NFC South: Eric Norwood

Around the NFC South

August, 31, 2012
8/31/12
10:27
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Let’s take a Friday morning run through the top headlines from around the NFC South:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Jay Adams writes that Kevin Cone might have pushed himself ahead of the pack for the final receiver spot with a 49-yard touchdown catch Thursday night. But Adams says not to write off Tim Toone and James Rodgers. They can contribute on special teams and that’s going to factor heavily into the Falcons’ decision.

Coach Mike Smith’s decision to sit many of his veteran starters in the final preseason game makes lots of sense. He knows what his veterans can do and believes it’s more important to make sure his team is as healthy as possible for the regular-season opener.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Ron Green Jr. writes that the final roster spot at wide receiver may come down to Seyi Ajirotutu and Armanti Edwards. If Edwards is released, it would be another sign that Carolina’s 2010 draft class was far from the best in league history. Brandon LaFell and Greg Hardy are starters, but Eric Norwood already is out of Carolina, receiver David Gettis and cornerback Brandon Hogan have been hurt most of their careers and quarterback Jimmy Clausen might have trouble staying on the roster. Oh, and don’t forget about the great pick that was Tony Pike.

I know some Carolina fans are thinking the Panthers should go out and get another kicker after Justin Medlock missed two field goal attempts in Pittsburgh on Thursday night. But the folks at Carolina Huddle bring up a good point -- Heinz Field is not an easy place to kick. Medlock’s misses were from 56 and 50 yards. The 50-yarder would have tied the record for longest field goal by an NFL player at that stadium.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Mike Triplett has an overview of the biggest question facing the Saints on cut-down day -- do they keep undrafted rookie running back Travaris Cadet? He’s had an outstanding preseason, but keeping him likely means the Saints would have to carry an extra running back and sacrifice a spot at some other position. The Saints have a history of being creative with their roster. If they're as sold on Cadet as fans seem to be, they’ll make room for him.

The final preseason game and trimming the roster will be among the last acts of assistant head coach Joe Vitt, at least for a while. Vitt is scheduled to begin his six-game suspension Monday. Offensive line coach Aaron Kromer will step into the role as temporary coach. Vitt got emotional Thursday night, when discussing his suspension. That’s understandable. Vitt is an emotional guy to begin with and, as he has said repeatedly, coaching football is the only job he’s had as an adult.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Teams don’t have to announce the moves they made to get their roster down to 53 players until 9 p.m. ET on Friday night and my guess is official word won’t come from most NFC South teams until right around that time. But the Bucs reportedly already have told running back Mossis Madu he’s been released. This is not a huge shock. Madu got some playing time last season and wasn’t bad this preseason. But the Bucs already are set at running back. They invested draft picks in Doug Martin and Michael Smith and they also have LeGarrette Blount.

Roy Cummings writes about how former starting safety Cody Grimm appears to be on the roster bubble. Grimm’s had injury problems in his first two seasons and the Bucs used a first-round draft pick on Mark Barron and have moved veteran cornerback Ronde Barber to safety. Ahmad Black also has emerged this preseason. Grimm’s situation is tenuous, but I’ve got a hunch he may stick because he brings some of the intangibles coach Greg Schiano mentions when he talks about “Buccaneer Men."

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.
Olindo Mare, who received a huge contract from the Carolina Panthers last year, won’t be handling the kickoff duties for the team this year.

The Panthers announced Monday that Mare has been released. Presumably, that means former Canadian League player Justin Medlock has won what was a competition for Carolina’s kicking job throughout the preseason.

Mare’s signing last year caused controversy because the Panthers released John Kasay, the final remaining player from their 1995 expansion team, to make room for Mare. The thinking was that Mare was as accurate as Kasay and could also handle kickoff duties. But Mare had a disappointing 2011 season and missed some crucial field-goal attempts. The Panthers brought Medlock in as competition and decided to let Mare go.

Although the Panthers gave Mare a four-year, $12 million contract last year, the salary-cap implications of his release are minimal. Mare was scheduled to count $3.2 million against this year’s salary cap. By releasing him, the Panthers still will be responsible for $3.1 million.

The kicker job isn’t the only area where the Panthers are going in a younger direction. They also released veteran Nick Harris. That means the Panthers are ready to go with rookie Brad Nortman as their punter. The Panthers drafted Nortman in the sixth round. They brought in Harris to compete with him and Nortman won the job.

As Carolina trimmed its roster to 75 players, there were several other moves of note.

Receiver David Gettis, who missed last season with a knee injury, has been placed on the physically unable to perform list. Gettis, who had been considered a candidate to start, wasn’t able to get healthy enough during the preseason. By going on PUP, Gettis now can be activated after six games. The Panthers also placed cornerback Brandon Hogan on the reserve/injured list. Hogan had been considered a candidate for significant playing time, but he also was slow in recovering from a knee issue. In the next five days, it will be decided if Hogan will take an injury settlement, be placed on injured reserve for the entire season or be released.

The Panthers also waived receiver Darvin Adams, guard Roger Allen, receiver Michael Avila, receiver Brenton Bersin, guard Will Blackwell, defensive end Eric Norwood, running back Lyndon Rowells, tight end Greg Smith, running back Josh Vaughan and receiver Rico Wallace.
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- In one sentence, Ron Rivera can take the 2011 Carolina Panthers and make them 9-7 instead of 6-10.

“I look at the Minnesota game, I look at the Detroit game and I look at the second Atlanta game," the Carolina coach said after practice on a recent morning.

No need to go back and look up those games. There’s one very common thread -- the Carolina defense crumbled when it mattered most. Despite hitting the jackpot drafting quarterback Cam Newton and suddenly having the most explosive offense in franchise history, the Panthers still finished third in the NFC South.

“It was hard for [defensive coordinator] Sean [McDermott], because he really had to pull back on what he likes to do, and disappointing for me because I wanted more from our defense," Rivera said. “But I think the toughest part of all is when you look back and see certain opportunities where if somebody just stepped up and made a play on the defensive side of the ball, it’s a totally different result to the ballgame."

But Rivera and the Panthers aren’t doing too much reflecting these days. Instead, Rivera’s looking at a fully stocked defense, and that’s reason enough for optimism. Jon Beason, who missed almost all of last season with a torn Achilles tendon, is back. So is defensive tackle Ron Edwards, who suffered a season-ending injury early in training camp. There is even hope that outside linebacker Thomas Davis, who once seemed to be on the verge of becoming a superstar, can fully recover from his third torn ACL and contribute at least as a role player.

The Panthers used their first-round pick on Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly, who can play inside or outside, chase down running backs and rush the passer. There were other moves here and there for depth, and that’s why veteran left tackle Jordan Gross is looking across the line and seeing a defense that looks nothing like last season’s.

“I don’t think people truly realize how much we lost with the injuries last year," Gross said. “Missing Beas was a big deal as far as football, but it was an even bigger deal in the locker room. He’s the constant on that defense. He’s the guy that’s always chiming in on any team issue and getting on guys or encouraging guys. There really wasn’t a leader out there last year, once he was gone.

“Having Ron Edwards back also is huge, because he’s a big-body guy that we haven’t had in awhile, and that’s going to help the entire defense. Kuechly obviously is a guy that’s going to make some plays, and I think our pass rush has gotten better, just from having experience thrust upon them last year. Just practicing against them in camp, I can tell you that defense is going to be a whole lot better."

If Gross is right, Carolina fans could be very happy. This team hasn’t had a winning season since 2008. That could change with some improvement from the defense, because the world already knows Newton and the offense are going to score. If the defense can make just a few more of those plays Rivera talked about, the Panthers could be in the playoffs.

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. The No. 2 cornerback spot. The Panthers have made it pretty clear they don’t want Captain Munnerlyn starting at cornerback. He brings athleticism and swagger but lacks the size to be an effective every-down cornerback. Ideally, the Panthers would like to slide Munnerlyn inside and let him line up with slot receivers in the nickel package.

That makes all sorts of sense, but there’s one big catch. At the moment, the Panthers aren’t sure they have anyone who can take Munnerlyn’s place as the starter. They got all excited about rookie Josh Norman in June workouts, and he still might end up in that role, but his fast track to a starting job stalled when he missed some time with an injury early in camp. There also was hope that second-year pro Brandon Hogan could claim the spot. But Hogan’s knee, which he injured in his final year of college, still doesn't allow him to stay on the practice field with anything approaching consistency.

Maybe Norman steps up in what’s left of the preseason. If not, the Panthers might give Darius Butler, who spent two seasons with New England before joining the Panthers last season, the starting job. Or maybe they still start Munnerlyn, but slide him inside in nickel situations and let Butler take his spot on the outside.

[+] EnlargeMike Tolbert
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonThe addition of Mike Tolbert, right, further crowds a backfield that includes DeAngelo Williams, left, and Jonathan Stewart.
2. The workload at running back. You can make a case that the Panthers underused running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart last season. So what did the Panthers do in the offseason? They added Mike Tolbert as a free agent from San Diego. The Panthers say Tolbert will be a fullback but also say he’ll get some time at tailback and will be asked to catch passes out of the backfield.

That sure makes it sound like the number of carries for Williams and Stewart, who each have had 1,000-yard seasons in the past, will be reduced even more. But I think people are missing the point. Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski was riding the hot hand with Newton last season, and the Panthers frequently played from behind. When the coaching staff reflected on last season, I think it concluded that the running backs weren’t involved enough. Count on a conscious effort to get Williams and Stewart more carries.

It might look like Tolbert just complicates things. But players don’t call Chudzinski “The Mad Scientist" for no reason. They know he has big plans for this backfield. We could end up seeing all sorts of combinations of Williams, Stewart and Tolbert, and there could be all sorts of new plays. It sure beats the heck out of the old days in Carolina when variety in the backfield meant a draw play to Nick Goings.

3. The lineup at linebacker. When the Panthers drafted Kuechly, fans wondered what that meant for Beason. Kuechly played the middle in college, and the natural assumption was that he would do the same in the NFL. Kuechly might end up in the middle someday, but not while Beason is around.

Beason is a natural in the middle, and the Panthers aren’t going to move him. They’ll use Kuechly on the weak side. Davis’ comeback is a great story, but it almost certainly isn’t going to end with his return as a full-time starter. James Anderson will be the other starter. If the Panthers get anything out of Davis, it will be viewed as a bonus. At best, the Panthers plan to use Davis as a situational player in some nickel packages. They could resort to the 3-4 defense a little more often, but the 4-3 is going to remain their base defense.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

[+] EnlargeRyan Kalil
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneCenter Ryan Kalil took out a full-page ad in the Charlotte Observer, declaring fans will be rewarded for their support with a "one hundred-percent, sterling silver victory -- the Lombardi Trophy."
One of the biggest signs of optimism I’ve ever seen came a few days before camp when center Ryan Kalil took out a full-page ad in The Charlotte Observer, promising a Super Bowl victory this season. Let’s turn to Kalil for an explanation.

“The idea behind the letter wasn’t to spark anything with the team, but really to let the fans in on how the culture was changing here," Kalil said. “I think in recent years, the culture has been too much of, 'If the Panthers win, great. And, if not, nobody expects much from us.’ I think Ron Rivera came in here and the mindset has just changed. There’s a sense of urgency, and a winning attitude that I haven’t seen since I’ve been here. That was the idea behind the letter -- just to get the fans excited, because we haven’t given them a whole lot to cheer about in recent years, and they’ve been very supportive of us. They deserve a better team, and we’re going to give them years of better things to come."

I’ve gotten to know Kalil pretty well, and he’s not the kind of guy who would pull a stunt like this just for show. Kalil was used to winning at USC and, if he was willing to go out on a limb like this, he must feel pretty confident that what he’s seen in the offseason program is about to translate into something special.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

There’s no question the presence of Kuechly and Beason will make the linebackers better, and there’s no doubt Edwards will help the run defense. But, outside of Charles Johnson, where’s the pass rush? There was almost no pass rush outside of Johnson last season, and it’s not like the Panthers made any dramatic moves in that area this offseason.

Maybe this is the year Greg Hardy and Eric Norwood finally reach their potential, but it’s not as if they’ve had major flashes in the past. There’s been a little buzz in camp about Thomas Keiser. I’m not sure he’s ready to be a full-time starter, but he could be a situational player. The Panthers might have to make more active use of the blitz. If they don’t, then a secondary that’s not exceptionally talented could be in for another long season.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • The special teams were almost as big a problem as the defense last season. That’s why the jobs at punter and kicker are completely wide open. There are no favorites here. The Panthers are simply going to go through the preseason and see whether Olindo Mare or Justin Medlock kicks better. If Medlock emerges, the Panthers will be happy to swallow their pride after giving Mare a big contract last season. They just want consistency. It’s the same at punter, where the Panthers let Jason Baker go after last season. They invested a draft pick in Brad Nortman but went out and signed veteran Nick Harris. They’re not indebted to either.

  • Brandon LaFell pretty much has locked up the No. 2 wide receiver job opposite Steve Smith. But there’s a logjam of receivers after that. David Gettis, Louis Murphy and Seyi Ajirotutu seem to be competing for the No. 3 spot. But they might not all make the team. The Panthers also are high on younger receivers Kealoha Pilares, Joe Adams and Armanti Edwards, each of whom can contribute in the return game. Edwards, whom the Panthers drafted as a project in 2010, has shown some promise in camp but probably isn’t going to make the roster ahead of Adams and Pilares.

  • There was a lot of talk about competition at right tackle and left guard entering camp. But those competitions didn’t turn into much. The Panthers already were locked in on Byron Bell as their right tackle after he played so well there last season. They also seem fully prepared to go with rookie Amini Silatolu at left guard. Veterans Mike Pollak and Bruce Campbell were brought in, but the Panthers are viewing them as quality backups.

  • There’s been a buzz around camp about how well third-year quarterback Jimmy Clausen has played. Sad part is, it doesn’t really matter. Newton’s set as the franchise quarterback for at least the next decade, and Chudzinski has strong ties to veteran backup Derek Anderson. Clausen is stuck at No. 3. The Panthers might as well try to showcase him in the preseason games. If he really is playing that well, someone might be willing to trade a draft pick for him.

  • The Panthers brought in Haruki Nakamura as an alternative to Sherrod Martin at safety. The thinking was Nakamura, who was Ed Reed’s backup in Baltimore, could end up beating Martin out. As it turns out, the acquisition seems to have ignited a fire under Martin. He’s having a nice training camp, and it looks like he’ll hold onto the starting job if he can continue playing well through the preseason.
  • The Panthers aren't the slightest bit worried about Newton's running into "the sophomore slump." There is good reason for that. Newton had one of the best statistical seasons ever by a quarterback, and he did that coming out of a lockout during which he wasn't able to spend any offseason time with his coaches. Newton has had an entire offseason this year, and all indications are he spent as much time around the facility as possible. The Panthers fully believe Newton didn't even come close to hitting his full potential last season.

Around the NFC South

August, 10, 2012
8/10/12
9:38
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A look at the Friday morning headlines from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Coach Mike Smith said he had no update on middle linebacker Akeem Dent, who suffered an apparent head injury Thursday night. The Falcons may have to look for more depth at linebacker if Dent is going to be out for an extended period.

Dent’s injury came while he was on the punt coverage unit. Smith said he had no regrets about using a starter on special teams.

D. Orlando Ledbetter points out that the Falcons allowed the Ravens to rally with 24 unanswered points. That’s absolutely true, but it’s not as bad as it sounds. The first-team offense looked great and the first-team defense looked very good. The Falcons didn’t run into trouble until after they had pulled their starters.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Defensive end Eric Norwood enters his third NFL season with one career sack, but is expecting bigger things this season. The Panthers would love for that to happen because they want much more production from their defensive ends beyond Charles Johnson.

Jon Beason’s hamstring injury doesn’t sound too serious. He’s expected to miss Saturday’s preseason opener, but the Panthers are expected to start Jason Phillips at middle linebacker. If there was any threat of Beason being out at the start of the regular season, the Panthers quickly would slide Luke Kuechly into the middle. They’re not doing that. They’re keeping Kuechly on the weak side.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

A federal judge will hold another hearing Friday morning as New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma attempts to get a temporary restraining order that would halt his season-long suspension. It's unknown if the judge will issue a ruling immediately.

Rookie defensive tackle Akiem Hicks got his first game action and made the most of the opportunity. Hicks swatted down one pass on the line of scrimmage and put pressure on the quarterback that helped force an interception by Marquis Johnson.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Left tackle Donald Penn, who hasn’t practice this training camp due to a calf strain, will not play in Friday’s exhibition opener. Penn apparently is anxious to get back on the field. But coach Greg Schiano doesn’t seem to be in a rush. Schiano said he wants Penn in top physical condition before he returns. Getting Penn, who has been doing a lot of work on the side with the trainers, into the best physical shape of his career might be the smart approach. Penn is a big guy and, in the past, has often started fast, but faded as the season went on. Maybe getting him in top shape will keep him playing well all season. Demar Dotson has been getting all the first-team work in Penn's absence, so I wouldn't expect quarterback Josh Freeman to take a lot of deep drops while he's in Friday night's game.

Although it’s his first game as an NFL head coach, Schiano said he’s not excited about the preseason opener in Miami. That’s the way it should be. This is just a preseason game and Schiano has plenty of logistical issues to deal with. If he wants to get excited for the regular-season opener, that’s fine because that game will have some meaning.

Jordan Gross out for Panthers

December, 11, 2011
12/11/11
11:41
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Carolina Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross will not play Sunday against Atlanta.

Gross is sidelined with an ankle injury. Travelle Wharton will start in Gross’ place. MacKenzy Bernadeau will start at left guard, where Wharton usually plays.

Also inactive for the Panthers are quarterback Jimmy Clausen, cornerback Brandon Hogan, linebacker Jason Phillips, receiver Darvin Adams, linebacker Kion Wilson and defensive end Eric Norwood.

NFC South Week 2 decisive moment

September, 21, 2010
9/21/10
1:00
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» NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

With eight minutes and 20 seconds remaining in the second quarter, the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers were tied 7-7 Sunday at Bank of America Stadium. For just a second, it looked like Tampa Bay’s chances of starting 2-0 were in trouble, and it looked like the Panthers might have found a pass rush for the first time in the post Julius Peppers era.

For just a second.

Facing a third-and-17 from his 25-yard line, Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman made the decisive play of the week in the NFC South and probably the most impressive play of his career so far. By all rights, Freeman should have been sacked -- twice.

But the 6-foot-6, 248-pound Freeman shed individual tackle attempts by Charles Johnson and Eric Norwood and continued rolling to his right. When he finally was free, he squared his shoulders and threw a frozen rope down the sideline to tight end Kellen Winslow, who was well covered. But Freeman put the ball in the one spot where Winslow could get it and the tight end did.

On the next play, Freeman threw a touchdown pass and the Buccaneers took the lead for good.

Which NFC South rookies will start?

August, 18, 2010
8/18/10
12:20
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TAMPA, Fla. -- I’m sitting here looking at Tampa Bay’s unofficial depth chart for this week and it made me wonder how many rookies across the NFC South we’re going to see in the starting lineup in the opening week of the regular season.

Let’s take a look at the prospects for each team.

Tampa Bay: Currently, the Bucs list receiver Mike Williams and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy as starters. We’ve also got to include punter Brent Bowden. I think those three are set as starters, but the Bucs may have even more rookies in the lineup. Defensive tackle Brian Price fell behind a bit because of an injury, but he could vault ahead of Roy Miller. Second-round pick Arrelious Benn has come along a bit slower than Williams. He could move into the starting lineup at some point later in the season, but it looks like the Bucs will open the season with Reggie Brown, Sammie Stroughter or Maurice Stovall as their other receiver.

Carolina: Even though they are having a youth movement, there’s a chance the Panthers could open the season without a rookie in the starting lineup. Receiver Brandon LaFell is probably the best bet, even though the Panthers have been singing the praises of Dwayne Jarrett lately. Second-round pick Jimmy Clausen has been good in camp and was very good in the first preseason game, but the starting quarterback job still belongs to Matt Moore. Greg Hardy and Eric Norwood have had great camps, but probably will open the season as situational pass rushers.

Atlanta: It looks like first-round pick Sean Weatherspoon will start, but it still is unclear if he’ll be taking the spot of Stephan Nicholas or Mike Peterson. Third-round pick Corey Peters has a very real chance to be in the starting lineup, with defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux suspended for the opener and Peria Jerry coming back gradually from injury. At the very least, Peters is going to get significant playing time.

New Orleans: It’s looking like the Saints won’t have any rookies starting anytime soon. That’s not the mark of a bad draft. That’s the mark of general manager Mickey Loomis doing a nice job keeping the Super Bowl champions pretty much intact. You’ll probably see some of cornerback Patrick Robinson, offensive tackle Charles Brown and tight end Jimmy Graham as the season goes on.

Tuesday evening mailbag

August, 17, 2010
8/17/10
5:43
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JM in Charlotte writes: I haven't heard much regarding Everette Brown so far and he didn't register any stats against the Ravens. Have you heard anything about him? How's he coming along?

Pat Yasinskas: The Panthers have been very quiet about Brown, their top draft pick from a year ago. They’ve talked a lot about rookies Greg Hardy and Eric Norwood and I’ve heard some positive words about Charles Johnson. But I haven’t really heard that Brown is doing anything especially well or badly. He is a guy with good physical skills, so there still is time for him to emerge.

Adam in Columbia, SC writes: I saw Jake Delhomme's highlights and think that the Panthers may have done him a favor by letting him go. Delhomme had relied on Steve Smith for far too long to the point that he locked onto Smitty like a laser.

Pat Yasinskas: No argument here. As much as I enjoyed covering Delhomme and respect him as a person, the Panthers had to make a move at quarterback. There was no way they could have brought Delhomme back after last year because it would have sent a terrible sign to the rest of the locker room. The Panthers had to hand Delhomme the $12 million he was guaranteed and move forward with Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen.

A.J. in Charlotte writes: While I understand your argument to keep Ward in case Caddy has to go to the repair shop, I believe you are forgetting another proven veteran runner already on the team; Earnest Graham. We have at least 2 fullbacks (Pressley / Taylor) we can use if Caddy goes down and switch Graham to HB. Cut Ward, use Huggins, and if Caddy gets hurt switch in Graham.

Pat Yasinskas: I’m not arguing that the Bucs should keep Derrick Ward, who’s been nothing but a disappointment since his arrival. I’m just saying they may decide to keep him simply to have someone in place in case anything does happen to Williams. At least when he was with the Giants, Ward did some good things. I like Kareem Huggins a lot, but I’m not sure he’s ready or able to be a No. 2 back. He’s undersized and his role might be as more of a third-down back. Yes, the Bucs always could switch Graham back to tailback. But he’s pretty solid as a fullback and has spent the entire offseason working there. I think you only move him in an emergency.

Rick in Marietta, Ohio, writes: On the Derrick Ward front, should the Bucs decide to trade him. Does the NFL work like baseball and basketball, in that can they trade him and pay part of his salary?

Pat Yasinskas: No, if they trade him, the other team would have to take on his contract, which includes about $11.5 million remaining in base salaries. I can’t see another team taking on that salary for a guy who has disappeared like Ward. Plus, if there is interest in Ward, teams might want to see if he’s cut because they could then sign him to a new contract.
Jimmy Clausen looked very good at times in his NFL debut. Matt Moore looked mediocre at times.

Does that add up to a sudden quarterback controversy for the Carolina Panthers? Not just yet. I’ll explain why as we run through seven observations from Thursday night’s preseason game between the Panthers and Baltimore Ravens. By the way, for those who actually track preseason results, the final was Baltimore 17, Carolina 12.

1. Clausen looked very NFL ready, at least until the rain started. He made some nice throws and seemed to have a good sense of awareness. But let’s remember a few things. Clausen was playing against Baltimore’s backups and the Panthers pretty much decided Moore’s performance at the end of last season earned him the right to open this regular season as the starter. Clausen landed some jabs, but nothing close to a knockout punch.

2. Moore was far from horrible. He wasn’t spectacular, but he did some nice things. Something else to keep this in perspective -- Moore was playing against a very good Baltimore first-team defense. He also was doing it without receiver Steve Smith, right tackle Jeff Otah and running back Jonathan Stewart. All three are expected to be ready for the start of the regular season and they will make Moore a much better quarterback. Moore would have to absolutely bomb to lose the job now and he didn't do that.

3. What was the deal with Jordan Gross? The left tackle got called for three penalties in the first 12 minutes and that didn’t help Moore. I wouldn’t be too concerned with this and I doubt the Panthers are. Gross is one of the best left tackles in the league. He’s not going to have games like that in the regular season.

4. The pass rush is very much a work in progress. When it mattered with the first and second teams, the Panthers had stretches when they didn’t generate any pressure on Joe Flacco and Marc Bulger. But they also had a few flash plays where they did. The good news is veteran Tyler Brayton had two sacks on Flacco. The bad news is Brayton suffered some sort of ankle injury on his second sack. We don’t know the extent of that injury yet. The most encouraging news is rookies Greg Hardy and Eric Norwood showed some real flashes. If I’m John Fox, I let Brayton sit for most (or all) of the rest of the preseason. The Panthers know what they can get out of Brayton. They need to find out more about what they can get from Hardy, Norwood, Charles Johnson and Everette Brown.

5. Whoov? Like a lot of Carolina fans, I was more than a little concerned when the Panthers let fullback Brad Hoover go after last season. It was hard to find a fullback more dependable than Hoover. But I liked what I saw of replacement Anthony Fiammetta. He blocked well and looked good as a receiver out of the backfield.

6. Backup running back Tyrell Sutton had a few nice plays. But I wouldn’t go drafting him for your fantasy team. As long as DeAngelo Williams and Stewart are healthy, they’re going to get almost all of the carries. Besides, Sutton fumbled at the goal line and Fox isn’t big on giving the ball to guys who fumble.

7. Rookie Armanti Edwards will be a factor on offense, but not immediately. Jon Gruden and Ron Jaworski both talked about how the former college quarterback is adjusting to playing wide receiver and implied it might take until about midseason for him to have much of a role in the offense. That’s the exact word I got from the Carolina brass when I visited training camp. But don’t be surprised if Edwards is handling punt returns sooner than that. That’s a new task for Edwards, too. But he showed he can catch punts, even in the rain, and the guy has the dynamics to make things happen in the open field.

ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 22

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- In the kindest of terms, fans and media are referring to the Carolina Panthers as a team in a youth movement.

There’s some basis for that as they opened camp with the league’s third-youngest roster after saying farewell to popular veterans such as Julius Peppers, Jake Delhomme and Brad Hoover.

In the harshest of terms, fans and media have referred to those departures as a “bloodletting’’ and are talking about the Panthers as a team without an identity, a team that’s not going to be very good.

Now, let’s turn to two guys who beg to differ.

“How do you say we’re going through a youth movement, when we beat those teams late in the season using the same key components?’’ running back DeAngelo Williams said. “People can say what they want to say. But we know what it takes to win and we have what it takes to win.’’

“The way I look at it is, I like our core guys,’’ linebacker Jon Beason said. “I think we have a great nucleus. Now we’re looking for a few good men, a few young guys who are talented. For those young guys, it’s an opportunity to come in and do great things.’’

Maybe Beason and Williams have valid points. They’re two team leaders with a pretty good feel for the pulse of the locker room. They also have impressive résumés. Williams was one of two Carolina running backs (Jonathan Stewart was the other) to run for 1,100 yards last season. Scouts, coaches and players everywhere will tell you Beason is one of the best linebackers in the NFL.

Can you really call the Panthers a team without a face?

That’s kind of a difficult statement to make when you look at Carolina’s roster and see Beason and Williams. Then, keep looking and you see Stewart, left tackle Jordan Gross, center Ryan Kalil, right tackle Jeff Otah, receiver Steve Smith and cornerbacks Chris Gamble and Richard Marshall. Those are all guys the Panthers view as core players. Look around the league and see how many teams have that many core players in place.

“There are question marks, sure,’’ coach John Fox said. “Anytime you have question marks, the expectations on the outside might not be that high. But on the inside, we know we’ve got some very good core players and those core players are going to have to have big seasons.

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeMatt Moore
Sam Sharpe/US PresswireThe Panthers' confidence in quarterback Matt Moore appears to be growing.
1. Can this team win with Matt Moore as the quarterback? Let’s cut to the chase. This team already has won with Moore as the quarterback. Moore started the final five games of last season after Delhomme was injured. The Panthers won four of those games and Moore looked sharp the entire time.

Sure, that’s not the longest of track records and the Panthers did draft Jimmy Clausen in the second round. But this isn’t the Carolina camp of 2001, where the Panthers were kind of expecting Jeff Lewis to fail and to hand the job to rookie Chris Weinke.

Williams’ point about the youth movement taking place last year might be right. Moore won this job with his play down the stretch and, so far in camp, the team’s confidence in him is only growing.

“Matt Moore is a gamer,’’ Williams said. “When he mentally locks in, the game comes easy for him. All quarterbacks in the league are pretty much the same. They can all throw the ball or they wouldn’t be here. The thing that separates the good ones from the bad ones is decision making. Matt Moore can make decisions. Matt’s going to be fine.’’

Let’s keep one other thing in mind. With an excellent offensive line, two very good running backs and Smith at wide receiver, Moore has a pretty strong supporting cast. He doesn’t need to be Peyton Manning or Drew Brees. He just needs to keep mistakes to a minimum and the job can be his as long as he wants.

2. Can the defensive line be any good? For much of Fox’s tenure, the defensive line has been the foundation of the team. But Peppers was the last in a line of supernovas that used to include Mike Rucker, Kris Jenkins and Brentson Buckner. There are no current stars on this defensive front.

But Fox and the Panthers don’t appear to view that as a bad thing. They’re not expecting any single guy to come in and replace Peppers. They believe they can get quality out of quantity and are hoping the defensive front can attack in waves. They’ve got high hopes for Charles Johnson and Everette Brown, and rookies Eric Norwood and Greg Hardy have been very impressive in camp. They brought back Tyler Brayton for a bit of continuity, but they feel they’ve got some pass-rushers who can emerge.

They also have a better feeling about defensive tackles Louis Leonard, Tank Tyler and Ed Johnson than a lot of people realize. This might not be the traditional Fox defensive front with a huge run-stuffer in the middle and a big name on the outside. But, keep in mind, the Panthers brought in Ron Meeks as defensive coordinator last year and his system is based more on speed than power up front.

“We were eighth in the league in defense a year ago with a new scheme,’’ Fox said. “It’s kind of early to tell, but we should be better with our scheme the second time around.’’

[+] EnlargeJohn Fox
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonJohn Fox owns a 71-57 record in eight seasons with the Panthers.
3. Does all this talk about Fox being in the last year of his contract really make a difference? Not at all. Fox is a creature of habit and he’s going to coach the way he always has coached.

He’s a confident guy with a pretty solid résumé. He’s not losing sleep because he knows he can get another job if it comes to that. But he wants to make it work in Carolina, a place where his family has set down roots. Keep in mind, Fox never has had a truly bad season. There have been some disappointing years, but the record’s always been close to or above .500. He’s sometimes stumbled a bit when expectations were high, but he always has done his best job when people weren’t counting on much out of the Panthers.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Greg Hardy. The defensive end was a sixth-round draft pick because his college career didn’t end all that well. But the Panthers took a shot because they thought there was uncommon physical talent sitting out there late in the draft. So far, they feel as if they might have hit a home run. Hardy has looked great in camp. Coaches are noticing him and so are other players. There were some questions about Hardy’s ability to focus on football at the pro level. But so far, so good on that end. Brayton, Johnson and Brown are competing for the starting jobs, but Hardy appears to be carving out some playing time.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Dwayne Jarrett. As they’ve been doing for his entire career, the Panthers are hoping the light suddenly comes on for this wide receiver. He’s still running with the first team, but all indications are it’s just not happening for Jarrett. There’s still some work to be done and polish to be added, but the Panthers are starting to think rookie Brandon LaFell is their best option at the starting position opposite Smith. Jarrett basically is fighting for a roster spot at this point. The fact he’s still making mental mistakes this far into his career means there’s a good chance he’s gone before the preseason is over.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Clausen
Sam Sharpe/US PresswireCarolina has been pleased with how Jimmy Clausen has looked in the early part of camp.
OBSERVATION DECK

  • As mentioned above, the Panthers are singing Moore’s praises and that’s all very legitimate. But behind the scenes, the Panthers also are thrilled with what they’ve seen from Clausen. His physical skills and mechanics are as solid as expected and Clausen’s doing everything right on and off the field. There’s not a sense of urgency to play him because Moore has looked so solid. But the Panthers believe they got a steal when they took Clausen in the second round.
  • There’s been a lot of hype about third-round draft pick Armanti Edwards. Understandable because he was a college quarterback and came from Appalachian State, which automatically makes him popular in the Carolinas. The Panthers aren’t disappointed with Edwards by any means, but the reality is he’s just feeling his way as a receiver and a return man. Don’t look for him to be a huge contributor instantly. There’s big upside here because Edwards is so dynamic and he might be in a few packages early on. But it’s going to take some time for him to become a staple in this offense.
  • The Panthers let go of Keydrick Vincent, who played every snap at right guard last season, for a reason. He was older and they had Duke Robinson waiting in the wings. Coaches, players and the front office believe Robinson can be a punishing run-blocker. Put him on the right side with Otah and the Panthers believe that side of the line can be just as good as the left, where Gross and Travelle Wharton are outstanding.
  • If you’re looking for a long shot to make the roster, I’ll throw out Trent Guy’s name. This is a tiny wide receiver, but every time I looked up during my visit to Wofford College, Guy seemed to be making a play. He’s got rare speed and good hands, and also could be a factor in the return game.
  • Thomas Davis, who had major knee surgery in June, has been hanging around at camp and working hard at his rehab. The Panthers haven’t ruled out a possible return for him later this season, but I don't see that happening for a guy who has torn his ACL twice in less than a year. The Panthers wouldn’t have moved Beason from the middle to the weak side unless they thought he’d stay there for the long haul. At the moment, they’re happy with what they’ve seen from Dan Connor in the middle and James Anderson on the strong side. That better stay that way because, aside from Jamar Williams, there’s no real depth at linebacker.
  • A lot of people have questioned why the Panthers would take Beason out of the middle where he’s been such a dominant player. The answer is simple. Under Meeks, the Panthers run the “Tampa 2’’ defense. In that scheme, everything goes through the Will linebacker. Think Derrick Brooks.

Panthers sign another rookie

June, 23, 2010
6/23/10
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The Panthers just announced they have signed fourth-round draft pick Eric Norwood.

The Panthers now have seven of their 10 draft picks signed. Norwood, who played some defensive end in college, has been working at outside linebacker since joining the Panthers.

Hitting the NFC South links

June, 14, 2010
6/14/10
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Tampa Bay tight end Kellen Winslow showed up for Monday’s workout. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who had a minor hip injury, also was back at work.

Here’s a scouting report on Atlanta rookie linebacker Sean Weatherspoon.

The New Orleans Saints are back at practice this morning.

Here’s a look at the reunion of former college teammates Captain Munnerlyn and Eric Norwood as members of the Carolina Panthers.

History has shown the next season isn’t always kind to the Super Bowl champions. Jeff Duncan has a look at some of the distractions that already have popped up in New Orleans.

On the radar: Jamar Williams

June, 10, 2010
6/10/10
1:00
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» NFC On the Radar: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.

As recently as a couple of days ago, Jamar Williams looked like a backup linebacker and special-teams player for the Carolina Panthers. Now, he could be a starter.

[+] EnlargeJamar Williams
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJamar Williams has a chance to earn a starting role with the Panthers.
Williams seemed almost like a throw-in (a body to complete the deal) when the Panthers traded away safety Chris Harris to the Chicago Bears. But, as of today, Williams is looking like a possible starter at weakside linebacker.

With Thomas Davis suffering his second torn ACL in less than a year, the Panthers suddenly are looking for a starter and Williams may be their safest option. Although rookie Eric Norwood and some other young players could be factors, Williams is the most experienced of the candidates to replace Davis.

He’s only 25, but Williams spent four seasons with the Bears. He has started only three games in his career, but he was the top backup to Lance Briggs and got a lot of playing time, making 43 tackles. At 6-foot and 237 pounds, Williams fits Carolina’s profile of linebackers who aren’t huge, but can run.

Williams has shown the ability to cover tight ends and running backs in the passing game. He may not be a playmaker like Davis, but Williams remains a bit of an unknown and there could be an upside. Briggs prevented Williams from really getting a chance in Chicago.

But Davis’ injury is going to give Williams a chance to raise his profile in Carolina.

Previewing Panthers' minicamp

April, 28, 2010
4/28/10
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I'll be heading to Charlotte for this weekend's minicamp with the Panthers. It's going to be a little bit of a strange atmosphere up there because, for a change, the Panthers won't be the biggest story in Charlotte.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Clausen
Matt Cashore/US PresswireHow Jimmy Clausen fits in with teammates could have a bearing on the QB competition in Charlotte.
Tiger Woods is in town. He's playing in a pro-am today that also features Carolina coach John Fox, who by all accounts, can swing the sticks pretty well. But I still think Jimmy Clausen's going to get his share of attention this weekend.

Here are five things I'll be paying particular attention to at Carolina's minicamp:

1. Clausen. Although he fell to the second round, Clausen's still the biggest-name quarterback to come to the Panthers since Chris Weinke. All right, that's not exactly a flattering comparison. But Clausen comes with a lot of hype and it won't just be the media watching his every move. If this guy's going to have a shot to beat out Matt Moore from the start, he's going to have to fit in the locker room. Clausen's got a reputation for being selfish. Moore's very well liked in that locker room. Besides showing passing skills, Clausen needs to show some humility.

2. Jon Beason. This guy's been a leader since about the second game of his rookie year. It just comes naturally to Beason. But I'm expecting to see him step forward even more and officially claim this team as his own. Julius Peppers never was a leader, but some people were hesitant to do anything that might give the appearance of stepping on his toes. Safety Chris Harris, who was traded to Chicago on Tuesday, was a bit of a vocal leader on the defense, even if he wasn't the best player. Now, it's clear, Beason is the best player on the defense and a vocal leader. He's free to lead with everything he's got. It's his team and his time.

3. The wide receivers beyond Steve Smith. I'm sure we'll get some of the same old talk about how this will be the year Dwayne Jarrett finally breaks out. It could happen. But the Panthers aren't counting on that. That's why they drafted Brandon LaFell and Armanti Edwards. It's going to be hard to judge their readiness in a three-day minicamp, but I'm hoping Fox breaks his tradition of bringing rookie receivers along slowly. He needs to take a chance and turn these guys loose from the start.

4. The competition at strongside linebacker. The departure of former starter Na'il Diggs really wasn't that big a deal. He was pretty ordinary. But the Panthers are having an open competition to replace him. They've got James Anderson, Dan Connor, rookie Eric Norwood and Jamar Williams, who came over in the Harris trade. They're going to throw them all out there and see who rises up.

5. The defensive ends. Peppers is gone and someone's got to step up. I've only seen quick glimpses of Everette Brown in games last season and last year's training camp. Brown is the guy the Panthers drafted last year to eventually replace Peppers. Now is the time for him to step up.

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