Share It

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Practice Squad!

Ten Panthers get to continue the journey, just at a lower price.

The full list:

CB Carrington Byndom
S Robert Lester
LB Adarius Glanton
LB DJ Smith
DT Micanor Regis
DT Casey Walker
WR Tavarres King
WR Marcus Lucas
OL Andrew McDonald
RB Darrin Reaves

Of those, I'm somewhat surprised both Lester and King wanted to stick, but glad they're eligible.

Most of these guys played well, which hopefully speaks to the depth on the roster.  Lucas is the biggest project here, but all 10 have value.

It's Impossible To Play S For Carolina

It's been a tough crowd at S since Ron Rivera came to town.  I don't know that I blame him, or anyone really.

But, entering the fourth year, there's almost zero continuity year to year.  Inheriting young guys Charles Godfrey and Sherrod Martin, you'd figure they'd be somewhat set.

2011 had Godfrey regressing mightily with a new contract in hand.  Martin also started all year, but they talked up 2010 draft pick Jordan Pugh and suggested he'd play, too.  None played well, but Martin struggled hardest.

They pushed him with special teams ace Haruki Nakamura, who stunk worse.  They both got hurt around the same time (mercifully) on what otherwise could've been a decent 2012 defense; they finished the year with Godfrey (who was still at SS) moving over to FS and rookie DJ Campbell providing some hope in late play.

2013?  They had Godfrey at FS, and threw in Mike Mitchell at SS.  A former 2nd round pick no one had heard of, Mitchell racked up personal foul after personal foul in preseason, freaking the team out and pushing in Quintin Mikell off the street the first week of the year.

Of course, Godfrey got hurt but didn't look at home at FS.  Somehow, the team took Mitchell from a backup, stupidity-ridden SS to a fulltime, productive, playmaking FS.  Mitchell and undrafted Robert Lester combined to make a pretty solid SS, and I'm sure if they had a way to throw Mikell's mind in Lester's body, if for no other reason to get away from the wear and tear of the 33 year old, they would.

Mikell wasn't really in the plans for the year; Lester couldn't make the team.  Anderson Russell, a guy who worked on the very fringes of the team since 2012, got snaps ahead of him; which also doomed him to being cut.

Now, it's Thomas Decoud, a reliable starter from Atlanta, and Roman Harper, a war-torn, gray-haired SS who can do most of the in-the-box stuff Mikell could and the blitzing Mitchell could; he can't cover.  Godfrey's a corner.  Then again, he played safety again this week, because why not?

It's tough out there.  Now, without Lester on the team, the mantle of young player in residence?  Tre Boston.  Who hasn't played yet, or as far as I know, practiced more than a few times.  Colin Jones is, at least, being seen as more than just a missile for return teams, but his coverage in preseason was up and down.  At the least, playing special teams for this team has staying power.

In the meantime, Harper has to stay healthy to have a shot at longevity.  Decoud, he has miles left, and has played well.   Otherwise, next year they're right back where they were.

Cuts/Final 53

Late to the party!  Saw these yesterday and felt like it deserved more attention than to try to paste on my phone browser to my email.

Let's get right at it.  I'll bold the ones I was a little surprised by.

LB Denicos Allen R Michigan State
CB Carrington Byndom R Texas
G Derek Dennis 1 Temple
CB James Dockery 4 Oregon State
LB Adarius Glanton R Florida Atlantic
WR Tavarres King 2 Georgia
S Robert Lester 2 Alabama

WR Marcus Lucas R Missouri
T Andrew McDonald 1 Indiana
S Tom Nelson 3 Illinois State
DT Drake Nevis 4 Louisiana State
RB Darrin Reaves R Alabama-Birmingham
DT Micanor Regis 1 Miami (Fla.)
LB D.J. Smith 3 Appalachian State
CB Josh Thomas 4 Buffalo
DT Casey Walker 1 Oklahoma
FB Michael Zordich 2 Penn State

They injury-settled with TE Mike McNeill and S Anderson Russell, and cut G Chris Scott. 


Lester has a ton of promise, but the SF playoff game and the bit of time he did play in preseason, he struggled more. To that end, the team is keeping four safeties including special teamer Colin Jones, the turftoed Roman Harper, and the never-seen Tre Boston. I guess they have Charles Godfrey as a swing player.

CB isn't a massive surprise - they brought three players to the position including Godfrey.  But, Dockery and Thomas have logged a ton of games under Ron Rivera, and covered a lot of snaps when no one better was around.  Byndom looked like he had an outside shot as well.

King bites it despite being a solid preseason feature receiver - he struggled to do anything in game four, and maybe that's what did it.  But as much as anything else, he wasn't playing special teams - Philly Brown will return kicks, and Brenton Berson will run them down.   The 4th best receiver the last two years played 100 snaps.  There's that future loss with King, but that's about all you're losing.

Scott appeared to be the 2nd string guy at G, possibly even starting at Tampa if rook Trai Turner's groin didn't heal.  I figured, at one point, McDonald would be here.  Andrew Foucalt makes it along with Andrew Norwell; Norwell played very good, at least in the first game, Foucalt didn't, though he seemed to replace Garry Williams well enough last week and wasn't a negative the other games.  Word on the street was, with Foucalt being the 10th guy, it was better to hold onto him than risk waivers.



The 53?

Looking at what's left, I see eight rookies (draft picks Benjamin, Ealy, Turner, Boston, Benwikere; UDFAs Norwell, Foucalt, Philly Brown).  Other newcomers are vet FAs - Avant, Cotchery, Dickson, Decoud, Harper, Whittaker, Webb, Ben Jacobs at LB, Velasco at G/C, Cason.   18, by my count, that are new; that's one third.  To balance out those rookies ,there are seven players with 10+ years experience - Cotchery, Dwan Edwards, Derek Anderson, Chase Blackburn, Colin Cole, and Thomas Davis.

They start with four on IR (TE DC Jefferson, G Ed Kugbila, C Kevin Matthews, QB Matt Blanchard), though that's not as static as it used to be, some of them can be released with settlement.


3 QBs, 4 total RBs, 4 TEs, 5 WR, 10 OL.

5 DE, 4 DT (9 DL), 6 LB, 5 CB, 4 S.

3 specialists.

Very offense-heavy, 26 to 24 players despite all the special teamers that traditionally come from the defense.


Friday, August 29, 2014

Post-Pittsburgh Thoughts

It's gonna be a jumble - doing this the day after. But, it's a mostly
meaningless 4th game so it'll be interesting to see what of these ideals
they keep to the regular season.

*I liked watching the personnel formations they used with Anderson. I
don't know if there's a reason they simplified a bit with Webb's group,
but DA's had more 2x2 bunch formations and threw in some pistol.
Jerricho Cotchery is the moving piece as the Z receiver, and I liked him
moving in as a wing as he'd done last week to block. Thing is, he does
an OK job of pulling off an inline block. Too bad he hasn't caught
much.

I didn't see much of Jason Avant, who would become the moving piece as
the slot, and they didn't push him much as an outside receiver, but he
has good quickness and did well with the WR Screen. Avant will, since
there's no speedster this year, become the screen component of some of
Carolina's "packaged plays", and that screen was one of them - I saw
that a few times with Anderson, that they ran a few to keep him in shape
on that type play. He has to read the numbers in the box, and choose
whether to go ahead with the run, or go to a pass option. Think of it
as a 'hot read' off of a run play with a safe throw behind it.

*I'm not in love with the idea of Jason Avant being the fleet-footed
part of the Carolina attack, but in general, I still kinda like
Carolina's receivers to be as productive or better than 2013, and
certainly more efficient. The loss of the explosion that Ted Ginn
brought, that might be the bit they've been unable to provide to this
unit.

*Kelvin Benjamin had a tough first quarter. He couldn't come up with a
fade ball that was in his reach and had a couple of other almost-catches
before the 2nd quarter saw him become what he should again. His first
catch was a body-catch. So while he eventually came around and did
Kelvin Benjamin things, it wasn't the same guy who plucked the ball out
of the air with ease; he got outmanuevered on a few balls.

Brenton Bersin, based on formations and usage, appears to be his backup;
both play the X receiver, both are isolated on one side when the other
eligibles are in bunch (3x1 type groupings). Tavarres King didn't do as
much with his opportunities, though there weren't a ton. Philly Brown,
of course, did. If he stays on his feet, he has a score.

I think all of that trio make it, but the problem becomes that Brown
hasn't shown anything as a punt returner. Brown has some jets, so at
least he can provide a situational boost fora play or two; but he,
Bersin, and King probably don't play much actual WR this year.

*I keep getting a good feeling out of this group of TEs. Pete Hoener
has done a good job, as has Dave Gettleman for finding some pieces out
of thin air. Greg Olsen could still lead this team in receiving, and Ed
Dickson looks just fine as a blocker and middle receiver. Brandon
Williams looks like he's worth a lot as a utility player who could be
the #2 next year, and while it's not been with the 1s, he's done a good
job both blocking and receiving. His special teams ability has gotten
better, too; the team will probably dress four TEs including Richie
Brockel, who played mostly FB since the Panthers were short on backs and
had to give Michael Zordich a heavy running load for a fullback.

*Byron Bell doesn't have time to give this team mental lapses at LT.
He's had some great snaps this preseason, and then some nonsense. Garry
Williams looked good before getting nicked, as did Nate Chandler. Chris
Scott remains a guy they're going to rely on, depending on Trai Turner.
Run blocking improved this week, at least.

*There are times you look at Kawann Short and see him be a bigger name
than Star Lotulelei. He showed a lot of explosion in limited time.
Drake Nevis won't make the team and I believe is too experienced to
practice squad, but he could play here if things went differently.

*Wes Horton seems to be the dangle player at DE - he playead ahead of
Frank Alexander and Kony Ealy again, and they do like him. But they
won't cut the latter pair, even with Alexander's suspension. Mario
Addison is a guy they rely on at both end and special teams. I wonder
if Horton stays until Alexander is back; with the NFL deciding that
domestic violence is important after obviously flubbing the Ray Rice
situation, it's hard to say what happens with Greg Hardy down the
stretch.

*The DB situation might be the most interesting part of the game. Roman
Harper was out there for a hot second, and apparently his backup was
Charles Godfrey. So they've shown their hand in being willing to let
him play a little of both. Bene Benwikere started the game as the
nickel. James Dockery got an extended look. If Godfrey's a corner,
Josh Norman is in; if Godfrey's both, maybe Dockery gets in. In the
end, I feel like Dockery is a better overall player than Anderson
Russell. But, they could also try to hold it to 8 players.

*I feel like Robert Lester's being staged to go to IR. Tre Boston
wasn't seen in preseason that I'm aware, so maybe that'll happen there,
too. At least Thomas Decoud looks good, maybe Harper will too. I don't
mind Colin Jones back there in an emergency.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Stop Trading With The Pats, Version 418.2

Tampa got Logan Mankins from the Patriots. In the short term, it looks
better for Tampa. But that's exactly why I'm not worried about it.

Mankins is a name player on the OL, a former first rounder and a decent
player. But he's not living up to his name. At 32 with declining pass
blocking skills, he's not the savior of that OL. Don't get me wrong,
he's an upgrade, but not for as long as you would expect hearing his
name.

First off, again, stop trading with New England. They will tell you
you're getting exactly what you want, with a knowing smile that they're
allowing you to do what they want you to do without a fight. That this
trade happened after the Bill Belichick - obsessed Greg Schiano is gone
is somewhat amazing, because I legitimately believe Schiano would jump
if Belichick asked.

Past that? Mankins as a solid run blocker makes him a modest addition.
As a pass blocker, he's declined, and he'll be paid far too much to
provide the same thing that a heavy-footed draft pick could. You can
find players who can only run block well, for less than the price paid
or the additional cost of Mankins' hefty salary. For that, the Pats
were willing to swallow $4 million this year and $4 million next, just
to get rid of him. They get a savings in his '14 salary to offset this
year's guarantees, at least.

But, what did Tampa give up? A 4th round and a part-time starting TE.
Not so bad on first look.

A 4th does have value, however. And that TE? Tim Wright caught 54
balls and 5 TDs last year, 2nd on the team (3rd had 29 rec, Brian
Leonard; after that it was Tiquan Underwood). He's somewhat slight
(6'4, 220) so he didn't fit into the idea that a TE is an extra blocker
that Lovie Smith provided. Granted, they do have Austin Serafian
Jenkins, a former first round rated TE who's heavy on shoulder and
lighter on athleticism. That's a Lovie Smith TE.

But in a league where throwing a TE out into the slot is a legitimate
ideal, and the idea of what both roles have become are blurred, Wright
was an ideal way of opening up the Bucs' offense. Now, he'll play the
Aaron Hernandez role in New England, an offense that can run 2 TE and
run the ball but not look boring.

The Bucs needed a guard. They look awful there. But they put too much
on it, and won't get enough out of it. Two years down the road, Wright
should have 100+ receptions and 15 TD or so from Tom Brady, and Mankins
will probably be calling it a career.

Stop trading with the Pats, everybody. It will lead to your ruin.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

QB, S Provide Challenges

Bad news - Cam Newton has a hairline fracture in his ribs.  Of course, I'd anticipate him playing against Tampa to open the year, but it might not be pretty.

In the meantime, call him out for Pittsburgh; he was originally slated to play.  Backup Derek Anderson has been very good in preseason but his wife is deep into pregnancy and could deliver this week.  4th QB Matt Blanchard has a concussion.  So Joe Webb, who's made preseason more fun at the very least, is all but guaranteed a job on the 53 man roster (though Ron Rivera's words don't make that permanent, and the team seems willing to pull Frank Alexander onto the roster after his suspension).

Blanchard isn't likely to make the roster, but him not being available to play leaves more snaps for Webb.

Somewhat relatedly, it appears the Bears have cut Jordan Palmer, so Jimmy Clausen is the latest backup to Jay Cutler.  Cutler has missed 13 games over the last four years, not starting a full season since 2009, so I hope the Bears know what they're doing.



Now, to S.

Thomas Decoud?  He's been decent enough.  Blended into the D, hasn't been a drain on coverage.  Depending on the day, there have been times special teamer Colin Jones has been an OK backup, and times he hasn't, but he's only a FS.

Roman Harper, however, we haven't seen.  Backup Robert Lester has been hurt, and he's had his struggles, too.  Anderson Russell, some say he's doing well, but I don't.  Tom Nelson has been playing FS, but he has pro experience.

The team gets Tre Boston back this week in practice, and Boston was a SS at times in college.   But for now, the team is facing a SS situation from amongst the turf-toed grayhair Harper, the enigmatic and limpy Lester, the historically out of place Russell, or the complete unknown Boston.

Or maybe Charles Godfrey.  Who knows.

First Cuts Are In

Tiquan Underwood leads the names of the now-departed Panthers.

An early free agent by the team, Underwood signed a two year deal that ended up being tremendously inexpensive.  A tall blazing receiver with some experience last year in Tampa, he made sense sabermetrically as a good value buy.  But, sometimes your good values don't produce, I guess.

Along with Underwood, from WR comes another set of once-hopefuls - Marvin McNutt was talked up as a potential starter when the team had to have something to say about someone on the roster (Tavarres King appears to be who pushed into that 4th WR role that Underwood would've taken on paper in July).  Kealoha Pilares was a hopeful on the kick return team (and remains one of my favorite schadenfreude stats, from when he led the team in rushing under Rob Chudzinski in a poorly-called Tampa 2012 game).  Toney Clemons was also cut.

Jordan Gay, the guy who missed an extra point and punted for 8 yards, is out.  Prospective special teamer LB Anthony Morales, likely the highest snap count of this list in preseason, is gone as well.

2013 camp favorite Craig Roh at DE was dropped, after having spent all of last year on the practice squad, along with CFL standout (16 sacks last year) Alex Hall.  Fellow former Canadian leaguer Linden Gaydosh was also released.

The team held close on almost all offensive linemen, suggesting there'll be a significant push to play the back of the bench against Pittsburgh - only OT Oscar Johnson has been released.


I believe that a few of these cuts already speak to the depth (WR, especially) Carolina's accumulated, and of course the lack of depth in places like S show the team holding all their cards still.  Underwood's the only somewhat-established vet, and it wouldn't be totally surprising to see him catch on.   I'm not against Roh coming back to the practice squad, but the team already has 6 decent ends they could roster so an extra guy might not be valuable there.

And then it becomes a matter of the practice squad for next cuts, due in a week.  New rules have expanded the PS from 8 to 10, in what should help player development and possibly drop a little wear and tear from the average player.

Relatedly,I really wish they'd push for an expanded active roster.  Going from 46 active to say, 50 plus 5 inactive still lets you stash the injured, but you get play out of your backups in special teams without having to play so many starters.  But, that's not in the current reality.

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Rough One

Cam Newton and the offense struggled a bit against the Pats.  Actually, Cam wasn't bad at all statistically, but too much pressure kept the O from succeeding despite some magnificent Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen catches.  Struggles from the running game caused this to never really have a shot at being a game, and the defense's 3rd down struggles undermined their base defense efforts.

Carolina, who went without a number of starters and then pulled most of the rest by the half (much of the offense took another series), you could somewhat tell wasn't going to win this ballgame.  That's allright.

But, what's currently a 20 point lead and probably climbing?  That might be a wakeup call on the intensity and effort required to win.

After Newton retired for the night, a few guys locked up jobs.  Tavarres King brought in a big 3rd down reception from Derek Anderson; then Brenton Bersin went up top and pulled two of his own down.  

When Anderson, driving and hitting Ed Dickson for a strong gain, targeted Philly Brown for what might've been Brown's lock on a job, Brandon Williams locked his own down.  Williams, yet to catch a ball this game, chased down the interception to save the pick-6.  Anderson's own job, of course, is safe, and he looked sharp out there before the pick.

Brown and Fozzy Whitaker did little to take on the return jobs officially (Brown had a good return rightfully recalled), so that's left up for grabs.

A snoozer in New England, while it doesn't really matter, you can consider to be a lesson learned. Carolina has a change or two left to make, and this will be the likely catalyst to make it happen.


Gameday!

New England at New England tonight, in the last potential chance to see
what the new people have and/or the last chance for some of these guys
to make a team.

Cam Newton and the most established starters probably play no more than
they did v/s Kansas City. Nate Chandler sits for injury as does, I
believe, Trai Turner (who the team wanted to get more reps than the
others), giving Chris Scott and Garry Williams more duty. That more or
less firms up the depth chart, though it may also be interesting to see
if Williams ends up backing LT as well later in the game.

No Charles Johnson again, so it's time for Frank Alexander to make a
case to stay past suspension, and Kony Ealy to show more promise. Mario
Addison and Wes Horton are also ones to watch, of course.

The strong safety battle remains an also-ran issue of Robert Lester v/s
Anderson Russell (the 'two first names' v/s 'the two last names'). They
promise Roman Harper is on his way any day now, but yeah - getting
nervous at SS. They still have to decide who the nickel CB will be,
and who the top outside corner's going to be. Since they'll probably
keep both Bene Benwikere and Charles Godfrey, that outside corner job is
probably for the one remaining roster spot.

Fozzy Whittaker probably has another chance to run wild in this one, but
I don't know if Darrin Reaves is playing. Both have touchdowns this
preseason.

And, of course, the 4th-5th WR jobs are open. Tavarres King and Brenton
Bersin have thrown their hat in the ring - it's now up to those two to
fight for the 4th job, and possibly a last chance for Tiquan Underwood
to make something happen. Marcus Lucas and Marvin McNutt will be hoping
just to catch balls.

Philly Brown remains a major wild card both there and the return game.



Most importantly, I hope for a similar performance as last week, with
the obvious hope that there are no injuries.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Bully Nonsense Explains Smith Split

The Carolina Panthers love Steve Smith. Know that all the upcoming Week
4 anymosity is a matter of cognitive distortion. He's respected, loved
in Carolina. I think that you could make an argument as a player that
Smith was worth another year.

It's his mouth that had to go.

There's no doubt that you see the distance between Smith and the
Panthers this week. Smith gave an interview with a local Baltimore unit
that brought up the word "bully". There's no doubt that you could
attach the name to Smith well before now. When he's your bully,
absolutely it's easier to swallow. No doubt it's tougher to know you
have to face him.

While Smith was using the word positively, Panthers coach Ron Rivera
used it in the negative almost simultaneously. Not about Smith,
because honestly, nobody in Carolina is dumb enough to say a bad thing
about Smith even if they mean it. But, about Josh Norman and Kelvin
Benjamin? Absolutely. And the understated idea that it also means
Smith? Absolutely.

Smith bullied corners. He made names of a few, ended a career or two.
It was entertaining, and distracting. Smith wasn't the only one -
certainly, Captain Munnerlyn had scrappiness to him, as did Mike
Mitchell. Defenders need fire more than offensive skill, but all of
them need restraint. In Smith's case, it was too much distraction.
Rumors that he was told to tone it down, and couldn't? Who knows. But
on a team that acts as family, there's not a ton of room for a guy who
wants to bully and embarass a teammate.

Carolina chose more Thomas Davis, and less Steve Smith. Of course, if
it were only so easy (and there'd be a lot more cadavers missing
ligaments) to have more Davis - so they had to choose less Smith.
Certainly, when you read about myths like "the Patriot way" (with a
potential pile of bodies behind that in the last year, and the
always-present cheating allegations), or "the Steeler way" (overnight
the top two on their RB depth chart got busted for pot, somehow,
together), you know that good intentions don't get it done.

It's a tough game. And not everyone agreed with Carolina's ideaology.
Certainly not Baltimore, certainly not St Louis from their actions last
year, or San Francisco. Carolina held themselves in check, even Smith
to a point, against the Rams, who were also an inferior team. Against
San Francisco, arguably better but certainly a lot better when they can
get away with headbutts and their coach being ten yards out on the field
during play, they couldn't. So they learned from it, and acted on it.

For that, Smith is apparently a casualty. A sign to the young guys.
Norman and Benjamin can't do what they did out there last week.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

No Black Cat Luck Here

I've often heard of this team being snakebit, cursed.  An extra few injuries here, some additional suffering in a year.  Don't get me wrong, things that caused suffering, but termed unlucky.

The mascot, a black cat so to speak?  That's nonsense.  Carolina's been quite lucky at times.  Luck balances out for this team.

I'd say it was unlucky for them to finally be good in the odd CBA year, and the lockout; that cost them.

 It cost them time with their new coaches; it cost GM Marty Hurney all the money he had to keep a team that was 2-14 the year before.  It was definitely a thumb of the nose to John Fox, the departed but esteemed coach who was a part of a would-be money grab gone bad, that gave Hurney more time but only so much.  Carolina got zero time to deal with their own free agents, which cost them money; the effects of that are still being felt.  Yes, it does feel a little unlucky that Jon Beason tore an achilles after signing what I felt like was a commensurate deal to the dominant type player he was.

At the time, I felt like the ideal way, the serendipity of the losing situation, was Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck. Of course the team had no shot at either guy, an unpunny bad luck situation.  And, yet, in a year that looked unlucky without Luck coming out, they got the one truly great QB prospect to somehow work out.  They got that QB for $22 million over 5 years instead of 6 years, $78 million, which 2/3rds of that was guaranteed (for the still not as successful Sam Bradford).   Sure, Luck is very good; so is Harbaugh, and Carolina would've been the only chance for the two to truly reunite without worlds moving.  It didn't work out, and the least pro-ready QB Carolina had ever drafted, immediately became the most successful young QB the team has ever had; depending on the metric, Cam Newton is one of the most successful young guys at QB in league history.

After then bolstering a defense with what I feel like were the best defenders in two separate drafts, they then got lucky again (so far, fingers crossed) with yet another prospect to work out, the WR they've needed for between five and nine years depending on your interpretation of starters across from Steve Smith.   It takes luck for that (and for Star Lotulelei to fall to you...I don't know about anyone else, but I didn't sacrifice animals, but I'm open to the idea next year).

There's no reason Kelvin Benjamin, based on tape, would fall this low.  He was analysed out of a top 18 run, and fell to 28; and yet, plenty of people expected him to drop another 20.  It's early, but so far, he doesn't look like a 48 overall project.  He's looking like a #1 receiver. That's baffling to me. That's good luck.

Unlucky teams don't have that.  Watching teams like Jacksonville and Cleveland grasp for the slightest bit of relevance, remaking themselves yet again and hoping this is the one like a 38 year old career woman on a blind date, I don't see that in Carolina.   Cleveland lucked into Josh Gordon, and yet the reason he was available in the form that got him to Cleveland is part of why he won't play anywhere this year.  Your call as to whether leading the league in Cleveland feels more hopeless than being suspended for the full year, but Carolina doesn't deal in voodoo like that for a reason.

I don't see consistent winning, and they have that on the docket this year.  A second consecutive winning year would be a massive thing for this program.   But let's not pretend this is Cleveland, either.

And, luck appears to be the sort of stuff that lets you get an undrafted free agent out of New Mexico starting when you absolutely have to have a guy.  That sort of luck makes that not a one-time thing (think 1998's Paul Janus for you history buffs).  Byron Bell started 47 games so far. Somehow he's becoming a solid left tackle.  That took work, genes, coaching, luck, stars aligning.  For that one, who knows.  All the voodoo in the world doesn't make that one happen.  And it damn sure doesn't happen to the unlucky ones.

RBs Are Worthless, Part 472

I could all but rename this blog "running backs are now worthless". I
apologize in advance for the repetition, but it's on my mind.

Part of the ruse of this blog covering team news is that I feel an
obligation to write the same quick but detailed "Kenjon Barner Just Got
Traded" post that the media and other bloggers throw out there. In this
case, I even tried to expand schematically so that it'd have more value
to the reader, since I was going to push the article to a couple of
boards and blogs. I tend not to self - promote at all, and hell, some
days I'm just content to have this as a platform to get things out of my
head. I'm not that worried about readership.

Nonetheless, the stock five paragraphs about Barner - where he just
went, how he got here, what he did while here, why he deserved to go,
summary - that's not me. I'm big picture. Barner is a symptom of a lot
of things bigger than his own place in the league.

I've said before, the league protects the QB and WR, and the big
concussions. They don't protect RBs. And with offenses changing, RBs
are becoming more and more expendable. Dan Henning was right where
Marty Hurney was wrong - yes, they were going to run the wheels off
Deangelo Williams, but despite his longevity, it ends up being smarter
he wasn't around so long, at least, so expensively.

Barner, then Barner and Tyler Gaffney, at one point represented to me
forward thinking by this team, the idea that throwing a 6th or two at RB
while you didn't need RBs would get you out of a future jam. The design
of just such a thing is more than fine by me, I'm not criticizing. That
you could get two contributors who were pro-capable but so college
productive (both had 21 rushing TDs in their final college years and
were, at the very least, athletic and pro sized, if not equally so)
suggested a continuing devaluation of the position.

More than that, the top RB selected the last few years has been later
than normal, and the most recent RB stars aren't any more often high
picks as homegrown guys. Adrian Peterson broke what was expected of a
RB in a lot of ways, and top picks haven't fared well since, the
crushing blow being Trent Richardson. There's a lot of age in the top
10 of the rushing title, an average age of 24 and only one below 25.
There's only one additional sub-25 in the top 16/top half of the league.
Those two sub-25s? 4th round Eddie Lacy, and 6th round fullback Zac
Stacy. Alfred Morris is as much the norm now. Given that there aren't
many RBs at 30, that median age is pretty high. I'm sure new faces will
fill that list in five years as these guys age out, but it may as well
be random to see where opportunity meets talent.

The genesis for this particular big-picture lecture comes from this
fact: Barner is backing up Darren Sproles.

Barner was the player that Ron Rivera wished for out loud since 2012,
when he had three good backs already but wanted a fleet-footed scatback,
when he mentioned Sproles by name. I don't know that Barner has
Sproles' moves or flexibility, and him gaining muscle hasn't helped
elusiveness (though hitting the hole might at least get him on the open
field now and again). And then, with Barner and Sproles in the same
location, both behind the league's best rusher, shows the relative value
of those guys.

I mean, I never would've figured this time last year that Sproles would
be a giveaway player. And now Barner backs him.

Blame plenty of stuff - the read option doesn't hurt, though even before
that the inside and outside zone could make a nobody into a star.
Committee systems made, for most, the idea of a single workhorse RB
obsolete, and now the average entrenched starter has to be a
weakness-free two-phase star who passblocks exceptionally well. Recent
re-ups with Arian Foster and Jamaal Charles were very short term
additions, and most teams just don't believe in the 2nd contract RB
anymore, but now they aren't even viewed as blue chip in a draft format
that means they'll be cheap rookies. Maybe a Todd Gurley changes that
next year.

As for Carolina, as I started to believe within the Gaffney gaffe, once
Williams ages out and they can do something with Jonathan Stewart's
contract, it won't be that hard to replace what they've provided. Maybe
the tradition of the 2nd or 3rd round lineman and the 6th round RB will
continue to hold. If tradition holds, I imagine the next disposable
player will be USC's Javorius Allen, another guy building a resume in
the Pac12. He has some size, catches the ball well, a little breakaway
ability. A part time starter in '13, he appears poised to get more
carries with Steve Sarkisian, who runs the same overall offense (3rd
rounder Trai Turner and 6th round Gaffney came from the same offense
Carolina runs).

I guess, philosophically, it doesn't matter. It's a QB and WR league
now. They have that. The RBs, they come and go.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Barner Traded

2013 Panthers draft pick Kenjon Barner has been traded to the Eagles.

Barner, whose college success at Oregon prompted the Panthers to use a 6th round pick on him, is now with former Oregon coach Chip Kelly in Philadelphia.  The trade was reportedly for a conditional 7th rounder in the 2015 draft.

Barner never fully fit in Carolina, where the offense wasn't wide open and Barner was expected to run in a power offense.  While coach Ron Rivera threw out the want to have a Darren Sproles, Barner's pass opportunities were going to be limited, his pass blocking remained an issue (enough that it was mentioned on the sly while talking about now-departed 2014 pick Tyler Gaffney's strengths), and he wasn't rushing well.  A 2013 preseason fumble while returning also caused some concern.

It also didn't help that Barner was outperformed in preseason.  When Gaffney got hurt, the Panthers picked up Fozzy Whittaker, who'd bounced around the league for a few years but knew the offense from two starts with the Browns.  Whitaker proved a more ready receiver and rusher, and reportedly worked Tuesday returning kicks, the place Barner was most likely to contribute in '14.

I could speculate as to whether Barner ably learned the offense; it's hard to say, but he doesn't have to worry of that.  His offseason was apparently productive, so it's not that he's not working hard, but he never fit in with Carolina.  Whittaker gives what Barner was able to provide in a better form, and he was available in August.

Now for Whittaker, it's up to whether he can win the kick return job; with Kealoha Pilares hurt and Tiquan Underwood unlikely to make the team, if Whittaker can win the KR role, he's got a job here in Carolina.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Postgame Kansas City Impressions

Kansas City was a spirited contenst. Glad to see them pull the game
out, but there remain a lot of concerns.

So let's get right at it, from back of the team to front this time.


You know who's on unsteady ground? Josh Norman. I get the impression
he didn't cost himself a job, but there are people on this team very
unhappy with him. Glad to see Thomas Davis immediately step in, but
both he and Ron Rivera got in his ear, hard. Norman is talented but
should know better (though Kelvin Benjamin does too, and he's not
getting any backlash).

Gotta like what you see from Melvin White and Antoine Cason in tackling.
They did proper homework on the KC WR screen game. They all had issues
with Dwayne Bowe and there were some communication issues. I can't push
that that pair had specific problems, but don't be enamored with their
well-made plays in the super short game and think CB is just solved.
I guess it's not the secondary's fault that TE Travis Kelce somehow
played almost the whole game but someone blew a coverage. The surge I
was hoping to see of Bene' Benwikere didn't materialize, but he wasn't
picked on as much as Charles Godfrey.

Anderson Russell and Robert Lester struggled. Both showed a few issues
and a few positives, but Russell was in when the team overall was
playing poorly. I'm not ready to writeoff either but you have to hope
that Roman Harper can at least be available. Right now I'm happy with
Thomas Decoud and then the rest of safety has issues. Add in Tre
Boston's injury and Colin Jones falling a bit out of favor, and you see
some reason to be concerned. I guess the first sign was Russell
leapfrogging Lester, who has a lot of talent. I figured Lester was
still nursing the shoulder issue, and maybe he is, but he played a lot.

But, at the least, Thomas Decoud looked solid.

AJ Klein did his best out there. Like to see that. But, he didn't
have, outside of the great play on the INT, such a breakout game that
he'll eclipse Chase Blackburn. I'm pretty sure everyone wants that to
happen, me included, and trust me he's not going to falter when called
on. Obviously Davis and Luke Kuechly turned in excellent performances.
I swear, Luke is something else - on his sack, after the TV talking
heads relayed that he'd been working on his blitz work, you could see it
come true. But more than that he looked like he was almost sincerely
sorry he took down Alex Smith so hard, and possibly sorry he got there
before the guy that came in right after him (Dwan Edwards? I forget).

Speaking of Edwards, saw him active out there again. I think last
year's DL didn't get all of Edwards' abilities, with him being hurt
around the bye week last year. I think Dwan has more to give than he
gave in '13, because of being hurt. So that's exciting. Love seeing
Star get a sack. The DEs, you can't single anyone out. Everybody was
good. Frank Alexander might "get it" now. There will be hard choices
to face in a few weeks.



Switching to the OL?

Byron Bell faced a hard test again, and again seemed to pass. Nate
Chandler struggled a little and he switched up with Garry Williams (who
struggled more). Amini Silatolu looked like he got slipped for one of
the sacks, but had a great day run blocking. He did get pulled for
Chris Scott, but not for anything bad I presume. I don't have a good
feel for the backups, though I saw Derek Dennis pulling off some good
work in there too. Maybe PFF will have something on the backup line
play. That seems to be their strong suit, quantifying line efficiency.
I don't have much to offer there.

Brandon Williams I watched intently on run plays, and he's getting good
push. Both he and Ed Dickson will be upgrades on what was there last
year. Brockel does indeed look like he's the blocker, but any of the
three are adequate. None are Ben Hartsock (who's now a Pat as of last
week?) but Hartsock you could tell was starting to be less reliable due
to injury. I'd say all of the above four are 'in' and no one else from
TE. You would, of course, like to see Williams pull in that would-be TD
that essentially hit his hands, interference or not.

Some good stuff of the WRs. Brenton Bersin needed a good couple of
catches to re-earn his slipping spot, and he did. Tavarres King had a
miscue (and maybe an injury?) but he's still looking good. I see them
trying to feed Marvin McNutt. I know they like him. But I've never
seen him catch a ball in a game, and he finally got his first touch on
the reverse for one yard. Tiquan Underwood got his first touch - I
don't see him in, sadly enough.

Nice to see Jason Avant get a little more time. He still has something
to give. Kelvin Benjamin got open deep - that's a nice sign, it wasn't
that he got open on a double move or a pump fake, he just beat his man.
Guy has an underrated second gear, and if he can get off the line a
little quicker, that alleviates the problem altogether. He attacks the
ball inside, love it. Just don't be stupid on the head-bang.

Gotta love Fozzy Whittaker. He ran hard inside, which I didn't expect.
Kenjon Barner looked better but not enough - and he gave up a sack in
pass pro. Right now, Whittaker might be better suited to that last
back role that Barner should be ideal in. Welcome back, Jonathan
Stewart!

Now, the QBs. You can't ask for any more out of Derek Anderson, but
let's knock off the controversy stuff. For DA, preseason is show out
time, it's critical. His job isn't in jeopardy but for he and the
coaching staff, preseason is a roll-out of the contingency. That's his
time, because during the season, it's all Cam.

For Cam, of course, the high balls and the slow start isn't good enough.
The last 4 passes show why he's out there, though. 3-4 for 60? Just
right. That bullet to KB was perfct on the corner, and he hit the post
just the same. He had to settle down, but hopefully that's over with,
because the first few series were ugly. Again, like last week, it's
less likely that they're going four verticals on 2nd and 8. They're
evaluating other things with Cam in there.



Returns?
Philly Brown did OK with his time. Dropping one punt didn't help, where
he could've cleared at least 5 yards otherwise. Kenjon Barner did a
nice job with the one KR.

Safe to say there were no doubts, but with Jordan Gay hitting an 8 yard
punt and Brad Nortman netting 52 on a 72 yard kick to the endzone,
Nortman's not going anywhere.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Preseason, #2 - v/s Chiefs

It's halftime against KC and most of the really meaningful football has been played.  Some thoughts, since this game will run late:

*Cam Newton started slowly.  His strike to Kelvin Benjamin (it was nice to hear John Lynch correctly call that the Bang-8, a play I've often referenced for KB to succeed with) was fantastic, and his deep ball to Jason Avant was nice.  It's still where he'd started high - overthrowing KB for the deep ball early, and overthrowing a few others.  But it finished well.

It's Newton's first game back, so there's something to be said for patience there.  The close was a good way to see Newton still has 'it', and by no means is any job in jeopardy.  But 4/9 for 65 in almost a half isn't good enough, so that'll have to improve.    But when Carolina wasn't going 3 and out in the shadow of their own endzone, they were throwing up a four vertical play on second down (twice, at least) where in midseason form they're dumping the ball off and setting up 3rd down.

So, I guess, that makes Shula into Chudzinski in preseason.

*Benjamin's head butt was just plain stupid.  Josh Norman's jawing (on a play where he didn't play the ball) was almost as bad, and oh man Thomas Davis came to bitch him out quickly.  TD is an enforcer. He's going to keep his house in order.  I imagine Benjamin gets more patience, but in both cases,

*Welcome back, Jonathan Stewart.  Wow.

*Antoine Cason had three tackles for loss in a half, something says he's done his due dilligence on watching KC's short game.  Credit to Melvin White for a good TFL in the run game as well.

*Anderson Russell was tough to watch out there.  Robert Lester was in, I believe, after, and was more steadying.

*A shakeup on the OL with Chris Scott in early and Garry Williams early too - which caused some breakdowns on the OL.  I don't expect either move means a lot.

*Great open field tackles on special teams, Brandon Williams and Jason Williams.

*They really gave it to the away team in penalties.  KC played sloppily in some respects but the officiating really did seem to get after them - not that I saw much Carolina should've been flagged for.

*DL pressure was massive in the second quarter.

As a matter of fact, I don't know why the switch went on in the 2nd quarter, because the first quarter was kinda rubbish.

Here's to a clean 2nd half for Carolina.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

In, Out V/S Chiefs

This Sunday Night/Thursday Night duo this preseason is nonsense.

But, Carolina plays Kansas City Sunday anyway.

In?  Of course, Cam Newton you've probably heard about already.  Jonathan Stewart practiced, and should play.  Deangelo Williams should play, so Carolina will have all three of their top backs together including Mike Tolbert.  Newton will be limited to around a quarter, and the backs probably won't play forever either.

The defense gets Charles Johnson back. That's huge, even in just preseason.  The defense has some other nonsense to worry about, however. It's dealing with its SS issues as best it can, and expect to see maybe a bit more of Thomas Decoud, with Tom Nelson playing more SS. 

Chase Blackburn will sit, so AJ Klein may play a bit more and will definitely start.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Camp Has Broken: Anderson Russell Might Start

Carolina's kicked camp to the curb, feels early (it had been before game
3 in the past, I thought). In a lot of ways, this is the team now.
They've been somewhat lucky to not be more dinged up, other than a few
injuries the team is clean; at the very least, it appears that most of
the starting-level guys Carolina picked up in the draft are ready to
play.


Not to throw shade at Anderson Russell with the headline, but the 3rd
string FS appears to be the starting SS for the time being. Roman
Harper, absent for essentially all of camp, has turf toe, and that's not
something I see going away. Robert Lester, who played most of the Bills
game because of it, has a sprained shoulder. So Russell is a part of
this defense until otherwise notified. Carolina only holds 7 S, having
6 until they added Tom Nelson around the Tyler Gaffney debacle, and
they're down two.


Russell, a special teams thumper, is a 6', 200 lb S who came on board at
the end of 2012 (I would guess around when Sherrod Martin or Haruki
Nakamura got hurt and we realized both could be easily replaced by guys
off the street), and was in camp in '13 as well but didn't make the cut.
Recollections have him at FS in the past. He'll hit, I don't really
recall him playing in the base defense at all even in preseason, but he
was a good special teamer.

This setback won't last forever, I don't know if Lester can come back
from a shoulder sprain in three weeks but it's possible; Harper is
supposedly on the downhill side of healing so he might be ready for the
Bucs game to start the season as well. You never know. For


I wonder if Quintin Mikell is in shape. I think they'll hesitate to
throw Charles Godfrey there if they don't need, but Mikell is still out
there. He's also 33, and that's usually more easily ignored when you
don't have any safeties and it's nearing September. Mikell's 59
tackles, 3 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles did have a part in Carolina's
success last year, and while he doesn't give you much in coverage,
neither does Harper.

Hopefully, this isn't a longterm thing, and the season starts with
everyone they expected. It might give Russell a game or two on the
roster as a precaution, and a lot of preseason tape if nothing else.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Links?

I wanted to start jazzing up this freaking nonsense here at (awfulname).blogspot.com to make it maybe a little more interesting.  I often post via email and so formatting is at a minimum, but I'm trying to throw in a pic now and again.

As well since I go off the reservation now and again, I figured I'd do a links-style post now and again.

Inspired, in part, by smartfootball.com's "smart links" section of sabermetrics, football coachspeak, and his other interests in reading and money, maybe now and again I'll throw out a few things that were inspiring but not postworthy or directly relevant.  Who knows.  Let me know if you like it, say "donkey whistle" if you don't care, give me feedback, anything goes.

First off, read smartfootball.com.  It's Chris Brown, who ended up writing a book by the same name, and occasionally does work for Grantland, which is unfortunately not frequent enough and yet he doesn't blog as much, either. No specific story link, for me, but if you're not familiar, read the sidebar stories occasionally.

I love fivethirtyeight.com - there's no way around it.  Led by statistical analyst Nate Silver, the controversial political modeler, it's got political stuff, but leads with social, monetary, and sports stories as well.  They did a great piece on the Andy Dalton issue, and while Cincy is lucky to have such problems, I remain happy to not have their problems at QB, too.  There are tons of other links, but start there.  I'll get you started, they throw out the magically interesting statement "the best chance of winning the Super Bowl a team can rrealonably expect with an average QB is [roughly]17.5%", forgive my paraphrasing.  That's remarkable.

from smartfootball's most recent links, I give you "defending 3x1".  Reading nonsense like this is how I can alternate between boring most of you to death with tech jargon and just going over your heads with things you don't care about, but if you dig that sort of thing, consider:
*Carolina ran a lot of 3x1 last year (it seems obvious to me, but essentially means they're going single back, they're isolating a split end, and they're mixing three from within their WR and TE groupings to make a bunch formation)
*3x1 is important because it can be any matter of personnel, from base to big to 4WR. If you like matchups or strategy, it's for you. It's a great place to start, or continue, so to speak.
*this is one man's ideals on how to stop it, if you're interested in that.   That gives you the formation/grouping's strengths and weaknesses, and how defenses will want to attack it.  Gives you the "why" for both sides, in a way.
*I love seeing the "why" as a way of forcing a defense out of its comfort zone.
*The league is changing quickly, whereas it used to pull off a new idea (WCO, zone blitz) occasionally, to where it was once a decade or so where something major would happen on offense (and the defense would react), but now it's changing at college level pace, and the way I figure it, I either understand it, or I may as well just be listening on the radio.  Never hurts to learn now and again.  Carolina has been a point of pro innovation, properly credited or not, and we all watched it happen.


Rabbit trailing off that site, I thought it very interesting he had a piece on the 8-2-1 return.  Thought that was interesting, too - most teams are, truthfully, the 5-4-1 or 5-3-2 variety, where they have an amount on the front line and a second line.  Having played the position what felt like more than anything from scrimmage, KR blocking is tough.  Tougher without the wedge.

Carolina ran a 6-3-2, an extra man up front, with Scotty O'Brien, and have as far as I can remember vacated the ideal after Danny Crossman (remember that guy?).  I've never seen the 8 man line KR but I like it.   It's tangential, but I dig the idea of a motion man in punt formations and nutty stuff like that.  It's fun and this is a game.


You could say any of this has dick-all to do with Panthers football, and have a point.  It's interesting to me, so I figured I'd post a bit of what helps make me post an overly-cerebral point of view to this game/team.  I'm very coach/front office heavy . Scouting and coaching are things I can do.  I can't relate with being a 6'4, 250 lb QB or WR (though at times the 250 part, I've related to, sadly).  I wasn't that guy, and most of us either aren't, or are fooling ourselves.   But, essentially all of us wish we had the ability to go get that type guy, stuff him on our team, and make it both unstoppable and smartly done.   That's what's going on here, though it'll possibly veer from just football if I choose to keep this nonsense up (or you readers don't shut me up).  I don't know.  I don't want to veer into a bunch of useless nonsense Peter King style, but I want to show what I'm reading and maybe that'll provide some perspective.   Hope so.

The Likely Panthers, So Far

Roster Shaping Up

It’s still hard to say exactly how the back end of the roster will go, but it’s safe to say Carolina knows its starters.  A number of specialists have pulled in their jobs, too, far as I’m concerned.  So here’s who is trending toward a job based on camp and one preseason game: 

*QB – it’s essentially up to whether you keep Joe Webb.  Matt Blanchard obviously wasn’t quite up to it, and Webb was able to make plays despite pressure.  GM Dave Gettleman said that it would be down to the best 53, and if you happen to see Webb flagging down a kick in coverage in preseason, that’s why.

*TE - You can mark down a quartet of Greg Olsen, Ed Dickson, Brandon Williams, and Richie Brockel.  Brockel does just far too much to ignore, and it appears he’s the blocker of this list.  Dickson plays with the first string alongside Olsen; Williams played a team high 58 snaps per profootballfocus.com last week, and graded out at 2.9 for run blocking, again besting the team.  Though PFF’s stats can be all over the place, that stands to reason since they grade every snap, that Williams could achieve a higher grade playing more snaps; it’s encouraging he used those snaps for good, and that he was able to show good blocking.   

Brockel isn’t a lights-out inline blocker, and Dickson can get some movement.  With Mike McNeill a blocker, and getting hurt, Williams stepping in and doing well ensures him a spot and in a way, Brockel’s as well.    I’d also guess that they won’t roster a 5th TE.

*WR – There’s no doubt at this point that Kelvin Benjamin and Jerricho Cotchery are starters.  The ample time that Jason Avant played (7 snaps, 4 passes) suggests they have him in as a slot guy, as expected, but didn’t need to see him otherwise.  Cotchery played 10, Benjamin 19, for what that’s worth, and KB might get more time than the others or Olsen to get him more reps as preseason runs along.   

Behind that trio, of course Tavarres King has an edge and made the most of his time, likely eclipsing Brenton Bersin; that does feel like the 4th and 5th right now, depending on the push that Kealoha Pilares or Philly Brown put on the KR job.

(Photo credit to NFLPA)


*RB – people are expecting that Kenjon Barner, who had a rough half, will be demoted for Fozzy Whitaker or Darrin Reaves, both who did a solid job.  I don’t see it happening.  If it trends, sure.  Barner’s always been a better fit for specialist duty, that’s not going to change just yet, though his first rush and first pass block were encouraging.

*OL – it’s clear the OL is Bell/Silatolu/Kalil/Turner/Chandler.   It’s clear that Garry Williams is the extra tackle (Williams struggled with run blocking, but was good pass blocking, the opposite of potential 4th guy David Foucalt, who was a diaster overall but somehow run blocked well).  Andrew McDonald, cancer survivor and Dolphins bullying survivor, looks to be the 4th tackle if they keep 4, but Kevin Hughes got a lot of time and didn’t offend.

Second string guards Chris Scott and Derek Dennis both did a very good job (PFF had them both as positive overall, and they were the other two to get a +1 or greater at run blocking).  I guess Scott is conditioned well enough now, and he might take an edge on Dennis if there’s a choice.   Brian Folkerts has continued to hold onto the 2nd string C job.

Metrically, the team is guard-heavy with 5th G Oscar Johnson also performing well, and Andrew Norwell holding his own.  Fernando Velasco fared better than Folkerts but is a little more expensive; that he can backup G as well can’t hurt, but if there’s not much difference, they speak highly of Folkerts, who’s cheaper.

So, I don’t know.  Based on performance only, Williams/Dennis/Folkerts/Scott/McDonald is the next five, I don’t know if Velasco might sneak into the top 8/9 being kept, however.  Williams is a lock, McDonald in my opinion could be (he can play guard).   They love Scott, a starter last year, and if he’s playing well he has to be in some sort of shape; it seems like they have Folkerts in there.



Defense?

DT – it’s worth saying again that Kawann Short had the best performance on defense.  3 hurries.  Obviously, he, Star Lotulelei, Dwan Edwards (who had a hurry), and Colin Cole (who continues to start despite being the worst of the bunch) are locks.   Next man up was Micanor Regis who isn’t a threat.  The only young upside guy is Linden Gaydosh, who didn’t play.

DE – Kony Ealy pitched in a great performance but was a lock anyway.  Mario Addison as well, who had a good stop.  Wes Horton’s stock didn’t go down either, with a sack; Frank Alexander had struggles in both run and pass as a starter, but Ron Rivera said he had a great camp.  Since he’s suspended anyway, all will probably be with the team week 1 excluding Alexander, who will obviously be suspended.  Still looks like a 5 DE/4 DT roster.   I guess they’ll keep Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, too. 

LB – Kuechly and Davis, you might imagine, are safe.  Chase Blackburn turned it up a bit; he did well in both run and pass (just blows at blitzing) and pitched in a better performance than AJ Klein, who was graded poorly against the run (but did have two stops).   Per PFF, Klein was the worst LB on the field, yikes.  Still, that’s your top 4, and while Jason Williams put in the second rated LB job backing TD, he’s a lock if he craps the bed on defense anyway, because he’s a top special teamer.

Ben Jacobs as the 2nd MLB came close to earning a spot – he was unspectacular but played a significant amount.  In a real game, Klein or Blackburn would take on the backup role.   DJ Smith (the AppState guy/former Packer) appears to be the short guy to make the LB squad over Denicos Allen, a somewhat heralded Michigan St UDFA (who got 2 snaps and no grade).  That would be my 6, including Jacobs and Smith.  And yes, it’s really weird to see Smith wearing 52.  Anthony Morales also played sparingly.  Adarius Glanton played more than either, to mixed results.

(here's Smith wearing 52, oddly enough.  Courtesy The State)

CB – We know from seeing it in practice that Melvin White and Antoine Cason are starters, and that Charles Godfrey had the first shot at the slot job.  Bene Benwikere outperformed all.  Josh Norman’s pick might’ve been part luck, but he keeps showing the stuff you want to see in preseason (when coverages are easy and responsibilities are, too).  Norman hitting harder in run support is big, too.  He might be the 5th guy, and James Dockery might be over Josh Thomas.  Thomas struggled heavily (though so did Cason).  

S – Speaking of struggling, Colin Jones can’t play his way out of a job on special teams, but he opened the door for Anderson Russell or Tom Nelson to join the 53-man as a 5th S.  Nelson was adequate, Russell just a bit below, and Jones quite poor overall.   Thomas Decoud was good – Robert Lester as the temp starter at SS had a little struggle, but nothing major.



Of course, playing time doesn’t have that much to do with the future, necessarily.  I’d like to see more of what Allen, Morales, Carrington Byndom, and others have to add with more playing time.  Gut feeling?  These three are prime practice squad guys.  Maybe Bersin, too, since King is #4 in my eyes and the 5th guy to play will have to return a kick or two.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Weird?

I can't shake the look of there being a 69 or 52 on the field, and it not being Jordan Gross or Jon Beason.

The Most Unpredictable Three TE Offense

I'm going to grab from this article from David Newton of ESPN: 


"It gives you flexibility," Shula said. "It makes you less predictable by personnel groupings. So if all of a sudden you come in with two tight ends, you're not necessarily going to run the ball, you're not necessarily going to be in single-back, you're not necessarily going to have two tight ends on the edge."

I wanted to dig deeper into that. The article is good - but it doesn't go that deep into what it means, and that's what I love most. 




The best example of what Shula's discussing comes from the TD play at the top of the 2nd quarter: I've broken that down in the link.  You have a two TE personnel grouping, and yet you're showing a 3 wide look.   That's two different defensive personnel ideals, and even though Buffalo had the right play called (it's hard to imagine a better outcome rushing five or six and putting the other safety in man as well).  It's made possible by Greg Olsen's athleticism and flexibility, which creates his ability to flex around the field.  

In the above TD play, Olsen's presence outside the box with Buffalo's rules on covering the outside man, mean you have a TE taking on a smaller corner (a mismatch) with a receiver taking on a non-corner because of it. 

With Benjamin all but sharing Olsen's abilities and size, and Ed Dickson being a competent inside receiver, having three on the field at the same time can mean anything from a 21 look (Olsen is at FB, Dickson at TE, Benjamin wide), 12 look (the two TEs are just tight ends - whether balanced or Olsen as a wing), or an 11 look as in the above.   If you want to throw it out there, Benjamin could act like a wing in 22 (two backs, two tight ends). 

But even within that, you have the ability to shift in and out.   And, no, Olsen's not an exceptional fullback, and on good days he's a wall-off guy at TE.  As a receiving threat?  Yes, pretty damn good, and that's from FB, TE, the slot, or out wide. 

Shula already varies formations a good deal, so this will hopefully just open things up.  I do expect you'll see Benjamin, Olsen, and Dickson mixed around into the bunch formations that were heavily featured last year. That is, if Benjamin doesn't get the singled out side like Steve Smith used to - when the Panthers would stick Olsen/LaFell/Ginn together in a bunch on the strong side. 

Whether all this matters still comes down to execution.  Shula's not much different from Chudzinski, who would give you ten looks of the same play, and that was fine when the tendency didn't suggest that play was coming.   Dan Henning with the same offense, 2nd and 5, you knew it was an inside zone run, so having Stephen Davis lined up wide didn't fool anyone - you knew he was coming in motion and running inside the tackles. 


Saturday, August 9, 2014

Buffalo 20, Carolina 18

I remember my first game at Ericcson Stadium.  Everything was new, Carolina was playing Buffalo in preseason.  My ma's group sang the National Anthem.

18 years later, it's mostly unrelated, but it's a preseason home game against Buffalo with a new-ish 18 year old stadium and what appears to be a lot of renovation toward advertising.  The jumbotron's larger, but they put a good bit of work into emblazoning local businesses onto it as if it were a minor league outfield wall.

Nonetheless - in three sentences here's the game.  Carolina lost by 2 in a game where it missed an extra point (from 35) and failed on a two-point conversion.  Highlights include Kelvin Benjamin's deep ball TD, Greg Hardy getting a sack when EJ Manuel was flushed by Dwan Edwards, a Josh Norman pick at the goal, and a goal line stand by the first team D.  Lowlights include picks by Joe Webb and Matt Blanchard, as well as a sack-fumble for Blanchard, and essentially everything Blanchard did.

Webb and starter Derek Anderson had good conversions on runs; Webb was up and down on his zone reads but was solid in his quarterbacking.  There's no way around Webb's somewhat slow release and his velocity just isn't what I'm used to seeing, but he had a good night at 16/28 (58%), 180 yards (6.4 per attempt, 11.25 per completion), one TD, and one INT.  The TD was a nice shot down the middle to Brandon Williams, who high pointed the ball for a 31 yard score and came up with 2 other balls for the night to finish at 3 for 50; Tavarres King had a good night pulling in 4 for 50.

Buffalo has a strong defense, and Jim Schwartz was a good pickup.  They were also into game #2 for the year, so everyone played longer.  That's not an excuse - not unlike the XP by a backup kicker thing, I'm not worried about a two point loss in preseason.  But Carolina couldn't run all night, and sure, two goal type runs for Mike Tolbert ended up being the only two carries that came out of the top three backs.  But Webb, with 4 runs, led the team in rushing with 30 yards (just realized, Webb had 200 yards of offense in a half, not awful), and Anderson was third in rushing with 10.  Derek Anderson being 3rd in rushing for you isn't a great sign, no more than that time Kealoha Pilares led the team in rushing against Tampa that one time.

So, that has to get better.  The defense, they're ready.  They showed what you want to see of them in short time.  The run game is reliant - and has to be better than this. But, this was with the 4th-6th backs.  So who knows.

Passing game?  Looked pretty good, but not a lot of the contributors were among the stat sheet.


Anatomy Of A Play: KB's TD

Kelvin Benjamin's first NFL preseason touch was a score.  No better way to earn an early exit than hauling in a touchdown.  With all the tales of his high-pointing balls where only he could get them, or muscling out guys who thought the ball was theirs, it's a little surprising (but good) that he caught that ball having to adjust to tripping at around the goal.

So here's the scenario:
Start of the 2nd quarter, down by 3, 29 yard line. 1st and 10.

Formation?   You have a base 12 personnel, in what very well might be the standard non-3 wide personnel grouping this year.  They come out with skill guys of Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery, Greg Olsen, Ed Dickson, and Kenjon Barner.   They immediately pull out of character for a two TE unit and throw Olsen wide right, Cotchery slot left inside Benjamin's split end.

The formation is tricky.  Gun is in the call because Derrick Anderson's in shotgun. You manipulate the formation with "slot" because the Z receiver, Cotchery, is in the slot.  I honestly don't know the formation that throws the H/F (Olsen, since Dockery is tight and therefore the Y) wide, but my best guess is:

Gun Rt, Flex Rt, 989 or 999.  It's an all-go, and essentially the same call (in this case the 8 is a read-route, so Cotchery can choose to run the go or go to the middle of the field depending on whether the middle of the field is open) either way.   They're leaving Barner in to block but everybody else is heading to the endzone, and Anderson's got no safety valve.  He's going to sling it to someone in the endzone.


Bills are in base 4-3,
Bills rush 4, with SLB Nigel Bradham (I believe) standing up in C gap and delcaring, but chucking the TE, Dickson.  Being in base, and with Olsen wide, the corners are on Benjamin and Olsen.  5'10, 185 Leodis McKelvin is on Olsen; 6', 190 lb Stephon Gilmore is on Benjamin, in each case giving up a lot of size.   Olsen, for his credit, is a decent outside receiver, but he's also drawing a corner

They walk FS Da'Norris Searcy on Cotchery, dropping SS Aaron Williams into the deep as the lone safety in effect - the rest of them are playing man.  Searcy is now somewhat out of position, playing man corner on a WR.

Bradham follows Dickson upfield, the other two LBs sit in zone waiting for Barner.  If he stays in, possibly both rush late; if he comes out to one side, that guy'll pick him up.  Since Barner comes through the middle and doesn't choose a cut until their depth, he's holding them both.

Olsen was somewhat well covered.  Dickson got behind having to take a wide release going outside Bradham but by the time the ball is out, he has steps on the LB.   But, you have the CB trailing with Olsen that can make that nasty.  Searcy isn't fooled by what looks like a double move by Cotchery and Benjamin might've had a step on the underrated Gilmore.

Ball comes out to Benjamin, who stumbles and snatches it going down.   Not the prettiest, but a show of the control and hands that will probably make Benjamin a star.

Or, if me blabbing about it doesn't do it justice, here's this:

http://gfycat.com/InsidiousQueasyIndianpalmsquirrel#



I'll also say, seeing Olsen out wide and a legitimate inside receiver for Dickson's role might be the reason there's more 12 personnel.  I still expect more 11 - 3 wide - than anything else, but Olsen did spend at least 50% of his time as a non-TE - he was split often.  If a significant percentage of snaps show as this does, where Olsen is essentially playing an isolated WR role, add that to the money put into TE and the WR changes, and things make more sense.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Hurney Interviews Cam

You don't see this often: A franchise QB being interviewed by the GM that drafted him, on AM radio within the player's rookie contract. 


Of course the key point came from talking about the learning curve, where Cam talks about former OC Rob Chudzinski pushing a lot on him.  

It's not a secret that Chud has a massive playbook - comically large, really - and that's never really bothered me. I know the verbiage, for the most part, and that size playbook is essentially taking the language and putting it together.  It's not that there are 800 plays, specifically, as much as that minor variations in plays change a play into 20 plays.  Mike Martz, for instance, in this same system could take the route combo "525 F Post", which gives four eligible guys routes, had said he could make 125 different plays without changing more than one route.  It's all in formations, shifts, motions.

It's also not a secret that Chud was given the credit for making Cam a ready product.  I'm not going to discount that - Mike Shula never got the credit he deserved, and still doesn't.  Chud called a vertical game that got Cam rolling.  Chud calls a good game, most of the time. 

But, we get the convergence of those two concepts (Chud might carry 250 plays into a game, Chud was who made Cam good) in Cam's eyes.   And the thing is, it's not that Cam is saying that's not so.  But he's saying that Chud didn't tailor anything to Newton - he just brought his massive, complex offense to a player who wasn't fully ready for it. 

Since Chud left, Shula has shortened the vocabulary, which takes those 800 plays and distills them into their best form (say, 40 passing plays) and marries them to a formation (+shift, +motion I assume), so that you can run that same play above from 10 formations, still dress it up.  The words to be said, they've gotten smaller. 

Cam is, to a point, siding with history.  The college game's innovation has come with a fast pace, and a quick playcall.  Noted spread innovator Dana Holgorsen installs his entire O in three days, the college game has worked in a ton of things to simplify, going even as far as to use play cards with pictures, instead of calling words. 


The way I take it?  It was good for Cam to go through it, but the idea that Chud let off the throttle to suit Cam?  Seems untrue.  That he did a solid job getting his rookie QB read?  Absolutely, same for Shula.  Now, Cam gets it a bit better. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Panthers Post Depth Chart

First team depth chart is here:


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

I wonder if anyone's pushing through the crowd at a posted sheet of
paper like they used to do in movies. For any of this to matter, you
have to make the assumption that this came from someone who has control
over the product on the field, which I might doubt, and that none of
it's motivation/sending a message to any players.


My thoughts:

*Matt Blanchard is ahead of Joe Webb as a 3rd QB

*It's not a revelation that Jerricho Cotchery is a starter (or that
Kelvin Benjamin is), but it's interesting to see it in writing anyway.
Have spent months wondering how that'd work out.

*Brenton Bersin pushing his way ahead of Tiquan Underwood and making it
onto the second squad. I'd seen reports of him playing with the 1s with
Benjamin out, so not totally surprising.

*Philly Brown a third stringer. Not listed after 4th: Marcus Lucas,
Marvin McNutt among others.

*Derek Dennis as a 2nd stringer at G with Velasco at C. I don't really
know Kevin Hughes at backup OT.

*That's how I'd list the TEs, both on the depth chart and based on
receiving prowess. But this is a running team, so who knows where the
blockers fit in?


*Frank Alexander over Kony Ealy, so far. And Wes Horton. Alexander is
decent, but the only time it really felt like he played was with Charles
Johnson out. It feels pretty easy, with

*Colin Cole as a starter? He started 13 games, but Kawann Short played
double the snaps.

*I'd almost make a case to keep Linden Gaydosh if he could make 3rd
string, he's listed here 4th.

*Chase Blackburn is still ahead of AJ Klein, contrary to a few team
reports

*Ben Jacobs as backup MLB suggests he had a roster spot; but Klein would
likely backup MLB and I imagine he'd play there more this month.

*Both nickels at backup CB; that's vague. A lot up for grabs there.

*Tre Boston 4th string. His absence hasn't helped, and I guess they're
taking Tom Nelson seriously. Nelson's team bio, which I decided to
finally read, shows he has some experience; UDFA who "victimized" Matt
Stafford for an INT. I'm not the most delicate flower out there but
maybe whoever wrote that could do better.


Not a ton of surprises, I guess, a few things I'd want to be different,
a few I'd expect to be different. That doesn't change anything and
we'll see Friday if this even holds any water.

Projected 53: Pre-Buffalo

I'm awful at prediction, but the more I write (if you can call this
writing), the less it matters, right? It's all just a slice in time, a
guess. I wanted to predict a 53 man roster, partially because it's
before we really get to see the team, and partially because I'm seeing
it happen elsewhere. So, here goes.

It's tough to construct a 53. You have, inside that, a rough two-deep
(44), plus three special teams specialists. If you're not on the
two-deep, that leaves six leftover spots; to add to that, you dress 46
on gameday. I believe that rule is antiquated. In 2011, the league
changed it to allow 46 players instead of 45 and an emergency
quarterback, and that was a start. But for being able to develop the
back end of your roster, and spread out responsibility in an
increasingly specialized NFL, I wish it were closer to 49, 50. Give you
three or four spots to hold injured guys for a few weeks (or have an
expanded way of holding the injured over a season), but let your roster
play. That's neither here nor there, though.

So with an eye on special teams, here's my shot at a 53, with inactives
and commentary.

QB
Cam Newton, Derek Anderson, Joe Webb.

Do you keep Webb? He's definitely intriguing. Teams that rush the ball
with their QB seem more likely to keep a 3rd guy. Webb might come down
to whether he's willing to play special teams and/or fill in at WR. I
know he's a QB, and can be a decent one. I'm just not certain that's
worth an active roster spot, yet, but throw him in.

RB
Deangelo Williams, Mike Tolbert, Jonathan Stewart, Kenjon Barner.

Barner gets in by default. Hopefully, he still earns it. Tales of
weight gain are a neat but so far inconsequential sign.

TE
Greg Olsen, Ed Dickson, Brandon Williams, Richie Brockel, Mike McNeill.

This is the first place I'm truly unsure. Williams is intriguing, and
if he can play well enough on special teams, he probably gets in.
Brockel is more or less a lock - Mike Tolbert might play some fullback
but Brockel is going to see a lot of time there and TE (and carries a
lot of weight on ST units). Why I'm unsure? Williams is still mostly
potential so far, and the team did pickup two blockers (Mike McNeill, DC
Jefferson). Brockel played the blocking role, where he's OK, but the
team talked of how much they missed Ben Hartsock - and then signed the
two blockers. Logic tells me they'll roster 5 but McNeill will have to
play special teams (he didn't in STL).

WR
Kelvin Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery; Jason Avant, Tiquan Underwood,
Tavarres King.

Underwood is where it gets hairy at WR. Is he just a deep guy? That has
value, I guess. He might be the KR, too. So far, guys under him have
possibly looked more complete. King I'm including out of hype.

Brenson Bersin might get in for special teams duty. I think he'll be a
guy that they can stash (he's a feel-good story, but it's OK to lose
him), along with Marcus Lucas (a nearly Benjamin sized UDFA), and/or
Philly Brown. A lot of game-time work with Webb/Blanchard to determine
if it's King or others for #5, but honestly, I don't see any special
teams snaps available for #5 so that might not be an active roster spot.
No reason to keep 6 if so.

OL
Byron Bell, Amini Silatolu, Ryan Kalil, Trai Turner, Nate Chandler;
Garry Williams, Fernando Velasco, Derek Dennis, Brian Folkerts.

That 5 is my assumed starting 5, left to right; Williams and Velasco
come off the bench as needed. Chris Scott, I'm cutting. Come to camp
healthy. I'm randomly throwing Dennis in at G, but if available, it
might be Andrew McDonald as a 4th tackle instead.


That's the O: 26 spots. Minus specialists, that leaves 24 for D, which
is pretty light.


DL
Charles Johnson, Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short, Greg Hardy; Kony Ealy,
Mario Addison, Wes Horton, Colin Cole, Dwan Edwards.

I'm listing Short as a starter, though I expect Cole to technically
start again. Short played double Cole's snaps, however.
You could argue for 8, dropping Horton; you could argue that Frank
Alexander comes back after 4 games. I don't know. 9, with swing player
Ealy, seems right.

LB
Luke Kuechy, Thomas Davis, AJ Klein; Chase Blackburn, Jason Williams,
Ben Jacobs?

Looking forward to seeing Klein & Blackburn a lot in preseason. Assume
Klein to start and backup MLB, but both are good. Both play a lot of ST.
So does Williams. 6th spot will only play ST, Jacobs is just a guess.
Any 7th player probably isn't on this roster, maybe a 6th isn't; I don't
see a need for 7. This could be Joe Webb's roster spot, if they pick
anyone up.

CB
Melvin White, Antoine Cason; Bene Benwikere, Charles Godfrey, Josh
Norman, James Dockery

Nickel should be a starting role. That guy plays more than your 3rd LB.
Josh Thomas could be in here, or maybe Carrington Byndom.

S
Roman Harper, Thomas Decoud; Colin Jones, Robert Lester

I have Tre Boston going to IR. Maybe next year. 4 is enough if Jones
can play FS some. They still technically have Godfrey if needed. I
could see 6 CBs and still 4 S. Or, they pick up an extra S that cam
play special teams instead of Dockery. I realize that 6 CB is somewhat
skewed, but it's what I see.


Specialists
Graham Gano, Brad Nortman, JJ Jansen

Can't ask for a lot more of this trio.