NFC South: Chris Rainey

Carolina Panthers cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2012
8/31/12
10:50
PM ET
Click here for the complete list of Carolina Panthers roster moves.

Most significant move: The biggest move of the day wasn’t the release of a player. Instead, it was a trade. The Panthers will send a future draft pick to San Francisco for safety Colin Jones. I don’t think the Panthers are looking for Jones to come in and start at safety. This move was more about special teams -- and if you saw Pittsburgh’s Chris Rainey have a long punt return against them Thursday night, you saw why the Panthers still have concerns with the unit. Jones should help solve that problem. He was a regular on special teams for the 49ers and had eight special-teams tackles last season.

Onward and upward: Throughout training camp and the preseason games, there was a lot of buzz about undrafted rookie receiver Jared Green. Part of it came because he’s the son of Hall of Famer Darrell Green. But part of it came because the kid can play. The Panthers had a numbers crunch at receiver and wanted to keep guys like Kealoha Pilares and Joe Adams because they have invested draft picks in them in recent years, and both have abilities in the return game. But Green only helped himself with what he did in the preseason. Another team could take a shot and claim him off waivers. If not, Carolina almost certainly will try to get Green on the practice squad.

What’s next: As it stands, I’m not sure the Panthers are completely content with their cornerback situation. Chris Gamble and Captain Munnerlyn are the starters with rookie Josh Norman and second-year pro Josh Thomas as the backups. The Panthers really would like to move Munnerlyn inside and let him match up with slot receivers as the nickel back. Heading into camp, they though Norman might be able to step straight into a starting job. But his development was slowed a little when he missed some practice time with an injury. Brandon Hogan and Darius Butler also were guys the Panthers had high hopes for, but both got injured. I’m not sure the Panthers want to put too much on Norman's plate right away. They could look to bring in another cornerback. I could also see them at least checking to see what’s available as far as defensive-line depth. I know a lot of Carolina fans are shouting for the Panthers to do something at kicker after Justin Medlock missed two long field-goal attempts in the preseason finale. But all indications are the Panthers are planning to stick with Medlock.

Observation deck: Panthers-Steelers

August, 30, 2012
8/30/12
10:19
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Let's run through some quick observations on the Panthers' 17-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Thursday night's preseason finale:
  • Coach Ron Rivera held out just about all of his starters and it showed. Charlie Batch and Pittsburgh’s offense went right through Carolina’s defense for a touchdown on the first drive of the night. But let’s keep in mind this wasn’t Carolina’s rebuilt -- and healthy -- first-team defense.
  • Veteran backup Derek Anderson got the start at quarterback and played the first half. Jimmy Clausen replaced him. The Panthers already have decided Anderson will be Cam Newton's backup. I've been back and forth on whether or not the Panthers should even keep Clausen, a second-round draft pick in 2010, on the roster. After watching Clausen in extended playing time, I say keep him around. Clausen wasn't flawless, but he showed more than I've seen out of him in a long time (maybe since his Notre Dame days). He led the Panthers on a long touchdown drive on his first series. He also threw a long touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. I had been thinking the Panthers might be better off letting Clausen go, keeping only two quarterbacks on the active roster and bringing in a developmental project on the practice squad. But I think Clausen showed he still has some upside. I'd keep him around, just in case something happens to Newton or Anderson. If it does, I'd rather see Clausen than some developmental guy.
  • The Panthers have gone to great lengths to improve the special teams. But I think there’s still reason for concern. It was negated by a penalty, but Pittsburgh’s Chris Rainey had what should have been a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown.
  • One guy who continues to impress me is defensive end Thomas Keiser. He’s done some good things earlier in the preseason and he did it again against the Steelers. Keiser swatted down a Batch pass at the line of scrimmage. I think Keiser’s emergence was a big reason why Eric Norwood was released earlier in the week.
  • I think receiver Joe Adams makes the team, mostly because the team used a fourth-round pick on him. But I think the Panthers might go slowly with Adams, who was a contender for some work as a return man. But I think Adam’s muffed punt return and lost fumble could prompt the Panthers to bring him along slowly. He did have a 20-yard punt return at the end of the first half.
  • Speaking of rookie receivers, it’s going to be difficult to cut undrafted free agent Jared Green. He had a nice training camp and caught a touchdown pass from Clausen on Thursday night. I think the numbers make it almost impossible to keep Green on the 53-man roster. But I think he’s a strong candidate for the practice squad.
  • The quick conclusion when the Panthers released veteran Olindo Mare was that Justin Medlock would be their kicker. He still might be. But Medlock missed two field-goal attempts on Thursday. Neither was a chip shot, but you still have to wonder if the Panthers might watch the waiver wire for kickers.

There's only one Darren Sproles

February, 28, 2012
2/28/12
3:59
PM ET
Check out this Insider post that looks at draft prospects that could be the next Darren Sproles.

Chris Rainey, LaMichael James, Devon Wylie, Isaiah Pead and Rodney Stewart (not to be confused with singer Rod Stewart) are the guys listed as candidates.

They’re all short, very quick and each of them did some very good things in college. But I think it’s a stretch to call any of them the next Sproles.

That’s almost entirely because there is only one Sproles. He’s a unique player, who has defied all the stereotypes about being too short and too light. The caveat with those usually is that the player can’t be durable enough to be a long-term factor.

There’s truth in that because small guys often get hurt when they’re hit by big guys. But Sproles has been the exception to that. Look back at his track record. He’s missed precisely one game since 2007.

Then, there’s the fact that when Sproles joined the New Orleans Saints last season, he suddenly was used more than he ever was in his days in San Diego. The Saints used Sproles as a runner, receiver and a return man. They also found out he could make a bigger impact as a runner than even they thought and that’s why they gave him a 87 carries and he responded with a career-high 603 rushing yards.

Sproles also was used as a receiver out of the backfield and sometimes even lined up as a receiver. He caught a career high 86 passes and set a new NFL record for all-purpose yards in a season.

Not every undersized running back can do what Sproles does. In fact, I’ll make the case that there’s not anyone else out there that can do what Sproles does.

He’s a unique talent with uncommon durability. He’s also playing in a unique system with a very unique coach (Sean Payton). Right now Sproles is the perfect guy in the perfect situation and that’s just not going to happen everywhere.

Heck, Sproles wasn’t even the Sproles we’re talking about now until he got to New Orleans.

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