NFC South: Larry Johnson

At a dinner for his charitable foundation a few weeks ago, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton talked about how he wants to embrace Charlotte.

Newton
Newton
As a rookie last season, Newton spoke to the media only when required and kept a low profile. He even caused a bit of a panic among fans when he made some comments that implied he was too big for a small market.

But it looks like Newton is putting down roots in the Queen City. In addition to getting more active in the community with his foundation, Newton has found a home.

He recently bought a $1.6 million condo in Uptown Charlotte. One of his neighbors will be basketball Hall of Famer Michael Jordan, who now owns the Charlotte Bobcats. Given the fact that the Bobcats had one of the worst seasons in NBA history and are drawing all sorts of criticism, Newton might be the most popular resident in his building.

Charlotte never has had a true national sports superstar. Julius Peppers was big, but he never embraced the community. Larry Johnson was a big deal when the basketball team in town was the Hornets. Steve Smith is a big deal and has spent his entire career with the Panthers. Sam Mills, Kevin Greene and Reggie White were big names, but they joined the Panthers at the end of their careers.

Newton has one big advantage on all of them. He’s a quarterback and that means an automatic spotlight. Kerry Collins had that once, but squandered it and lasted less than four seasons with the Panthers. If Newton continues to build on his rookie season and embraces Charlotte, then the city will embrace him. Newton has a chance to be the biggest thing ever in Charlotte, even bigger than Jordan.

Uncertainty on Turner's injury

November, 15, 2009
11/15/09
4:51
PM ET
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There was no definitive news after Sunday’s game on Atlanta running back Michael Turner's injured ankle.

Turner
“They still have to look it some more,’’ Turner said. “They don’t even know yet. We’ve got a long bus ride home.’’

Turner walked out of the Atlanta locker room wearing a boot on his right ankle. Atlanta coach Mike Smith said the team’s medical staff will take a closer look at Turner’s ankle Monday.

With Turner out, backup Jason Snelling had to play almost the entire second half. Jerious Norwood, who began the season as the primary backup, was not active Sunday because of an injury.

Team officials didn’t want to speculate on what might happen if it’s determined Turner will be out for a long period. But they indicated there is some hope Norwood could return to action soon.

One scenario that’s sure to be floated by fans is the possibility of the Falcons pursuing Larry Johnson, who was waived by the Kansas City Chiefs last week. But don’t count on that one.

“Not at this time,’’ general manager Thomas Dimitroff said, when asked if the Falcons were pursuing Johnson.

Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Tag Ribary

Coming off a disappointing 2007 where they ranked 16th in team defense and an offseason where they traded away massive defensive tackle Kris Jenkins and did not replace him through free agency or the draft, it's easy to see why there were concerns about the defense heading into the 2008 season.

But so far, the Panthers are doing just fine. They've faced some of the best running backs in the league -- LaDainian Tomlinson, Matt Forte, Adrian Peterson, Michael Turner and Larry Johnson -- and have yet to allow a 100-yard rusher. They now rank third in rushing defense and fourth in overall defense.

Sometimes simple is better. Offseason changes to the Panthers scheme has allowed the players to play faster and think less.

Up front, the linemen are slanting more often and showing better quickness into gaps to take away an offense's blocking angles. With good first-step quickness upfield, the Panthers are disrupting offensive blocking schemes with penetration and taking away an offensive lineman's ability to create leverage or power out of his stance. By beating them to the spot, the defense can play on the other side of the line and make it easier for the linebackers to read and fill from the second level

Good pad level and technique are always essential for good defensive line play and the Panthers are getting this consistently with their current strategy and techniques. They also are showing better range and giving extra effort to chase to the sideline or from the backside.

The linebackers are benefiting from dealing with less contact because the defensive line is taking away angles and forcing offensive linemen to engage them first. The linebackers can flow aggressively to the ball without having to analyze a ton of assignment adjustments when the offense shifts strengths, empties the backfield or incorporates a lot of motion before the snap. Some schemes have major adjustments for linebackers to process and communicate to others on the field, which can put as much of a premium on their mental ability as their athletic ability.

Obviously all of this has to happen quickly and cohesively to work. But it's working well in Carolina. Just ask those big name running backs that have been stuffed this season.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.

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