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Friday, August 30, 2013

It's Just Preseason, But:

The defense showed a lot of pressure, and not coincidentally, a lot of
turnovers were caused.

Carolina has done a good job the last few years of forcing fumbles, but
the interceptions didn't come. Without looking, I count 8 this
preseason.

They did pile on the pressure, with or without the starters; Carolina
got sacks from their rookie DTs, a good sign to add to Dwan Edwards' 6
inside last year. They've already cut preseason-leading Louis Nzegwu,
but Wes Horton looks like a guy who they might sneak to the practice
squad.

It's a good sign to have added the INT, and the overall playmaking, to
the defense. It's a D that will, inevitably, give up some yards as it
gets more agressive, but it's a good start to see the pressure and the
made plays.

Now, if we could only say that about the offense throughout the same
preseason, we might have something.

Re: A Quick 53 Before The Game

It was a good night for the home crowd against Pittsburgh, 25-10 in a
game suggesting that the defense is hitting its stride, even with mostly
backups.

It was an odd opening - the backup Panthers offense drove down the
field against the starting (with a few exceptions) Steelers D, and same
for the Steelers' backups against a number of Carolina starters
(including the starting line for the series).

After that, it was mostly a matter of the defense picking Landry Jones,
a rookie who played the entire game at QB, and a few big plays by Derek
Anderson at QB and the opportunistic defense.

Here are some highlights, from a personnel perspective:

*Ted Ginn at WR
It was against backups, and we've seen this from the likes of lesser
talented guys who did nothing on real gameday (Keary Colbert, Preseason
Superstar Emeritus as the best example). Ginn had proven himself plenty
about returns, but this was his best showing at WR, with a nice
touchdown on a Bang-8 from Anderson, followed by the 87 yard fly route.
He finished with 5 catches for 149 yards and the two scores, as well as
picking up a nifty first down on a Tauren Poole fumble.

*Domenik Hixon
The big man caught 3/44 in the first half, using good hands and body
control. It might be late for him to be the #3 guy to start the season,
especially with Ginn's play Thursday, but there is room for both to
contribute.

*Anderson
Showed off his arm, and a better accuracy than in the past. He's
always going to be a guy who looks for the deep ball, but in this
offense that has a value.

*The backup OL
Byron Bell shouldn't be playing LT (he lunges the way he doesn't/can't
at his natural RT), but he looked allright. Garry Williams looked like
a good pass blocker at RT. Chris Scott (LG) and Nate Chandler (LT) came
in afterward and looked fine as well (Chandler is still raw but he gets
good push, and uses good technique, for a guy who's been playing
defense). There's finally a little hope about the line depth.

That's tempered by a terrible yards/carry number, however.

*Armond Smith
He didn't fumble like Poole did, and he's clearly a superior special
teamer. If he hadn't kicked a Raven last week in the groin, you might
pencil him in for a roster spot. I believe he was the one who scored
the return safety, and almost had a rushing TD. He's not an exceptional
rusher, but if he'd scored both, that would've been pretty special.

*Greg Hardy
Hardy gets the Todd Sauerbrun award for thinking that a preseason game
matters too much, showing a tenacious rush to go with chasing down a WR
on an end around. The roughing penalty on the first play was dumb,
without anything to prove, hence the Sauerbrun bit.

*2014 starters at LB
AJ Klein and Chase Blackburn looked good out there. There were some
mistakes, like Blackburn giving up the TD on the post-up, but both
appear to be in line for the next move.

*Josh Norman
4 picks in preseason isn't too bad, and if he'd have picked a slower
receiver, he would've had another TD. Norman appears to still not have
a handle on starting, and who knows if he'll be the outside guy with
Captain Munnerlyn moving to the slot for nickel. But Norman's doing
all he can, and he's being a more physical tackler.

*Haruki Nakamura
The absence of Mike Mitchell suggests that he's still the starter, but
Nakamura played well at SS in his absence. Nakamura's only real sin on
the football field, whether it be the Roddy White play last year or
anything on the field at any other point, seems to be height. If he
were 6'2, and 15 lbs heavier, he'd be noticed (and would've batted that
ball from White, where he really had position). He doesn't really make
mistakes, he tackles hard, he plays the ball.

*Colin Jones
The third-year has been absent on defense his entire tenure here, but
he lucked into two picks, and it's never bad to make a play. Jones will
always be a special teamer, but your imagination starts to run wild a
little when you see a guy that size, with that speed, taking the ball
upfield when there are five linemen and a QB playing defense.




I stand behind my 53 - I posted before the game with the guys I think
will make it, and who might make the roster. I think the right players
made the necessary plays to stay.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Quick 53 Before The Game

Carolina plays tonight, preseason game #4, in a game that's more about
the final roster spots than the opponent or its scheme, coaches,
players. So that part I'm going to skip.

It's a crucial game for Domenik Hixon, Armanti Edwards, David Gettis.
It appears that Nate Chandler will get a good, long shot at seeing if he
can improve on run blocking (he appears to actually be doing a good job
with pass blocking).

I'll start with a final 53 and then discuss as I go.



Offense:

QB - Newton, Anderson

I don't know that the team does or doesn't keep Jimmy Clausen, but
almost arbitrarily I've chosen that another player is in the mix
instead. There hasn't been a positive for most teams to keep a 3rd guy
they're not intent on developing, and Clausen is not a guy they're
developing.

RB - Williams, Tolbert, Barner

Brockel can play FB, so I have him listed below but his value may be
with the backs. Three total RB isn't enough - but Jonathan Stewart is
coming back eventually and I don't know if Tauren Poole is worth keeping
for 6 weeks as insurance. He's a good player who isn't above
replacement.

TE - Olsen, Hartsock, Brockel, Williams

Keeping four is possibly too much. The team likes all four, Brockel
fits the dual role.

WR - Smith, LaFell, Hixon, Gettis, Ginn, Edwards

I'm keeping six here simply out of merit, I don't know that they'll do
it. Each of the four backups has a doppelganger in role/ability.

OT - Gross, Bell, Chandler
G - Wharton, Silatolu, Williams, Scott
C - Kalil, Byers

The backup tackles are the starting guards in this scenario, leaving
the team to provide the last guy in Chandler, who might not dress.
Byers is a good interior backup, Silatolu would inevitably play sometime
this year when healthy, and Scott seems to be a guy they like. You
could interchange Scott/Chandler with waiver pickups or other guys on
the roster, however.

15 skill players, and 9 linemen. 26 is a little heavy for offense, but
at unsettled spots on the line and WR, I don't think they're done
settling into roles.



Defense:

DT - Lotulelei, D.Edwards, Short, Cole
DE - Johnson, Hardy, Alexander, Addison

Short and sweet, this is what I'd expect. This is a solid group.

LB - Kuechly, Beason, Davis, Blackburn, Klein, Senn, Williams

Three starters, two likely 2014 starters, two special teamers. No
worries here.

CB - Munnerlyn, Florence, Thomas, Moore, Norman

No surprises here.

S - Godfrey, Mitchell, Nakamura, Jones

I really don't project anything out of the norm here. DJ Campbell gets
cut, but they have more talent at CB in a league that requires it.


Specialists - K Gano, P Nortman, LS Jansen

No real comments, but I wanted to note the improvement in both Gano and
Nortman, two big-legged kicking specialists who look like they've
figured it all out to a point.


By the numbers:
O - 26
D - 24
ST - 3

Overall, not a lot of changes on defense - normally there'd be an extra
DL, maybe an 8th LB, but the D gets shorted two players compared to the
O in this case. In my methodology, I would have had to pick between DJ
Campbell and David Gettis, and I can see making the opposite argument
(+special teams, +future contract).




Practice Squad -
DE Horton
WR Bersin
S Campbell
OL (outside pickup)
OL (outside pickup)
DT (outside pickup)
CB M. White
RB Poole

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Kugbila Added To IR

Ed Kugbila is waived/IR as of now, which suggests that if he clears
waivers, he'll go to injured reserve.

That opens a greater hole at RG, where Garry Williams may be competent
as a pass blocker but is only serviceable overall. The Travelle Wharton
signing might push Amini Silatolu into competing at RG during the
season, though he appears to be at least 2 weeks away from seeing the
field. The team may also pickup a veteran there.

Incumbent Geoff Hangartner, an early camp cut, remains out on the
market. Hangartner wasn't incredible, but he's solid depth. Otherwise,
the hope is they'd find someone with more push in the run game to back
Williams.


To update on Joe Adams, he's apparently been processed the same - not
outright cut. So Adams might have a chance on next year's roster after
all. Same appears to have gone for Frank Kearse. If each clear
waivers, that puts four on IR.

All would make it to next year's roster and compete on whatever that
'14 team would look like. You'd assume Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, Steve
Smith, Greg Olsen, Charles Johnson, and most of the current rookies will
be on board, but at this point, anyone not included in the above list
(coach or player) might want to pick up the pace.

Kearse, Adams Cut

2012 draft pick Joe Adams, one of that draft's best returners, has been
cut, along with undrafted pickup DT Frank Kearse.

Adams had shown very good return skill but was benched midway through
2012 due to fumbling issues. Without having played WR in any game this
preseason, and while a good returner he wasn't going to be as good as
Ted Ginn, Adams just didn't have a spot on the team.

Which returns to the odd nature of having continually drafted WR since
2010 - 5 total through 2012. I know that, had Carolina dropped a couple
of those 4th/5th round picks on offensive line, they might be in better
shape.



Kearse was picked up mid-2011, after being a 7th rounder that year for
Miami; he started four games that season before backing up most of 2012.
Another guy in a numbers crunch, Kearse was an allright backup who
apparently wasn't in contention for the 4th DT spot behind the bigger
expenditures that will make the team.




Not sure if more moves are coming. Certainly, some of what's left will
play in game 4 against Pittsburgh Thursday, and will do so just to
fulfill the NFL's obligation to play a game that night. I don't, for
instance, think that Joe Adams was cut to have Brentson Bersin make the
roster. But some guys will legitimately find their way toward a job
that night, and some will be starting over.

Stewart Starts On PUP

It's hard to say whether Jonathan Stewart would've been the starter for
opening day, but that's ruled out. Deangelo Williams will start;
Stewart will enter the season on the PUP list.

PUP entrants are eligible if they were hurt before the start of the
year; they're eligible to start practicing week 7, can be elevated (at
the cost of another guy's roster spot) at that point, though they
technically can string things out until week 10.

Williams finished the 2012 season strong after being demoted for
Stewart; he rushed for over 200 yards against the Saints in the season
finale. Mike Tolbert, as well, finished strong with 5 TD over the final
four games of the year. Both will have an increased workload, and
Kenjon Barner might get a few more touches. It's hard to say whether
the team will keep Tauren Poole as temporary insurance, or if they'll
stash an extra lineman for a few weeks.

Wharton at LG; State Of The Line

Hate to keep focusing on the OL, but this is both the most interesting
spot on the team right now, and the likely weakness of the weaker side
of the ball.

Chris Scott, the oversized camp pickup that was the exchange player
when starting RG Geoff Hangartner was cut, is apparently working with
the first team at left guard, but it's not likely to be long.

Scott, who's never started a real NFL game, stands in front of Travelle
Wharton, who really just needs to show he's in game shape on the field
to get the start. Installed back at LG on his first day at practice,
returning to his original number of 70, Wharton will start the first
game at LG unless something goes wrong.

Wharton obviously passed physicals, but he had done so with the Bengals
as well before being cut. I don't think the injury was a concern of
Cincinnati's, salary was. With that resolved in Carolina, there's no
concern in plugging him back in.

Incumbent LG Amini Silatolu has apparently been ruled out already for
the opener in Seattle, so he'll likely be supplanted at LG for the year.
So will Silatolu become the depth at LT and LG? Will he move to RG
where he could probably beat out Garry Williams? Who knows.

I do believe it's vital that Silatolu makes the field when he's
healthy. I can't stand swapping sides for linemen, but he needs to be
out there.

So, for the moment, the duo of Gross and Wharton gets back on the left
side. The hard part will be that this time next year, chances are both
will be gone. I can only hope that it will come on the greater good -
that they'll work toward actually doing something on the OL, and that a
better version of Silatolu and Ed Kugbila will be a part of things. But
the only constant for next year is Ryan Kalil.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Jobs Still Up In The Air

It's hard to say if entrenched starters will play much, but don't think
that the Steelers game is going to be meaningless.

Besides the inevitable debut of Travelle Wharton - I can't see the team
not giving him reps - the team will likely see Domenik Hixon for the
first time. The former Giant WR has been banged up, leading many fans
and media to write him off completely. I really do believe the offense
gets better with him there.

As well, there's no doubt it'll be interesting to see what happens at
SS, where Mike Mitchell's starting status is in flux thanks to his
foolish behavior. The team doesn't want to start Haruki Nakamura, but
might be forced to do it. As well, the team might be locked in on
Captain Munnerlyn and Drayton Florence as starters, but the 3rd guy
appears to remain a three way race. Josh Thomas might or might not
play, Josh Norman has to work on his tackling, and DJ Moore needs to be
more physical.

Jon Beason has requested to play, suggesting it'll help get him in game
shape.

TEs Richie Brockel - who started at FB this past week - and Brandon
Williams will be vying for possibly one spot, so it won't be a
meaningless game for them.

And maybe an OL or two will come to play looking to claim a roster
spot.

What's With Wharton?

I can't imagine that the Travelle Wharton signing was going to be any
more obvious than anything else Carolina could've done since they saw
Star Lotulelei drop to their draft pick.

But the end result is, they already have a guy they've thrown at LG to
replace him. Amini Silatolu - who actually looked good at the end of
last season before somehow regressing a bit this year.

Carolina has stated he's a guard. And that makes sense. The Observer
at one point attempted to pin him down at tackle, suggesting he'd
supplant Byron Bell at RT. And I never would've assumed that to happen
anymore than it's going to happen. It's highly unlikely.

But Carolina hasn't signed Wharton for sentimentality. At this point,
I think it's reasonable to suggest that he'll start at LG for now. And
that's fine. On paper, if Wharton is who he was, run blocking will take
a bit of a hit but pass protection will improve. There won't be a
learning curve for the 10 year vet, stepping back in from being signed
Sunday, that there remains to be for Silatolu, who's been in the
building for a year, or Ed Kugbila at RG, who has one full practice
under his belt as a pro (and not in pads).

Wharton at LG makes sense. Now the left side of the line is sound. If
Gross, who struggled last week against Terrell Suggs, can get back to
respectability, it should be a good left side. And I think Bell is
good enough to be the RT right now. Bell got somewhat unfairly beaten
down by fans for being an undrafted - and then chastised for his play in
preseason at LT, where he should never line up - but is about what this
team wants in a RT. Bell, I believe, gave up fewer sacks than Gross
did.

So that leaves RG.

Does the team attempt to move Silatolu, still nursing a hamstring, to
RG? If so, will that even have impact week 1?

I'm never in favor of moving linemen from one side to the other, and
was surprised the team attempted it with the second string line of
career right sider Bell (LT) and career left sider Bruce Campbell (RT,
and now playing the left side of injured reserve). That's why I haven't
plugged Wharton in at RG. A career left sider, he's never really played
on the right side at any level that I'm aware. Same for Silatolu.

SO that leaves the question - do you move Silatolu, who's inevitably
better than Garry Williams at RG despite having never played there.
Line coach John Matsko hasn't hesitated to move a guy around, most
notably former 1st rounder Michael Oher, who constantly flipped left and
right tackle spots. So maybe Silatolu will find time on the right side.
I just don't know how well it'll work.

That's all speculation. It might be weeks before everyone's healthy
enough to know where everyone will go.

Beason, Star Show How D Should Work

Thursday definitely belonged to Luke Kuechly. But let's not forget
it's a team game.

I've gone on a bit about how Star Lotulelei looked great out there,
too. I think that fans in general have become jaded about Jon Beason,
and to be fair, his return coinciding with Kuechly's massive performance
isn't going to up Beason's stock much.

But Beason made some plays out there, too. The former torchbearer of
the Panther defense did look like the Beason of old. And the truth is,
while there were some cleanup issues - specifically team missed tackles
- that's more what that defense should look like.

We'd seen a very neutered version in 2011, with no Beason or Thomas
Davis. Last year, Kuechly and Davis helped improve things, but the
interior line issues just weren't going to let it be good. Now, with
all three linebackers getting to play behind a stronger defensive line,
it's hard to not be somewhat excited about what's happening up front.
This is finally what Ron Rivera intended for this defense.

There'll be a flexibility the team hasn't enjoyed in the past. Do they
want to play back in the soft zones they were forced to play in? They
can - and an improved rush should make that look less awful. But if
they want to sit in cover 1 and bring a couple of guys, they can. They
probably will.

The truth is, this defense is a couple of good DBs from being a
long-term force. What it'll look like next year, or on beyond that, is
a different story. But for now, this is more or less what they wanted
to see.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Wharton In: Others Out

I've been happily ignoring the weekends while I can, so pardon the late response to the cuts.

I'm shook out of that by Carolina signing Travelle Wharton, so I'll also address the cuts.

Wharton, apparently, was offered the vet minimum earlier this past month; that's a salary of (I believe) $900,000 or so with a minimal signing bonus, but a cap hit that's more in the range of $650,000.  Didn't look it up - as that's not what Wharton will make.   Having ably waited Carolina out, his one year deal likely exceeds $1 million.

And he got to skip camp.

With Amini Silatolu going down with a hamstring injury, and rookie Ed Kugbila having barely practiced because of one, Wharton is crucial depth.  As of yet, it's hard to say that he's going to be starting, or plugged in here or there, but it's a necessary step toward saving Cam Newton's hide and improving the offense.  So far, the hope of a better OL hasn't come around.




As well, Carolina made some cuts following the Ravens game.

QB Colby Cameron and P Jordan Gay were just extra guys.  Cameron never saw the field of play; Gay punted high but short in limited game action.  K Morgan Lineberry wasn't going to unseat incumbent Graham Gano.  As well, LB Ryan Rau, CB Nick Hixson, and vet S Ricardo Silva weren't threats to take jobs.

Justin Walls might've had a legitimate shot at G, where the team's a mess; the problem is, Walls couldn't help either.  The only interesting 'cut' was DE Louis Nzegwu, a top notch rusher who hasn't shown any ability to stop the run at a position full of two-way ends.

Waived/IR so far includes OT Bruce Campbell, WR Kealoha Pilares, and FB Michael Zordich.  Zordich probably was headed to the practice squad; Campbell was needed depth at OT.  Pilares hasn't shown enough, and the former draft pick wasn't in the top 5 WR, so the injury probably gives him another year to get better.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Mitchell's Gaffe, Good For Mikell?

Carolina anticipated that Mike Mitchell would be their starting SS.

They knew he'd be a loose cannon, but when he was flagged for another
personal foul in preseason, they determined he might be done. Mitchell
was immediately benched and only came back in with the backups late in
the game.

Which raises two questions. Does he even stay on the team, and if
not, does the team really want Haruki Nakamura starting by default
again?

In my opinion, if Mitchell isn't starting, he might not be here. The
vet money could possibly be used elsewhere, and while Mitchell is a good
ST player I don't know that the team isn't fed up with him. As a
backup, he might be cut.

Which helps solve the other half - Nakamura. If the team drops
Mitchell, they might look to Mikell.

I don't think you're dying to have any opening day starter be a guy you
pick up at this time of year, but Mikell appears to remain an upgrade,
and he knows the defense. The 32 year old Mikell was a career Eagle
when he signed with the Rams in 2011, so he's familiar with both Ron
Rivera and Sean McDermott.

Mikell plays well in the box, tackles well, and doesn't make stupid
mistakes. Carolina, so far, hasn't been interested in spending the $10
million and change they've stockpiled. If Mikell is desperate to keep
going, skipping camp and getting the vet minimum would mean that it's a
zero-sum exchange for Mitchell. But if Mikell requires $2 million,
you're still only adding roughly $1.25 million to the equation (Mitchell
makes $725k).


That's what I'd do at this point, anyway. Mitchell is a talented young
man, and the team appears done with his nonsense. So this is the way
forward.

Stock Report, Game 3

After game 3 is where you have some idea where you're at. It's also
the game that represents time to start cutting, and right about now is
generally when a couple guys who you thought were going to make the team
get gone.

So with that said, here are the semi-obvious winners and losers in
Carolina this morning.



Winners:
*Star Lotulelei - showed what you would expect. A great first step,
and some plays made. He's starting to beat blocks more consistently.
Outside of one double-team I believe I saw him being pushed back on, the
days of the Carolina middle sagging are over. Which leads to -

*Luke Kuechly - you'd figure that a player who was Rookie of the Year
and led the league in tackles would be leveling out. You'd figure
wrong. Luke's 2nd quarter might be some of the best linebacking I've
ever seen in my life. Just when you expected the lore and hype on
Kuechly to have hit critical mass, it looks like somehow he's been
underestimated. It's unrealistic to expect that to be the norm, but
that was lights out playing. Having Star in front of him isn't hurting
him, at the least.

*DJ Moore and Drayton Florence - pick sixes keep you in the
conversation. Neither had been impressive, and Moore was playing behind
the Joshes.

*Jon Beason - participant trophy, but he was out there and did some
good things. Nice to have him back, even if he's suddenly a rental.



Losers
*Mike Mitchell - having earned the SS job, he got benched after a
personal foul- late hit and was supplanted by Haruki Nakamura. You can
assume that is a legitimate benching, since he re-entered the game late
with backups. Mitchell is an adequate starter on a team that needs at
least that, but it's not enough to put up with giving up 15 yards a game
minimum.

*David Gettis - lost some momentum with the drop. A winner the last
couple of weeks, had I bothered to chart it.

*Kealoha Pilares - not sure what the injury is yet, but while his knee
might get him back in next year, it's too late to earn a roster spot.

*DJ Campbell - had a couple coverage gaffes at just the wrong time.
Carolina might or might not keep more than 4 safeties and he appears to
be #5. His best shot might be whether Mitchell does anything else
stupid.

*Armond Smith - adequate returner on a team with better options;
adequate back on a loaded team. But he was playing well on coverage
teams, and that's employable. That's why kicking a Raven in the groin
on national TV is helping Smith live up to his nickname of DJFoodStamps.

Preseason V/S Ravens: Not What I Expected

Carolina showed out on highlights, and got the win, but I'm not
convinced the team is as good as the scoreboard.

What looked like a fairly poor first quarter, including a first drive
defensively that just didn't make it, turned into a crazy second quarter
for Carolina when, trailing 7-0, Ted Ginn's first return of the
preseason went 70+ yards for a touchdown, sparking some of the crazier
non-offensive scoring Carolina's ever been involved in.

Following the punt return TD, Drayton Florence added a pick-six a few
plays later; Thomas Davis returned a fumble for a TD a few plays after
that. Luke Kuechly was playing out of his mind, forcing both (QB
pressure on the INT, and forced the fumble on a massive hit behind the
line).

Kuechly created another INT on a nasty hit on Aaron Mellette that was
illegal, then legal; when it was returned to illegal after a commercial
break, Kuechly righted it by snagging his own pass from Joe Flacco. DJ
Moore closed out the non-offensive scoring by throwing in yet another
pick-6 off Tyrod Taylor in the 3rd.

Also shining in the game was rookie DT Star Lotulelei (I'd added an I
in the middle of his name for two years now, sorry about that gaffe all
this time), who had a pair of stuffs and a sack. He showed some looks
where he wasn't playing NT, and that he can be an effective 3-technique.
He could honestly be a top notch 5-tech, but Carolina doesn't have a
better nose player (they did roll out a number of 3-4 looks early in the
game).

On the back end, the offense didn't live up on its end. Cam Newton,
10/19 for 99 yards, was somewhat efficient if you count drops by Brandon
LaFell and David Gettis. Newton had a few balls sail on him that were
to open receivers as well. The running game never got going, and after
Amini Silatolu went out with a hamstring injury, there was no line
consistency; there wasn't much before that, either. Newton faced more
pressure than before, and while he gained 20 yards on two rushes, it
wasn't enough to bolster an offense that couldn't pick up first downs.

So, a 34-27 game with four non-offensive TDs wasn't what I was
expecting - I don't know if you can ever expect anything like that
again, either. So maybe the offense should pick it up a little.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Ravens Are A Tougher Opponent

The Baltimore Ravens aren't doing the nutty things that the Eagles are,
but they're a higher quality opponent. If you happen to remember the
last moment of meaningful football played, it happened right before
these guys raised the Lombardi trophy.

John Harbaugh has sustained significant success in Baltimore, of which
the league has rarely seen; it didn't appear they'd take that last step
toward a trophy, but you have to be in it to win it, and Harbaugh has
made it every year he's coached.

Offensively, they remain a fairly traditional Coryell style ballteam,
with bigarmed but inconsistent Joe Flacco behind a big but sometimes
struggling OL and Ray Rice continuing to pound the ball. Massive
investments in both are against what some consider the "Raven way", and
it's hard to say if that helps. Their interior line remains very good,
but Michael Oher and Bryant McKinnie have had some struggles and don't
appear to have gotten significantly better. New "running game
coordinator" Juan Castillo should provide dividends longterm.

Dropping Anquan Boldin and then losing Dennis Pitta to injury leaves
the team relying on Torrey Smith, who's been remarkably inconsistent, as
the top target. He and Jacoby Jones can go for the longball, but they
won't be doing the fantastic intermediate routes the way Boldin
would've, and now without Pitta, they don't have anything up the seam.
They're clearly a team you'd spend time with your cover 1/cover 2
packages in an attempt to watch the deep ball and contain Rice in the
short game. The Ravens, lauded for their personnel department, have
spent a lot on receivers over time, and just gave away their one
consistent player in the last decade.

On the upside, it afforded the team the ability to rebuild on defense.
Dropping Ed Reed and Ray Lewis might actually make them better. Adding
Chris Canty at end and Elvis Dumervil at OLB, along with a fresher
Terrell Suggs, should make them more dicey up front. Haloti Ngata
remains a top notch NT as well. New ILB Daryl Smith may play within the
scheme better than Lewis, and won't have the health issues.

It remains the same attacking, smart 3-4 defense it's always been.
This is likely the best defense the team will see until week 10 of the
regular season, v/s San Francisco. A good showing by the offense would
go a long way toward erasing the bad feelings of not doing well against
a bad Eagles' D, but I'm not really expecting that to happen.

Conversely, I believe the defense will show up well against the Ravens'
offense. They know the scheme, and they might even match up fairly
well. A good MLB like Luke Kuechly is an good antidote for having Ray
Rice on the field as well. Carolina's ends match up in their favor
against the OTs, and the DTs should be enough for the Ravens' interior
line.

So, based on that - I see the game being a relative snoozer. It will
be a game of field position, a game where two good defenses (allright,
one great defense and one up and coming one, if you prefer to be
technical) fight two offenses wanting to run the ball. I believe the
Ravens have the better team, and this will be the game where starters
play most of the game; I don't see the team winning the half or winning
the game. I just hope execution legitimately improves.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Beason Voidable?

There's rumbling about Jon Beason being back on the field, and Ron
Rivera appears excited to use him. Which is great.

There are also reports that Beason's restructuring essentially
guarantees his contract voids after the year. Which might not be great.

I don't know if it voids. I'd heard Jordan Gross', which voids, was
triggered for next year but didn't void it until '15. Even Gross
suggested next year was up to the team, not him. A voided contract
means the remaining bonus proration would spill into next year
automatically.

Some of these contracts, Beason's included, would be cheaper to cut
next year than they have been. Pushing new bonus proration into future
years, I don't know that helps. Really, it almost universally doesn't.

And the problem I'd have with Beason, Gross, and many others having
voiding contracts? It's pre-planned obsolescence. It really doesn't
even matter what they do this year. They don't have to earn their
contracts - they already took a cut, and they assumedly just won't be
here next year.

Not really sure what to think of that, or why that has happened this
much lately. I don't have a solid picture of '14 anymore, but clearly
Dave Gettleman has something planned for '14 that requires a pre-planned
gutting of various players.

That, coupled with a few other things in the offseason, Ron Rivera's
constant last-chance job status, and the team's recent disappointing
showing (in a meaningless preseason game) v/s the Eagles, really opens
up a possibility in my mind that '13 is a lame duck year for almost
everyone on the team.

That's not an incredible feeling.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Post-Preseason: Eagles

Carolina lost a meaningless game up in Philly Thursday night, but the
manor of play left plenty to be desired.

Philadelphia's whirlwind, fast-paced, frog-in-a-blender style of
offense was a strong test for a Carolina defense that struggled harder
to control the line of scrimmage than it had against the Bears. The
Eagles, who had lineplay issues last year due to injuries, looked more
to form again; the Panthers' DL appeared powerful and quick, but often
had issues diagnosing.

For instance, Charles Johnson made numerous plays (a batted ball, a
fumble recovery downfield) but on one Lesean McCoy run, Johnson crashed
down (it looked like a busted move on CJ's part, but it appeared to make
sense for the scrape exchange move - problems being that Johnson was
juked, and the LB looping around never showed) and left a massive hole.
Greg Hardy made a nice couple of moves in redzone defense, including
forcing the INT on the initial series that floated into Josh Thomas'
hands.

Without that INT, it could've been a tougher looking scoreboard at
halftime.

Carolina trailed, but kept it somewhat close. Unlike the Patriots, the
Panthers didn't attempt to match the Eagles' pace. They attempted to
match their scoring, but to no avail. Carolina ran the ball - with
backups hurt, Deangelo Williams took almost all of the first half
rushes. DW gained 38 yards on 12 rushes, having some nifty runs but
being stuffed a number of times to bring his YPC down. Williams was
also thwarted on a good looking screen run in which a lineman got in his
way, allowing pursuit to arrive.

So, the offense carried some of the same relative issues as the defense
early - lack of intensity, not being on quite the same page. Cam Newton
and Steve Smith had a few struggles getting together; Newton finished
8/17, not terribly efficient. Newton didn't make any terrible reads,
but struggled a little more with accuracy. Comparatively, Newton threw
deeper than last week, anecdotally (I haven't charted him), so some of
that will come. But in total, the offense just didn't have consistency
and didn't finish in the redzone - first time the team hasn't scored a
TD offensively since 2010.

At WR, it was a good night for David Gettis (5 catches, 82 yards)
including a nifty sideline catch that has Gettis' improvement showing.
Always a body catcher, Gettis hasn't had the problems with drops that
other receivers have (with admittedly fewer data points) but the body
catching is its own problem (and there's logic behind that; you can be a
lot more open if your catching radius is your reach, not the reach of
your number). Gettis' night would've been complete had he brought in a
deep ball he dove for, but you can let that one go most days.

Ted Ginn pulled down a couple of balls playing as the 3rd WR, better
than his one catch with the backups on 7 targets. Ginn won't get a ton
of targets in the regular season, so he needs to make the most of them.
Brandon LaFell didn't get any targets that I remember. Kealoha Pilares
didn't do anything of real worth. The tight ends didn't pull off
anything exceptional, the best coming from FB/TE Richie Brockel snaking
his way up the sideline on the only pass I remember him catching.

The offense and defense came out of the second half with more
intensity, and more production, but the scores didn't follow. An
uninspiring effort against a weird opponent, it's not time to freak out,
but it's not ideal either.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Commentary on Football Evolution

It's amazing to watch football, the ultimate team sport, evolve.

I love the pro game, and the college game has always come second to me,
a tool for the draft and scouting, and a surrogate because it's still
Saturday. I've said many times (and I'm neither first nor last by a
hefty margin) that the college game has started to color the pro game
the last few years, and it's far from over.

Which is something I wanted to ruminate on for a bit.

Now, from around '99, I really started to get into scheme. Sure, the
95-98 team for Carolina was interesting because it had the 3-4, and any
zone blitz team is going to draw your attention to a blackboard the way
that the 4-3 teams of the time just couldn't. And there's nothing that
interesting about diagramming a Tampa-2 scheme, noting its favorite
alteration is Cover-1 Robber and then being done.

But that's the thing. The years of there being 3 basic offenses, with
either essentially the same playbook or the exact same playbook. The
WCO that Mike Holmgren used was the one Steve Mariucci did. That was
what Mike Shanahan used. It was what Gil Haskell used here in '98, and
in '99 the only changes were how it was run (that it was the same book
in the disaster of '01 is why it matters more what you do with it).

Diving into George Seifert's massive 800 page defensive playbook was
magical. Knowing that it had ten iterations across the league, all
essentially unchanged, was cool to me. I felt like I understood it.
The last vestige of that for me was Rob Chudzinski, who helped cause the
mess of bringing Saturday into Sunday by helping draft a read option QB
and then installing what Cam Newton had learned. It set the stage for
the rest of it, in my opinion (though Cam never really went no-huddle,
or full on spread). That set the stage for what happened in '12, what
happened in bringing Chip Kelly into the league.

But to that end, Chudzinski's Coryell stuff was great - it's a fun
system, logical. But now, three years into running it, now with Mike
Shula, it's changed significantly in that the verbiage has been altered.
Shula will mold it to see fit. These changes, like the more recent WCO
ones, like every team that individually adds a pistol package or a read
option package, will alter what that looks like. Every team that
decides that "Queen Right orbit, Jet Right, 525 F post swing" is too
wordy, or that "Brown Right F Short 2 Jet Flanker Drive" is too wordy,
and all of a sudden for this team, they call it Jetpack, but this other
coach calls the same thing Rosebud. I dunno.

I'll miss that. But, that's immaterial to the game, really. The end
result is, the constant evolution to the game is part of the fun. And
I'm embracing it. The college game isn't just changing the pro game.
It's making it better.

Which is worlds ahead of sports like baseball, where the designated
hitter is still controversial, decades later.

Over time the game has changed. My tastes have changed - and have been
influenced by what my team was doing, when it was going well or when it
adopted what was hot. I always thought of myself as traditional, and
when the college game started to change things, I wanted to be cynical.
This is the NFL - there's no real such thing as "traditional". Those
who fail to adapt, fail. "Tradition" isn't something that's tangible.
It doesn't work because it worked that other time. It succeeds or fails
on its own merit. And for every thought of the NFL running I-formation
football, there are memories of Thurman Thomas running the shotgun draw
and Jim Kelly running the no-huddle on most downs. Those memories?
Those are 25 years old now. Is that tradition, too? Does it matter?


I look forward to what the future holds for the NFL. I love this
crazy, physical, cerebral, controlled chaos.

Gameday: Eagles

Chip Kelly is going to dominate any discussion on the games he's
involved in, no matter what. It's not that unlike Steve Spurrier in a
way, though that was now a decade ago and Spurrier never innovated
anything. But, right or wrong, discussion on this game starts there -
with Kelly.

He would've been a fantastic hire about anywhere, and plenty of fans
were happy when he never signed with Tampa (to not have to face him),
and then this year when he didn't (so they could back-pocket him for
next year, though Jerry Richardson never would've hired the guy). His
innovation at the college level is remarkable - though you could argue
quickly that the Mike Leach, Dana Holgorsen are doing as interesting of
things and Urban Meyer has done more with it than anyone. Either way,
Kelly took a second tier Pac-10 school and put it into title contention
for a few years now, and quickly. He was, within the decade of
Spurrier's NFL failure, catapulted up from tiny New Hampshire, not a
hotbed of prospects or coaches.

Kelly's star on the rise, he quickly became someone that meshed with
Bill Belichick, and the two shared notes when they remained in different
levels. What Belichick learned was a fair part of the Pats' success,
and the hallmark of Kelly teams, of which you'll see tonight.

Kelly's offense is lightning quick. Running 86 offensive plays against
the Pats last week, the Eagles got almost 20 more plays than the average
NFL team would in an average game last year. Only 4 teams have averaged
70 in the last two years. Kelly's verbiage is very fast, they get to
the line fast, and they run their plays fast. They often come to the
line with quick changes ready, sometimes having one play ready behind
the other.

And the most intriguing thing is what I believe will be the next big
thing in the NFL - something that the average read-option gawker won't
even notice. Packaged plays.

In that, one of the spread principles that can work its way, slowly,
into the NFL is the ideal of the run/pass, run/screen type option. In
the read option, the QB chooses to read a defender, and elect to keep or
handoff based on what that unblocked defender does. But in these
packaged plays, the quarterback elects whether to handoff or pass, with
potentially as little as one player even knowing he's going to run a
route. It could be based on where a linebacker lines up, or what he
does at the snap. It's dangerous stuff to stop.

It appears, in the last game, that Nick Folk has gotten more snaps at
QB than Michael Vick. As well, the team has to throw Dennis Dixon and
Matt Barkley in there, as well.

The Eagles' O is, as you might expect, littered with rookies who'll
impact. OT Lane Johnson is going to be fantastic in this league. Zach
Ertz is a potent TE. The recent concerns with WR are their issue, and
they'll look for someone to step up around the Jeremy Maclin and
Arrelious Benn injuries and the Riley Cooper debacle (what an idiot).




On the other end, defensive coordinator Billy Davis - the OLB coach on
Dom Capers' Panthers staff (not the one that Kevin Greene choked, that
was Kevin Steele, ILB coach I believe) - is in the process of making the
Eagles a 3-4 team, after a total of 12 years as a Jim Johnson-schemed
team and then two years of the wide-9. It's been before Ray Rhodes
since the Eagles were 3-4, or since before they were WCO. So for those
of you scoring at home, the last time the Eagles weren't a fairly
homogenous team was Rich Kotite.

Trashing of old coaches aside, Davis' defense gave up a massive amount
of yards last week, and they appear susceptible again this week. The
team has chosen to be aggressive, so it might be a good week for blitz
pickups, but they are very susceptible to the run (or, were against the
Pats), and they're not as deep or as talented as they are on offense.


It should be an interesting game. Carolina appears to still not have
Jon Beason, Ed Kugbila, Domenik Hixon, Mike Tolbert, and they'll be
dying to find a diamond in the rough at OT.

It'll be interesting to see how the secondary, which was good against
the Bears' limpwristed offense, will do against this 300 mph goat rodeo
that Kelly runs. It'll be interesting to see if Ted Ginn can be
efficient at WR, if the QBs can stop giving balls away, and whether any
stars are made tonight.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Some Coaches May Have Tenure

For all the potential of the 2013 team, there's still that feeling that, a year into the Dave Gettleman era, everyone should be renting, not buying.  Almost everyone at CB, S, and WR are on one year deals, and most of the key contracts from 2011 are cuttable in 2014.

On a team with up to 7 openings on the coaching staff, most of those jobs were filled by young, inexperienced coaches.  There were rumors that coaches were scared away by one year deals, though that was refuted by the team.

And I've gone over why Ron Rivera is essentially on a one year deal.

But, with some coaches stepping onto the field for Carolina for the first time Friday, there's an amount of tenure to be had.  

For one, a lot of the coaches coming in this year may, in fact, have more than one year on their contracts.  And some have legitimate ties to the team that transcend the current staff.   It's not out of line for the new coach to interview existing coaches if they fit, but these guys all seem destined to stay around no matter what happens overall.

*Ricky Proehl
       Fans can't be any more excited about Greensboro native Proehl being a fulltime position coach.  But it's being backed up by a sideline presence and a product on the field.  Proehl has gotten rave reviews from everyone from Steve Smith on down.  If Rivera isn't here, Proehl may be a guy that the team tries to slip into the new staff in some form.

*Ken Dorsey
       The former Brown and Hurricane would be wanted by Rob Chudzinski if available, and that's logical (the Browns roster of coaches has a ton of Panthers alums, including the four that were on staff here last year, but also Ken Flajole and Brian Baker, two other guys I've liked).  The Browns even have QBs coach unlisted and unfilled as of now, assumedly just using Norv Turner in the role (which is archaic). But, the team fought to keep Dorsey assumedly, when he was brought up from scouting to coach.

For that reason, and some level of natural ability, Dorsey probably signed a multi-year deal.  If the team has any level of continuity to the next offense, Dorsey seems like a good coach to keep.

*Al Holcomb
        The former Giant assistant is a tireless worker, and a guy who clearly got a push in from Gettleman to come aboard.  While coaching the talented group of Carolina LBs is not the hardest job in the world, he'll likely get more time to prove himself if the team moves on.

*Jim Skipper
        I was honestly surprised the team didn't retain him.  Sure, he'd have left with John Fox if he could've - the Broncos were intent on keeping Eric Studesville after he was interim head coach the year prior.  But the backs live and die with Skipper, who has head coach and coordinator history.


On the back end, I could completely see Ron Rivera starting anew as someone's DC, and having Steve Wilks, potentially Sean McDermott, and certainly Eric Washington as his position coaches.

That said, this is an emergency condition for these guys.  No one inside the stadium has any intent on going anywhere or failing in any form.  And I'm not looking forward to any level of that failure - past that I genuinely like what Ron Rivera's doing.  I don't want the guy to get fired.  But, the mind wanders, and I'm excited about the above couple of guys I listed.

Postgame thoughts, v/s Chicago, Defense

DT
I enjoyed slowing down the tape for the snap a number of times to see who got off the ball first.  It was, more often than not, Star Lotuleilei.  After watching Greg Hardy win last year most snaps, Charles Johnson is doing better (though he jumped once, which was a problem for Johnson early in his career).  All three are quick, however, and it reminds me of watching Julius Peppers in preseason only to notice that Kris Jenkins had become a huge asset.

Lotuleilei did allright with his first Panther action; he hit his gap quickly and resets the line of scrimmage.  He didn't always have great pass rush, and he's gotta work on his moves.  But he keeps his leverage and that's a good first impression.

Kawann Short almost had a sack on Johnson's sack play; other than that he was quiet, though he does show some natural pass rush ability (as advertised).  *Edit - Short was given a half sack with Johnson on the play.

Colin Cole looked OK as a backup NT.  Sione Fua got open and had a pressure once, and maybe he's not getting pushed back, but he doesn't look like a threat to be the 4th DT.   I didn't see anything of Frank Kearse that had gotten better, either.

DE
Johnson and Hardy remain potent.  Hardy looks to be a little better outside with the thinning out, but he did still get some pressure inside in the one snap I saw of him there so the power game should still be there outside, too.

Frank Alexander - the few snaps I noticed, I saw Alexander making contact too wide.  When you start out as a 9 technique, you still have to bunch down if you haven't gotten a great jump on the OT, and when you don't, what happens is what happened to Alexander a time or two - when you do try to turn in toward the QB, you get stoned.  You want to get into the OT's body before he can get on you.

Potential 4th end Mario Addison had a nice sack and FF. His competition, rookies Craig Roh (1 sack) and Louis Nzegwu (2 sacks) might've narrowed the gap a bit.   Addison looked to mix it up a bit more in the run game with 4 total tackles.

LB
Thomas Davis played minimally, as did Luke Kuechly.  Jon Beason, as expected, didn't play at all.   Replacement starter Chase Blackburn looks fluid all over the field, including in coverage at times. He had a blitz sack that saw him shedding a chip block.

 Backup MLB AJ Klein, the 5th round rookie, looks instinctive and quick, despite only having two assists.  Backup WLB Jason Williams had a quick-looking sack on a blitz as well as looking allright in space.   This is a good looking group in general, as deep and strong as any Carolina unit.

CB
Can't say enough about Josh Norman's resurgence.  He was the first player off the bench, with Captain Munnerlyn reprising his nickel role inside against 3+ WR.  Norman jumped the first ball for the INT, and the second just came to him in trail coverage, but was well done to be brought back to the house for the TD.  Without a lot of physical, large CB prospects on this team, it's nice to see Norman taking advantage of the absence of Josh Thomas and DJ Moore.  Hard to say whether he was behind either guy, but it's worth suggesting he may not be now.

Munnerlyn and Drayton Florence as starters looked decent enough; with no Brandon Marshall and only a modest amount of time with Jay Cutler, it's hard to give it an automatic OK.  But, neither guy did anything wrong, which is nice.

4th CB for the night with the absences seemed to be between James Dockery, an incumbent who played a bit at the end of 2012, and rookie Melvin White, both of which were high in tackles but didn't make a lot of plays.

S
Mike Mitchell looked allright at SS and played near the line a lot; while there was a lot of man coverage, it looks like where Mitchell will work best.  He's physical, and a little dirty.   He played a little longer than Charles Godfrey, who was barely heard from.  Nether were officially on the box score.

Behind them, the standout may have been 3rd string Anderson Russell.  Apparently, Russell played 3 games for Carolina with no stats.  But Russell had 6 tackles and a FF, as well as a crushing block on special teams.  I didn't see much out of Robert Lester, and Haruki Nakamura didn't make much impact.


The defense was, at times, nearly brilliant.  The DL makes a difference out there, and the LBs are dynamite, barely even losing much outside of starters - which is saying a bit.  But, this is against a makeshift, vanilla offense, and so it's hard to say that much has really improved, yet.


Special Teams
Kick return teams were mixed; with no Ted Ginn, the best of the rest was Kenjon Barner, who had a 36 yard return.  Kealoha Pilares is too scattered and dances too much; Armond Smith just runs in a straight line and picked wrong.  Blocking needs to improve a bit as well.

It was nice to see the long Joe Adams return.  Even the shorter of the two, 9 yards, is more than welcome every time.  Adams needed that, having not seen any value on the field yet.

Graham Gano looked good, kicking the 50 yarder.  Morgan Lineberry got on the field for 2 XP.  Statistically, Jordan Gay looked better than Brad Nortman.




Postgame thoughts, v/s Chicago, Offense

It felt like Carolina controlled the pace and energy in the preseason home opener v/s Chicago Friday night.  I wanted to give this a legitimate 2nd look with a full review before fully commenting.  Here's what I saw:


QB
Cam Newton would've regressed if you looked at one snap, his final one.  On the pick-6, it's hard to say what he was thinking.  Clearly bracketed, Greg Olsen wasn't who you throw to.  With the hindsight of tape study, Brandon LaFell was breaking free behind him for a long gain; credit to Newton for not being too much of a gunner, but in this case that would've been the smarter thing to do.

That said, it was Cover-1 Robber (this is why another man was with Olsen on otherwise man type coverage), so the FS would've inevitably had a free shot at LaFell, too.  That analysis comes from Chris Brown, of smartfootball.com and twitter.com/smartfootball, who otherwise commends Newton for going to his 3rd receiver for a 3rd down conversion.  I'd also add that, while the LaFell touchdown was a setup play (LaFell even kinda alluded to Armanti Edwards' role in a potential pick), that he obviously wasn't the first read, either.   So Cam had some growth.  He finished 3 of 6 for 16 yards, a TD, and an INT; ideally, he'd throw for more than 2.5 yards per attempt and a pick, but that's not his game.  He did look accurate on most balls thrown, and to his credit, wanted back on the field to avenge the TD.

Derek Anderson was less steady than you might hope of a former Pro Bowler going against 2s in efficiency (8/15) but finished at almost 9 yards per attempt, not bad for an outing where no one had more than 24 yards in a play.  Anderson can still be accurate deep, and still has the arm.  Which makes his INT near the sideline disappointing, because he floated a corner route ball that was easily picked.   He didn't take many short attempts, however, and that affected his efficiency.  Not connecting more with Ted Ginn, targeted I believe 7 times and connecting once, was part of it.

Jimmy Clausen was more efficient, but remains skittish in the pocket.  Clausen has the ability to throw deep, just not the patience.  You could argue the fumbled exchange with Kenjon Barner was his fault.

RB
Nice to have Deangelo Williams back.  Would be great if he didn't have to make something out of nothing more than occasionally.

Tauren Poole was strong inside at times, including the 11 yard run deep inside his territory.  The remaining carries were more pedestran, catching 12 yards total over the other 8 carries.  Barner's 9 carries went for 37 yards and a score, despite the fumble (and argument over the 2nd one).

WR
Lots of kudos for Armanti Edwards' 2 catches, but David Gettis' first real field time since 2010 was encouraging, too.  Gettis actually led the team in receiving, 3/56; Barner was the only other player to catch more than one ball from RB.

Ginn's inefficiency and slotting behind Edwards leaves room for the injured Domenik Hixon to pick up space in the argument.  Kealoha Pilares was 5th in the rotation, ahead of Gettis, but only hauled in 1 ball on 2 targets.  It did feel like more of the WR balls were based on option routes, and I don't know if that will continue to be a focus, but it's worth mentioning.

TE
Olsen was on target, but Newton locked onto him at times where it might not have been advantageous.  It's tough to beat man coverage as a TE, but Olsen should be open more.  No worries, though.

Ben Hartsock didn't impress in either run blocking or passing.  Brandon Williams was decent in blocking, and went up for an impressive catch near the goal line for the longest play of the night.  He played ahead of Richie Brockel, who also filled in at FB.

OL
I concentrated on Garry Williams a good bit.  I wanted to give him a fair look, but I also wasn't expecting much.  The upside?  He did better than expected; my expectations were fairly low, however.  Williams, as I hoped, got time with the 2nd string line as well; he didn't stand out with the 2s, much less the 1s.  But he didn't make many mistakes.

There was one major gaffe.  With Derek Anderson in, 1st quarter and I believe at 13:34, on a deeper shot to Armanti Edwards, Williams got slipped and gave up a free hit to a Bear; Anderson stood in and took it, but it felt unnecessary to have to take it.  Williams was struggling, and then lost on a move.  That's not good enough.   Williams, a career tackle who occasionally moved inside, was an average pass blocker at RT in 2010.  He's too slight to really impact the short run game, and best on angles.  So he has to be good in the pass game.  This play wasn't good enough.

Other than that, he kept guys in front of him in pass pro and got enough push against the run that DTs had to work for it.  He did OK on an early pull play to the right, with Deangelo Williams in the game; however, Williams had to double out to make a new hole when Williams' pop didn't move anyone out.  Williams does well with trading on players that have stunted, and generally doesn't seem to miss assignments, so he's at least steady.

Outside of Williams, I watched what I could of the newly-changed 66, now worn by 2nd year Amini Silatolu.  Silatolu missed his block at 12:50, an inside-to-outside zone run for DW.  He blocked playside and the DT inside him slipped through for a stuff; I can't say for certain that wasn't on Ryan Kalil (who looked back to form, somewhat), but he wasn't in Kalil's gap.  It looks, based on everyone else, that Silatolu would've blocked there; if he had, instead of doubling down on Gross' man, the play would've worked. Silatolu looked fine otherwise, and powerful at times.


I thought it was interesting that Byron Bell moves to LT with Jordan Gross sitting.  The second line was Bell at LT, and Bruce Campbell moves to RT. That feels like a fish-out-of-water situation for both players, honestly.  Bell did OK at LT, but lunged a time or two.  Campbell doesn't have a ton of power at RT.



The O looked disjointed, but potentially powerful.  Looking for the pistol was a pipedream, but I did see some good motion.  What I didn't see, and want to see in the regular season, was more shifting and more creativity in formation, but that's not for now.   I will say, I don't know if I like Mike Shula up in the coach's box; it requires a bit of Ricky Proehl, Ken Dorsey, and Jim Skipper to address the O, and takes away some of Cam Newton's lifeline.  For what it's worth, Proehl commands a sideline presence, and between he and Dorsey, there's definitely leadership (and height, which never hurts). Skipper seems to hang near Ron Rivera, for what it's worth, not unlike what he did with John Fox.  Hopefully, a similar relationship remains.

Backup WR coach Lance Taylor fills the other spot up there, which had been Scott Turner's.  Taylor is an intriguing young offensive assistant, but those are big shoes to fill.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Gameday: A Few Series

Carolina will play the Bears tonight, ending an unbearable streak of
seven months since the last time they saw the field.

Carolina's starters will play "10-15 snaps", though there's always the
chance that the offense will play one series if it scores. So the
important things to see? Who fills in.

I would anticipate that some key backups will get shorter time, too. I
don't know if Kawann Short will play much longer than Star Lotuleilei
(I'd be tired of typing Lotuleilei by now, if I weren't still so excited
to have him, from a fan standpoint), so expect a heavier dose of Colin
Cole and the guys fighting for the phantom 5th DT spot.

It'll be a big deal for Frank Alexander to show some growth; Mario
Addison and Craig Roh will battle for the 4th job.

Garry Williams should get through the half, even if the rest of the
starting OL doesn't. Jeff Byers isn't likely to play, so it's hard to
say what they'll do at center. I'm interested to see what Nate Chandler
looks like back on the OL< and whether the promising-looking backup's
career was put on hold for a year because of Carolina's sudden strength
at DT. I'm interested to see whether Williams plays any backup OT, and
whether the depth chart on Bruce Campbell is right on


Mike Tolbert won't likely play, so it may be a mix of Mike Zordich and
Richie Brockel all night at FB, and Kenjon Barner will probably play
some with the 1s and 2s, getting a bunch of carries before giving up to
the other backups.

I would expect that Chase Blackburn plays in relief of Jon Beason, and
continues into the 2nd team (possibly switching to the middle). I don't
know if Thomas Davis will play tonight, either.

The DBs will be a mixed bag - I don't know what their plans are at
nickel, but it'll be a lot of DJ Moore tonight fighting for a job. I
don't know if Captain Munnerlyn will come back in for nickel, or if
they'll get a longer look at Moore there. Josh Thomas is likely out so
Josh Norman will be doing a lot of work out there, too. There may be a
rotation at safety after Mike Mitchell goes out.

Don't expect a lot of intersting stuff scheme-wise for Mike Shula, and
I don't expect to see a lot of second string success working with the
3rd-5th best RBs, no FB, and a makeshift line. You might see more 2 TE
tonight, and I'd be willing to see that more in the long run of the
season, too. Truth is, if the team didn't have Tolbert, under Shula
I'd hope to see a lot more spread and 2 TE, and not much else.

That said, I have no idea how the WRs will line up. Ted Ginn against
backups should be fruitful; I don't think Domenik Hixon is playing.
Armanti Edwards gets to show whether this is actually the year. Joe
Adams, Kealoha Pilares, David Gettis all likely get their best chance to
claim a roster spot, given that starters will play more in games 2 and
3. As of right now, I don't know that any of that trio make the roster,
making each of the 2010-2012 drafts look a little worse.

Brandon Williams and the potentially injured Zach Pianalto

Admittedly, after seeing the pistol in Denver with a much less mobile
QB, it's hard not to want to see that here. Truthfully, I'd be
surprised if most teams didn't try it, so I definitely want it here. I
don't know if it's something I'd pop out in preseason, but it's
something to look for.

Cam Newton spent a ton of time in shotgun, which isn't exactly the
style that Mike Shula showed in the past, but Shula's shown some
adaptability over time and I'm not ready to call Shula anything here
based on the past. Derek Anderson is another guy who spends a lot of
time in the 'gun, for what that's worth; but Newton was better outside
shotgun. The truth is, with up to 3 guys who could break a long run on
the field at a time, Newton's play fakes make people bite. Pistol
action would only help the Panthers' offense.


___



For the Bears, it's the intriguing start of the Marc Trestman era in
Chicago. Lovie Smith was booted after being 10-6, though that was more
to do with the rickety Ron Turner/Mike Martz/Mike Tice offenses.
Trestman, who not unlike 2013 Panthers GM Candidate Jim Popp, spent a
lot of successful time with the CFL's Alouettes, was a scapegoat in what
I'd consider the start of the end for the 49ers' dynasty. Trestman was
George Seifert's OC, and when he was ousted, they tried to shoehorn
Steve Mariucci in under him, prompting Seifert to resign (and come to a
tumultuous Panthers situation). Never thought it was fair of the 9ers
to do that to Trestman or Seifert, and in the end it didn't work out
well for anyone (Mariucci did well, however, and honestly a lot of the
problem came at the hands of the terrible ownership group).

It's also the start of a coaching career for former Bear and Panther
Chris Harris, which is good to see. Harris was smart, and a hard
worker, and he delivered some of the hardest hits I've ever seen. Him
knocking Chargers guard Cris Dishman (going off memory, sorry if that's
wrong) into LaDainian Tomlinson in 2008 was evidence that team could be
special - and that Harris' time on the field would probably be numbered.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Player Stock Report

Players have their ups and downs, just like stocks. Right now is a
good time to trend upward if you want to make a roster. Maybe I'll make
this a feature after each preseason game.

Here's who I see moving up and down, and why.


Stock Up

Richie Brockel - head coach Ron Rivera singled out Brockel, a solid
blocker, for versatility at TE, move TE, and FB. People have forgotten
about Brockel every year so far, but I guarantee you he makes this
roster if healthy. He's Nick Goings, but with the one trick touchdown
instead of the one good rushing year. It will be tough going between he
and Brandon Williams for the 3rd TE job.

Mike Mitchell - another guy Rivera singled out, Mitchell appears to
have earned the starting SS job for now. He has the physical tooks, and
so far, it's been applied correctly on the field.

Armanti Edwards - it's intriguing that Edwards, who was initially
drafted to be a slot receiver and returner, is flourishing with both of
those jobs taken. It would've been ideal to see have seen him take at
least one of those roles before the team put money into other jobs, but
oddly enough, he's becoming a solid outside receiver.


Stock Down

Ed Kugbila is just an easy target. He's very able, and apparently
Carolina's willing to let him have a shot at starting now. Players
don't choose to be hurt. But, Kugbila is "a week away" and there's a
game this week. So it's three weeks to the season. If Carolina wants
to see Kugbila, they've gotta get a quick look. If they want him to get
game experience, it's tough to say

DJ Moore - it's tough to call him out for not starting, and after that
it gets muddy. Moore probably does end up as the nickel unless they
choose to throw Captain Munnerlyn inside for nickel duty, in which they
probably pull one of the Joshes in. I don't know if that makes Moore
expendable, because he's good depth. And I can't begrudge him for not
beating out Munnerlyn, an incumbent. But it's going to be tough to
project Moore's role right now.

Meeting High Expectations

Star Lotuleilei - it's hard to call a player's stock "up" when you're
called the best defender in the draft (by most in the first four months
of this year, and by me consistently throughout). But Lotuleilei is
everything that Carolina expected.

Since Carolina had to make it's biggest moves through the draft because
of money issues, and the other four picks will have to fight from behind
existing starters to make impact, the Lotuleilei pick had to be a home
run. also includes the read-option zone.
>
> Johnson, meanwhile, notes that he's back up near 290, adding muscle
> to play the run better at his natural left end spot.
>
> I almost have mixed feelings about that. Johnson, who has 33 sacks
> in the last 3 seasons and, at that pace, is going to equal Mike
> Rucker's career mark for sacks this year. For those scoring at home,
> Julius Peppers has 30 sacks over the last 3 years, and required 4.5
> sacks in weeks 15/16 to make it to double digit sacks in 2012. So, I
> have to trust Johnson's intentions.
>
> But, while Johnson's want to get better against the run is more than
> admirable, he's not the weak link there. Carolina's going to need to
> be good against the run to get to 3rd down, prior a week spot and now
> a spot Carolina should be able to tee off on the QB. That's when they
> need Johnson at his best. But, with his recent production, it's hard
> to argue with him.

Johnson, Hardy Switch Roles

Charles Johnson was a little more fluid staying at left end last year,
after 2011's swapping between left and right; Greg Hardy, in better
shape, struggled less because he was able to pull his snap count per
game down a little as well.

But, last year Hardy started the season at around 300 lbs; it was a
lean, 5% bodyfat 300 lbs that looked deceiving. It added power to
Hardy's game. It didn't make him look any less slow on the occasional
punt team, where Hardy sometimes shows up as a gunner and typically
makes it downfield before anyone else.

And, yet, that left Hardy as a 300 lb right end, where most teams use a
lighter guy. And Johnson, who had once played at 290 as a 3rd year to
play more inside, was lighter. It was a role reversal. It's hard to
argue with the results, but they've returned more to a standard setup.

Hardy, 6'4, has shed to about 280. Hopefully that follows Johnson's
trajectory - the year after he lost the weight of 2009, his 2010 was his
breakout year. Hardy, of course, already broke out at 11 sacks last
year at his heavier weight, so it'll be hard to expect the same jump.
But he's leaner, and that should help his edge rush.

The hope is that Hardy's run game issues in 2011 were, in fact, high
snaps played. Hardy also had problems being overaggressive/not staying
at home, not keeping contain. That's a tough thing for an end, who has
to get upfield as much as possible against the pass, to learn, but Hardy
was better this past year. It's a tough recognition in a league that
does so much play-pass, so much draw, relies mostly on zone runs, and
now that also includes the read-option zone.

Johnson, meanwhile, notes that he's back up near 290, adding muscle to
play the run better at his natural left end spot.

I almost have mixed feelings about that. Johnson, who has 33 sacks in
the last 3 seasons and, at that pace, is going to equal Mike Rucker's
career mark for sacks this year. For those scoring at home, Julius
Peppers has 30 sacks over the last 3 years, and required 4.5 sacks in
weeks 15/16 to make it to double digit sacks in 2012. So, I have to
trust Johnson's intentions.

But, while Johnson's want to get better against the run is more than
admirable, he's not the weak link there. Carolina's going to need to
be good against the run to get to 3rd down, prior a week spot and now a
spot Carolina should be able to tee off on the QB. That's when they
need Johnson at his best. But, with his recent production, it's hard to
argue with him.

Captain Munnerlyn Jokes

Captain Munnerln is an easy target for jokes, even if he stepped his
game up last year to be a less easy target for opposing quarterbacks.

Last year, players took Munnerlyn's locker nametag and applied it above
the short urinal, a tweet releasing it to the internet.

Ron Rivera even threw in a small comment earlier in the week, and then
called Munnerlyn a "little yippy dog" regarding his involvement in a
training camp fight. Rivera regretted it, but that's just how it goes
for Munnerlyn. He's a key cog in the defense, while others tower over
him.


Munnerlyn stated that Drayton Florence, the other expected starter at
CB, reminds him of Chris Gamble. High praise in my opinion, in my
opinion. Praise I hope rings true - because that would be a boost to the
team for Florence to be an able, crafty defender on a team that needs
craftiness (and size).

Which brings me to the Captain Munnerlyn joke I'll throw in.

Florence reminds him of Gamble, because he can't see that far up.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

As the RG Turns

Brandon Moore signed overnight with the Cowboys, upgrading their line.

Moore wasn't the missing piece of a Panthers championship run
necessarily, but I do find myself a little disappointed. Garry Williams
is entrusted with the protection of more high paid assets than I'd
prefer, but what's done is done.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Kugbila In Play, Whenever He Wants

Edmund Kugbila is a rookie guard - and he's not as highly touted as
last year's plug-in rookie counterpart, Amini Silatolu. He's barely
seen the field, thanks to a pair of leg injuries over the duration of
his time as a Panther.

And yet it seems like the RG job might end up being his to lose.

As I've documented many times, Carolina dropped underperforming G Geoff
Hangartner, and replacement Garry Williams still has to prove that he's
up to the task. ESPN's Pat Yasinskas notes that Kugbila took a lot of
first string RG snaps when healthy in the offseason.

So, stretching from just those facts, it feels like Carolina still has
to be very hopeful about Kugbila. Not in a year or two, but now.

That could be a level of uncomfortability, and in various directions.
If Williams himself isn't up to it, you're forcing a rookie who might
not be ready. If that doesn't work, you might be out of options. If
Kugbila isn't in great shape or is hurt, you don't have options at all.

Chris Scott, himself a former project whose team chose to stop waiting
on results, doesn't seem to enter into it much. The team needed a camp
body, and Scott could make the roster, but he's clearly not who I was
hoping to receive. It's essentially up to Kugbila or Williams to make
something happen there, and that's not inspiring a lot of confidence.

I hate to just continually harp on the OL or hone in further on RG. I
know the team's doing fantastic thing on the DL, and depending on who
you ask, the secondary is looking modestly competent. The receivers are
shaping up, and the backs and LBs are as expected. There's plenty of
good news. But every time I worry about weakness, it's right there. RG.
Carolina hasn't had a decent RG for most of the season since 08,
replacement player Keydrick Vincent.

That's not to say you get to 12-4 with good guard play, but it doesn't
hurt.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Initial Depth Chart?

Carolina has posted an initial depth chart, and it has some surprises
on it.

These things aren't necessarily reliable, and I believe that game film
and study would matter more, but here's what I see so far.


Offense
LT: Nate Chandler is listed as second string. The DT convert would be
a surprise there, if true. When Jordan Gross sat early in camp, Bruce
Campbell had the snaps there.

LG: I have no idea who Hayworth Hicks is, so I'm somewhat surprised to
read he's 2nd string.

C: Jeff Byers' ascension to a legit backup was probably a helping hand
in moving Geoff Hangartner to the curb.

RG/RT: speaking of Campbell, he appears buried on the right side, which
isn't a great fit. He's listed as the 2nd RT, and 3rd RG; if true, that
might be a reaction to Williams (prior the top backup at RG/RT) being
elevated to starter.

TE: Richie Brockel is listed as a TE, and I swear in the past he was
listed as a FB some of the time. Brandon Williams, right now, would've
appeared to overtake Brockel.

WR: Armanti Edwards is tenatively listed as second string with Domenik
Hixon, over Ted Ginn, who some have said has had a better camp than
either. Kealoha Pilares looks like the bubble man, though I'd expect
they keep him over David Gettis at this point. That's if they do keep 6
guys.

Either way, after Edwards and the new guys, there's a wasteland of
youth here and Joe Adams is only listed as the 2nd string punt returner,
meaning he's at best 9th WR on this list.

Defense
DE: Mario Addison is listed as the 4th end. That's interesting but not
surprising, as he got some snaps late in the season with Chandler.

DT: No surprises, it's just nice to have depth and four good tackles.
Sione Fua listed as an under tackle would be problematic for the
under-athletic tackle, but I think the team only keeps 4 here anyway.

LB: Thomas Davis is listed strongside, going back to where he was in
06-07.
While AJ Klein might've made more sense inside (he's listed behind
Davis), Chase Blackburn is listed as the backup MLB, though I imagine
he'd be the first LB off the bench.
Jason Williams tends to make the most sense as the 7th LB, though with
over 4 years experience, he might be an expensive player for the
3rd-best ST OLB on the roster (at best).

CB: Captain Munnerlyn and Drayton Florence are who they wanted
starting, no surprise there. Josh Norman/Josh Thomas as the next two
would feel like a surprise over DJ Moore, and if Moore really is the 5th
best corner I don't know that he'd make the squad. That might be a
wonky way of denoting that he's the nickel, however.

S: No real surprise at SS or FS, with Haruki Nakamura behind the
definite starter in Charles Godfrey. Ricardo Silva, the newcomer, is
dropped in at FS as well.


Special Teams:
*Jordan Gay might have a shot if he can show enough leg. Brad Nortman
showed some improvement at the end of the year, and I doubt they do cut
him, but I'm intrigued that Gay can kickoff.

*Ted Ginn is unsurprisingly listed as the top returner at both spots,
and Kenjon Barner is in the mix; both should make the roster. So the
other skill players better have a roster spot at their position, or I
hope they're renting. One or the other.





Depth chart source:
http://www.panthers.com/team/depth-chart.html

Handicapping The Competition

Carolina's counting on competition to create some players out of the
affordable options, instead of buying more known commodities. It
remains to be seen what will happen from a quality standpoint, but
here's how I see the following races.

These are all done without much evaluation - they're just an initial
handicap before the first game. But, things are finally happening in
real time on these races.

CB:
3:1, Captain Munnerlyn - I'd be willing to assume that Munnerlyn,
without much disagreement, makes sense to return as the incumbent
starter. He finished '12 strong.

5:1, Drayton Florence - the only experienced guy with size, Florence is
also the vet by far. They seem to want to use him as they did Chris
Gamble in the past. Florence doesn't have that same talent level, but
he's a good roleplayer.

7:1, DJ Moore - Destined to be a nickel, he's well acclamated to the
role. Beating Florence would be a nice surprise.

10:1, Josh Thomas - has size, enough ability. A darkhorse who's played
a lot in '11, 12, but if Moore is coming off the bench, Munnerlyn might
not slide inside; either way, less need for an outside corner.

12:1, Josh Norman - so far, everything's been about his renewed
confidence. So far, so good. But he'll have a harder time earning the
start with everyone above him having more experience. Norman should
make the team, but he won't be guaranteed much more, and he really needs
to have one of those 2-3 pick practices (or play an actual ball in a
game) before he's taken seriously.


SS:
3:1, Mike Mitchell - the non-descript player lacks longterm experience,
but is the most physically gifted safety competing for a job. He hasn't
shown up as a weakness yet,

6:1, DJ Campbell - smart, but not big or physical like the guys above
and below him. I believe, ideally, Campbell would be the backup FS, but
he did finish the year playing a competent SS.

10:1, Robert Lester - Lester might make the team, but will have to show
up in games. He gets praise but he'll have to stand out.

15:1, Haruki Nakamura - there's just a stigma on the guy. Ask most,
and they'd prefer he never be on the field except for special teams, or
just outright cut. I think he's a good special teamer, and should stay,
but might be fighting Lester for the 9th or 10th DB spot.


Backup NT:
5:1, Colin Cole - appears to be two obstacles on this one. Can he stay
healthy, and does a vet minimum player as your 4th best DT fit in the
top 53? Otherwise he's the best player on this list.

10:1, Frank Kearse - a coach's favorite, Kearse was a waiver pickup
that's exceeded expectations in playing time. But he's topped out, not
big enough to really impact NT and not athletic enough to be an under
tackle.

14:1, Sione Fua - I had high hopes for this pick, but it just hasn't
worked out. I was wrong about it, and defended a guy who went too high
because the team reached. He was allright on technique, but just never
developed - it happens. Seems destined to be cut, but at least he made
it further than Terrell McClain.



RG:
4:1, Garry Williams - like it or not, it appears Williams has won the
job unless he's bad enough to require replacement in camp.

6:1, unknown replacement veteran - Carolina was interested in Travelle
Wharton returning, but apparently only at the vet minimum. One would
assume that the team floated similar interest in Brandon Moore, but
haven't heard anything yet.

10:1, Edmund Kugbila - Carolina hasn't been shy lately regarding
starting rookies, adding a starting rookie each year to the OL. Kugbila
might or might not be in good shape (the media infers that he isn't, but
hasn't stated as such), but it's going to be tough to fight for the job
if he's hurt.



3rd TE:
2:1, Brandon Williams - Williams was good enough to let go Nelson
Rosario, who clearly wasn't good enough. Williams is coming into his
own as a blocker but is definitely athletic and can catch. Reports about
him being able to unseat roleplayer Ben Hartsock are misguided, but
shows what a hold Williams has on the job.

10:1, Zach Pianalto - crafty young guy who has potential, and played in
this offense at UNC. Like Williams, he has to show that he can block,
as he was more of an off-the-line TE at UNC at times. Pianalto's
greatest strength is familiarity with the local crowds, which means
little to evaluators.

12:1, Richie Brockel - he's earned a roster spot each time since '11,
and is a good utility player who backs up fullback and plays special
teams.


I don't know that a lot of situations have improved so far because of
competition - I'm tenatively happier about the secondary and 3rd TE
situation, but who knows?

Gross' Future

Jordan Gross' week has had its ups and downs, most notably losing his
good friend Geoff Hangartner (as the prior number of posts attests,
Hangartner was cut Thursday).

Not unlike most Panthers players, Gross is expendable next year. The
difference is it's already written into his contract.

He restructured in the offseason, adding numerous dummy years to his
contract that spread out a cap hit, but that also voids after this
season. That weighing on his mind along with his age (33) and tenure
(11 seasons), Gross made his intentions clear - while he's not sure if
he'll play past this year, he won't play for another team but Carolina.

I believe, if he can play, he should. For one, Carolina could easily
add a season to his contract, and keep it from voiding (or at least
postpone it). The void years do, however, provide protection for Gross
- if it voids and he then retires, he doesn't have to return any money.
All of this '14 talk does, of course, have to bear weight on how he
does this year, too.

It's not yet time for Gross to retire, but it's worth considering some
reflection. A multiple Pro Bowler, Gross' first three years provided
good immediate play and two deep playoff berths. I wasn't in favor of
drafting Gross in 2003 - for full disclosure I preferred Quentin Jammer
to boost the defense or Byron Leftwich for the deep arm (Leftwich didn't
last anyway). I never thought Gross was dominant. But in the end, he
was the best of those picks, and he's been a near-model of player.

When you read someone going on about how some rookie who's never been
on a pro field is going to be a decade-long player, that's the sort of
stuff I dismiss. It's silly speculation. But, then again, all of this
is. For me to look at what I thought of Gross 11 years and change ago,
it makes sense to see that guy be a loyal, able player with a long
career. The rest of it is still to be written, but it's almost the end.




A few other Panther team leaders have only played for Carolina. Mike
Rucker, Mike Minter as the standards for the team, both played to the
end of their usefulness and retired (Minter somewhat abruptly, in camp).
Both situations, in my mind, felt like they were aided by Jerry
Richardson, but I really can't source that. It's not surprising that
Gross joins them.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Panthers Sign OL, DB help

Carolina ended the potentially intriguing, but ultimately fruitless, tenure with DT Lindon Gaydosh.  The #1 overall pick in the CFL draft, Gaydosh barely saw the field and wasn't up to the level of gameplay.

In his wake?  Line help!

But not anything interesting.  Former Tennessee Volunteer and Buffalo Bill Chris Scott, a 2010 5th round pick who played extensively at LT for the Vols in the SEC but has never started in the NFL.  He's an ideal 6'4, 320, but at one point failed conditioning at 360.  He didn't have feet for tackle in the NFL, so he was moved to guard, and it's hard to say if he ever picked up the difference.

The Panthers also picked up former Lions safety Ricardo Silva.  Silva, 6'3, 225, was a small school prospect out of Hampton who went undrafted.  After working his way up from the practice squad, Silva was a deep safety most of the time per profootballfocus, so they may have been looking for more of a FS backup; the competition was all at SS.   Silva struggles in tackling for a player of his size, and could be more physical.  The Lions wanted him to work on his speed in the offseason, but released him last week.


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Geoff Hangartner Cut

In a surprise move, G/C Geoff Hangartner has been shown the door a week
into camp.

The vet, drafted in 2005, left after 08 and returned to be a starter in
2011 and 2012.

I was recently critical of him, but apparently it's finally time to see
if they can do better than him for the $1.5 million he's due.

Hangartner, as a backup, would've been ideal. Time at C and G, veteran
experience. But he wasn't, and now a move has to be expected; there's
no way that they make this move without expecting to get better somehow.

I wrote earlier today about potentially dumping Garry Williams to get
someone; maybe the team has chosen to do that with Hangartner instead.
The team needs an upgrade either way, however. Outside of the
previously mentioned Travelle Wharton (who hasn't played the right side)
and Brandon Moore (it appears the retirement rumors are untrue), I don't
know who to mention just yet. I will say, it appears the team does like
Jeff Byers as the backup C, at least, so that helps him make the team.

Domenik Hixon: Disappointing?

Grain of salt on this one, since most of this is coming from the media
pushing the Ted Ginn Family because he's an exciting story. Thoughts on
Domenik Hixon have mostly come from fans, and in that format, it's
always tougher to judge the bigger receivers. Hixon is that guy. And
for what it's worth, there isn't a lot of positive press on Brandon
LaFell right now, either.

But, reports of sloppy routes and a lack of chemistry with Cam Newton
have seemingly put Ginn ahead of Hixon, at least in what fans have
stated. I don't know what that means, or if it'll stick. I don't know
if that means that Ginn is excelling (the last few days, he's had too
many drops) or if Hixon isn't on his game.

With the Giants, he was a consistently very good receiver. Last year,
many metrics put him on the same level as Steve Smith. He's a very
talented player - one that's been hampered by injury, not by lack of
performance.

Hopefully it's just an adjustment issue, and that he'll show up. The
team needs his presence as a successful WR, especially at his per-game
roster bonus cost.

Days Off Underline OL Issues

It's necessary to give some of your leaders time off in camp. You
could argue it's earned by good play; you could argue it's critical to
make sure your best guys aren't at too much risk when they don't need
every rep.

Carolina has done that recently with Jordan Gross and Ryan Kalil, and
that has helped show what I'd consider the team weakness - their line
depth and quality.

The team had choices to make with limited resources- minimal cap room
and only six draft picks. They spent one on man-child Ed Kugbila, but
otherwise, they returned what they had from last year and had to be
hopeful for growth. Most teams have only so much depth behind good
players, but Carolina's frightfully exposed on the OL.

With Gross out, you get the uninspiring Bruce Campbell. Campbell is
physically what you want in a LT, but while he gets criticized in league
circles for what might be a lack of smarts, it's also hard to say that
he's got the effort in his play necessary to make it all happen.
That's one thing - and the team doesn't have anything of worth behind
Amini Silatolu at LG. Silatolu grew into himself over the season before
getting hurt, so at least on paper you can say the left side is solid.
The stats seem to bear that out. Silatolu appears leaner this year as
well, which can't hurt him in pass protection, his weakness early in
'12.

But RG is a wasteland. While Geoff Hangartner was an ideal situation
in 2011 as a replacement, 2012 was a step down. 2013 doesn't look to be
any better. Kugbila, who shouldn't be expected to make major waves at
RG yet anyway, didn't get much work in over the offseason due to nagging
leg injuries, and there are concerns that he's not in good enough shape.
Is it due to the injury? Was the injury due to poor conditioning?
It's hard to say, but they seem additive, and that means that anything
that happens this year for Kugbila is a bonus. You're left hoping that
either the light comes on while he's being supervised this year, or that
a better supervised offseason gets him there.

So when the team gave Kalil (coming off injury) time off yesterday?
Hangartner moves back to center, where he's able to play but has
struggled harder in the last number of years (including his time in
Buffalo). You get Garry Williams, who won't push Hangartner, at RG.

Williams has occasionally started, but never on purpose or intent.
He's somehow the best backup option the team has behind Hangartner
himself. That the team thinks it can't do better than Williams for $1
million in salary is amazing.

I don't know what the salary requirements are for Brandon Moore, but
I'd implore Dave Gettleman to spend more time talking to Moore about
coming in and being a legitimate starter (and less time stirring the
media pot). Travelle Wharton, as well, would be at home - that would
bring the line depth where it needs to be. Dropping at least one from
within - maybe Williams, maybe Campbell - would at least help pay for
things.

Leaving the other on staff would give the team two legitimate backup OL
to pair with Wharton, and give the team five good starters.