NFC South: Richie Brockel

Panthers Camp Report: Day 14

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
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SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Carolina Panthers training camp from Wofford College:
  • Twenty years ago, for Carolina's inaugural trip to Wofford College for camp, there were 10 consecutive days when the temperature topped 100 degrees. It was an issue. This year it's the lack of heat that concerns coach Ron Rivera. He would have liked a few more hot, humid days to prepare Carolina for what it will face in the opener at Tampa Bay. Many days have been in the 70s. One practice was so cool that Rivera had to wear a jacket. So when the humidity rose toward the end of Monday's practice, you could see players wear down and the intensity decline. Rivera spent longer than normal talking to the team afterwards, reminding "you've got to fight it because that's probably what we're going to face when we go to Tampa Bay.''
  • Tight end/fullback Richie Brockel demonstrated why he will make the final roster during one-on-one drills with the linebackers. First he handled outside linebacker Thomas Davis and then he held his own against linebacker Chase Blackburn. Rivera said Brockel demonstrates the kind of toughness he wants to see from all his players. "It transfers to the rest of the team,'' he said. Brockel jokingly said he volunteered to play defense.
  • Rivera says he hasn't settled on a starting offensive line, but it appears set with Byron Bell at left tackle, Amini Silatolu at left guard, Ryan Kalil at center, Trai Turner at right guard and Nate Chandler at right tackle. The position of most concern entering camp was left tackle. Bell started the preseason opener and was there again for Monday's practice in full pads. He left at one point with a minor issue with patella tendinitis, but Rivera insisted that won't keep him out of a game. Garry Williams finished at left tackle and likely will give relief to both tackles when the season begins.
  • Undrafted rookie running back Darrin Reaves left practice with a knee injury and likely will be held out the next few days. He's impressed with his toughness and hard-nosed running, in some ways more than Kenjon Barner. Also out were defensive end Charles Johnson (hamstring), defensive end Mario Addison (flu), defensive end Kony Ealy (foot) and offensive lineman Derek Dennis (flu).
  • Wide receivers Tiquan Underwood, Brenton Bersin and Tavarres King began one segment of team drills so the coaches could get an idea of what they can do with quarterback Cam Newton. The staff is looking for a few receivers to consistently step up after the top three of Kelvin Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant. Underwood, signed as a free agent, looked good with a catch on the first play. Then he dropped the second pass that hit him in the numbers. If you were setting the 53-man roster today, he'd be around 54 or 55.
  • The Panthers practice at 9:25 a.m. ET on Tuesday, the final session of camp in Spartanburg before returning to Charlotte, N.C., for the rest of the preseason.

Panthers Camp Report: Day 3

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
7:15
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SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Carolina Panthers training camp from Wofford College:
  • If you were looking for something definitive at the left tackle position after the first practice in pads, sorry. Byron Bell and Nate Chandler both got opportunities there and both did well in giving quarterback Cam Newton time to throw. Bell started off on the left side during 7-on-7 drills and Chandler began team drills there. In one-on-one drills Chandler did a nice job of taking defensive end Charles Johnson to the ground once. The Panthers will continue to use both players there for the next few weeks as they look to replace retired Jordan Gross, who has lost so much weight he could play tight end or wide receiver. Coach Ron Rivera wants to make a decision on the starter after the second preseason game. The Panthers will face some good pass-rushers in Buffalo end Mario Williams and Kansas City linebackers Justin Houston and Dee Ford from a 3-4 set. Williams had 4.5 sacks in Week 2 against Carolina last season with most coming against Bell playing right tackle. Stay tuned. Too close to call, but both are showing potential.
  • Tight end Greg Olsen was wide open on a touchdown catch down the left sideline. Tight end Ed Dickson made a diving catch on a slant pattern. Tight end Brandon Williams made a nice over-the-shoulder catch deep in traffic. Tight end Mike McNeill made a tough catch in traffic over the middle. Tight end D.C. Jefferson made a solid catch in stride about 25 yards deep. Notice a theme here? The Panthers have more than enough choices to complement Olsen as they go to a two-tight end set. It's a luxury they haven't had since Jeremy Shockey was here in 2011. And I haven't mentioned Richie Brockel, who is listed as a TE/FB. The team kept four tight ends last season, and Rivera says there is a scenario where it could keep five this year. This definitely softens the blow of losing the top four wide receivers from last season.
  • Rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin made an acrobatic, twisting catch on a high pass from Cam Newton on the first play of 7-on-7 drills. He snagged a somewhat high bullet over the middle on the first play of team drills. He caught a nice out pattern on the first series of another team session. In other words, the 28th pick of the draft is becoming quite comfortable with Newton in a hurry. A lot of this may have to do with the two staying in Charlotte, North Carolina, to work out together while the team was off from June 19 through last Thursday. If they continue to develop this chemistry people may forget Steve Smith, the team's all-time leading receiver who was cut during the offseason.
  • Philly Brown went to the ground and did what appeared to be 20 pushups after having a punt bounce off his chest early in practice. There were drops by a few other returners as the Panthers attempt to replace Ted Ginn Jr., who signed with Arizona in free agency. Don't think Rivera didn't notice it. "The thing we have to understand is first and foremost we have to catch the ball. I could care less if we fair catch it every time, but we've got to catch it.'' The leader in the clubhouse for the job might be Antoine Cason, who returned punts at San Diego while Rivera was there. It's interesting that speedster Tiquan Underwood hasn't been given a chance there yet, but Rivera said others could be added to the mix that so far includes Cason, Kenjon Barner and Brown. Bottom line, the Panthers will miss Ginn much more here more than they will at receiver.
  • Carolina holds its first morning practice on Monday after two night practices and a 3:10 p.m. session. Sunday's workout was somewhat sloppy, and Rivera reminded players of that afterwards, telling them he "expected a better practice tomorrow.''
Plethora isn't a word you hear every day at an NFL practice, but it was appropriate the way Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera used it on Wednesday.

"This year we have a plethora of veteran tight ends to the point we didn't bring in anybody who was a rookie," Rivera said.

The Panthers have six tight ends, to be exact.

[+] EnlargeDickson
Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsThe Panthers will likely rely on former Ravens tight end Ed Dickson for production in the passing game.
They have a combined 20 years of experience.

By definition, plethora means "an amount that is much greater than what is necessary." And while six may seem excessive, it really isn't considering the Panthers are going to use a lot more two-tight end sets than they did the past two seasons.

"With an extra tight end in the game you can do so many different things," Rivera said. "Depending on who the tight end is, you can line up as a fullback, as another wide receiver or as a wing tight end. It's going to give us a lot more versatility."

The Panthers kept three tight ends on their 53-man roster a year ago in Greg Olsen, Ben Hartsock and Brandon Williams -- four when you count Richie Brockel, who plays fullback and tight end.

They could keep as many as five this season between Olsen, Ed Dickson, Williams, Mike McNeill, D.C. Jefferson and Brockel.

Olsen, going into his eighth season out of Miami, is a given. He led the team in receptions last season with 73 for 816 yards and six touchdowns. He's in his prime.

But the only other tight end to catch a pass in 2013 was Brockel, and he had one catch for 12 yards.

That will change with the addition of Dickson, a fifth-year player who caught 25 passes last season and 54 three years ago for the Baltimore Ravens. His presence in routes during offseason workouts has been noticeable.

The Panthers also expect more from Williams, a former basketball player at Portland Bible College who surprised many when he made the final roster a year ago. Athletically, at 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, he's drawn comparisons to Denver tight end Julius Thomas.

McNeill was brought in as a free agent from St. Louis to be a blocker. The Panthers believe he is an upgrade from Hartsock, who was not re-signed.

The long shot to make the roster is Jefferson, a seventh-round pick by Arizona in 2013.

But it's clear the Panthers plan to use the tight end more and get back to the way they were in 2011, when they had Olsen and Jeremy Shockey during quarterback Cam Newton's rookie season.

Newton completed 310 of 517 passes for an NFL-rookie-record 4,051 yards and 21 touchdowns that season. Eighty-two of those for 955 yards and nine touchdowns went to Olsen and Shockey.

Having two tight ends in the game also gives Newton more protection with a revamped offensive line and more flexibility to run with an extra blocker.

"It's a personnel group I believe in," Rivera said. "It poses a lot of problems for your opponents."

Too bad he didn't say plethora of problems.
The Carolina Panthers secured two of their own free agents Monday in an attempt to shore up the running game.

Offensive lineman Garry Williams, scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, signed a one-year deal. Tight end/fullback Richie Brockel, a restricted free agent, got a two-year deal.

Williams could figure into Carolina's plans at guard and tackle. He was the starter at right guard entering last season but suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener against Seattle.

He has 21 starts since signing as an undrafted free agent from Kentucky in 2009. His presence at right guard gives Carolina more flexibility if it chooses to give Nate Chandler, who was working at tackle before becoming the regular at right guard due to injuries, a shot at replacing left tackle Jordan Gross.

Williams also has started 13 games at right tackle, so he could figure into the mix there if the Panthers choose to move starter Byron Bell into Gross' spot.

Coach Ron Rivera said at Gross' recent retirement news conference that Bell and Chandler could be in the mix.

Bell also is a restricted free agent, so look for an announcement on him before free agency begins at 4 p.m. ET Tuesday.

Brockel is a big contributor on special teams as well as a factor in the running game when Carolina brings in a second tight end or fullback for blocking.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The text arrived at 5:08 p.m. on Monday. It said: "My wife. 'Sooooooo, how long is this thing going to be around?' So who's the winner?''

Carolina Panthers center Ryan Kalil was kind -- or mischievous -- enough to share the message he and other teammates got from left tackle Jordan Gross.

Those who were on the team bus two weeks ago when members of the offensive line decided to grow playoff beards apparently made a lunch bet on when Dana Gross would suggest that her husband's attempt might need to go.

Guard Geoff Hangartner didn't believe it would last a week. He had Nov. 30. Tackle Byron Bell had Dec. 2. Kalil had Dec. 3. Tight end Richie Brockel had Dec. 4. Linebacker Jordan Senn had Dec. 6. Quarterback Cam Newton had Dec. 7, 8 and 9.

[+] EnlargeJordan Gross
AP Photo/Mike McCarnJordan Gross' beard, such as it is, has been a source of enjoyment for his Panthers teammates.
If it went past Dec. 10, Gross won.

It didn't come close.

Bell won.

Teams in sports often grow beards as a sign of unity. The Boston Red Sox rode them all the way to the World Series. In 2010, the San Francisco Giants created a "Fear the Beard'' phenomenon en route to a World Series title. The New York Islanders started a long-standing tradition of playoff beards in hockey in the early 1980s, when they traded their razors for four Stanley Cups. It's been a tradition since way before there was a "Duck Dynasty."

But what makes Gross' adventure in facial hair unique is this is his first. He's tried to grow beards before, but they'd get so splotchy -- or "crusty," as he and his teammates like to say -- that he'd shave before it had a whisker of a chance to fill in.

This two-week growth might be evidence that it never will happen.

"I can't grow facial hair and these guys all have beards, and so they told me I need to grow my hair and a beard for the playoffs,'' Gross said as the 9-3 Panthers were preparing for a Sunday night NFC South showdown against the 9-3 New Orleans Saints.

"So, being the team guy I am, I said, 'Sure, I'll be the brunt of all your jokes.'"

Trust me, there have been jokes. Many have come from Gross, who doesn't mind making fun of himself.

But it's obvious Gross never will have a beard in the same class as Kalil, who would look like the Santa Claus in the 1994 remake of "Miracle on 34th Street'' if you dyed his thick, black hair white.

"When this started I said, 'Kalil, what are you doing [for this unity]?'" Gross said. "He said, 'I'm growing my beard longer.' I said, 'Oh, that's real daring. A thick beard to a long beard.'

"So he's growing his beard longer, and I have to grow a whole crusty beard with big spots in it."

A few of Gross' teammates declined to talk about his beard. Running back DeAngelo Williams said, "I've already let him know what I think of his beard. We've had that conversation."

It didn't sound like he was a fan.

Kalil apparently is a beard aficionado, having read a book about the advantages of having a beard, a book he shared with Jordan.

"There's actually scientific benefits," Kalil said. "They protect you from UV rays. It's a natural filter to any carcinogens in the air."

It also collects food if you're a messy eater.

As for Gross' beard, Kalil said, "It's all genetics-based, so it's not an effort on his part. But I respect the commitment to it."

Gross laughed. He's just glad the Panthers are good enough this season to warrant a playoff beard.

"I'm not afraid to look crusty if it makes the guys happy and boosts the team spirit," he said.

Then he walked away.

Then Kalil got a devilish look in his eyes and shared the text.

"He's probably going to be upset I told you this," he said. "But it's going to be hilarious."

Ranking the needs: Tight ends

April, 22, 2013
4/22/13
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With the NFL draft approaching, I’m going to kick off a series in which I rank the team needs at each position group. We’ll start with the tight ends.

The earlier the ranking, the greater the need.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: If the season started today, they’d be in big trouble at tight end. Dallas Clark, last year’s starter, remains an unsigned free agent. Luke Stocker isn’t suddenly going to turn into a stud. I think there’s a very good chance Tampa Bay tries to get a tight end fairly early in the draft. If that doesn’t happen, the Bucs might have to bring back Clark or find some other veteran.

Atlanta Falcons: Tony Gonzalez is back for one more year (at least). There’s a school of thought that the Falcons should draft a tight end early and use this year to groom him. That might not be a bad idea. But I think the Falcons have more pressing needs. They’re in a win-now mode and they’ll probably be in a similar situation next season. It’s not an absolute necessity for them to get a tight end now.

Carolina Panthers: There’s no need for the Panthers to consider drafting a tight end early because Greg Olsen is firmly entrenched as the starter. Carolina could look for some depth to go with Ben Hartsock and Richie Brockel later in the draft.

New Orleans Saints: I can’t see the Saints drafting a tight end because it’s one of their strongest positions with Jimmy Graham and Benjamin Watson in place.

Reviewing NFC South free agents

March, 7, 2013
3/07/13
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We’ve shown you the lists of potential NFC South free agents before. But let’s do it again because there have been some minor moves and the free-agency period is getting ready to start Tuesday.

Here’s the list of potential free agents for all four NFC South teams:

Atlanta Falcons. Tony Gonzalez, Brent Grimes, Sam Baker, William Moore, Will Svitek, Mike Cox, Todd McClure, Luke McCown, Christopher Owens, Mike Peterson, Garrett Reynolds, Lawrence Sidbury and Vance Walker all can become unrestricted free agents. Michael Palmer can become a restricted free agent.

Carolina Panthers. The potential unrestricted free agents are Derek Anderson, Antwan Applewhite, Gary Barnidge, Dwan Edwards, Ben Hartsock, Sherrod Martin, Captain Munnerlyn, Louis Murphy and Mike Pollak. Richie Brockel can become an exclusive-rights free agent. Andre Neblett, Nate Ness and Jason Phillips are scheduled to become restricted free agents.

New Orleans Saints. Jermon Bushrod, Jonathan Casillas, Chase Daniel, Sedrick Ellis, Devery Henderson, Ramon Humber, Elbert Mack, Turk McBride, Will Robinson, Courtney Roby and Scott Shanle can become unrestricted free agents. Brian De La Puente, Justin Drescher, Junior Galette and Chris Ivory are scheduled to become restricted free agents. Eric Olsen and Michael Higgins can become exclusive-rights free agents.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Ronde Barber, Dallas Clark, Michael Bennett, E.J. Biggers, Andrew Economos, Roy Miller, Roscoe Parrish, Sammie Stroughter and Jeremy Trueblood can become unrestricted free agents. LeGarrette Blount, Jacob Cutrera, Corvey Irvin and Daniel Te’o-Nesheim are scheduled to become restricted free agents.

Looking at Carolina's free agents

February, 11, 2013
2/11/13
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Let’s continue our look at the NFC South’s potential free agents with the Carolina Panthers.

The bad news is the Panthers don’t have the salary-cap room to re-sign many of their own free agents. The good news is it’s unlikely they’ll have a strong desire to keep many of those guys.

Their potential unrestricted free agents are quarterback Derek Anderson, defensive end Antwan Applewhite, tight end Gary Barnidge, defensive tackle Dwan Edwards, tight end Ben Hartsock, safety Sherrod Martin, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, receiver Louis Murphy, guard Mike Pollak and linebacker Jordan Senn. Fullback/tight end Richie Brockel can become an exclusive-rights frree agent and defensive tackle Andre Neblett, safety Nate Ness and linebacker Jason Phillips are scheduled to become restricted free agents.

There’s not a single name on that list that the Panthers have to keep, although there are several role players that could have increased because the team is going to have to part with several veteran starters to get under the salary cap.

Applewhite, Edwards and Munnerlyn are likely to be the top targets for retention. But Munnerlyn, who the Panthers prefer to use only against slot receivers, believes he can be an every-down corner and may try to find a team that will use him as a full-time starter.

Martin is a former starter, but his career might be better off with a fresh start elsewhere. Anderson has been a veteran backup for Cam Newton the last two years, but I don’t think re-signing him is a high priority. The Panthers also have Jimmy Clausen under contract and, by now, he should know the offense as well as Anderson.

Panthers give tenders to two

March, 10, 2012
3/10/12
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The Carolina Panthers have placed tenders on two of their exclusive-rights free agents.

Cornerback R.J. Stanford has been tendered at $540,000 and tight end Richie Brockel at $465,000.

The Panthers have not placed tenders on restricted free agents Geoff Schwartz, Jason Phillips, Seyi Ajirotutu, or exclusive-rights free agent Thomas Williams. Theoretically, they still could tender any of those players, but it’s not likely.

Panthers: First look at free agency

January, 31, 2012
1/31/12
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Let’s continue our NFC South look ahead to free agency with the Carolina Panthers.

We'll take a look at Carolina’s potential free agents. They’re all unrestricted unless noted as restricted free agents or exclusive-rights free agents.

Quarterback Derek Anderson, linebacker/defensive lineman Antwan Applewhite, offensive lineman Mackenzy Bernadeau, linebacker Dan Connor, linebacker Omar Gaither, cornerback Cletis Gordon, offensive lineman Geoff Hangartner, long-snapper J.J. Jansen, receiver Legedu Naanee, linebacker Jordan Senn, tight end Jeremy Shockey, receiver Seyi Ajirotutu (exclusive rights), tight end Richie Brockel (exclusive rights), cornerback R.J. Stanford (exclusive rights), linebacker Thomas Williams (exclusive rights), linebacker Jason Phillips (restricted) and guard Geoff Schwartz (restricted).

There’s not a single guy on that list that the Panthers absolutely have to have back. That's good because the Panthers are going to be tight against the salary cap. But there are several players they’re likely to have interest in retaining at the right price. They liked what Senn and Applewhite showed in 2011. Shockey seemed to fit well in tandem with Greg Olsen and could return for a one-year contract. The offensive line is in pretty good shape, but the Panthers likely will keep either Schwartz or Hangartner as a starting guard.

Tony Gonzalez still going strong

January, 30, 2012
1/30/12
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Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez might be the oldest tight end in the NFC South, but he also got way more playing time than anyone else at the position in 2011.

Gonzalez, who will turn 36 in February, played more snaps than all of the younger tight ends in a division that suddenly has become known for its tight ends.

Gonzalez was on the field for 952 of Atlanta’s 1,157 offensive snaps. That’s 84.5 percent and it was good enough to rank Gonzalez No. 10 among all NFL tight ends. Dallas’ Jason Witten took part in a league-high 99.2 percent of his team’s offensive snaps, but New England’s Rob Gronkowski led in total plays on the field (1,092) because the Patriots had more offensive plays than the Cowboys.

Gonzalez finished the season with 80 catches for 875 yards and seven touchdowns. Shortly before the season ended, Gonzalez assured he will play at least one more season by agreeing to a one-year contract extension worth about $7 million.

In Sunday’s Pro Bowl, Gonzalez made a game-high seven catches for 114 yards. His receiving yards were the most for any tight end in the game.

Carolina’s Greg Olsen was the division’s second-most-used tight end during the regular season. Olsen was on the field for 866 of the Panthers’ 1,046 offensive snaps (82.8 percent and No. 12 in the NFL).

Tampa Bay’s Kellen Winslow participated in 822 of the Buccaneers’ 1,021 offensive snaps. That’s 80.5 percent and ranked No. 14 in the NFL.

Of the NFC South’s four regular starting tight ends, New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham took part in the fewest number of plays. Graham led all division tight ends with 99 catches for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns and was selected as the NFC’s starter in the Pro Bowl.

But the Saints use such a variety of offensive personnel that Graham’s time on the field was relatively limited. He took part in 798 of 1,152 offensive plays (69.3 percent and No. 24 in the NFL).

The Panthers used a combination of Olsen and Jeremy Shockey, who ended up taking part in 51.1 percent of Carolina’s plays.

Here’s a list of other NFC South backup tight ends and the percentage of playing time they got in 2011:

Inactives for Panthers and Redskins

October, 23, 2011
10/23/11
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CHARLOTTE -- The Panthers and Redskins just announced their inactives for Sunday’s game.

For Carolina, quarterback Jimmy Clausen, safety Jordan Pugh, running back Mike Goodson, tight end Richie Brockel, linebacker Omar Gaither, tackle Lee Ziemba and defensive tackle Frank Kearse are inactive.

For Washington, receiver Donte Stallworth, safety Oshiomogo Atogwe, cornerback Byron Westbrook, tight end Chris Cooley, linebacker Markus White, tackle Trent Williams and defensive lineman Darrion Scott.

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