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Wednesday, September 25, 2013


With a strong week of offense finally under Carolina's belt, you can
tell that the Panthers' backs and skill players in general have been
waiting to unload on former OC Rob Chudzinski.

So, now they have.

Deangelo Williams, benched midseason last year after starting for the
previous five seasons, and Steve Smith have been the most vocal the last
few weeks. Williams, who spent much of 2011/12 taking early-drive
carries from shotgun for roughly two yards each time, felt underused; it
seems like essentially everyone in the discussion feels like Mike
Tolbert was being underused.

It's not a massive coincidence that late last year's turnaround came
from two things - Ron Rivera self-scouting this team and phasing out a
little of the read-option stuff, and Mike Shula's innovative coaching on
Cam Newton's internal clock (even as funny as it might be, to think of
Jimmy Clausen rushing the passer in practice). The team got away from
some of the magic that Chudzinski was trying to formulate, and got back
to basics, to greater success. That follows up with Rivera's own
comments (which, somehow, a few people still argue about), and how the
team handled itself to finish the year; it also meshes with Smith's
comments about how Chudzinski was "positioning himself" for a head
coaching job instead of adapting better to personnel.

Personally, I find it hard to argue.

The suddenly maligned Chudzinski is a very cerebral coach. I don't
think it's a coincidence that "cute" gets used a lot about his offense -
it's the exact word used to start the 2012 season against Tampa, in
which the ('11) 3rd ranked rushing offense netted 10 yards on the ground
(5 of which were from WR Kealoha Pilares). Chudzinski knows the
intricate parts of the Coryell offense all too well - he knows you can
run, as Mike Martz has said plenty of times, the core plays of '525 F
Post' and '940 F Corner Swing' can be run in 100+ combinations.

But the league isn't heading that way (consider the 300-play, color
coded offensive playsheets that OCs have used - I call it the Sushi
Menu) - it's heading toward these weird Chip Kelly playsheets that have
four (very weird) pictures so the call can be visually called. And, in
the end, if defenses are scouting you, and they look for a corner route
on third down, it's just window dressing to that defense if you shift
from a max-protect shotgun look to double wings. I love that stuff -
the billion combinations and the window dressing. But sometimes it
doesn't have to be that hard.

There's no doubt that the team had a pretty good set of offenses in
2011-12; this being, more or less, the same offense, it has the
potential to continue. So far, the new pieces under Shula have been
getting good marks, with the focus being mostly on Shula himself. I like
Mike, don't care that his father is famous, and his past doesn't have to
define his future. The end result is, there have been a few times Shula
himself has been a little too cute, too.

Since the backs have been pretty vocal, it might be worth wondering if
former RBs coach John Settle, fired while Chudzinski was still here and
yet immediately snapped up when Chudzinski went to Cleveland, wasn't a
good enough advocate for his players. There's no doubt the backs love
Jim Skipper, their once-and-current RBs coach, and there's no doubt he
has input on the design and implementation of the running game.

Regardless of the outcome, Rob Chudzinski was a big loss. I felt like
the moves made after he left were as good as can be expected (especially
after seeing Hue Jackson on Hard Knocks), and there's no doubting that
the team was better with both coaches on board. And it's 100% true,
everything that the players are saying, in my mind. The team was too
cute. It couldn't afford to be cute when it wasn't winning.

Shula's going to have some issues, too - and right now, he hasn't put
as good of a product on the field. But the catharsis of a 38-0 win
might've allowed the offense to exorcise a few demons, and along the way
that gave them a few new things to say.

Monday, September 23, 2013


As I've been for years now, I'm interested in the overall process of
changing football - I've tried not to get too deep into the process of
changing tackling and hits, but I think that's bogus for instance.

Needless to say, I was interested in how the Eagles and Chiefs game
went - and certainly, it's fair to say that the easy way to attack the
Eagles is with pressure. The Chiefs definitely got pressure, though
it's also worth saying that the Chiefs gave up 250 yards on the ground
to get it. In the end, the failure seems to have come at the hands of
the quarterback. It will be interesting to see how the Eagles' offense
ends up post-Vick, and how it deals with the somewhat odd nature of
having a non-running QB in Matt Barkley possibly being its longterm guy.

But it's interesting to see people writing off the way the Eagles are
doing things, not unlike how they weren't interested in the zone read as
more than a gimmick this time last year. Cam Newton wasn't having as
much success suddenly, and other teams hadn't heated up yet. That seems
to be here to stay for a while, and I don't think Chip Kelly's suddenly
done with his tricks three games in either. I still believe this is the
way things are headed.

As well, the Trent Richardson situation bears overall scrutiny. I know
the Browns, helmed by Rob Chudzinski and featuring plenty of former and
would've-been Panthers, aren't ready to give up. It's interesting, the
initial reaction was to suggest the Browns are folding. And looking at
some of the other guys they're willing to drop, maybe they're willing to
have more growing pains right now. They're probably not going to be the
sexy sleeper for the AFC playoffs anymore.

But the thing is, I can see Richardson maybe not fitting there.

Richardson is polarizing - to some he's a do-everything back on a team
that needs a back to do everything (and more). And to others, he's a
non-breakaway threat who's being paid with the esteem of being more than
a battering ram. His 3.5 yard per carry average, while only facing a
stacked box 17% of the time, isn't exceptional.

I would write about the lack of value that RBs have anymore. So many
teams are using RB by committee, and teams are finding value in later
round players. But then the Colts gave up a 1 for the guy. Richardson
was a high first, but there were plenty of first round type guys who
historically had produced more and haven't been worth that. So I can't
say that Richardson has value - he garnered a future first where others
haven't. The only explanation might be low miles - he didn't start that
much in the Alabama system and he's only got a year on him in the pros.

So, in the end, you have the Browns valuing a guy low - they didn't
draft him in this system, and Chudzinski's going to throw the ball a ton
- and the Colts being what I'd assume to be one of the few that really
value a guy like Richardson high. So I don't know if there's actually a
lot to learn here - some will value the RB, and some won't. It's not
system specific either - Pep Hamilton and Chudzinski come from similar
roots, pro style systems that really could use a big back.

And then the Browns beat the Vikings, in what could've been an
emotional letdown (statistically, it's more that Christian Ponder is
really not very good).

But, as the league goes to a more spread, more option type game
overall, it's harder to say that the RB is going to become a more
valuable, more premier position than it has been.

Carrying Momentum Into ...The Bye Week?

It's the Monday after a massive win. I can't feel like I'm not
somewhat uneasy about the future, nonetheless. Not unlike the Ravens'
game regarding our defense, it's hard to say how repeatable the Giants'
game's success is. Blowout wins and losses run high on emotion, moreso
than that they're longterm measures of success.

No matter what, it's fun to enjoy a real win, not just a preseason one.
It's also a September win, and those have been rare since 2009. Does
Carolina build on it? Do they learn something on the bye?

Last year, following the bye week, Ron Rivera did a lot of
self-scouting. Offensive changes came about, and suddenly Cam Newton
was more efficient and the offense was less 'cute'. So it's time to
look at the ongoing issues and how they might be impacted:

*Running efficiency
Carolina's had some bad luck and some personnel issues to this end.
Carolina's used four guards already this year, with up to three in
rotation. Longterm, it feels worthwhile to simply choose between Chris
Scott and Travelle Wharton; pick your poison and go. This past week,
there weren't as many stuffed runs, but it feels like it's been pretty
standard the last few years for Deangelo Williams to get two yards on
first down no matter what type run it is.

*Pass Blocking
It looked like this one got resolved this week, with only one sack
(credited rightly to Greg Olsen, who shouldn't be blocking the pass - he
should be out in a route) against a pretty good front four. Byron Bell
didn't look terrible this week. But, it's worth watching longterm. I
don't see the OL's struggles as being over by a longshot.

*Offensive Design
Plenty of people were concerned with what Mike Shula would provide. I
don't have significant concerns at this time, but it's going to look a
lot like the earlier Chudzinski offense. I did like that the team threw
in a spark last week with the Cam Newton runs early on, and the team is
getting better with the long ball. However, there's also a need for a
little more playaction. I would advise more rollouts as Newton seems to
be very adept at this, and it's one of the most effective ways to force
a defense's hand in coverage.

*Newton himself
Cam's saying and doing most everything you'd want. I think it's
important to take a little of the pressure off him in general - when
things go wrong, Newton's one of the biggest lightning rods in the
league. Fairly or unfairly, it's not up to just Newton.

I don't know how this secondary ended up excelling, but it did. With
or without time to throw, it's amazing that the team somehow found a way
to bottle up Hakeem Nicks and minimize Victor Cruz.

But what happens next might be interesting back there. At safety, is
Mike Mitchell redeemed? Or does it matter? He'll have to play all
season no matter what. When Quintin Mikell returns, what's his spot -
FS or SS? Or does Robert Lester play a continuing role?

At corner, you face a numbers game again. Does Drayton Florence stay?
Do you activate or demote Melvin White after two turnovers? Or do you
leave Josh Thomas out of plans? Thomas does what's expected of him, and
he tackles better than Josh Norman, whose preseason good will was lost
on the last play in Buffalo. Suddenly the team went from having minimal
hope on that end to having minimal issues, so it will be difficult to
stack players for the next few weeks.

*Special Teams
I don't know how you really fix the punt return issues. I do think
teams are doing a good job of minimizing Ted Ginn on some punts by how
they're kicking to him, but if the defense is going to remain good, the
team can't waste it by knocking into the ball. The team is kicking the
ball better now, and that's helped. So if it can get together on the
punt return issue, simply not giving the ball back, it should have a
good unit. It's time to change up the "get away" communication, if
nothing else.

This team is ungodly levels of moody. It was sparked heavily by the
Ted Ginn return in Baltimore in preseason, and all of a sudden
everything just 'worked'. This week, I don't know what the spark was,
but it was just working; I don't get how a team can be this great at
times and yet seems to fall apart when it can win but seemingly doesn't
think it can.

And I don't have a good answer for that one.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

v/s Giants - Wasn't Expecting That

Solid job.

Carolina looked like it wanted to bungle the ballgame away again - two backed-into punts in a three week season? - but just for a second or two.  Starting with a dominant pass rush, followed by oddly good play that helped throw in some coverage sacks (featuring two undrafted rookies, Melvin White and Robert Lester, and 32 year old Drayton Florence signed this week), and a spark started by Cam Newton's legs (4 rushes for 40 yards early on) but finished by his arm (223 yards, 3 touchdowns).

Newton hit Ted Ginn on a nice 47 yard TD, as well as Brandon LaFell twice; he finished with 45 yards and a score rushing, as well. Deangelo Williams knocked down 120 yards on the ground; Mike Tolbert added a score as a backup.

The only hiccups?  A punt that hit Richie Brockel, and an interception by Aaron Ross, neither of which the Giants turned into points.  By the first full drive of the second half, Carolina has 24 points, the Giants had 18 yards of total offense (one yard net passing).

The OL held its own against the Giants' top DL as well.  Carolina gave up one sack - a shifted formation putting Greg Olsen on Matthias Kiwanuka - and its own defensive line brought an impressive amount of pressure.  7 total sacks (Greg Hardy, 3; Thomas Davis, Kawann Short, Star Lotulelei, and Charles Johnson with 1) set the defensive tone early and never let Eli Manning have a shot at making plays.

So, I vastly underestimated Carolina today.  Luckily, it was a disaster for NY, not for Carolina; luckily, Carolina picked it up.

What's next, though?

It looks like Carolina will continue to play traditional run games and traditional QBs fairly well.  They will probably be somewhat negated against running QBs to a point (Carolina plays only Colin Kaepernick with a true running threat, depending on how you view Josh Freeman).

The rest is hard to say.  Will Carolina run the ball this well moving forward?  Will the offense be as potent?  Probably not, but maybe the team learned what flavor it is offensively.  Maybe they can be aggressive without being low percentage.  If so, things are turning up.

v/s Giants

This is a tough one - 0-2, and facing an 0-2 team that should be better than they are, with the emotional issues of Tom Coughlin's brother's passing.

Carolina's likely to start two guys in an already junky secondary that weren't on the roster last week.  And Carolina gave up a billion yards to Eli Manning last time - without the complement of receivers he's got this time.  I can't find a way that this already depleted secondary can get better, so I can't find a way this defense can make the offense look respectable.   That's a combination for disaster.

So, Carolina can stop the run, with that already being the Giants' weakness; so they'll just pass more.  The only hope?  A Giants team that passes it to enough success to want to run the game out, and then loses its rhythm.  

Luckily, for the Panthers' offense, the Giants' defense is awful.  It'll never not make me want to erupt at anyone who (un-ironically) pushes Perry Fewell as the next coach.  Awesome - he's from Gastonia.  So?  He was a pretty decent replacement coach once upon a time, but shouldn't he have had a good statistical year other than the one directly adjacent to Steve Spagnuolo's last year?

You could say Carolina has some inside knowledge, with Domenik Hixon on board, with former Giant assistant Al Holcomb here, and with pro personnel guy Dave Gettleman now running this ship.  Will it be enough?   I don't think it will.

Meanwhile, a family birthday celebration will take me from the game tomorrow.  I'll watch it, but hopefully it's not begrudgingly.  That takes any interest out of doing matchups - I don't think the Giants' OL is that good anymore, to throw a tidbit out there - so, there won't be anything like that this week.  I don't need to tell you that Hakeem Nicks versus Josh Norman won't work out well.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

What To Expect When You're Expecting (To Lose)

Wanted to throw out a couple of thoughts, specific to the team and its
state during this early portion of what will inevitably be a losing
season, unless some massive things change.

Coaching Change -
In the natural assumption that things don't get better, absolutely -
there will be coaching change. Wholesale.

The rub comes at what point it happens.

Jerry Richardson hasn't ever fired a head coach before the season ends.
That includes George Seifert's fifteen losses in a row. That includes
intentionally setting up John Fox, Seifert, and depending on how you
look at it, Dom Capers (I really feel like Dom hung himself, moreso than
that Richardson wanted to push him out).

The caveat is that, last year, he fired GM Marty Hurney a month into
the season. That was a somewhat unprecedented move, though Hurney is
not a coach.

So I don't know if Ron Rivera gets fired. And I don't believe there
are any incredibly dynamic assistants who require a look at being head
coach. But, if a move was made?

*Sean McDermott has done a decent job, but this is Rivera's defense.
Nonetheless, Steve Wilks deserves a shot as a coordinator one day (even
if it shoots his depleted DBs in the foot, since he'll have less time
for them and he has no assistant).

*Mike Shula, you couldn't necessarily argue deserves that chance
anyway. Do Ricky Proehl and Ken Dorsey impress? Absolutely. Will
anyone with that little experience be able to step in and be
coordinator? Probably not.

*So that leaves Jim Skipper. He has a little head coaching (if XFL)
experience, and he wouldn't massively disrupt either side of the ball.
He'd be a steadying force as well.

*Outside hires?
I've read discussion of outside coaches ("let's go get Lovie Smith/Jon
Gruden/Bill Cowher!!!1"). The league just doesn't work that way, and I
can't think of the last time it did (best example I could find would be
the (2009) Redskins forcing Sherm Lewis on Jim Zorn, and that was an
assistant being pushed on a head coach in midseason, not replacing a
head coach).

This is not a realistic solution, and it's not about to happen. Lovie
Smith joining the team as a head coach in October is about as likely as
digging up George Halas' corpse at this point for the same purpose.

*2014 philosophy?

It's early, but if it were me, I'd have to dig for a college head
coach versed in spread and hurry-up, and design an offense around Cam
Newton. Give Cam the year to grow in that scheme if you need before
wrapping him up, but nonetheless, really put it all together around him.
Follow that with a decent college DC who can unwrap a good
nickel-based scheme that will be prepared for the changes the NFL is
about to go through.

The truth is, the old-school approach of Jerry Richardson and Dave
Gettleman would resist that approach to a point. Does Lovie Smith look
like a good way to go? Not in my opinion, and Perry Fewell is a
vaccinated version of Smith, but those two seem to be mentioned a
significant amount.

I don't know if a Kevin Sumlin is realistic (he's already turned the
NFL down before). I don't know if Carolina would even hire a
progressive offensive coach as head coach.

Secondary - Regrouping

There's not a lot to work with for DBs coach Steve Wilks at this point.
His healthiest guys have been the ones who haven't been on the field -
outside of Captain Munnerlyn, his starting secondary from week 1 is

Charles Godfrey was finally playing the level of football expected of
him before being done for the year - and maybe done here in Carolina
anyway - after breaking up a touchdown against Buffalo. Replacement
starter Quintin Mikell, potentially a massive upgrade, was in an air
cast with an ankle injury, again injured after making a play. Starting
CB Josh Thomas injured himself on a great tackle that, of course, gave
him a concussion. Concussion protocol would seem to suggest he'll be
best off missing this game.

Next-off-the-bench Josh Norman - or however you'd currently signify a
nickel corner that doesn't actually play the role of slot CB - had some
time off the field, enough to get 4th CB DJ More hurt for a bit as well.

Now, it appears, Moore is a candidate to move to S, Norman might get
rewarded with his last-play gaffe with a starting assignment, and Melvin
White might somehow be the 3rd CB. Another option is keeping Moore at
CB and throwing Colin Jones in at FS, where he's rarely played, much
less made all the defensive calls.

Other options include signing released CB Drayton Florence, who started
most of preseason and ended up being cut, and S Haruki Nakamura, who
started in 2011 to disastrous results.

It's a less than ideal situation for a team already in a big hole at
0-2. The secondary didn't start the season as a strength and missing
out on Godfrey for the rest of the year severely limits their cover 3,
cover 1/cover 1 Robber and man type sets. It's possible that they can
get by with Norman doing more press with some help over top, and luckily
Thomas will return at some point; however it's nearly impossible to
really resolve FS at this point in a positive manner and without Mikell
for a while, Mike Mitchell will remain likely to have a handful of plays
being out of position and he'll always have that chance of a personal
foul at the worst time.

So, outside of doing something crazy with the glut of LBs - and no, I
don't think it's ideal to have Thomas Davis playing SS right now - or
creating some amazing new defense that allows the team to do something
crazy like play Davis at SS, I don't know what the solution will be that
would somehow make this defense be as good as it could've been.

Oddly enough, it does appear the team breached the idea of Davis at SS.
With inactives being as they are, they had a plan that included pushing
Davis to SS for emergency purposes, and Armond Smith at CB (Smith
would've been worth so many penalties at CB). James Dockery and rookie
Melvin White are options for next game, but neither were active last
week. There's the chance that they bring up rookie Robert Lester from
the practice squad, though that doesn't solve the issue at FS.

So, with bad news all around, Carolina didn't need to limp away from a
Buffalo loss with one healthy defensive back, and yet that's exactly
what they received.

V/s Buffalo - Week 2 - Newfound Forms of Heartbreak

It's getting tougher and tougher to follow this team.

Now 0-2, losing by a total of six points in the year, Carolina found a
way to forfeit another win, this time literally in the last seconds.

Carolina punched the ball deeper, and ran more unique plays, on the way
to a better offensive performance. Cam Newton had his struggles - the
traditionally very accurate deep arm not connecting that often, leaving
Carolina with a lot more offensive failures. Newton had his moments -
he was a perfect 7/7 and a TD to Greg Olsen, along with a pretty pass to
Ted Ginn for another TD - and had some nice plays on the run, but threw
a costly pick in the red zone and was under pressure a good deal by
Mario Williams (whose 4.5 sacks were partially inflated by a late play
with Newton stepping out of bounds, again in the redzone).

It was a less conservative offense, though it still failed in its
conserativity - this time mostly at the hands of Ron Rivera. A late 4th
and 1 with 1:48 left, setup by a third down and mid draw by Mike
Tolbert, would've iced the game had it been converted; the team has one
of the best 4th and short QBs and a dynamite short yardage guy in
Tolbert, but the team kicked. Did the three points they received allow
the team protection against Buffalo getting a quick FG to tie?
Absolutely. But the risk is worth the reward.

As well, had Carolina pulled more TDs than FGs in the redzone, Carolina
wins walking away. The late drive wasn't the only time that Carolina
came up conservative and ended up with a FG, it was simply the most
critical time that strategy failed.

The defense had its moments before allowing an 80 yard drive for a TD
to lose; Star Lotulelei had another impressive game, which helped mask
the rare lack of production from the ends. Liberal subbing and quick
passing are going to cause less production, but better pressure is a
must - especially with a young QB, especially with the resources put
into it.

Injuries might hurt more than the loss - Josh Thomas' concussion
probably keeps him out against NY, Charles Godfrey's achilles puts him
out for the year. Quintin Mikell is iffy to play, but I'd not count on
him. Late in the game, Carolina had Mike Mitchell and Colin Jones
playing safety, and when Josh Norman got hurt replacing Josh Thomas, at
the least he was able to come back in when DJ Moore got hurt replacing

So there aren't a lot of DB options left, on a team that was massively
underpowered there anyway.

Carolina snatched defeat once again from the jaws of victory. I'm not
much on defeatism, or giving up. But the chances of 2013 being a
successful season have significantly declined. There's minimal hope at
this moment - it'd take .500 ball to get the team to its usual mediocre
7-9. It's not a rebuilding season, so there aren't good excuses (it's
fair to say that next year, however, will be yet another rebuilding

From here on some of my focus will be on forecasting those changes. I
will remain dilligent on discussing the team at hand, even as the
current product on the field becomes less relevant. But it's obvious
that 2014 will be a focus as well. It's been many years now - 1700+
days - since Carolina has been at or over .500. Not even whether they
had a winning season, just whether they had as many wins as losses.
That's not good enough. I've never felt like the fanbase's
expectations of consecutive winning seasons or dynasty-level performance
were realistic, but it's realistic to expect the team to not mirror the
struggles of Oakland or Jacksonville. This team is simply better than
that. And the product is often enough to win, without the last minute
push to actually get there.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

V/s Buffalo - Week 2

This is going to be an early pregame - going to be traveling without a
lot of access, so this will be more brief and early than normal.

Carolina and Buffalo come in with a lot of similarities. Both have
larger QBs than the norm for the

In a lot of ways, the Marrone offense is similar to what Carolina does.
Marrone, a former pro coordinator, had very modest success in a
middling conference - as have many pro guys trying to run a pro-style
system in college lately - until he embraced a college concept in full.
Last year at Syracuse, Marrone and OC Nate Hackett threw out some of the
complexities of the offense and focused hard on packaged plays, a
concept Carolina uses as well.

Packaged plays provide the quarterback with a read or two that direct
the QB on options for distributing the football. The QB can hand off or
throw to a short/intermediate receiver in various combinations, which
could include a number of different concepts. It could involve a zone
read, and usually does; the QB can handoff or keep based on reading the
DT or DE, depending on the play, but also has the ability to throw a
short pass (usually based on a LB read). It doesn't require the zone
read action; it can just be the option of handoff or throw, the way that
Aaron Rodgers has been handling it for years. Some concepts include
the zone read, a route concept or two, and a screen.

That's essentially how Marrone made his name in one short season -
scrapping his offense and embracing college concepts fully for the first
time. Syracuse would often run the same single play, because each of
the options allowed a different look.

That said, its potency against the Patriots left something to be
desired. They did some level of hurry-up, which is easier with packaged
concepts, but only ran 63 plays, not exceptional for an attempt at a
quick pace though more tied to inability. They had 15 drives, a full
third of which were 3 and out, and turned the ball over twice in their
own territory. Those 15 drives netted a total of 13 non-penalty first

Some of that comes with being a better 1st and 2nd down offense than
3rd down, where playaction and defensive indecision are less of a
factor. Buffalo went 4/13 on third down (30%). Manuel was efficient
(66%) but only hit 150 yards; he had two scores on intermediate throws
and pitched in 3 rushes for 27 yards.

CJ Spiller was held to 17 rushes/41 yards by the Pats, and notably, was
their leading receiver with 5 catches, but had a long of 7 and only
gained a total of 14 yards. Backup Fred Jackson was 2nd in receiving (4
for 41) and had a better day running (13/67), and Scott Chandler pitched
in 4 receptions as well; leaving all WR to get a total of 5 receptions.
There's no doubt that the packaged concepts so far have yielded
efficient results, but not unlike Carolina, Buffalo faces week 2 wanting
to throw deep more.

That requires more conventional scheming to this point. Packaged plays
and hurry-up principles work well - it's like a hyper-West Coast
Offense. Dink, dunk, take what the defense gives you - just with more
opportunities and more options. But its versatility still leaves you
wanting for some things, and the vertical game is part of that. You
can't sell the run block hard on the line and send your receiver to the
typical 40 and 5 of the deep ball. You can't 7-step drop in a format
that lets you have an option keeper. That gets your QB killed. It's
also low-percentage against the remaining high percentage options.

Nonetheless, Spiller and Jackson are a good 1-2 combo that require
attention at all times. Spiller is a breakaway threat that must be
contained. Steve Johnson has the ability to bust one open at WR, were
they to get him the ball. It's an offense that's open and can be
creative at times, that will look to be creative to provide those
options, none of which were really had against the Patriots.

To counter, Carolina will likely look to Cover 1 Robber options, and
might find it best to do a little blitzing in the middle to hurry those
options. Teams with a box safety seem to stand a better chance at
stopping this type team, though it's hard to say with Quintin Mikell
being more or less absent in the stat box. Teams that get natural
pressure like Carolina can struggle against a team like this, since the
rush doesn't necessarily have as long to get there.

Without going through the full list, I think that Greg Hardy on massive
LT Cordy Glenn will be interesting; however, the middle of the line is
missing Andy Levitre, giving Carolina an inside advantage, and RT Erik
Peers was a liability last season.

The interesting thing about the Bills' staff remains that the Jets
allowed Mike Pettine not only to leave, but to leave within the
division. Pettine's defense pressured Tom Brady significantly last week
(17 of 54 dropbacks, with 6 hits, 2 sacks) and gave a lot of looks -
4-3, 3-4 mixed in, and a mix of even and odd fronts on nickel.
Rightside rusher Mario Williams is obviously a focus; his size and
experience in the 3-4 allow him to play the 3-4 OLB, DE as well as 4-3
end; my work on DT Marcel Dareus and his potential fits in the Carolina
pro multiple highlight his own ability to play almost anywhere on the
line. OLB Manny Lawson provides significant rush as well. This is a
defense that's going to bring a lot of looks, and a good bit of

That said, their pass concentration didn't extend to the run, where
they were gashed for 158 yards. They don't have a significant LB
corps, and while they have Kyle Williams and Alan Branch to go next to
Dareus, it's not a top run stopping front 7. Rookie Kiko Alonzo takes
on the middle linebacker job, with a mix of Alex Moats and Nigel Bradham
playing the remaining spot, none showing to be that dynamic.

CB Stephon Gilmore has been limited this week - the strong cover corner
potentially being out would be a big step as there's not a lot of depth.
S Jairus Byrd hasn't been practicing either - the somewhat injured but
definitely unhappy franchise player probably doesn't play this week.
Hard-nosed but somewhat limited Jim Leonhard plays instead, executing
the scheme as he did in NY, where he was a key to the complex back-end

They are a team that, if they're spread out, can have challenges.
That's only going to be expanded if Byrd and Gilmore aren't playing;
however, Carolina only kept 4 WR active last week and didn't use Armanti
Edwards much. Staff have suggested all 5 will be active this week, and
will play, but time will tell if that's actually the case.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Look Ahead - Campbell injury-released

DJ Campbell was released from IR with a settlement. Previously, Joe
Adams and David Gettis had been as well; while it's possible that none
have long term consequences, it's interesting that both spots have a
lack of future.

At S, Carolina only had Charles Godfrey next year. Godfrey (who played
lights out last week in my opinion, definitely cleaning up what looked
to be poor tackling in the past) is cuttable - I see 3 million total in
dead signing bonus (any bonus prorated past '14), versus a $5 million
salary (and $100,000 bonus). But, for right now, it would also be
difficult to find improvement for the remainder.

WR isn't a massive concern - Gettis was on his last year and Adams had
not shown anything past being a returner to this point. So it's not as
if the future was fantastic with those two as it was. But, past those,
and pending Kealoha Pilares being on IR for now - unless he's been
injury settled,

Corner looks a little more rosy - but not by a lot. Norman and Thomas
- the Joshes - are under contract, as is Melvin White. It remains early
to say that's actually a good thing, but not a lot of change has
happened here, with the veterans all being on one year deals.

It's still remarkably early to keep an eye on 2014 - though, if that's
something that people are interested in, I constantly keep an eye on the
next year, win or lose, so I'll be happy to talk about any of that.
Shout at me if that's the case.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Choke City - v/s Seattle

A heartbreaking loss at home by 5 points in a tremendously low scoring

In what appears to be a return to Foxball type principles, it could've
been easy to say that Carolina squeaked out a 14-12 (or 13-12/15-12
depending on the logical two point conversion attempt) in a defensive
battle. That was erased on a tough fumble by Deangelo Williams.

I can't blame Williams - his seven fumbles in seven years are still
remarkable - and it's tough to see a guy who had a good day like
Williams end it that way. He was headed toward winning that game
himself - depending on the two-minute drill that would follow, of

And it's hard to blame the defense, who held a very good O to 12 points
and last year's 3rd ranked rush O to a reasonable amount of yardage.
The offense played small ball - running more, and throwing the shorter
passes against a top secondary, though it needed to take more deep shots
anyway. With Brandon Browner out, and their top 3 rushers gone as well,
you could see more deep balls. Cam Newton isn't to blame for the loss,
and he was very efficient. But there needs to be more yardage there.

So is DW to blame? Is Newton? Is Mike Shula? I don't play those
games. Those games are for people who blazed the internet minutes after
the game to eternally damn whoever they predetermined they'd blame.
It's a team game, and the team lost. It doesn't make it better to point
a finger. I won't even point at the Ron Rivera mistake of not going
for it on 4th and inches - something he constantly chooses not to do, no
matter how much sense it makes.

For Shula's part, I saw a somewhat dynamic offense. I saw an O that
did run some read option. I saw movement, shifts, some creative things
happening. It was an offense that was conservative in how it attacked
the corners, though, and hopefully that doesn't continue. Not
everyone's Richard Sherman, and Steve Smith had a decent day against
So absent finger pointing, I'll throw some positives out there.

For all that it mattered of the month studying Garry Williams' growth
and whether or not he'd be out there, Williams was hurt in the first
half. Between he and Amini Silatolu, that was a lot of concern about
two guards that wouldn't be on the field much this game. That left
Chris Scott, Travelle Wharton, and Jeff Byers in there, each moving
around a bit and each doing their best. It wasn't a disaster. Maybe
Silatolu will be back to add some stability, but this remains a focal
point - one that, for the moment, wasn't the issue I feared it would

Star Lotulelei remains as good as advertised. Kawann Short added some
good rush in there. It might not be long before he is playing more than
Dwan Edwards in base. Colin Cole didn't give up any space, and for a
4th DT, that's exactly what he needs to be.

A backhanded 'positive', because they can't keep calling Armond Smith
for that stupid procedure penalty, much less unsportsmanlike, over and
over again now that there's clarification. Or, at least, Smith won't be
the gunner hopefully.
Also, Charles Johnson can't be held by Breno Giacomini all day for the
rest of the season, so there's a positive. I'd have felt better about
this loss if Johnson hadn't been mugged right in front of both a ref and
Russell Wilson on the TD pass.

*Charles Godfrey
Godfrey shouldn't lead the team in tackles with Luke Kuechly and Jon
Beason in - and both played well - but Godfrey laid some big hits, and
had a sack. It was also nice to see a Quintin Mikell sighting, though
if he played that much, I missed it. Was Mikell somehow playing FS and
Godfrey playing near the line? I can't say I noticed, or thought to
look, and TV broadcasts don't lend themselves to secondary viewing

It's a tough schedule, but while I have no idea if the team will play
up or down to the level of competition, again I don't believe this team
sees an opponent this tough until week 10/San Fran.

Not everyone will be in love with a sub-200 yard performance. He was
accurate, however, and while people overplayed Greg Olsen's 'drops',
there were balls that could've helped Cam there. But what I'm going to
bring up was that Cam was able to do more at the line, and I continue to
love the packaged plays (and his decisions with them). I don't yet know
how much leash Cam has at the line, but it's nice to see him being more
active there. And to go with the good decisions, it's better that Cam
didn't have a 3 INT meltdown in a winnable game.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

v/s Seattle, Season Opener

Seattle is definitely the better team. 11-5 last year, and some of the best elements were rookies.

So, there's room for growth.

Russell Wilson - somehow, a guy who NC State fans openly root for, despite him transferring out - remained as efficient as he was in Wisconsin,

He threw in almost 500 yards and 4 TDs rushing, as the 'Hawks second leading rusher.

Marshawn Lynch remains potent, despite going into year 8 (he's oddly still 27). 1500 yards, 11 touchdowns, and he was the most elusive back in the league per (he broke almost as many tackles as Adrian Peterson on fewer carries).   Lynch is a dangerous threat, and even in Carolina's best preseason defensive performance against Baltimore, they dropped a number of missed tackles.  That was one of Carolina's largest weaknesses last year as well.

2nd year Robert Turpin is the backup, while not a bust he's not as impactful as the starters at 3 major spots above him; he's a big (5'10, 222) guy who doesn't show much for breaking one, but will get yards.

The 'Hawks' OL is, in some forms, a good counterpoint for the Carolina DL.  Russell Okung is a top LT, a good match for Greg Hardy.  RT Breno Giacomini, despite Charles Johnson beating him like a drum in 2010, has started to shape up, giving up four sacks all 2012.   Pro Bowl C Max Unger fits in the middle to take on Star Lotulelei.  LG James Carpenter, a first rounder (if also massive reach), looks to be healthy, but probably won't start over vet Paul McQuistan; neither he nor JR Sweezy are as good, so it might be better to throw in a fully even front or two that will put the Panthers' DTs on their guards more.  The 3-4 sets, unless they learn something very specific from Seattle's interdivisional rival San Francisco, probably doesn't set up the same mismatches.  Loeulelei should set a good base, but it'll be up to Dwan Edwards and rook Kawann Short to not let there be good cutback lanes inside.

Vet Zach Miller is the TE; since joining Seattle two seasons ago, Miller's stats declined.  Wish I could say the same thing about big-ticket WR Sidney Rice, who broke out last year in the same span.   In the Panthers' first stroke of luck, Percy Harvin is hurt, leaving Golden Tate as the starter again.   Both Rice and Tate are somewhat explosive guys - 15 yard averages, 7 TDs each - but each also average 3 receptions a game with an efficient QB.   Doug Baldwin is the outside guy when Harvin goes to the slot, where he's most potent.

To effectively beat the Seahawks, look for a lot of 8 in the box, with three deep behind it to catch the deep receivers.  Seattle doesn't do a ton deep down the middle, and Wilson doesn't get a ton of attempts so he's more likely to go deep outside.  Carolina did an OK job of making Wilson and Lynch one-dimensional (5 rushes for 12 yards; 85 yards respectively; it was Lynch's 3rd worst performance), despite Wilson completing 19 of 25 passes, there weren't big plays to be had.

The Seahawks defense is, not unlike the Ravens and Pats' defenses, hybrid.  Not like Carolina's, that runs one or the other at different times; this is a team that plays tow philosophies at the same time.  Pete Carroll, a defensive coordinator under George Seifert, runs what the 9ers ran in the 90s.  It's a 4-3 Over scheme that allows an end to have a free shot at the QB (think of the '99 team here with Kevin Greene), while some of the DL runs a two-gap type scheme.  Essentially, it's one of the few 4-3s that plays a NT (Brandon Mebane) two different ways - one gap or two gap at different times - and plays a left end that's massive to stop the run situationally (Red Bryant).  It's an old scheme - a 4-3 that has minimal roots in what Jimmy Johnson does - that was a 3-4 scheme but adapted to the NFL at a time when the Johnson defense was the way to go.  Bryant helps set the edge - but his presence is almost an ideal sign that the Seahawks are trying to stop the run.  Bryant didn't record a single pressure last year.

DEs Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin (playing some LB, in theory) are out, for Carolina's second big break; Cliff Avril will play the role, and has the ability to get upfield fast.   Bryant will give way to former Buc Michael Bennett, who broke out last year with 9 sacks and yet somehow has a backup role in Seattle even with two injuries.

 Bobby Wagner gave Luke Kuechly a run for rookie of the year; the tackling machine isn't easily fooled.  ILBs like Wilson and Kuechly are critical in the read-option era.  It makes Carolina a little more likely to run straight up;Wagner, like most LBs, does get easier to deal with if you can get a big body on him, and outside of Mebane, there's not a lot that will require extra attention.    KJ Wright and Malcolm Smith are unremarkable OLBs.  Backup LB John Lotulelei is a cousin of the Panthers' Star.

On the back end, Richard Sherman is one of the best corners in the NFL; Brandon Browner doesn't give up much less in yards per snap himself.  Here's where Carolina gets another break - Seattle really hasn't come up with a nickel with Antoine Winfield now retired.  It's hard to say what will happen here; before last year, Carroll would throw in a 3rd safety a lot of the time.  That might be a smart choice, honestly, since the Panthers' best matchup is Greg Olsen up the middle.

Cam Newton must be more efficient this game - his 12/25 last year wasn't enough, and his 4th and goal mis-step went a long way toward the Panthers dropping a close game.  The Panthers' running game has to be stronger - even the pass might make sense with 2 TE with the Seahawks' offset scheme - Newton is stronger when he's running playaction than running himself, and this was another game where he was the only one over 20 yards.  There might be value to spreading the Seahawks out in base defense (putting more pressure on guys like Bryant and the unimpressive OLBs in space).

Carolina, even with Seattle traveling across the country and shorter on starts than last year, has its work cut out in this opener.   This is a tough draw to start the season, both the strongest defense and team overall it will face until week 10 - San Francisco.   I don't love their chances.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Special Teams Will Improve

I don't often make proclamations, or predictions. Call it being afraid
of being wrong - call it anything you want. I don't know how Carolina
will fare this year - could be 3-13, could be 13-3, and it seems most
likely that Carolina will finish around average. Maybe the fan side of
me would prefer to say I expect them to be right above average.

But I'll go on record as saying that special teams will improve
greatly. Legitimately the worst unit on the 2011 team (the defense
didn't do much better), there were special teams scores against the team
in three games Carolina lost by a score or less.

A transition in 2012 came with some new parts, and some late-season
improvement in coverage. But Rick Gosselin's always-impressive special
teams rankings nonetheless listed Carolina dead last. Gosselin singled
out Carolina for best KO coverage, but last in net punting AND field
goals. There weren't even

And so to preview special teams' units, I'd like to focus on why it'll
be better.

*New Return Talent:
There's no doubt Ted Ginn will help out. He's shown that. 6 total
return TD in six years, so logically, it's not out of bounds to expect
him to bust one this year. Carolina has struggled with return units for
a legitimate decade, so there's no way this isn't a good thing.

*New Coach:
Stars in our eyes, many of us dreamed of getting Dave Toub or Bobby
April as special teams coach. When the team kept Richard Rodgers, the
interim guy replacing Brian Murphy toward the end of '12, it was
disappointing. But special teams got better under Rodgers, who many say
is just better than Murphy was.

The surprise came with Bruce DeHaven being named assistant to Rodgers.
You have a 30 year pro backing a 2nd year pro. Now, some have thrown
derision at DeHaven in his career - his two most notable plays were
failures (the Scott Norwood kick to lose the Super Bowl; technically,
the last play in Bills playoff history was the Music City Miracle). But
Dehaven is nonetheless a master of the craft.

*Kickers Improving
I've seen a marked increase in the consistency of both 2nd year punter
Josh Nortman and young kicker Graham Gano. Both have tons of leg but
both seem to have that energy more focused. I don't know if Nortman
will ever be incredible at the coffin corner, and a lot of leggy punters
aren't. But you'll hopefully see a lot fewer shanked punts this year
(so far so good) while the punter is aimlessly knocking the ball as hard
as possible. As well, Gano's massive leg has been great on kickoffs,
and he's become more accurate deep.

The addition of more corners to the squad should improve the kick
coverage. Losing Haruki Nakamura at safety to a concussion will hurt
individually, but I'm excited to see what will happen with AJ Klein and
Chase Blackburn. That's a major addition, compared to dropping
sometimes-active Jason Williams and usually-injured Kenny Onatolu. It's
a natural assumption that Jordan Senn and Colin Jones will remain top
notch, and Armond Smith adds a great special teams element that the team
hasn't had at RB in years.

It's hard to discount the deep leg of Gano on kickoffs as well.

So, I don't know if things will be good enough to rank top ten, but
this appears to be a unit that might not be a liability.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Getting To Know Quintin Mikell

New SS Quintin Mikell isn't the largest guy out there - but the 5'10,
205 lb vet packs a punch. The undrafted (2003) Boise St star worked his
way to a Pro Bowl appearance in 2009, and has been an All-Pro twice
('08, '10).

While he's got experience in the deep half of the field (having shared
the field with Brian Dawkins), Mikell excels in the short end, racking
up tackles, playing man coverage (or the under man in the Cover 1 Robber
scheme that puts two zone guys in the middle of the field). He's often
at his best when the team is blitzing - his man coverage is solid, and
his blitzing is top notch as well. He scored 3 sacks last year, giving
him 8 sacks for his career; had him with a total
of 14 sacks/hits/pressures, leading his position. They graded him 5th
overall at safety.

The punishing hitter is a solid tackler, notching 636 'official'
tackles in ten seasons, and 14 forced fumbles (4 last year).

The shortest explanation? He's Mike Mitchell with more brains and a
little less speed. This defense definitely puts an emphasis on one
safety being deep and the other short; when Charles Godfrey was a
full-time SS for the team in 2011, he played short 83% of the time.

Mikell is definitely an ugprade, can't wait to see him on the field.

Quintin Mikell Signed; Nakamura IR'd

The Panthers signed vet Quintin Mikell this Monday morning, with Haruki
Nakamura going to IR to give him the roster spot. The vet former Eagle
and Ram knows Carolina's schemes (having also played under Steve
Spagnuolo in 2011, which is very similar to Sean McDermott's own scheme)
and has played under Rivera and McDermott in the past.

Not unlike the Travelle Wharton signing, Mikell seemed like an obvious
signing that needed to happen, but that one side needed to flinch first.
For Wharton, Carolina flinched once Amini Silatolu got hurt; maybe the
catalyst was seeing whether Nakamura (who played most of the Steelers
game) could supplant Mike Mitchell, the preseason SS starter.

Mitchell drew yet another personal foul flag against the Ravens, after
which he was benched and eventually came in with backups. Mitchell is a
good special teams player, so he may supplant Nakamura in that role, but
I'm unaware of Nakamura being injured. Would it not have been easier
to simply cut Mitchell? In some form, I guess, Mitchell does ensure
that a starting level player is available. I'm not sure Nakamura was
going to be good enough depth.

Mikell was a top five rated safety by in what is
inevitably an upgrade once Mikell hits the field. It also returns some
experience to a secondary that got very young in the last few days with
the release of CB Drayton Florence.

Practice Squad

Carolina quickly worked toward getting their own cuts signed to their
practice squad, as somewhat expected.

DB Robert Lester, who came into camp fairly heralded but never showed
enough to stick, leads the list. RB Tauren Poole, who had been playing
ahead of Armond Smith (who remains on the active roster), was added as

The team kept 2 WR on practice squad as well, James Shaw and Brenton

Despite already carrying 5 DE, they added Craig Roh to the squad, along
with DT Casey Walker. Ben Jacobs, one of the last standing at LB, made
the list as well.

The team has one spot left, likely for a quarterback (and the team only
kept 2, neither of which I'd expect them to use for scout team duty).

Over the last two years, Carolina has dipped into the practice squad
significantly for midseason replacement players. It's not inconceivable
that these players might see active roster time, and it's not an
unreasonable expectation that most of them would be in camp next year.

The only change you may expect early?

With only one DB on the roster (and the team keeping 6 CBs right now),
that might be an early place to drop a player down to the practice
squad. As well, Brian Folkerts doesn't seem destined to stay on the
active roster for very long, and I imagine once Jeff Byers and Amini
Silatolu are ready to go, he'll be bumped down (which again pushes a guy

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Official 53

This is subject to change - you never know what might happen if the team chooses to pickup someone else - but as of now, here's the team's 53-man roster.

QB Clausen, Anderson

Keeping two just makes more sense.  The team has Armanti Edwards if it needs, but that's a bit of a luxury as well.


Williams, Barner, Smith; Tolbert, Brockel

Armond Smith almost kicked himself out of a job, but elite special teams play saved him (who else have you ever seen come that close to scoring a safety and a rush TD in the same game?).  He probably won't play much RB, with Tolbert being the primary backup and Barner being a guy they'll want to do special plays with.


Olsen, Hartsock, Williams

It looks like the team lucked into a player with Williams, and it'd be great if he contributes on special teams as well.   Brockel is a swing player that will play here as well.


Smith, Lafell, Hixon, Ginn, Edwards

They didn't keep the 6th guy, but this is a pretty solid 5.  It's possible Edwards still won't dress.


Gross, Wharton, Kalil, Williams, Bell; Silatolu, Byers, Scott, Folkerts, Chandler

Three centers. Ten total linemen.  I don't know if all will stand, and Folkerts would likely be the first to go, once Silatolu and Byers are both healthy.  But, Chandler and Scott both showed something in the last couple of games.   In this scenario, Carolina has built it in where the starting guards can slide out to tackle as needed, so the remaining depth that would get a jersey would have to play guard or center.  That's why Folkerts probably gets a jersey but might not be on the roster by the bye week.

Johnson, Hardy, Alexander, Addison, Horton

This top four was with the team last year, but Horton apparently showed enough to stick, too.  The undrafted brought top pressure at times in preseason.

Edwards, Lotulelei, Short, Cole
Just keeping the top 4.  I wasn't sure if Fua might actually overtake Cole, who remains somewhat stout at the point of attack but didn't have a lot of quickness.

Kuechly, Beason, Davis, Klein, Blackburn, Senn

I'll be honest, it's rare for a team to keep only a two-deep at LB, where I've seen 4-3 teams keep 8 guys before.  This is pretty deep and versatile for 6 guys, however.

Munnerlyn, Norman, Thomas, Moore, Dockery, White

Melvin White makes it as the other UDFA to get rostered.  Munnerlyn is the only incumbent and the only clear starter; does Norman, who made tons of plays in preseason, start?  Or does Norman?

Godfrey, Mitchell, Nakamura, Jones
They go long on CB to parse S; another spot where you often get an extra guy for special teams, this spot got shorted just as LB did.  I don't know if Colin Jones did enough to prove he could play FS with that late surge, but it couldn't have hurt.

Gano, Nortman, Jansen

No surprises here.

*each side gets 25, interesting.  I had an overload on offense in mine, but I admit that the balance didn't come at the spots I expected.

I gotta wonder where the special teams players come from.  They lose one at S, LB, so the backup RB will all have to play roles.


Got to see cuts as they were starting to happen, but wasn't certain how it would end as I headed out for the rest of the day.  None of this is 'news' so I'll dig into the analysis.

First the fine print - Waived/IR means that the player goes through waivers and, if he clears, ends up on IR. There's a new but rarely used rule about being able to activate a guy from IR, but I don't see it happening.

The following fall under that category:

*Jimmy Clausen
This would be a tough one if it hadn't been in the works for three years.  Clausen never got a shot to develop, but as a 4th year he doesn't look comfortable.  Is he accurate?  Yeah.  Is he smart?  Sure. But he doesn't look at home in a pocket sometimes, and while he's a good athlete, he's not big enough or fast enough to pull off what the young guys do with that now.  Technically, he's waived/IR, but has no contract for next year.

*David Gettis
Another bit of the 2010 draft goes bust.  Gettis' injury just set him back too late.  It's a shame, he had size and speed and looked like he was coming around.  Another guy who doesn't have a contract next year.
That draft, as painful as that O was, you could convince yourself that Clausen and the three WR would grow together, like college recruits.  Of course, the pre-planned obsolescence of John Fox getting the boot seemed ready to ruin that in advance.

*Anderson Russell
Technically, Russell was with the team for a moment late in '12.  He was a little aggressive and had a couple of penalties, but was a solid S and a very good special teams player.  Probably gets an invite for next year.

*DJ Campbell
Ron Rivera loves him, but does that matter for next year?

The vets aren't waived, since they have time under their belts, and that's where the next surprise comes:
*Drayton Florence
A starter throughout preseason, Florence was big and physical, but just didn't play that well.

*Jason Williams
The remainder on the '10 trade of Chris Harris was only a special teamer, though he played allright at WLB in the first couple of games.  Problem is, the team carries 5 good LB and special teamer Jordan Senn.  So the 7th guy better be someone that you either need to stash, or that's not expensive.  A guy with over five years' experience is too expensive to be the 7th LB.

*Patrick Brown
This tackle wasn't good, and by year 3 you need to be better than that.

The remainder were young guys, waived and claimable by other teams, but I wouldn't wait around for it.

*WR Brenton Bersin, T Garrett Chisolm, TE Dominique Curry, DT Sione Fua, G Hayworth Hicks, LB Doug Hogue, WR Taulib Ikharo, G Tori Mobley, TE Zack Pianalto, RB Tauren Poole, DE Craig Roh, WR James Shaw, DT Casey Walker

Of that group, Shaw or Bersin might make sense on the practice squad.  Roh would make sense if the team weren't keeping 5 DEs (more on that in another post).  Hicks might be on there, though it'd be smarter to find a fresh set of linemen to develop.

The team can start assembling a practice squad once these players clear waivers.