NFC South: Edmund Kugbila

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Welcome to another edition of the Carolina Panthers' Mailbag.

There were a lot of questions about the future of defensive end Greg Hardy, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. I apologize up front if yours wasn't among those that were chosen.

Carolina's free agents in general remain a hot topic.

Once the Super Bowl is over and general manager Dave Gettleman has completed his evaluation of the roster, you'll start to see some movement on a lot of fronts. For now everything is pretty much in a wait-and-see mode.

To the mailbag:

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The worst news of the day for the Carolina Panthers may not have been that running back Jonathan Stewart (ankle) would miss at least the first six weeks of the season.

They were preparing or that.

But they didn't plan to lose for the year fourth-round pick Edmund Kugbila, expected to at the very least provide much-needed depth on the offensive line.

Kugbila was placed on injured reserve after hamstring and knee issues forced Carolina's hand. Until then, as coach Ron Rivera said, he had shown flashes that had the team optimistic he would contribute either as a starter or backup at guard.

"Disappointed,'' Rivera said. "We're going to miss a good young football player who could help us like the other four guys are getting ready to help us."

The loss of Kugbila made the signing of free-agent guard Travelle Wharton on Sunday even bigger. What hasn't been replaced is the depth Kugbila would have provided.

Meanwhile, Carolina waived injured defensive tackle Frank Kearse and wide receiver Joe Adams. Along with placing Stewart on the physically unable to perform list, that got the roster to 75-player limit.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Travelle Wharton has an opportunity to make an instant impact on the Carolina Panthers' injury-plagued offensive line after the team signed the 6-foot-4, 316-pound free agent Sunday to a one-year deal.

Wharton likely will compete with Garry Williams for the starting spot at right guard, but he also could factor in at left guard, where starter Amini Silatolu already has been ruled out of Thursday's preseason finale against Pittsburgh with a hamstring injury. Fourth-round draft pick Edmund Kugbila also is back on the sideline with a strained hamstring the day after his first practice after missing most of spring drills and training camp.

Coach Ron Rivera said after Sunday's practice that Chris Scott would start at left guard against the Steelers.

This is a homecoming for Wharton. A third-round pick in 2004, he spent his first eight seasons with Carolina, starting 99 games at guard and tackle.

He was released in 2012 and picked up by Cincinnati, where he suffered a season-ending knee injury. He hasn't played since.

The Panthers have struggled on the line in their three preseason games. Leading rusher DeAngelo Williams is averaging only 2.9 yards per carry. Kenjon Barner, second on the team in rushing, has a 2.8 average. The first-team offense has scored only one touchdown.

Wharton gives Carolina 79 players on its roster, meaning four players must be cut by Tuesday afternoon.

Around the NFC South

August, 13, 2013
Let's take a run through some headlines from around the division:


Even after an 11-tackle performance in the preseason opener, linebacker Paul Worrilow still is listed with the third team on the latest unofficial depth chart. But I’ve got a feeling Worrilow’s stock is on the rise and he could be moving up the official depth chart.


The depth on the offensive line took a couple more hits. Tackle Bruce Campbell tore his rotator cuff and could miss the season. Guard Edmund Kugbila suffered a setback in his recovery from a hamstring injury. Look for the Panthers to bring in a lineman or two when other teams start releasing players.


Jeff Duncan writes that fans shouldn’t panic after Kansas City cut right through the defense on the opening drive of the first preseason game. Yeah, there’s room for concern because the defense was so bad last year. But coordinator Rob Ryan is putting in a new system and that means this defense will be a work in progress.


The Bucs are in New England for a couple days of joint workouts with the Patriots before the two teams play in a preseason game Friday night.

NFC South quick hits

August, 8, 2013
I’m getting ready to head out to Raymond James Stadium to cover the preseason game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Baltimore Ravens. But, before I go, let’s leave you with some odds and ends from around the division:
  • In this Insider piece Insider, Matt Williamson breaks down the New Orleans running game. He says it’s a make-or-break year for Mark Ingram and I agree with that. I think Ingram is going to get a lot more opportunities than he did in his first two seasons.
  • Cam Newton and the rest of the Carolina starters will get 10 to 15 snaps in Friday’s exhibition opener. Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert, Jon Beason, Edmund Kugbila and Domenik Hixon will not play due to injuries.
  • In this Insider piece Insider, Las Vegas oddsmakers have the Falcons and Saints as 18 to 1 shots to win the Super Bowl. The odds on the Buccaneers and Panthers are much longer.
  • Scott Reynolds has his projections of who will make Tampa Bay’s 53-man roster.

Panthers shake up offensive line

August, 1, 2013
The Carolina Panthers pulled a bit of a surprise Thursday when they released Geoff Hangartner, who had worked with the first-team offensive line at two different positions this training camp.

Hangartner had been working mostly at right guard, but worked with the first team at center Tuesday when Ryan Kalil was given the day off. Hangartner split last season between guard and center.

But Hangartner didn’t have a great 2012 season. I’m thinking the Panthers didn’t see much improvement early in camp and decided to part ways with a guy that was scheduled to count $1.5 million against the cap.

The Panthers did meet with veteran lineman Travelle Wharton last week, but have yet to sign him. It seems more likely the Panthers are content to go with what they already have on the roster.

Garry Williams and Jeff Byers are both versatile linemen and can play guard. This move could be a sign that rookie Edmund Kugbila is close to being healthy after missing most of the offseason program and the early part of training camp with injuries. It seems like the Panthers have high hopes for Kugbila. Even in the June minicamp, a limited Kugbila was getting some reps with the first team as the Panthers walked through their plays.

Around the NFC South

August, 1, 2013
Let's take a run through the top morning headlines from around the division:


D. Orlando Ledbetter writes that defensive end Kroy Biermann has been spending a lot of time with the linebackers, and defensive end Osi Umenyiora has said he’s learning to play standing up. Are the Falcons switching to a 3-4 defense? I don’t know that they’re ready to give up on the 4-3 as their base, but I think we could see a fair amount of 3-4 fronts.


Although the Panthers drafted Edmund Kugbila and have looked at some veterans, Geoff Hangartner still appears to be the front-runner for the starting job at right guard. Kugbila has been dealing with injuries and it seems unlikely he’ll be able to beat out Hangartner anytime soon.


Mike Triplett writes that undrafted rookie cornerback Rod Sweeting has been making a positive impression so far in camp. With Patrick Robinson dealing with an injury, Sweeting has gotten increased reps. He’s been making the most of them and could have a chance at a roster spot.


Wide receiver Vincent Jackson is known as a deep threat after averaging 19.2 yards per catch last season. But Jackson wants to be known as more. He wants to be known as a complete receiver, who also can go over the middle and catch balls in traffic. Jackson also did some of that last year and has shown he’s versatile. But Jackson still is one of the best deep threats in the league and the Bucs aren’t going to stop trying to take advantage of that.

Around the NFC South

July, 11, 2013
Time for a look at some odds and ends from around the division:


D. Orlando Ledbetter has middle linebacker Akeem Dent at No. 15 on his list of the top 25 Falcons. He played primarily on running downs last year, but may get a chance to become a three-down player this year. If Dent shows he can cover tight ends, he could make outside linebacker Stephen Nicholas into a two-down player.


Max Henson has an overview of the offensive line. The guy I’m keeping an eye on is rookie guard Edmund Kugbila. I think the fourth-round pick could have a shot at a starting job.


Speaking of the Falcons and every-down linebackers, they let middle linebacker Curtis Lofton leave as a free agent last year because they didn’t think he’d be a three-down player in coordinator Mike Nolan’s system. Lofton landed in New Orleans, where the Saints kept him on the field almost all the time and he quickly became a leader of the defense. That’s why he’s ranked No. 7 in the Times-Picayune’s list of the top 25 Saints.


Stephen Holder writes that the recent contract extension for Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford could be used as a guideline if the Bucs eventually decide to give Josh Freeman a long-term deal. Although he clearly needs to improve his consistency, Freeman has a better winning percentage as a starter than Stafford.

NFC South afternoon update

June, 7, 2013
Time for a quick afternoon trip through some headlines from around the division:


The Falcons are close to reaching a contract agreement with second-round pick Robert Alford, according to D. Orlando Ledbetter. Alford has a chance to compete with fellow rookie Desmond Trufant for a starting job at cornerback. At worst, Alford could end up as the nickel back. Trufant remains unsigned.


Guard Edmund Kugbila, a fourth-round draft pick, was reduced to taking mental reps during OTAs because of a sore leg. At the moment, the Panthers have Kugbila slotted at right guard behind veteran Geoff Hangartner.


Rookie Kenny Vaccaro got some first-team reps in minicamp at safety and nickel back. Veteran safeties Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins remain on the roster, and there were some sets in which the Saints had all three players on the field at the same time. I think defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will try to play to the strengths of his players, and you could see a situation where Harper plays on obvious running downs, and Vaccaro plays on obvious passing downs.


At least one fantasy football expert is predicting a big year for quarterback Josh Freeman. Citing a “contract-year push’’, he projects Freeman to put up numbers similar to what Atlanta’s Matt Ryan did last season. That would be enough to earn Freeman a very nice contract.
Let's take a quick look at what the NFC South teams did in the fourth round:

At No. 100, Tampa Bay traded up to get Illinois defensive tackle Akeem Spence. I like the pick because it addresses a need. The Bucs have Gerald McCoy at one defensive tackle spot. But the other job is wide open. Spence will get a chance to immediately compete with Derek Landri and Gary Gibson for playing time.

At No. 108, the Panthers took Valdosta State guard Edmund Kugbila. General manager Dave Gettleman continued his focus on his offensive and defensive lines. Carolina needed a little more depth on the offensive line. Kugbila is a bit of a project and probably won’t make an immediate impact.

At No. 126, the Bucs stayed focused on their defensive line and took Michigan State defensive end William Gholston. Draft gurus have questioned his work ethic and whether or not he has a high enough motor to succeed in the NFL. But playing for Greg Schiano might be the best thing for Gholston. Schiano demands good work ethic and a high motor. Gholston will get a shot as a rotational backup behind Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers.

At No. 127, the Atlanta Falcons chose Clemson defensive end Malliciah Goodman. Consistency was an issue during his college career. But Goodman has some upside and the Falcons need to develop someone that can rush the passer besides Osi Umenyiora.

At No. 133, the Falcons took Stanford tight end Levine Toilolo. He probably isn’t the second coming of Tony Gonzalez. But Toilolo probably can step in and be a secondary tight end to Gonzalez. Toilolo doesn’t stand out as a pass-catcher or blocker, but he can do both things reasonably well.