I can't get past the feeling that Carolina's not doomed the way the
media narrative has chosen to portray.
There are a lot of narratives there open to interpretation. There are
a lot of variables - as Ron Rivera would say, a lot of moving parts.
But I'm looking back on what Carolina has done, and while there's no
massive dash for a big name, no big payday for a blue chip guy, or (and
I'm looking at you, Seattle) solid name veteran starters signed as
backups, I see a good team. I don't see the decline.
I get the concerns. Turnover, retirement, and the unspoken inertia of a
fluke team. Too many non-believers from last year. It makes it
unlikely Carolina is "for real". But, 2011 and 2012's pythagorean
'wins' left Carolina as a better team than their actual record.
Pythagorean wins don't account for special teams or coaching decisions,
and Carolina got those two units in line this year. I don't know what
the expectation is for '14 yet, but clearly a large difference between
the 6-7 wins of the last two years versus the 12 of the latest, was in
limiting special teams mistakes and being more aggressive with coaching
decisions (4th down most notably). I don't see that changing - I don't
see the defense declining, and I don't see Rivera's confidence on 4th
down declining much either.
I do think, from the receiver standpoint, that turnover is taboo. It's
not catastrophic, there's just this unspoken "no one ever does that"
feeling. Which, most teams don't pour draft pick after draft pick on
the dumpster fire that appeared to be the Steve Smith show. Blaming
Smith for his part in that is a separate discussion, but I can't say
it's not part of why he's gone. With Smith stating he was interested
in retiring in another year, I think the team chose somewhat wisely in
So far the returns on the new guys? They're good. Of course, everyone
can look OK in OTAs. There haven't been any real negatives. My only
'worry' so far is that Tiquan Underwood hasn't gotten much rotation in
(per reports). Now, I don't know what to do with that - and I don't
know what the team's intent is. Are they cycling things in, or do they
have a depth chart already? The Byron Bell/Nate Chandler rotation
between LT and RT might be unique, but does suggest there's a hierarchy.
If that's the case, and Underwood doesn't play much, the deep threat
becomes a small concern.
As far as tackle, sure. That's still a worry. I do think they have two
guys who can play, and I don't want to forget about Garry Williams,
either. I don't know how great it can get - or how bad. I know that
Carolina has been doing a lot of 3-step, so hopefully there's not a
concern here. As I said the other day, the Nate Chandler contract is
seemingly a good sign. But, now I kinda worry about what that means for
Byron Bell. It's more complicated - he's a three year starter so he's
earned 'more' in a way. But it's more make or break. It's almost as if
they've said they're willing to roll the dice on Chandler being good
enough to develop, but Bell is somewhat developed. That could be
over-analysis but there's not much else to go on.
I don't know what to make of the secondary yet. There's not much info
on the safeties either way - the corners, I've held Antoine Cason as a
very good pickup. Josh Norman started out having another great
offseason, supposedly challenging Melvin White a bit. Now, suddenly,
Norman and Cason are practicing with boxing gloves (solid move hiding
those until Steve Smith was gone). I love the idea - and how it relates
to Norman, a guy who notoriously grabs - but with Cason in there as
well, that colors my perception a bit. They haven't apparently gloved
up everyone, just those two. Great, if it works.
So, I don't know. So much in the air, and the difference between
disaster and success on each item is dependent solely on opinion - which
will have no value when it matters. But, right now, I don't feel so
bad about '14.