NFC South: Armond Smith

Observation deck: Panthers-Ravens

August, 22, 2013

During the pregame show before Thursday night’s game, ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said he wouldn’t be surprised if Luke Kuechly wins the Defensive Player of the Year award at some point.

That point might be coming a lot sooner than even Gruden expects. If Kuechly plays all season the way he played in the Carolina Panthers' 34-27 preseason victory against the host Baltimore Ravens, he could be a shoo-in for the award.

Preseason or not, Kuechly turned in one of the most dominating defensive performances I’ve ever seen. He was all over the field from the start, which isn’t unexpected for a guy who was Defensive Rookie of the Year last season. But Kuechly turned in a second quarter that was beyond spectacular.

Kuechly forced a fumble by running back Bernard Pierce. Fellow linebacker Thomas Davis jumped on the loose ball and slid into the end zone to give the Panthers a 21-7 lead with 10:22 left in the first half.

A few minutes later, Kuechly popped the ball loose from Ravens receiver Aaron Mellette and safety Charles Godfrey seemed to intercept the pass. But Kuechly was called for a penalty and the interception was nullified.

It didn’t matter. Two plays later, Kuechly came up with an interception of his own to set up a field goal that gave the Panthers a 24-7 halftime lead.

Some other observations on the Panthers:
  • Kuechly wasn’t the only defensive star for the Panthers. Cornerback Drayton Florence returned an interception 71 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter.
  • Defensive back D.J. Moore also had an interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter.
  • Rookie defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, who were quiet in the first two preseason games, had a big impact. Short produced a sack and Lotulelei, who also recorded one, looked good as a run-stuffer.
  • The defense wasn’t the only unit that was explosive. The special teams also came through. Ted Ginn Jr. returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter.
  • It’s a good thing the defense and special teams were so productive because the first-team offense didn’t look very good. The Panthers had to punt the first three times they touched the ball and the first offense never got into much of a rhythm. But I don’t think fans should panic about the offense. I think the Panthers are keeping things very basic in the preseason.
  • Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn suffered an apparent hand injury in the third quarter and did not return.
  • Running back Armond Smith was ejected in the fourth quarter for kicking a Baltimore player. That's not going to help Smith's chances of making the roster.

Looking at Panthers' offensive snaps

February, 12, 2013
Carolina veteran left tackle Jordan Gross showed no signs of wearing down in 2012. Gross appeared in all but four of the Panthers’ 1,030 offensive plays.

Gross was on the field for a team-high 99.61 percent of the offensive snaps.

Let’s take a look at the rest of the breakdown of percentage of offensive playing time for the Panthers. (You might want to pay close attention to how little the Panthers used high-paid running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.)
While I was off last week, Matt Williamson did some pinch-hitting and ranked the NFC South backfield situations. He put the Carolina Panthers at No. 1.

No argument here at all. In fact, Williamson’s case just got a little bit stronger.

The Panthers claimed running back Armond Smith off waivers from Cleveland on Tuesday and waived defensive back Reggie Sullivan.

This might not seem like a big deal because Smith has all of three career carries. But think about Carolina’s coaching staff and think how the NFL is a copy-cat league. At least on paper, Smith, 5-foot-9 and 194 pounds, is only a slightly larger version of Darren Sproles. Refresher course time: Carolina offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski used to be an assistant in San Diego. Sproles used to be a pretty good running back in San Diego, before he went to New Orleans and became great last season.

Yeah, comparing Smith to Sproles is a big stretch at this point. But Chudzinski could be picturing Smith in some packages in which he would play a similar role to Sproles. Carolina already has a loaded backfield with Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams sharing the feature-back role and the Panthers added running back/fullback Mike Tolbert (another former San Diego player) this offseason.

That backfield could be even better if the Panthers sprinkled in a few carries and a few catches per game for a speed back like Smith.