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Monday, December 31, 2012

Gross, Gamble

Gamble, Gross At A Crossroads
       With all the talk about Jon Beason and Deangelo Williams potentially departing the team in 2013, it’s time to look at two guys who have done a good job as older former #1 picks, but whose cap numbers either provide a lot of flexibility, or could cost them.

       2013 is season #11 for Gross, signed through 2014.   His initial signing bonus from his 2009 contract ($1 mil prorated) counts no matter what; his option bonus (2010; $10 million) has $4 million left on it, but at this point the 2013 part counts either way.  So, an early cut would cost $2 million, and then save $8.7 million for a net savings of $6.7 million. A June-style cut (where the proration for future years goes exclusively into the next year) makes little sense in this case but would save $2 million more against this year’s cap.

        For anyone who finds it just that easy, it probably won’t be.  Jordan Gross is undoubtedly a guy the team feels is a leader.  He anchors a line that struggled mightily, but outside of the October shenanigans with Cam Newton holding the ball too long?  He’s been pretty good.  Byron Bell struggled with that portion of the season a good bit as well.  Gross’ struggles don’t all amount to Newton’s, but they do figure in the equation.

        So, if you’re interested in keeping Gross, the other option is renegotiation.  Since Gross hasn’t altered this contract at all, it’s fair ground to help both sides out.   Gross would convert a portion of that salary – let’s say $6 million just to make it an even number – and add a 2015 or even 2016 year.  Gross may retire by then, of course, but this is to spread things out.  Going to 2015, that $6 million spreads out to each 2013-15 evenly, and spreads the $6 mil (minus the $2 mil of it that prorates to that year) for a net savings of $4 million. 

       And, in the long run, $4 million and keeping your left tackle is an equation most teams would prefer to take.   Carolina might be able to find a LT for $6.7 million this year, but would then have to neglect another position to do so.
      Same for Chris Gamble.  While at one point Josh Norman looked to be a starter – I’m still not certain what happened lately, to be honest – and Josh Thomas is gaining some ground as well, Captain Munnerlyn is a free agent after the year.  Gamble has been well above average statistically when healthy (few interceptions but he hardly ever gets targeted), but this year was definitely not healthy, going out 4 games in with a shoulder injury.
Gamble will be 30 this upcoming season. His $7.95 million salary is up for grabs; $3 million total of bonus proration for 2013 counts either way. 
         Now, here’s where I deviate from’s numbers.  They have part of that proration as a 2010 bonus, but have it spread 2009-2013.  I would assume it’s 2010-2014.  I’ll also deal with it as such – so I’d have a final $2 million prorated into 2014 that comes due in 2013 if cut.  So that’s $5.95 million saved, if the team parted ways with Gamble.

         But, would they be able to find a corner of that caliber for that amount?   Hard to say.  In the draft, it’d probably cost about that.   In free agency, you could get a starter for that money, but not better. Brandon Carr got $10 million a year last year; Asante Samuel provides a better-case scenario for the money, getting a 3 year deal for $19 million. But, that cost picks.  Again – it’s a situation where you may be able to exchange for similar talent, but it's not that likely. 
         So, the same situation applies.  Adding a year or two onto a newly-30 year old corner for a guy you know?  That’s a viable alternative at this point.  There’s the slash and burn method – gut the team to a level that would prove to more or less waste 2013 completely on a team that hasn’t had a winning season in five years already – that would drop Gross, Gamble entirely, and use those savings to also drop Beason, Williams, and others, while cutting other productive players to simply get under the cap.  That leaves a bare cabinet, something no team would stomach doing or possibly even survive.

         Or, you push some money out, providing potential security on two guys who have been relied on at key positions. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Pro Bowl Snubs

It’s hard this time of year, watching the more popular players get recognition over locals. 
       Carolina was actually one of eight teams – a third of the league – that didn’t field a player in the Pro Bowl.  At one point, DT Dwan Edwards and FB Mike Tobert each led the fan vote at their positions for the NFC, but neither made it.  I don’t know that either deserved it, honestly. Tolbert has a shot next year, though.  He has some visibility – people love big backs, and guys who have elaborate TD dances.  He’ll have bigger stats next year, both rushing and receiving.   Jerome Felton, a brick of a FB who was here in Carolina last year, made it for Minnesota.  Good for him.
       Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson probably did, but there’s a feeling that they canceled each other out (each have over 11 sacks).  Jared Allen was a lock – and Julius Peppers gets in on reputation.  It would be a lot easier to talk about Peppers not deserving to be in at this point if he hadn’t scored 4.5 sacks in the last two weeks, 3 of which were against Arizona’s combination of terrible QB play and line play.  You look at Peppers’ 11.5 sacks and you say, sure, he hit his 10, put him in.  But Peppers had 6 sacks through the bulk of voting, then 7.  Good for him, because he inevitably gets paid for that recognition, and honestly that’s what Peppers wants most. I don’t know that I totally buy the “canceled” argument for Johnson/Hardy, as it didn’t hurt Jason Pierre-Paul.
       It’s not that hard to see TE Greg Olsen, who’s having a career year, not making it. Tony Gonzalez will have that spot for the rest of his career, and Jason Witten is always going to be deserving.
       I’m having a harder time making the argument for Luke Kuechly.  He should win defensive Rookie of The Year – I don’t know if he will.  Tackles are a gaudy stat for LK, and he’s certainly around the ball.  But, he’s not making Pro Bowl plays.  Was the INT one last week?  Absolutely.  But going back behind that, it’s tough to find one.  Yes, he has the team’s lone non-DL sack, but that doesn’t get it either. Kuechly has holes in his game still, and it’s hard to see what he’s doing as Pro Bowl work. 
       But, success breeds success.  Win ballgames before December, and people pay some attention.
       I was happy to see more special teamers this year.  There needs to be a squad of them.  They get no recognition.  For that end, I was happy to see Lorenzo Alexander make it.  I love guys like that – he’s played FB, TE, OL, DT, DE, OLB, and runs down kicks at 300 lbs.  Greg Hardy runs down punts, and call me more impressed at that than what Alexander does, or what Julius Peppers used to try to do as a WR.  But Alexander, I’d take a bunch of that guy.  Too bad Carolina didn’t hold onto him.   For what it’s worth, I think there’s something to be said for teams that just use a massive guy to set the edge, like Alexander can or Jarrett Johnson did with Baltimore.  It’s not an automatic recipe for success, but it helps.  Hardy himself has gotten a lot better at that.   Sorry for the tangent, and certainly this isn’t the first time someone’s harped about the little details.
       The game itself, however, is a bit of a joke.  The important part of the Pro Bowl has already happened.  This shouldn’t sound like sour grapes, and sorry if it does.  But it’s a game whose honors are bestowed by the invite, not the participation.  It’s a game that honors names more than positions.  You won’t find right tackles on this roster.  You pigeonhole defensive players into 4-3 roles – about half the league uses the 3-4.  So yes, Demarcus Ware is probably going to look better to the average Pro Bowl voter than your average 4-3 guy.  Does it make sense to have two 3-4 OLB playing in the 4-3 in a game where you’re not allowed to blitz?   That’s not even covering what was mostly seen as an effortless game last year.

If the Staff Stays

There are tons of rumors running around about whether or not Ron Rivera and staff would stay. 

For the purposes of this article, let's say he does.   So now what? 

*ST Coach - Richard Rodgers turned a few things around, after a very shaky first week.  But, let's not get carried away, the team needs a new coach there and Rodgers can stick at his assistant ST spot. 

*Consult with Chris Ault - the Nevada coach is consulting for some teams next year.  The Pistol guru is bringing some college details to the pros - and this might be a good way to keep the downhill runs coming without taking Cam Newton out of the shotgun.

And that's about it.  I'd consider taking someone on offense and making him assistant head coach.

A Massive Win

       Despite a really crappy center of the game, epicenter of which came at a 24-3 Saints run, Carolina started and finished this game on a very high note, dropping New Orleans on the road 44-38. 

       It was a bit of payback - throwing the Saints to an all-time NFL high in yards allowed per season, a year after the Saints had set numerous records on Carolina offensively. 

        Cam Newton was a solid 16 for 33 with an INT, unfortunately which was returned for a TD; he pitched in 248 yards.  No touchdowns - each of the team's 5 TD drives went to backs.  Mike Tolbert had 3, Deangelo Williams added 2, and a career high 210 yards. 

      It was a game that looked out of hand for Carolina for a while, and then pushed back to take a 10+ point lead that didn't dip down to 6 points until a very late gimme TD by Darren Sproles. 

      And, that's the 2012 season.  7-9, 2nd in the division.  Team will pick 14th.

New GM Needs To Work Fast

        The last head coach candidate on Mint Street, Ron Rivera, impressed Panther officials with his plans for the lockout, something the other candidates didn't have prepared.  Potentially a useless bit of info - any hired coach would have time to plan that, or show flexibility. The first GM candidate to show up on Mint St. this week must have fast plans in place, too - and long term ones.  

        If the team chooses not to fire Ron Rivera, the team has to move forward with its offseason, a busy one full of finding a way under the cap and improving itself.

        But, if the team chooses to fire Rivera, which would happen pretty quickly, to be honest - it has to hire a GM that more or less knows who he wants in a head coach, or a shorter list than normal.  Plenty of teams will be firing coaches this week, and going through a week-long or more adventure on a front office hire, who then has to assemble his own staff and setup coaching interviews, means losing out on other coaches.

What Would I Do?

It's the eve of the Saints game, the final one of the 2012 season that most of us assumed to be a better season than it has been.  It's a season that, if they can upset the resurgent Saints, would've been about three plays from the playoffs - Atlanta, Seattle, and Bears, which would put the team to 10-6 and give them a number of wins against winning teams.  But, that's irrelevant.  As is this game, I imagine.  Carolina will be a little pumped up, but I don't know that they'll pull it off.

       Anyway - 2013.  Anyone who hasn't been waiting for 2013 since Marty Hurney was let go, hasn't been paying attention.  I hate it, because while I love a look forward, I hate failure, and I hate wasted seasons.   I also hate the idea that Ron Rivera and staff might get fired, not to mention just having to start over yet again.

       If it were me, on Monday I interview two guys - Marc Ross, Tom Gamble. I most likely hire Ross.   Under him, I buy the best cap guy I can get.  I let Ross hire his college and pro scouting directors, but I'd more or less clean house in the front end.   Ross is nearly ideal, to me - guy who worked his way up, has experience, but he's still young.  Ivy League guy, so he'll add some smarts.

      As long as there's compatibility, I give the staff a one year pass.  It's not that hard to see it - Ross has experience with  Rivera and Sean McDermott.  I'd try to hire Bobby April on special teams, or maybe Bruce  Dehaven.   Then I'd get on with making some moves to get under the cap.

But, it's not up to me.  I do anticipate Ross as GM, which probably means it won't be; I'd handicap the GM race with Ross #1, Gamble 2, and Dave Gettleman 5th, not 2nd or 3rd as many report; Joey Clinkscales and Steve Keim are in there.  Gamble probably gets hired by the Jags, but Carolina appears hotter on Ross.

I anticipate Rivera and staff get fired next week.  Sean Payton is staying; so, Jason Garrett is staying, too.  There go two existing coaches.  I'm interested in Chip Kelly, but he likely wants too much money (and definitely too much control). I'm not that interested in retreads.  At this point, of assistants, I like both Bengals assistants more than anyone else.  I'd say the team is leaning toward an offensive coach, or at least interviewing one for the first time, as head coach.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Rooting Against The Giants

The Giants have to beat the Eagles and get Bears, Vikings, and Cowboys losses to move to the playoffs. 
And two of the Giants’ front office executives are apparently on the Panthers’ short list.  You can’t interview front office guys until their season is over, so I’ll be rooting against the Giants.  They already face long odds, so it’s not that tough to do – and if you’re not a fan of entitled quarterbacks, there’s always Eli Manning to help you.  The team that once gave all fat guys hope by having Jared Lorenzen as a backup squandered that by giving David Carr a super bowl ring, too. 
At any rate, it appears Marc Ross is leading Dave Gettleman out of the rumor gate so far.  It’s hard to say after that – but Joey Clinkscales (Raiders) and Steve Keim (Cards) are both done Monday, too. 
Tom Gamble (49ers) won’t likely be available for a while, nor would anyone from the Ravens (George Kokinis gets some mention, but hopefully isn’t a real candidate; it’s unlikely that Eric Decosta would leave).  One of my own guys that hasn’t gotten a lot of mention, John Dorsey (Packers) wouldn’t be avaialble either. 
I would definitely place higher odds on guys available Monday compared to those within the playoff picture.  Only Gamble, of that group, is a serious candidate in my opinion, and he’s being rumored to be higher on others’ lists than the rumors on Carolina’s.
Anyone currently not attached to a team, or that might get fired, would obviously be available for immediate interview. 

Lombardi: Rivera Out’s Michael Lombardi is stating that Ron Rivera will be fired Monday.
Not a lot to add to it, really – it’s almost time to find out.  All of it’s coming, honestly – it’s Friday, so Monday is just around the corner.  It felt like an eternity ago that the season was in limbo for the second half of the year.  Now it’s done.
It’s hard to say how reputable the information is, honestly.  It’s certainly possible. Richardson apparently had some issue with Rivera around the time of Marty Hurney’s firing, and it came out that Rivera wasn’t necessarily “his” choice, but that didn’t keep him from being hired.   I don’t think it was ever really stated as to what that really means, though – whether Hurney wanted Rivera fired at that point, and then why wasn’t it done with Hurney gone? 
A quick dispatch instead of a lingering Rivera through the GM proceedings might make the GM job more promising.   It’s hard to say – Ernie Accorsi only provided this officially for Atlanta, who had a vacancy at coach already, and there was no official recommendation on George Kokinis for the Cleveland job (that had an association with existing coach Eric Mangini).
Lombardi himself is being linked, potentially, to the Cleveland job by a few sources, including adding Josh McDaniels.  I don’t know why Cleveland seems to keep making the same mistakes, but this feels like one of them.  At least for an iteration or two, they went with the WCO guy instead of the Pats/Jets retread. There’s a Rich Kotite joke in there somewhere.

Friday, December 28, 2012

GM Candidates: Associations with HC Candidates

The General Manager/Head Coach association thing gets overblown – the idea that a GM is going to pick a head coach (or recommend one, depending on your viewpoint of how that will go – Ron Rivera interviewed with Jerry Richardson, but no one else did.  Did JR hire Rivera, or just approve?) based more on association than competence is a stretch, but it happens – Marty Hurney knew John Fox from many years before 2002, for instance. However, my favorite GM-candidate until hired by the Raiders, Reggie McKenzie, failed to really go after anyone from the Green Bay organization despite numerous potential hires (including Joe Philbin, who went to Miami).

This list is more to put together any scenarios that provide association to possible head coach candidates, not to say “this is what this GM would do”.

*Marc Ross – the young Giants exec doesn’t have a lot of heavy association in his rolodex.  He’s really not old enough to have dealt with a rolodex, either, but it’s a metaphor.  Go with it.
-His time with the Eagles (1997-2003, including 00-03 as college scouting director) lends him to an association with any Eagles staffer with Andy Reid.
That includes the incumbent coach, Ron Rivera; that doesn’t guarantee that Rivera would be asked to stay, but Rivera’s time with the Eagles was very positive. DC Sean McDermott was a staffer there throughout that time
Unlikely the team scapegoats Rob Chudzinski in my opinion, but if there was a change at OC, Marty Morhinweg, Pat Shurmur, or Brad Childress might be called on; Rivera coached with Childress and Shurmur. It would also give inroads to Juan Castillo if a new OL coach was wanted on the existing staff, though it appears he and Rivera associate strongly anyway.

-His association with the Giants (07-current) gives him current Giants DC Perry Fewell, a Panthers candidate in ’11, and for those that find it a positive, a Gastonia native.  Bucs OC and former Giant staffer Mike Sullivan would assocate but it’s highly unlikely that would bear any fruit.
-His association the Bills provides very little for the Mike Mularkey/Jerry Gray associations.  Steve Spagnuolo was only there one year and likely doesn’t rate high as a 2nd chance head coach.

-His association with Princeton is intriguing if Jason Garrett, and assumedly his brother Judd (Cowboys pro personnel director) are let go at the end of the year. I have no idea if Ross (’94) knows, associates with, or gets along with either Garrett (’89 and ’90 Princeton grads), but since there aren’t a lot of Princeton alumni at the head of NFL orgs, it’s highly unlikely they aren’t aware of each other’s relative success.   Garrett would be intriguing as a Coryell guy, and while he hasn’t met the Cowboys’ overall expectations, it’s hard to say that a lot has. He carries a possible ace in the hole, in Bill Callahan.

*Tom Gamble – the 49ers exec leaves more failed coaches in his wake than positives in seven years.  The Eagles years for Gamble are too far away to help; the Colts (98-04) connection isn’t going to get you anything.
-From Jim Harbaugh’s staff, I believe in Mark Roman as a rising star, and the 49ers are very Coryell based despite this notion that Harbaugh is WCO.  Roman was a Panther at the onset of his pro coaching career, for the very short time Gamble was in Carolina.
-since I don’t know that I see Bill Polian going to an NFL team, son Chris probably would follow Gamble, and Chris was once escorted out of the Panthers’ Mint Street facilities after Bill left.  Not a dealbreaker for Gamble, but hard to say it helps.

*Dave Gettleman – Being with the Giants gives him limited options – Fewell, since I can’t imagine that Jim Fassell or any assistants are going to be on the radar. His Broncos and Bills ties have no real bearing.  Not that it pushes any GM candidate toward or away associative hires, but it does suggest Gettleman is unlikely to hire a known associate.

*Joey Clinkscales – a one year Raider after the draft, I’ll skip past that – as a hire in May, he wasn’t even around to help put together Dennis Allen’s interview or help line up assistants.  So, let’s move to his Jets connections.  17 years there is a lot of time.
-Parcells-era connections – obviously, Bill (and Bill) are out.  Al Groh isn’t realistic at this point.  Charlie Weis doesn’t seem to pack much punch, and too many of his recommendations ended up helping cost John Fox.
-Eric Mangini isn’t even in the top 5 of guys you might want to coax back out of television. I don’t know if Herm Edwards is, either. In an ideal world, if a new head coach were hired that needed some defensive help, one of them would be a good DC.  But in the world we live in, being a mediocre head coach provides you the ability to get paid millions to not work in the game anymore.
-Rex Ryan might hold a little interest, for a retread.
-Brian Schottenheimer was an interesting name at one point – he spent years with the Jets.  Not a hot name at all, but somewhat interesting in that he’s a Coryell guy.  Still, the best part of those teams involved the running game, and a lot of that flows to Bill Callahan.

Sunday, December 23, 2012


Wanted to take on the Raiders game for a minute before it starts.

        Oakland - you can't completely sleep on the 4-10 Raiders.  They've had better play on the OL recently, and they have Greg Knapp's WCO running allright at this point.  Carson Palmer, without an amazing cast around him, has taken a lot of heat for being not worth his trade, which isn't his problem.  Right now, Palmer's having as good a year as he ever has, though he's a few TDs short of his 2005-07 years (and that's OK, hopefully Carolina puts an end to future scoring).  Darren McFadden isn't putting his part in, though.

      I don't put a lot of stock into what happens with Terrelle Pryor.  Just one of the various awkward and expensive QB options for the Raiders in recent history, Pryor is athletic, but has so very little experience in the NFL.  He can do things in the wildcat, or they might play him in regular snaps - not sure.  But, it's a gimmick thrown in for this week that probably has as much to do with using something in a game they'll use to scout Cam Newton as anything. .

     New head coach Dennis Allen (John Fox's DC last year, Saints DBs coach before that) helms the defense ahead of first-time coordinator Jason Tarver.  It's a basic 4-3 scheme that runs away from the long years of the Rob Ryan teams, but brings some blitz pressure.  Carolina gets a break with Richard Seymour out for the game.  Matt Shaughnessy and Lamarr Houston are allright ends, but neither are producing at a high level.  Andre Carter, who had a very productive 2011 with the Pats, has 2 sacks as a backup.

     Behind them, Omar Gaither (last year's utility LB in Carolina) starts at MLB, but former Colt Phillip Wheeler is the differencemaker on the second level, doing a bit of everything (3 sacks, 7 passes defensed, leading the team with 104 tackles).  SS Tyvon Branch, when healthy, can make a lot of difference, but he's banged up and may not even go this week.

This is a very winnable game and Carolina's on a 2 game win streak.  But, Oakland's a tough place to play; there's not a lot of forgiveness for mistakes there.   Carolina has done a good job the last few weeks getting ahead and staying ahead; Oakland's not that physical a team but I don't see Carolina just muscling them around, either.  It's not time to get cocky, it's time to finish strong.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Tough Few Weeks For Coryell O

...and a tough couple of weeks for the lineage(s) that Ron Rivera has come from, honestly. 
Norv Turner has been told he’s fired at the end of this year, something to consider when gearing up for the Chargers game this week.  Stalwart OC Cam Cameron, a former Chargers staffer, was fired Monday as OC of the Ravens.  The Carolina staff, full of Coryell aficionados including OC Rob Chudzinski (a former Charger), line coach John Matsko (formerly with the Ravens, and before that with the Mike Martz Coryell staff), and Norv’s son Scott, is destined for likely failure, too.
It’s not a good time for the coaches running Coryell; while most, if not all, should be running an offense again next year, all of them have had enough failure that it got them fired, too.  It does, of course, give some level of association or package deal with most of the above coaches if wanted; Chudzinski has worked with all of them, for instance, and would be given top billing as assistant if not an OC next year himself.
To add to that, it’s not looking great for Jason Garrett, once determined as a wonder boy of the system himself. At 19-16, Garrett has done an allright job, and it’s too early to pull the pin on him in most situations.  But with existing head coaches available that might provide an immediate boost, Garrett might not make it through the year.
The other fork of that Rivera lineage is out of the Eagles’ org (I’m writing off the Bears portion for now, but some struggles there too).  Andy Reid is obviously on the outs – and the defense that was once a proving ground for future head coaches is now a place where coaches can’t make it through the season.  Jim Washburn is out to follow Juan Castillo. Reid himself probably won’t be able to pull from that many assistants on defense, having dropped so many at this point; fellow Jim Johnson alum Steve Spagnuolo isn’t likely to be fired but to call his Saints defense struggling would understate by a good bit their current issues.  Pat Shurmur, a position coach with the Eagles for many years, is failing as the Browns' head coach. 
On the upside, as much as I want Rivera to move on for his game decisions and inability to force games shut on opponents, his scheming and preparation is ideal, and for the most part, the scheme is the best fit for the players in place (many of which will remain past Rivera).  Defensively, it’s a lot to ask of a coach to leave in a Wade Phillips/Jim Johnson hybrid pro multiple D, but it won’t be hard to set up a Coryell system here in Carolina, and hopefully they’ll have the sense to continue down that path.

Rivera Rumors And More

      There's a groundswell of support behind Ron Rivera, with a winning streak under his belt finally this year (two is close enough, right?) and some momentum.   Players have defended him to the hilt, and the media isn't writing him off as they had - Scott Fowler believes he should get another year; Pat Yasinskas writes: " I think there’s a decent chance Rivera keeps his job. I also think there’s a growing chance interim general manager Brandon Beane moves into that role on a permanent basis. "

       I don't take the Beane situation with much seriousness; it might warrant owner Jerry Richardson to interview him, but he doesn't have the credability of other candidates.  

       Meanwhile, there are plenty of reasons to consider keeping Rivera - he's appearing to learn on the job; having DBs coach Steve Wilks on board has lessened some burdens on the defensive side of the ball, as does a burgeoning pass rush; Rob Chudzinski's never gotten an elusive third year to expand on his teaching.  Sean McDermott's only in his 4th year as a coordinator, and so far, this looks to be his best -- without the Eagles' talent base. 

       There also come a few potentially unreliable 'inside' rumors, passed along recently.  These include the idea that Rivera has to screw up badly to not be kept for next year; 
The team isn't that happy with the duo of Mike Shula and Rob Chudzinski and aren't unwilling to allow either guy to walk.  These rumors come from inside the stadium, but again I don't know how reliable I'd consider them.  Rumors also suggest Norv Turner coming in, and it's highly unlikely the team would hire Turner if Chudzinski were let go, as the link between the two is pretty large (stronger tie than between Turner and Rivera).  Turner would be a good choice here, but it's complicated.  

      There's also a growing sentiment that Rivera will sacrifice a coordinator for his own safety.  This is 100% fan opinion, not rumor; I'd caution against that one.  Rivera is a very loyal guy, and while most position coaches he doesn't have any tie to, Rivera has a significant tie to Chudzinski on offense and McDermott on defense.   McDermott would've found himself on his can with another bad year on defense, where DBs coach Steve Wilks would be a heavy favorite to supplant him; but, currently the defense is top ten, and improving from there. 

      My own opinion: if Rivera does stay, he needs to add a veteran coach who has administrative experience to help with game decisions and guidance; a chief-of-staff so to speak.  He'd also be smart to hire a new special teams coach, and really should've moved on Dave Toub last year if that was at all possible. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Rivera: Asst Head Coach Wanted?

I've remarked here many times that Ron Rivera really didn't do the assistant head coach title here in Carolina, and he admitted today that he should've had an experienced head coach on staff.  An assistant head coach, experienced or not, would've helped in that regard; both OC Rob Chudzinski and DBs coach (and "Passing game coordinator") Steve Wilks were assistant head coaches in the past.

Rivera has made numerous moves that, at first glance, don't cost Carolina, but in the long run have helped rob some wins from a team that could've been a contender.  He covered that at his press conference, suggesting that the schemes and Xs and Os were top notch (agreed) but that game management lacked (agreed on that as well).

Rivera had the ability to hire an assistant head coach, reportedly having some association with his former head coach, Dave Wannstedt - who was AHC/LBs with Buffalo in 2011, before becoming coordinator there.  He also would've been able to get Mike Singletary if interested, but the draw on that one would've been more unsettled (since Singletary acts somewhat insane).  Finding a position coach with head coach experience isn't that easy (Tom Cable would've been another option, I guess), and in my opinion, there's not much room for a coordinator with that additional role.

Notably, Darin Gantt chimed in on twitter, specifically pushing the idea that Chudzinski was Rivera's choice and that the team had other choices at OC; that's all well and good, but coordinators don't have to be the guys to advise a head coach; John Fox used his RBs coach, Jim Skipper.  You want someone detached from the minutae of instructing half the team at all times, in my opinion.

The hire of Chudzinski was ideal; the coaches being pushed by the media as Hurney's supposed choices (Tom Clements, unlikely to leave as GB's QBs coach and now their OC;  Jay Gruden, who's doing a great job as Bengals OC but who had minimal experience in any high enough league as a head coach; Marc Trestman, a head coach in the CFL) weren't necessarily guys who had success in college or NFL as a head coach.  None of them push the system that Rivera's familiar with; he doesn't know them.  Again, in this case, an association with a coach who has some background with the new HC is a good thing.

I do applaud Rivera's candid statements, as always.  I wish those situations were improved; I wish Rivera was a better game manager.  I see a team that, in a way, is held back by just that issue. 

Would a stipulation of Rivera's continued employment next year be found in an Assistant Head Coach who's been around the block?  If so, who? 

*Wannstedt might come available again (Chan Gailey and Wannstedt have the Bills at 5-9 in year 3).  LBs coach Warren Belin is doing a good job, but could easily slide back to college; 
*Pat Shurmur (current coach of the Browns) coached TEs, then QBs with the Eagles, though he's probably as likely to slide back in with Andy Reid;
*Mike Munchak in Tennessee probably doesn't have much time left; he'd be a solid line coach/assistant head coach
*Norv Turner's probably not going to get another head coaching job; the unlikeliness of him coming here is evident in that he wouldn't be less than a coordinator and hasn't worked on the East Coast in years. 

There's also a chance that Rivera promotes someone from within to the title.  Or that he's not here to have it happen. 

On A Roll In Meaningless Games

Carolina now has a win streak – picking up second win in a row at San Diego.  The game, much like the location, had to feel like a vacation, as San Diego trailed from the start and never caught up.  A pair of quick Mike Tolbert TDs, the second of which came soon after the first due to a Chargers fumble, covered the game with ten minutes in.  A third score by Deangelo Williams pulled in a 21-0 first quarter lead, and the game was already over.  Steve Smith chipped in another TD for good measure. 
It was a matchup of two downtrodden teams, one guaranteed a coach firing at the end of the year, and the other all but guaranteed.  The Chargers will fire GM AJ Smith; Carolina has already fired GM Marty Hurney. Both teams face a rebuild of sorts, both know who their QB/RB situations will feature.
I’m a little surprised the Chargers are facing such hard times.  While Norv Turner’s never struck me as the most amazing head coach, his offensive principles are top notch; Phillip Rivers has been the most efficient QB at times.  Losing Vincent Jackson hurt, but Malcolm Floyd looked like he should’ve been good enough to replace him. They’ve willingly let so many good backs leave (Tolbert seemed to have a chip on his shoulder, odd for a guy who took less money to leave), but Ryan Matthews should be good enough to make the rest happen. Losing Ron Rivera and Rob Chudzinski has hurt Turner (followed by Steve Wilks), but after a year of Greg Manusky, I felt like John Pagano would be a solid DC there (and he’s been allright). 
As for Tolbert, they were dead set on getting him the ball at the goal line, pulling Williams on the first drive near the end zone and setting up plays for Tolbert (the would-be touchdown pass was knocked away by Shawn Phillips, before the flying leap).   There’s no doubting it, Tolbert deserves his touches, and he’s just fun to watch.  He’s legitimately the third best back on staff right now, but he’s the most fun.   He looks like a short Charles Johnson out there, but he bounces off guys.  Watching him juke Brian Urlacher was just fun – I don’t care if he’s not what he used to be, that’s still Brian Urlacher.   Either way, I look forward to Tolbert getting the ball next year, and I hope that (assuming Deangelo Williams does move on) Jonathan Stewart proves durable.  Stew had a pretty good streak of health, but since being named starter, it’s been tough out there for him.

Monday, December 10, 2012

V/s Falcons, Aftermath: A Spirited Win

If only they showed this much heart in every game, right?
Against a good, but flawed Falcons team, it’s not that hard to see an angry, underachieving Panthers team beating the snot out of the Falcons at home.  Unlike many times in the past, Carolina found a way to finish, putting 30 points on Atlanta, after a Thomas Davis INT on 4th down cut Atlanta to its knees. They then delivered a knockout with a nice screen play for a 56 yard TD with 4 minutes to go, to RB Deangelo Williams.
Carolina put up 475 yards offense on the then-11-1 Falcons, and seemed to do a lot of what it wanted on the field. 287 yards passing, 195 rushing.  Even still, Carolina failed to fully establish a running game, getting more spurts from Cam Newton and Williams than consistently strong runs; the balance isn’t there that you might imagine for a team that had, at one point, a 23 point lead.  The team went with strength and got an efficient 65% completion percentage from Newton, but still passed more than ran against a weak Atlanta front seven built to play pass.
OC Rob Chudzinski is still trying to hit the homerun on rushing plays than looking for the consistent 4-5 yards needed to sustain drives.  Consequently, the rushes weren’t there that often, and many of them were on zone reads (like Newton’s longest run, a brilliant TD aided strongly by a massive set of blocks from Steve Smith) that net massive gains at times, but often leave Williams running for minimal gain, too.   Another portion of that rushing day rested on Newton’s scrambling ability, running for a handful of third and long conversions and using a few more third downs to buy time to hit receivers.
For Newton, it was another strong game, but it came despite a few tough mistakes.  Newton hit some tough throws, including the Greg Olsen TD to start the game; he also missed an open Steve Smith in the endzone, and overshot an open Louis Murphy down the sidelines.  It’s hard to say that the overthrown screen balls to Mike Tolbert wouldn’t have been good gainers, too – Tolbert is a load in the open field.  Still, Smith was able to hit 100 yards, if not the TD; he was targeted 12 times.  Olsen’s the one that needs to get more attempts, catching 4 of his 5 and getting only a litle more than half of what Louis Murphy received in a rare start (5 rec of 9 targets).
Carolina’s defense, meanwhile, started strong – forcing a few early failed drives, notably a 3 and out on Atlanta’s first series.  As the game wore on, however, Atlanta had answers – putting up 20 second half points after going scoreless in the first half; as well, Carolina fought hard but had what would essentially be considered an all-reserve defensive backfield against Atlanta’s no-huddle. Carolina, at one point, was using Haruki Nakamura, last game’s goat, with rookie DJ Campbell at safety, until Campbell himself went out with injury for special teamer Collin Jones; Charles Godfrey was active but never played.  At corner, Josh Norman was benched mid-game, and that left Josh Thomas in with Captain Munnerlyn, and month-old waiver pickup James Dockery playing against starting Atlanta receivers.   At times it worked- especially a few nice Campbell plays on TE Tony Gonzalez, but it also wore Carolina down and gave them more basic coverages.  It even came with more blitzing, which was a bit shocking.
Up front, playing without Dwan Edwards this week and Ron Edwards the rest of the year, the front struggled in tackling and run defense, but limited the Atlanta run game to 11 attempts, 35 yards because of the circumstakes of a quick 10 point lead.  Charles Johnson, officially, had one assist and no pressure from the listings, but hit the QB twice and flushed him once on the Frank Kearse sack.  The official listing also shows Greg Hardy with a sack and three pressures.
Hardy has officially become the player that people asked for when suggesting Steve Smith’s intensity with Julius Peppers’ ability.  That might stretch things a little bit – Hardy isn’t as athletic, and certainly didn’t time as fast, but had first round talent coming out and now seems to take his training much more seriously.  And when he turns it on, as he has recently (9 sacks in 10 games), he has that Smith intensity (Smith’s also wavers a bit, recently taking to picking on any DB he can try to bait into a shoving fight).  Hardy’s pregame (and then postgame) comments all but willed the team to victory, but could be very costly in the future, too.
Statistically, Luke Kuechly’s total 16 tackles rates highest on defense; Thomas Davis kicks in 7, an INT and deflected pass; Dockery’s 6 tackles in an unofficial debut was interesting.  Hardy’s 4 tackles go with his rush numbers.  More oddly, while Jason Phillips likely played less due to Atlanta’s spread usage, he only received 1 assist as starting SLB.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

GM Search Rumors

While there's some buzz that consultant Ernie Accorsi will lean on Giants' contacts for a Panthers GM recommendation, another (more controversial) name has emerged.

George Kokinis.

The one-year Browns GM has some ties to Accorsi -- not unlike the Falcons' recommended Thomas Dimitroff, Accorsi has a past with Kokinis.  A gopher on Bill Belichick teams in the early 90s, along with various other current, former, and future GMs, he was there with Accorsi (at the time, Browns GM).  Accorsi did push Kokinis for the Atlanta job behind Dimitroff; Kokinis had a shot at the post-Carl Peterson Chiefs, too. 

Bill Belichick himself, curmudgeon mumbler he is, will recommend guys, too.  Who knows what he thinks of Kokinis at this point, but any association with the guy tends to get front office guys a fresh job whenever they're interested.

Kokinis, of course, comes from the Ravens organization - on paper, a fantastic thing.  GM Ozzie Newsome is considered one of the best; the team has sustained success since 2000 (their Super Bowl year; 8 playoff appearances after that don't hurt either).  Kokinis has worked with, besides Belichick, a lot of coaches with pull in the league - Brian Billick, Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, Jack Del Rio, and Rex Ryan.

He left the Ravens' organization in 09, finding himself behind Eric Decosta as heir apparent to Newsome (that doesn't appear to have changed, and probably won't).   Rumors abound - his story suggests that the Browns had to promise him final say to have him leave, and that he was fired over a disagreement in whether or not he ever got that power.  Other rumors suggest potential drug use and/or affairs with other employees.  A third suggests that, at 1-7, Kokinis had already been let go, unwilling to let him finish the season.  Either way, not the way to go.

It's a situation steeped in the northeastern power struggle of football - between Boston and New York, you have 7 Super Bowl appearances by the Giants and Patriots, and with the Jets, two more championship game appearances -- upon which many of the related coaches and staff either come from, or were hired into, situations to fight the Pats/Giants over the years.  Cleveland fits in there too - plenty of former Pats staffers, with the added problem of being the ones to let Belichick and staff go.

Kokinis' background suggests a large amount of available coaches - from the retread Billick, to retread Del Rio, to fresh retread Rex Ryan.  Ryan, by and large, was the guy who was felt more ready for the job with the Ravens, with the added benefit of promoting Chuck Pagano (now a cancer patient/occasional Colts coach) as DC.  That might make Ryan, now looking to be available, as a possible candidate; it could link his twin, Rob (a former Patriot coach and later Browns DC).  It might involve Mangini, now a TV commentator and reportedly a longstanding friend of Kokinis' despite the supposed power struggle.

I don't know if Kokinis is really a candidate, or just a rumor floated by an agent to someone who likes to talk -- but I do know this, the idea is scary and Kokinis was a flameout.

I know that I came into this thinking that  a reputable guy like Accorsi, who is more or less as advertised it seems - is still prone to cronyism.  He's going to put out there guys like this, guys he's worked with.  I've suggested myself that cronyism can be a good thing.  The buddy system works if it gives you guys you know you work well with, that work in your system.

But a line of thought that leads from Accorsi to Kokinis to Mangini - basically reuniting a 2009 Browns team - is not where this team should head.  Mangini, Belichick's former Browns ball boy because they went to the same alma mater, and Kokinis as Accorsi's guy - a baseball assistant on a team Accorsi's godson was on.

To make matters worse - according to Accorsi, Arthur Blank was given three recommendations.  Supposedly falling in love with Dimitroff before even interviewing Kokinis, they also never got to the third candidate - Tom Heckert, who's about to be fired by (you guessed it if you're sharp) the Browns.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

It's hard to think of much worse than losing to the worst team in the league and allowing them an emotional, inspiring win in honor of a murderer.  Losing to Brady Quinn and then watching him act like some sort of hero by giving a postgame conference about society isn't much better.   A special thanks to Dwayne Bowe for tweeting out a picture of the T-shirt honoring the murderer, too. Mis-spelled name and everything.

A loss in the face of tragedy is, definitely, something that requires a level of perspective - it's just a loss.  It's not a loss of life.  But, to lose to a team so they can celebrate their teammate and friend, a guy who also just happened to take the ultimate coward's way out?   Try honoring that kid he orphaned, not the guy who
was such a great teammate he brought tragedy on his team; not the guy who brought his tragedy to work and scarred other professionals forever.

But they honored him anyway, and Carolina went ahead and gave them a win.   That's about as close as I can get to analyzing the ballgame.