last year - Carolina signed him for 3 years, and then once able to return from the lockout, he immediately tore a triceps muscle and was sidelined for the year.   So, consequently, little is known about him from the average fan's perspective - they know he was supposed to start, and will start, at nose tackle.  Most know he's older (33 now).  That's about it.

The 2001 3rd round pick by Buffalo came from Texas A&M, where he started 35 consecutive games at nose tackle.  Coming out, he was a 290 lb under tackle, having run a 4.83 40 at combine; he had a solid first step and good strength, but didn't make a signficant amount of impact.

He was with Buffalo for five years (two as a starter) before going to Kansas City and starting there five years.  Somewhat miscast in the 3-4, Edwards struggled in 2009, but finished strong in 2010.

Now at 325, he's aiming harder at being hard to move.  At NT, he's gotta be willing to take on a double team.  But, he's still being asked to play a gap, don't forget.  If two guys are in that gap, he's gotta stay his ground, but it's safe to say that hole is covered now.   He's not controlling the center, and playing off both sides of him like a two-gap NT would.  Carolina's 100% one gap, remember.

So Edwards, who is expected to play mostly at NT, will occupy the middle of the defense, hopefully for around 600 plays.  He'll be the guy in front of, and between, Jon Beason and Luke Kuechly.  That trio will be determined to control the A and B gaps. Consider this:

So, in a passing league does a quality interior run defense mean anything anymore? Well, the Top 3 A-Gap run defenses and the Top 4 B-Gap run defenses all went to the playoffs. The playoffs, in the end, showed that even with the proliferation of the passing game, this league is still about balance and stopping inside runs is still a part of that. Not stopping the inside run to the extent that it harms the rest of your defense by overcompensating is, in itself, alarming. The best defenses–the likes of Baltimore, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Houston at the top of these lists–controlled the heart of their defense without having to draw players inside or blitz the inside gaps so frequently that it hurt them elsewhere.

Kuechly - first Panther impressions

I have to admit, from an opinion standpoint, lately not wanting the Panthers to pick the guy they've picked in the first round the last two years has worked out.

It took until January to completely come clean about Cam Newton, though by camp last year he'd already shown some leadership, and a lot of hard work.  That guy beat all odds - low snaps on a major college level, controversy, a very simple offense - and made it happen.

So this year, let me get right to it - I see nothing less from Luke Kuechly.

I made it clear.  I didn't want a LB this high.  Many trusted compatriots told me this was a good pick.  Many friends wondered how great it'd be to make this happen.  Meanwhile, I kinda brushed it off.  I looked at a lack of elite LBs on many great Eagles teams, and honestly, Chargers teams under Rivera.  And Carolina had already stocked up a bit, keeping their unit intact.   It wasn't what Rivera was given in Chicago, but it was pretty nice.    I saw the Beason achilles not hindering him, and felt like what we needed was depth, not a starter.  It's insane to take a LB in the top 15, isn't it?  Make no mistake, the third corner plays as much as the strongside LB nowadays.  Having three good linebackers, much less four, is a unique and rare luxury.  Honest 3-4 teams (discount our 3-4s, we use at least one end) don't have four good LBs.

But, so here's this new kid.  The one that cost us, potentially, a very good corner.  Or a defensive tackle, or a rush guy - I do still feel like Melvin Ingram could've helped our multiple front a good deal.   The thing about it?  Luke is a much better football player than just about anyone in this draft.  They could've gone with the bigger need, but right now, I can't be more impressed with the actual football player.

Let's break down what I see.

*instinct - our LBs are instinctive.  But Kuechly has the potential to be Thomas Davis in coverage, and in a bigger package.  He could be an ideal Tampa-2 ILB, if he was asked - not unlike Brian Urlacher in coverage, he has range, and he gets into his drops well.  He has speed.  That's not to call him Urlacher, though there can be similarities.  

*playmaking - And, then, the most important thing is he plays the ball when he gets there.   He had a fantastic pick at fanfest that underlies that.  Check this out at the point I've stopped it, and watch from there:

he attacks the bang-8 play to Ajirotutu, a well thrown ball by Newton.  The Bang-8 is a deep slant thrown off the QB's fifth step, and without a second to spare.  Kuechly notes the route, and gets there.  Corners have long struggled to get it, much less a zone LB.  Count me as impressed, as the rookie goes up and plucks the ball from behind him, a skill that even WR have problems picking up.

*attack - Luke tracks the ball like a linebacker.  One thing that I see that separates him from most LBs?  Not unlike how our DL is told to attack, Kuechly joins them at the line, keeps his outside hand free, and attacks.  He does it with the force of a 3-technique, and the range of a LB.  He rides his block deeper into the play, and disengages to make the tackle.  In a one-gap scheme, the linebackers have to be able to beat a block sometimes, too.  Attacking the line of scrimmage isn't just for the DL.   Kuechly fits that, and I look forward to that.  Hopefully, that translates as a blitzer, as well.

*tackling - I don't think anyone thinks it's a shock this kid can tackle.  What it means, however, is that a team that was awful at tackling last year has a guy who can teach, not needs to be taught.  

Put simply, he finishes.  All of the above deal with not only making it to the right place on time, but doing the right thing while there.

So, if you look at the 2011 defense from a sabermetric type standpoint - what they needed to improve statistically, not where - it was within the above three things.  You don't improve a defense by just pouring on more rush, or more coverage.  Last year, with so much missing, it needed everything.  It's impossible to add "everything" in one guy.

But in Luke Kuechly, they're coming close.