NFC South: Ryan Kalil

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Signing Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen to a three-year extension on Thursday was the first of several anticipated extensions or renegotiations for the Carolina Panthers.

Next up in the extension department should be outside linebacker Thomas Davis or center Ryan Kalil, followed by a long-term deal for quarterback Cam Newton.

In the renegotiation category, look for something to happen with defensive end Charles Johnson.

The Panthers currently are $16.4 million under the salary cap. They’ll add another $2 million to that when they officially release running back DeAngelo Williams with a post-June 1 designation sometime after the new league year begins on Tuesday at 4 p.m.

Here’s a look at the contract status of the above names and how extensions or renegotiations could increase that number:
  • Thomas Davis: He’s set to count $9 million against the 2015 cap in the last year of his contract. Although he'll be 32 on March 22, he’s playing the best football of his career and believes his career has been extended by not playing while recovering from three ACL surgeries. He’s a valued leader on and off the field. Extending his deal to lessen the impact on this year’s cap seems like a no-brainer.
  • Ryan Kalil: He’s set to count $11.7 million against this season’s cap. He restructured last year to reduce his cap hit and might be willing to do so again to give general manager Dave Gettleman more room to improve the roster.
  • Cam Newton: There’s really no hurry on either side to get a long-term deal done. Newton’s representatives want to see what Seattle’s Russell Wilson gets, which will set the new market for quarterbacks. The Panthers know they can use the franchise tag on Newton for 2016, if need be. But with Newton set to count just under $14.7 million this season, a long-term deal could slightly lower that number and enable the Panthers to give him more weapons with which to succeed. Not looking for anything before this summer.
  • Charles Johnson: He is set to count $20,020,000 against the cap, more than any player on the roster. He’s renegotiated each of the past two seasons to significantly lower that number. There’s no reason to think that won’t happen again. His contract runs through 2016, so a new deal could be structured to add another year and lower his 2016 cap number of $15,020,000. The Panthers could cut him with a post-June 1 designation to save $10 million under the cap, but he’s still too valuable a leader on and off the field to consider that.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Led by defensive end Charles Johnson at $20,020,000, the Carolina Panthers currently have 10 players who will count $3 million or more under the salary cap in 2015.

Three are on defense, led by Johnson. Six are on offense, led by quarterback Cam Newton at $14,666,666. One is on special teams, place-kicker Graham Gano at $3.1 million.

To put this in perspective, the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks have 14 players set to make $3 million or more. That number is sure to grow when quarterback Russell Wilson gets a new deal.

Seven of Carolina’s top 10 were drafted by the team, with Newton and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly still on their rookie deals.

These rankings could change with free agent signings and the restructuring of contracts. But for now, here’s a complete breakdown of Carolina’s current top-10 players under the salary cap in 2015:


Comment: He had his six-year deal restructured in each of the past two offseasons to reduce the cap hit, and there’s no reason to think the Panthers won’t attempt another. Last year, $7.8 million of his base salary was converted to a signing bonus. With two more years left on his deal, he doesn’t have a lot of incentive to renegotiate, but he likely would to help the team.


Comment: This is the average of the top-10 quarterbacks the first pick of the 2011 draft was guaranteed when Carolina picked up his fifth-year option. The number could be reduced somewhat if a long-term deal is reached before the season, but for a two-time Pro Bowler with two straight playoff appearances, the figure is a bargain.


Comment: His deal was renegotiated in February, and it wouldn’t surprise if that happens again, although the number isn’t so daunting this year. He has one more year left after this season, so there’s potential to renegotiate and add another year or two.


Comment: Entering the final year of his deal, Davis also had his contract restructured last season to ease the cap hit. This might be a good time to renegotiate and lessen this year’s cap while adding another year or two for a player who wants to retire a Panther.


Comment: He also restructured in 2014, with a voidable year added in 2017. His value skyrocketed over the final six games as he was one of the league’s top rushers. If he continues to put up those numbers in 2015, the current number is reasonable.


Comment: He’ll be an unrestricted free agent after this season, so there could be incentive to renegotiate and extend if the money is there. Few players were more valuable than Olsen, who led the team in receptions and made his first Pro Bowl.


Comment: With Stewart earning the right to be the starter in 2015, releasing Williams is a strong possibility. It would save the team $2 million under the cap. If not a release, look for a serious renegotiation to reduce this number.


Comment: His rookie deal is a bargain considering he led the NFL in tackles this season a year after winning the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award. Heading into his last season, the Panthers could use the fifth-year option and lock him up for 2016 as well. But the goal is to get a long-term deal done.


Comment: He’s heading into the last year of his deal. While the number appears high, consider the Panthers were 7-3 with him this season, 1-6-1 without him.


Comment: He didn’t have his best season after signing a four-year deal last offseason, but when you have a kicker you’re confident in, it’s hard to say he’s overpaid.


CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Mike Tolbert could be considered a secret weapon, although secrets are something you hide and there's really no hiding a 5-foot-9, 243-pound fullback whose body type has been compared to a bowling ball.

But when the Pro Bowl fullback is on the field, there's no doubting the Carolina Panthers are better.

The Panthers are 7-2 with Tolbert, 1-6-1 when he was on injured reserve with a fractured leg.

They also are better in the red zone as was evidenced on his 1-yard touchdown catch in Saturday's 27-16 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

[+] EnlargeMike Tolbert, Cam Newton
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneThe Panthers' red-zone fortunes have pointed forward since getting fullback Mike Tolbert back from injury.
"He can do a lot of different things," center Ryan Kalil said. "He can catch the ball, he can run in there. When you don't block it perfectly he can still push and get another yard or two.

"He's a smart player, very versatile, given his body type. He's a big part of this offense, and we're a better offense when he's in there."

The Panthers (8-8-1) need Tolbert more than ever in Saturday's NFC divisional game against defending Super Bowl champion Seattle at CenturyLink Field -- particularly in the red zone.

Carolina scored two field goals on three trips inside the red zone in a 13-9 loss to Seattle on Oct. 26 while Tolbert was out. It has scored only one touchdown on six trips inside the red zone against the Seahawks in their last three meetings.

The last three matchups with the Seahawks have been defined by red zone inefficiency as much as they have defense. Seattle has scored one touchdown on nine trips inside Carolina's 20.

For the Panthers, it begins with negative plays, particularly in the running game. They've rushed 12 times for only three red zone yards in their three losses to Seattle, which came via scores of 16-13, 12-7 and 13-9.

Only five of Carolina's 114 rushing yards against Seattle in October came in the red zone.

Tolbert believes he can help.

"I can make a big difference," he said. "I'm not going to disclose what we have to do to make that happen."

With Tolbert out, the Panthers had to rely on tight ends to stay in the backfield and block. They kept at least one tight end in on six of 11 red zone plays in the first meeting.

The tight end isn't a threat to run, so that eliminates one threat. He often doesn't block as well in open space as Tolbert.

And when the tight end stays in to block, that takes away one of the team's primary weapons -- particularly if it's Pro Bowler Greg Olsen. The team's leading receiver had only one catch for 16 yards against Seattle in the first meeting.

"A big part of why we've lost to them in those defensive battles has been our red zone efficiency, settling for too many field goals," Olsen said. "That's got to be a point of emphasis for us this week.

"The opportunities could be limited for us at times. You've got to take advantage of those opportunities and score when you get close and give yourself some breathing room.”

Having Tolbert back can only help.

"There were things you looked at [on film] and enlightened yourself to and said, 'Oh, wow! OK, now things may be different,'" Rivera said. "We have a different opportunity."

That's because they have a secret weapon that really isn't a secret except when it comes to keeping secrets on how he might be used.

"I'm a college-educated man," Tolbert said after repeated tries of how he might be used in the red zone. "I'm smarter than that."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- In terms of the history for the Carolina Panthers, linebacker Thomas Davis is a relic.

He’s the only player on Carolina’s roster that remembers what it’s like to win a playoff game as a Panther.

“And we’ve got to change that," Davis said on Tuesday as he looked ahead to Saturday’s NFC wild-card playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals at Bank of America Stadium. “It’s not going to change by talking about it. We’ve got to go out and play like it.’’

[+] EnlargeThomas Davis and Luke Kuechly
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneLinebackers Thomas Davis (58) is the only player on Carolina's roster to win a playoff game as a Panther.
Davis thought that had changed in 2005 when the Panthers advanced to the NFC Championship before losing to Seattle. Then they went three seasons before returning to the playoffs, where Arizona sent them on a five-year postseason vacation.

So when odds-makers say the Panthers (7-8-1) should beat Arizona on Saturday, Davis refuses to take the bait. He remembers the pain from the way that 2008 season ended.

It was the divisional round of the playoffs. The Cardinals were without star wide receiver Anquan Bolden then like they are without starting quarterback Carson Palmer and possibly backup Drew Stanton now. They entered the playoffs with four losses in their last six games just like they do this one.

Final score: Cardinals 33, Panthers 13.

“It was tough to lose that game, especially to lose the way that we did,’’ Davis said. “They were a hurt team coming in. They didn’t have [wide receiver] Anquan Bolden. So you would think our game plan would reflect not having Anquan and double Larry Fitzgerald. That’s not something we did and we paid for it.’’

Fitzgerald had eight catches for 166 yards and a touchdown, with six catches for 161 yards and a touchdown coming in the first half as the Cardinals jumped to a 27-7 lead.

So don’t tell Davis Arizona (11-5) will be down because third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley likely will make his first playoff start and the Cardinals are limping into the playoffs against a Carolina team with a 7-8-1 record.

“At the end of the day we have to do a better job overall of executing,’’ Davis said. “The coaches have to, the offense has to, the defense has to. We went to Arizona last year and those guys came away with a victory. We felt we were the better team then and they still beat us (22-6).’’

Davis also remembers the sting from last year’s 23-10 playoff loss to San Francisco at home. The Panthers won 11 of their final 12 regular-season games before falling flat.

“I definitely believe what we went through last year is going to help this team,’’ Davis said. “We have a much different focus right now. The fact we get to play this wild card game it’s going to be a lot different for us. We have a lot of momentum right now and we’re just going to continue to ride that.’’

The Panthers had momentum in 2008, winning four of their last five games to win the NFC South with a 12-4 record. Arizona slipped into the playoffs with a 9-7 record.

Only five players remain on the Carolina roster from that game. Besides Davis there is center Ryan Kalil, defensive end Charles Johnson, and running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.

“The biggest thing is the feeling of getting back in the playoffs again and knowing what it was like to be out that game and last year versus San Fran,’’ Kalil said. “The experience is just from that and that and carrying that feeling into the game and not wanting to feel that way [again].”

That the Panthers are back in the playoffs in consecutive seasons is a good starting point. They hadn’t done that before.

But players like Davis now want a win in the worst way. Had Johnson not stood up in front of the team and talked about how badly he wanted a playoff win after Sunday’s 34-3 victory over Atlanta, he would have.

“On a scale of 1-10 the desire to win?’’ Davis said. “Whatever number you put higher than 10, that’s the desire right now.’’

That Davis, 31, is on the back end of his career makes his sense of urgency even bigger.

“You want to take advantage of the opportunity you have right now,’’ Davis said. “Like we said before last year, 2008 was the last time we made the playoffs. If we have another drought like that I may never get to go to the playoffs again.’’
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – There was no “Victory Monday’’ at Bank of America Stadium.

For much of last season and one other time this season Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera rewarded players with Monday off after a victory.

But after Sunday’s 41-10 victory at New Orleans that snapped a six-game losing streak and seven-game winless streak Rivera opted to forgo any rewards.

"Players are in there working,’’ he said. “That’s the approach we’re taking is that we have to work every day and every opportunity we get going forward."

Players didn’t seem to mind.

Payton
Rivera
“We came in on Monday [last week] and got a lot of good work in,’’ Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil said. “Why stop it now?’’

And as Rivera mentioned, there are opportunities going forward for the Panthers (4-8-1) now that they’ve finally won again.

If Atlanta loses to Green Bay on Monday night as predicted and New Orleans loses one of its final three games, Carolina can win the NFC South and make the playoffs with a 7-8-1 record by winning its final three games: at home against Tampa Bay and Cleveland, and at Atlanta.

The best either the Saints (5-8) or Falcons (5-7) could do under that scenario would be 7-9.

Atlanta’s remaining games are at Green Bay, home against Pittsburgh, at New Orleans and home against Carolina. New Orleans finishes up at Chicago, home against Atlanta and at Tampa Bay.

But the Panthers aren’t looking past Sunday’s 1 p.m. game against the Bucs (2-11). Rivera admitted there may have been some looking ahead in the past that led to many of the mistakes that led to where Carolina is in the standings.

That’s another reason there’s no “Victory Monday.’’ This is far from a complete team despite a complete victory over New Orleans.

But Rivera admitted Monday does feel better after a victory.

“Believe me, everything feels different,’’ he said. “It tastes different, it feels different; things sound different. You guys [media] are nicer. That’s all part of it. It lifts everybody’s spirits. That’s why it’s important to win. It’s important to set the tempo. You want to go through life with positives as opposed to negatives.

“I really believe we have opportunities, we have challenges, we have chances, but the first one begins with Tampa Bay. We’ve got to be ready to play Tampa.’’

That this year’s team is younger and less experienced is another reason Rivera opted not to give players a day off. Much of that youth is on the offensive line, which Rivera said will have the same starting five for the third straight week.

“They’re new to each other, and we’ve mixed and matched for so long, we’ve got to find a certain something,’’ Rivera said. “So the thing we talked about is not looking at the end, but looking at the race.

“We control what we can, and right now we control the moment, so we’re going to work that way and we’re going to emphasize these things."

And not take days off.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Before he starts his own film study each week, Ryan Kalil turns on the video of the Minnesota Vikings' game, to see how his little brother did. It's typically provided him a way to check in with Matt Kalil, but this year, there's been a little more urgency in the process.

The Carolina Panthers center talks with his younger brother after every game. He's heard the frustration in Matt Kalil's voice about the way he's played this year and the criticism he's received. So when he turns on the Vikings video, Ryan Kalil isn't just checking in on his brother; he's trying to help him find a solution.

"I've watched him do a lot of good things," Ryan Kalil said. "We've played a lot of same opponents that they play in the division this year, so we've watched a lot of Vikings film this year. And he's gotten highlighted a bunch: 'We've got to do this. Look at this left tackle. We've got to do this.' And that's exciting. I'm proud to be able to see that and be a part of that and be associated with him. So he does a lot of good things.

"I think late in the game, being down, a lot of passing situations, it's hard. And it's not ever one thing that happens. Not making excuses for him; at the end of the day that's your job. You have to block, but I think the biggest thing I'll say about Matt is he works hard. I know he's very talented. I know the knee thing does bother him, and I think he'll be fine. I think he's going to be a good player for a long time."

[+] EnlargeMatt Kalil
Jim Mone/Associated PressMatt Kalil is in his third season with the Vikings.
The four-time Pro Bowl center's conference call with Twin Cities reporters on Wednesday was largely an analysis, and at times a defense, of his younger brother, leading into Sunday's game in Minneapolis between the Panthers and Vikings. Matt Kalil has struggled on the field this season and weathered heavy criticism off of it. Things seemed to come to a head Sunday when Matt Kalil was penalized three times in a loss to the Green Bay Packers and knocked the hat off a fan who was heckling him outside TCF Bank Stadium after the game. Video of the incident surfaced on Deadspin on Monday morning, and Matt Kalil said he shouldn't have responded to the fan, adding, "That guy's not worth my time."

Matt Kalil had said he was on the phone with his father Frank during the exchange with the heckler; Ryan Kalil offered his father's perspective on it on Wednesday before sharing some humorous advice about how he'd have handled the situation.

" I asked my dad if he heard what happened," Ryan Kalil said. "He said, 'Yeah, I heard the whole thing.' He said, 'It was a really ugly deal.' The guy called him over, said he was a big fan, asked for his autograph. He went over there and then he started saying some pretty ugly stuff to him. So I think my brother just kind of reacted. It's probably my fault for picking on him when he was little. Flipping his hat, I think that was the go-to move for me.

"I was a little disappointed. I actually would have liked him to go with the, 'You spilled something on your shirt' and then throw the finger up and hit him in the chin. I think that would have been a funnier move."

Ryan Kalil said his entire family will be in Minnesota this weekend for the game, and if anything, he hopes the opportunity for Matt Kalil to see his nieces and nephew will provide a pick-me-up.

The big brother, still looking out for the younger one, believes he'll be fine in the end.

"The thing that hurts them is just everybody telling him he's letting the team down, and that's not what he wants to hear," Ryan Kalil said. "I don't think he's the problem with Minnesota not having a better record. I don't. I think there's a lot of different things that go into a season not being as good as you want it to go, and we're dealing with the same kind of stuff here. I don't think it's one person. But that's easy coming from me. It's one thing when you're hearing it every day. And even if you turn off the Twitter and you don't read the articles, you know what the conversation is, just based off the questions you're being asked daily, you know? It's frustrating. I think he's strong, though. I don't think he's gone in the tank. I don't think anything like that. I think he'll be fine. I think it's just learning experience."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly appears headed back to the Pro Bowl.

Kuechly
Kuechly leads all inside linebackers in Pro Bowl votes with 182,900 with three weeks remaining in the voting on NFL.com. The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year is the only Carolina player leading in votes at his position.

Greg Olsen ranks fifth among tight ends behind New England’s Rob Gronkowski, Denver’s Julius Thomas, New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham and San Diego’s Antonio Gates.

Ryan Kalil ranks seventh at center and Antoine Cason is No. 8 at cornerback.

Cam Newton, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, is not in the top 10 at quarterback. Newton is having his worst season statistically since being the first pick of the 2011 draft. He has 12 touchdown passes to 10 interceptions, with a completion percentage of 58.6. His passer rating is 80.3, his worst since an 84.5 rating as a rookie. He had a career-best 88.8 in 2013.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers center Ryan Kalil still was wearing a towel from a post-game shower when he stopped in the corner of the locker room to console kicker Graham Gano.

[+] EnlargeGraham Gano
Chuck Burton/AP PhotoPanthers kicker Graham Gano went 1-for-3 on field goal attempts in a 19-17 loss to Atlanta on Sunday.
Kalil wanted to let Gano know he didn't blame him for missing a 46-yard field goal with 1:22 remaining in Sunday's 19-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. He said the offense should have played better earlier so the outcome wasn't riding on the kicker's right foot.

Kalil easily could have placed the blame on quarterback Cam Newton, but he didn't.

Newton was horrendous through more than three quarters, posting a 27.1 passer rating before throwing a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to get his final rating up to 82.3.

But as Kalil reminded, "offensively we came to the party a little too late."

The offense has been AWOL for most of a now five-game losing streak, scoring only 57 points. You're not going to win many games averaging 11.4 points a game.

Newton's 82.3 passer rating on Sunday was his best during that stretch. His average for the previous four games was 61.12.

"The answers are in the locker room," Newton said, reminding the Panthers get fullback Mike Tolbert and a few offensive linemen back from injuries when they next play on Nov. 30 at Minnesota. "We're not going to get any miraculous play or any miraculous break.

"It's time for guys to ... say it's time for us to do what we do. I'm talking about me more important. It's just time to do our thing. Nothing else can bother us. Nothing else can affect us. The time has come."

That, nor Kalil's apology, made Gano feel better. He insisted he should have converted the 46-yarder as well as the 63-yarder that was blocked as time expired.

He didn't make excuses, saying the snap and hold on the first kick that went wide left was good. He thought the second kick was hit clean enough to easily reach the net behind the crossbar.

"My teammates have my back," Gano said. "They have confidence in me. I have to pull through and make that kick. That's what it comes down to. No excuses.

"I can't wait for the next game. I hope it comes down to a field goal."

PHILADELPHIA -- Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman doesn't hesitate to say the key to building a successful team starts with "hog mollies," his endearing nickname for big players on the offensive and defensive line.

The longer this season goes, it's apparent the "hog mollies" on the offensive side aren't giving the Panthers a chance to succeed.

The longer this season goes, it's apparent Gettleman might have misjudged when he put his faith in a pair of undrafted players at left and right tackle.

As poorly as quarterback Cam Newton played in Monday night's 45-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, he never really had a chance.

Newton was sacked a career-high nine times, including five in the first half when the first pick of the 2011 draft threw three interceptions.

In nine starts this season, Newton has been sacked 30 times, the second-most in the NFL behind San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick. He's on pace to be sacked 50 times, which would be seven more than last season.

This game was supposed to be different. Newton was supposed to have more protection with the left side of his offensive line back after tackle Byron Bell (knee) and guard Amini Silatolu (calf) missed the last game.

Instead, it got worse.

"I don't know what to tell you," center Ryan Kalil said. "It's not good."

Newton tried to shoulder some of the blame, saying he has to get rid of the ball faster to "relieve any type of stress from the offensive line."

He didn't complain about the physical toll being hit that many times took on this night or will take over the course of the season.

"Yeah, I got hit a lot, but it's all in the game," he said. "We're not playing ballet. We're not running track or anything. This is a physical sport. It's what you sign up for."

No quarterback signs up to get hit that often.

And if this was a ballet, the show the Panthers are putting on wouldn't make it to Broadway.

When you ask what went wrong, the most common answer is "a little bit of everything."

"It's a little disappointing," Bell said. "That's not the standard. That's not how we do things."

Unfortunately for Carolina, that is how it is doing things. Newton was sacked four times last week and three times in each of the two previous games. He's been sacked 19 times in the last four games.

You don't win games by going backwards.

The Panthers have been going backwards in terms of protecting Newton since he arrived at Carolina. He was sacked 5.9 percent of the time as a rookie, 6.5 percent in 2012, 7.8 percent in 2013 and 8.7 percent this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Gettleman has to shoulder some of the blame. He had chances to go after free agents and didn't sign them. He restructured the deal of left tackle Jordan Gross to eliminate this season from his contract, which led to the Pro Bowler retiring.

Injuries have played a factor. The starting line hasn't played more than a couple of games with everyone healthy. The most experienced backup at guard and tackle was lost when Garry Williams was placed on injured reserve early.

The longer this season goes it's apparent the line is a position Gettleman has to address before any other during the offseason in both free agency and the draft.

That he cut corners financially this year, hoping to make the players he had work, will leave him with the money to make moves. The Panthers have only $16.3 million committed to linemen this season. That's well under the league average of $20.5 million and about $13 million less than the Eagles have spent in 2014.

Meanwhile, the Panthers (3-6-1) have to figure out a way to make it through the next six games with the players they have. Their quarterback's health may depend on it.

"You have to be mentally tough," Kalil said. "You have to be a hard critic to yourself and you have to see what you not doing and fix it. You have to do it in a hurry."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- David Foucault emerged from the shower room on Wednesday carrying a big stack of light blue towels that he delivers daily to the veteran offensive linemen.

"That's my job," the Carolina Panthers' undrafted rookie out of the University of Montreal said in his distinct French accent while sporting his usual big smile.

He'll add other duties this week. With starting left tackle Byron Bell ruled out with injuries to his knee and elbow, coach Ron Rivera is turning to the player known by most here as "the Canadian" to protect quarterback Cam Newton's blind side in Thursday night's game against the New Orleans Saints.

It's not a situation anyone imagined in May when Foucault -- whose name is pronounced Da-VEED foo-KOH -- made the roster after being invited to a rookie tryout.

[+] EnlargeDavid Foucault and Clay Matthews
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsDavid Foucault, shown here against Clay Matthews, will make his first career start Thursday night.

It's not even a situation anyone imagined in training camp when Foucault, 25, was asked to stand up and sing the Canadian national anthem.

"I say like two words and everybody says, 'USA! USA!'" said Foucault, from LaSalle, Quebec.

They also booed, part of a prank organized by center Ryan Kalil.

But they'll all be cheering for the 6-foot-8, 305-pound offensive tackle who wears his long, blond hair in a ponytail. He'll take the field with first place in the NFC South on the line.

"It's going very fast for me," Foucault said. "I'm very stressful a little bit. When I came here for my first day, they put me on the practice squad, and in two hours, they put me on the roster, and after two games, I was on the field."

Now he's starting.

It indeed has been a steep learning curve for a player who is mastering the English language.

"He understands English fine," Kalil said. "Now, his speaking is a little different. If he had to make calls for us, we might be in a little trouble."

Some might suggest the Panthers (3-4-1) are in trouble because they're starting a player who played 11 snaps in Carolina's first six games. Some might also suggest Newton is in trouble.

But the Panthers had no other option. Right tackle Nate Chandler has a groin injury, so moving him would have been risky. Left guard Amini Silatolu would have moved to tackle, but he's out again with a calf injury.

Garry Williams, who began the season as the backup at both tackles, is on injured reserve with a back injury.

"It's the situation we're in," Rivera said. "It's not like we said, 'Hey, you know what? When we get to Week 9, why don't we put the kid out there at left tackle?'"

Don't get Rivera wrong. He likes Foucault. One of the reasons the Panthers kept him on the 53-man roster instead of the practice squad was they feared another team would sign him.

They just never imagined they would need him -- at least as a starter -- in a game this big.

"The three games that he's had an opportunity to play in, you get excited, you get intrigued," Rivera said of Foucault, who played 30 snaps last Sunday against Seattle, 29 the previous week against Green Bay and 11 in Week 4 at Baltimore. "It'll be fun to see how he does."

Foucault is embracing the moment. He did an interview with a Canadian media outlet on Tuesday. His family is set to watch Thursday's game on TV.

What's unique about this game is players get to introduce themselves on the broadcast. Players typically say their name and school.

Foucault?

"I just say my name," he said.

And then he went back to delivering towels.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- No huddle, no problem for Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.

Carolina trailed 21-7 when it went to the no-huddle offense on its final drive of the first half of Sunday’s 31-24 victory against the Chicago Bears.

The Panthers scored a touchdown on that drive, as well as their first drive of the second half (also in the no-huddle), which tied the game at 21.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsCam Newton completed 8 of 11 for 124 yards and a TD during two no-huddle drives against Chicago.
Newton was particularly efficient during those drives, completing 8 of 11 passes for 124 yards and a touchdown. He was 8-for-24 for 131 yards and a touchdown the rest of the game.

Newton threw to six different receivers during the no-huddle drives, with five different receivers making a catch. Rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin was targeted twice, getting turned around and unable to make a play on the ball while open in the end zone on the first drive.

He dropped a pass on the second drive. He also dropped what would've been a touchdown on the second drive, but was let off the hook when officials called defensive pass interference.

Had Benjamin made a couple of plays, Newton’s numbers would have been more impressive. Regardless, the no-huddle attack was key to the comeback.

"Man, that was one of our best drives of the season," tight end Greg Olsen said of the drive before the half. “Went down ... bang, bang. Cam was in an awesome groove there. From that point on he was on fire. That kind of sparked us going into halftime."

Newton said there was no sense of panic when Carolina went to the no-huddle.

"We’ve been in these particular situations before, either with the lead or without it," he said. "And guys responded, and that’s what you want to see."

The Panthers have used the no-huddle in other games to get Newton and the offense into a rhythm. They used it on their first three drives in a Week 4 loss at Baltimore.

Newton was 8-for-12 for 135 yards and a touchdown on those drives. He was 6-for-13 for 62 yards the rest of the game. Were it not for an offensive pass interference penalty and sack, the Panthers likely would have come away with at least a field goal on the first drive.

"He reacts to a lot of things and he makes a lot of good decisions when we put it in his hands like that," coach Ron Rivera said of Newton in the no-huddle. "That’s something he thrives on."

The Panthers don’t run the no-huddle to speed the game up as some teams do. They typically use most of the 40 seconds between plays and the 25 seconds after the ball is declared ready for play before making the snap.

They run it in much the same way as Peyton Manning does at Denver, letting Newton make adjustments at the line and giving the defense no opportunity to substitute.

Still, it’s a shift in philosophy for a Carolina team that last season used more "real time" -- 42.7 seconds -- between plays than any other team, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

"When you look at us running the no-huddle, it’s not us trying to run fast," Newton said. "It’s just trying to tempo the defense. We can’t allow the defense to pin their ears back and stay fresh on every down.

"We have as athletic of offensive linemen as I’ve been around. We have great endurance, so we use that as our edge for each and every game."

But Newton is the key.

"He does a good job of recognizing the defense and he does a good job of keeping it going," center Ryan Kalil said. "I thought obviously we were able to get in more of a rhythm.

"Not that the huddle stuff wasn’t effective, but for whatever reason we were able to keep the momentum going and keep them on their heels and finish. That’s what you want to do."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Kalil brothers could share some interesting stories about handling adversity with everything that's going on with their respective teams.

If they wanted to, that is.

R. Kalil
Ryan Kalil is the starting center for the Carolina Panthers, who on Sunday deactivated defensive end Greg Hardy because of scrutiny concerning his domestic violence case.

Matt Kalil is the starting left tackle for the Minnesota Vikings, who on Sunday deactivated Adrian Peterson after the running back was indicted on a child injury charge.

But instead of discussing those issues, they talk about ... well, hair.

"Mostly, I talk to him about stuff I want to tease him about," Ryan said on Monday, 24 hours after the Panthers improved to 2-0 with a 24-7 victory over Detroit. "He has these really bad haircuts he thinks are really trendy. Those are the kind of things we talk about and just how each other plays."

Kalil gets enough talk about Hardy, particularly since Sunday when the 2013 Pro Bowl selection was placed on the inactive list an hour and a half before kickoff.

Coach Ron Rivera said the decision was made to keep a distracting situation from becoming a bigger distraction. Kalil doesn't envy Rivera for having to make those type of calls. For Kalil and the rest of the players, though, it's about preparing for the next game.

That will be Pittsburgh (1-1) on Sunday night at Bank of America Stadium.

"Well, there's nothing for us to do about it," said Kalil, a team captain. "What we have to do is go about our business and play a tough Pittsburgh Steelers opponent. We don't have to make those decisions. I'm glad we don't have to make those decision."

But Kalil admitted he's tired of having to answer questions about Hardy, who is appealing a July 15 conviction of assaulting and threatening ex-girlfriend Nicole Holder.

"Listen, I'm a football player," he said."It's my job. It's not who I am. It doesn't define me. But at the same time, that's where I want my focus to be and that's where I want my focus to be for my team.

"But yeah, you get tired of it."

Kalil looks forward to the day when the questions are all about football.

"There's a lot of really good people in this league," he said. "Somebody I think about is [tight end] Greg Olsen. A guy that does so much. He's such a professional. He's got this heart thing going on with his son. At the same time he does all these great things with hospital and charities he's working on."

Olsen's son recently underwent his third open heart surgery after being born in 2012 with a congenital heart defect. He left practice in a hurry one day last week because T.J. had to have another procedure.

Despite dealing with that, Olsen leads the team in catches (14) and receiving yards (155).

"My hope is at some point we can focus on those guys," Kalil said. "I know these things are the topic right now, but it's disappointing a lot of it overshadows a lot of good people."

Panthers show depth in replacing Hardy

September, 15, 2014
9/15/14
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Matthew Stafford and Wes HortonAP Photo/Mike McCarnWes Horton helped the Panthers keep pressure on Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Replacing defensive end Greg Hardy wasn't as easy as it looked for the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

It took two players.

You could argue three.

Wes Horton played first and second down for much of the 24-7 victory over the Detroit Lions. He occasionally gave way to second-round draft pick Kony Ealy. He was the run-stopper, doing the dirty work that doesn't draw headlines.

Mario Addison came in on third down and obvious passing situations. He got the headlines with 2.5 sacks.

Hardy can stop the run and get the headline sacks. He had a team-best 15 sacks a year ago to earn his first Pro Bowl berth. He also can play tackle and drop back into pass coverage.

[+] EnlargeMario Addison
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsMario Addison (97) notched 2.5 sacks of Stafford.
But Hardy didn't play on Sunday. The Panthers deactivated him under intense public scrutiny surrounding his July 15 conviction for assaulting and threatening his ex-girlfriend.

Hardy is arguably the team's most valuable defensive player outside of linebacker Luke Kuechly, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Hardy played 51 of 56 snaps in the opener at Tampa Bay, a 20-14 victory. Addison was in for 10 snaps and Horton 13.

"Greg is a high-energy guy," outside linebacker Thomas Davis said after the victory over Detroit. "He brings an attitude to our team, and we definitely missed him out there."

Coach Ron Rivera said Hardy will return and play again this season. He didn't say whether it would be Sunday night against Pittsburgh or the following week at Baltimore, but he made it clear Hardy likely would play before his Nov. 17 appeal in front of a jury.

Fortunately for the Panthers, they have the numbers to replace him. And after two more games, they'll have even more depth with Frank Alexander returning from a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse program. Rivera said Alexander was the most valuable player in training camp.

What Sunday showed was the Panthers not only have one of the best fronts in the NFL, they have one of the deepest.

"Absolutely," Horton said. "It doesn't matter who gets the start. Everyone is trained at a high level."

Against Detroit, they all played at a high level. Let me tell you about the two main characters.

Horton (6-foot-5, 265) signed with Carolina as an undrafted rookie out of the University of Southern California last season. He had two sacks and eight tackles in 2013.

He wears 96. He has a tightly trimmed chinstrap beard. His dad, Mike Horton, was Gemini on "American Gladiators." Wes had two sacks last season, both against Tampa Bay.

Addison is a fourth-year player from Troy, originally signed by the Chicago Bears as an undrafted free agent in 2011. After bouncing between Indianapolis and Washington, he finally settled in at Carolina near the end of the 2012 season.

He had 2.5 sacks in a reserve role last season. The Panthers gave him a two-year extension in June. During a trip to Puerto Rico to celebrate he fell off a jet ski and thought he was going to drown.

"I've never been so scared in my life," he said during training camp. "I don't know how to swim, so without the life vest I would have died."

Addison wears No. 97. He also has a beard, but it is long and scruffy. He is considered undersized at 6-2 and 255 pounds. But what he lacks in size he makes up for in speed.

"He's one of the fastest guys I've ever seen at practice," center Ryan Kalil said. "The guy runs around like he's a linebacker."

The speed came in handy late against Detroit when the Lions had to pass. Their tackles couldn't match Addison's first step coming off the edge.

Rivera calls him a "situational football player for us."

"He is speed off the edge and a forceful special teams guy," he said. "Guys understand their roles, and they do their roles the best that they can. That was a great example for us."

It also was a reminder of how much it takes to replace Hardy.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Cam Newton missed the season opener with broken ribs. Then defensive end Greg Hardy was deactivated for the second game.

For most of the first two weeks of the NFL season, the focus on the Carolina Panthers has been off the field.

They're 2-0 on it, in case anybody hasn't noticed.

The Panthers have shown in consecutive weeks that they are bigger than one player. When Newton was out, backup Derek Anderson had a top-five quarterback rating in a victory at Tampa Bay. In Hardy's absence, backup Mario Addison stepped up with 2.5 sacks in Sunday's 24-7 victory against Detroit.

The Panthers faced a week of scrutiny for not disciplining Hardy, who is appealing a July 15 guilty verdict on domestic violence charges. The criticism coincided with the Baltimore Ravens' release of Ray Rice, who was shown on video punching his then-fiancée, and the Minnesota Vikings' decision to deactivate Adrian Peterson, who is charged with negligent injury to a child.

"For us, the biggest thing is not to get caught up in all the sensationalism and really let the facts play out before we start passing judgment and having opinions about it publicly," Panthers center Ryan Kalil said, describing how he and his teammates are approaching the Hardy situation.

"That's what we've decided as a team, and that's what we're doing. And the biggest thing, at the end of the day we still have a job to do."

So far, they've done it well. Ron Rivera's team is focused so much on winning that, as wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery noted, some players weren't really aware of Hardy being deactivated until they got on the field.

"It starts with the head man," Cotchery said. "Every day, Coach Rivera focuses us in on the game plan."

The defense has proven to be every bit as good as the one that finished second in the league a season ago. It might be one of the deepest, too, as the Panthers didn't miss a beat without Hardy.

"We're a complete team," outside linebacker Thomas Davis said. "It's not about one man around here. It's all about us coming together and playing as a team, offensively, defensively and special teams.

"When we're able to do that, we can be a special bunch."

Sunday's win indeed was a team victory. Seven different players caught passes from Newton, who compiled a rating of 100.2 after a slow start.

Even placekicker Graham Gano had a fumble recovery.

And did I mention leading rusher DeAngelo Williams (thigh) didn't play, either?

"We're just trying to win a championship," Cotchery said.

That has been the focus since San Francisco spoiled last season's storybook run by defeating Carolina 23-10 in the playoffs.

"No disrespect, it's not about what you guys say, it's not about what anybody says outside this organization," Newton said to reporters. "At the end of the day, if the 53 guys that are ready to go come day are on the same page, there's no telling what our team can do.

"That's what we're showing, guys that believe in each other, believing in ourselves and not playing for ourselves, playing for the persons that are next to us. With that attitude we'll go a long way."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- You couldn't help but notice Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen as he left Thursday's practice in a full sprint only minutes after arriving.

There was a distressed look on his face.

It's a natural reaction for a parent when your son is in a nearby hospital needing a procedure after recently going through his third open heart surgery since being born in 2012 with a heart defect.

The team said a prayer for Olsen, who assured coach Ron Rivera he would be back Friday and ready to go for Sunday's home opener against Detroit. Olsen was back, and tweeted that his son is recovering well.

.

Carolina needs Olsen on the field almost like his son T.J. needed him by his side Thursday. The eighth-year veteran is critical to what the Panthers do offensively, leading the team in receptions (73) and touchdown catches (6) last season and starting this season with a team-high eight catches for 83 yards and a touchdown in a 20-14 victory at Tampa Bay.

Olsen might be the best tight end in the NFL who hasn't made the Pro Bowl.

Maybe now that Tony Gonzalez is retired, Antonio Gates is past his prime and Rob Gronkowski is another injury waiting to happen, Olsen will get noticed on the field the way he was noticed running off the field Thursday.

He should have been already.

[+] EnlargeGreg Olsen
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsSince being drafted in 2007, Greg Olsen ranks fifth among tight ends in receptions (389), eighth in yards (4,263) and eighth in receiving TDs (37).
That Olsen hasn't made the Pro Bowl since Chicago selected him with the 31st pick of the 2007 draft is somewhat surprising. He had the numbers to make it last season, maybe even the year before, when he had 69 catches for 843 yards and five touchdowns.

"It's disappointing because I know what a good player Greg is," four-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil said. "The hard thing is you have some older guys who are some big-name recognition guys and they still play pretty good football. For him, he's just in a holding pattern for those spots.

"I consider him a Pro Bowl-caliber tight end, and not just his production and what he does on the field, but he's an incredible pro."

That Olsen has played in the NFC South with New Orleans' Jimmy Graham and, until last season, Atlanta's Gonzalez makes it easier to understand the snub. But consider that since 2008 Olsen is the only tight end in the NFL to catch at least five touchdowns a season.

Consider that, since entering the league, Olsen ranks fifth among tight ends in receptions (389), eighth in yards (4,263) and eighth in receiving touchdowns (37).

And all it cost the Panthers to get Olsen from Chicago in 2011 was a third-round pick, which looks like a steal now.

Yet when the top tight ends in the NFL come up in conversation, Olsen's name seldom is mentioned.

Perhaps it comes down to notoriety and touchdowns for Pro Bowl consideration. Graham was a no-brainer last season with 86 catches and 16 touchdowns. San Francisco's Vernon Davis had 21 fewer catches than Olsen but had 13 touchdowns. Denver's Julius Thomas had eight fewer catches but had 12 touchdowns.

"People don't give Greg Olsen enough credit for the type of football player he is," Rivera said. "He first of all studies and understands the game very well, and he knows exactly where he needs to be in certain situations.

"He understands who he's going up against and what they do well in terms of defense."

And it doesn't matter who is throwing him the ball, Newton or backup Derek Anderson, who played in the opener while Newton gave his fractured ribs an extra week to heal.

"Greg is an underrated talent in this league, to say the least," said Newton, who will be back in the lineup Sunday. "He understands what his purpose is for each and every play, as well as correcting the play calls in the huddle during the game -- what people don't see.

"For Greg, it's being consistent, a reliable source each and every time the ball is thrown to him. And that's what I like about him the most."

It's not just Olsen's receiving that makes him Pro Bowl-caliber. He plays a big part in Carolina's running game that is key to this ball control offense.

"You watch the Tampa game, he can block, man," Kalil said. "He's one of the better blocking tight ends I've ever played with or seen."

Backup tight end Ed Dickson didn't know a lot about Olsen before arriving in Carolina from Baltimore. But after spending the offseason and preseason working with him, he believes Olsen is one of the best tight ends in the league.

"He's a great individual player, and he makes the team better," Dickson said. "Whoever makes the team better deserves to go to the Pro Bowl. And when you can do the things Greg does, it's a matter of time before he makes the Pro Bowl."

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