NFC South: Wesley Walls
- His 13 Pro Bowls are tied for the second most in history. Only Bruce Matthews (14) has been to more Pro Bowls.
- Gonzalez is the all-time leader in receptions by a tight end with 1,242. Shannon Sharpe (815) is second.
- Gonzalez is the all-time leader in receiving yards by a tight end with 14,268. Sharpe is second with 10,060.
- Gonzalez is the all-time leader in receiving touchdowns by a tight end with 103. Antonio Gates is second with 83.
- Gonzalez still played at a high level last season. He ranked second among tight ends with 93 receptions.
- Gonzalez will get a chance to build on his lead for regular-season starts by an active player. He has 238 career starts. Tampa Bay’s Ronde Barber is second with 232.
- Here’s a record Gonzalez, who turned 37 in February, should have no problem breaking. The only tight end to have at least 20 catches at age 37 or older was Wesley Walls with 20 catches in 2003.
- We’ll close it out with an amazing stat. Gonzalez had 27 receptions with no drops on throws of 10 yards or more last season. Since joining the Falcons in 2009, Gonzalez has had only one drop on those throws while making 86 receptions.
They’ll help the winner for each team unveil their design in the inaugural NFL Fan Flag Challenge. The show will start at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC and NFL Network and will lead into the season’s opening game between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants.
Looks like the NFL did pretty well in its recruiting efforts of former NFC South players. Two of the best tight ends in division history will represent the Falcons and Panthers. Alge Crumpler will be there for Atlanta and Wesley Walls for Carolina.
Willie Roaf will represent the Saints and I have a quarter that says he wears his Hall of Fame jacket, which he should.
Finally, Derrick Brooks, who might be the best player in division history (Drew Brees has at least closed the gap) will represent Tampa Bay.
If you saw their preseason opener (a 20-10 victory against the New York Giants) on Saturday night, there was plenty of evidence.
There was offensive creativity. There were passes to the tight end. Young quarterbacks were allowed to take shots down the field and not forced to play like each mistake would be their last. Oh, and we also saw quite a bit of Armanti Edwards.
All of the above were either illegal or heavily frowned up on in the Fox regime. Under Ron Rivera, they all are encouraged.
We still don’t know for sure if Cam Newton or Jimmy Clausen will open the season as the starting quarterback, but we do know whoever wins that competition might actually have a chance. Clausen and Carolina’s offense had no chance last season as Fox took conservative offense to a whole new level.
In new coordinator Rob Chudzinski’s system, it’s pretty obvious the Panthers are going to use their tight ends a lot and, once Steve Smith gets back from an injury, they could have a deep passing game.
Heck, Edwards could even be a part of the deep passing game. The wide receiver, who Fox refused to play as a rookie, caught a 36-yard pass from Newton to help set up a field goal late in the first half. More importantly, Edwards had two very impressive punt returns.
Some other observations on the Panthers.
- Without Smith and David Gettis, who will miss the season with a knee injury, the wide receivers had trouble getting separation from defensive backs. Smith’s return will help and we all know what he can do, but the Panthers need someone else to step up on the outside.
- Newly-acquired tight end Greg Olsen got off to a very nice start. He had three catches for 58 yards and caught a touchdown from Clausen. Olsen’s performance brought back memories of Wesley Walls and Jeremy Shockey's going to get his share of passes.
- Speaking of tight ends, Gary Barnidge, who currently is No. 4 on the depth chart, is helping his cause. He had a nice game and could challenge Ben Hartsock for the third tight end job.
- Running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart only made cameo appearances, but both ran well. As much as we talk about the new offensive scheme, Williams and Stewart are too good for the Panthers to go too far away from the running game.
- Speaking of running back, Mike Goodson has plenty of talent and he showed it last season when Williams and Stewart were banged up. But Goodson had trouble holding onto the ball Saturday night. He’s not going to earn playing time if that continues.
- There’s strong competition for the backup spots in the defensive secondary. A couple of young guys who helped themselves with good performances were R.J. Stanford and Jordan Pugh.
- Derek Anderson, who was brought in to provide a veteran presence for Newton and Clausen, connected with rookie Kealoha Pilares on a fourth-quarter touchdown pass. It was a short throw and Pilares took off down the sideline. Pilares also had a nice tackle on the punt coverage unit early in the game.
CB (Charleston, sc): Afternoon Pat, with the expected signing of Ray Edwards by the Falcons, will Abraham's numbers see a significant drop?
Pat Yasinskas: Don't think they'd be bringing him in to replace Abe, at least not in the short term. Think they'd play Edwards or whatever pass-rusher they get along with Abe. Having strong pass-rusher to go along with him could actually help Abe's numbers.
Gur (Edgware, UK): Since Freeman's minicamp conflicts with the NFLPA's rookie symposium, which do you think is more important for Bucs' rookies to attend?
Pat Yasinskas: Pretty sure agents will advise them to go to the symposium. Agents don't really want them in workouts before they've signed contracts because they're worried about injury. Also, the schedule is such that they theoretically could do the symposium and still attend last day of workouts because symposium is only two days and workouts are three.
Tim (Camarillo Ca): Hey Pat, I think Jimmy Grahm is the next pro bowl TE in the NFL. What are your thoughts on him and his chances to really have a big year?
Pat Yasinskas: Obviously, Saints are really high on Graham. That's why they were able to let Shockey grow. I think Graham developed way faster last year than they ever expected. Moving forward, I think Sean Payton will find even more ways to get him involved and he could be a star.
Amit (Mississippi): Which Saints RB will lead the team in carries, and which will lead the team in yards?
Pat Yasinskas: I'm going with Ingram in both categories.
Luke T (Charlotte): Will the addition of Jeremy Shockey have any real effect on the Panthers' offense?
Pat Yasinskas: Personally, I think Shockey might be at the end of the road. But Panthers believe he's got something left and he has history with Chudzinski. They want to make the TE a bigger part of the passing game than it's been since the Wesley Walls days. We'll see what Shockey has left.
Here’s the complete transcript from Friday’s NFC South chat.
Let’s take a look at what it all means.
- Is this a sign that owner Jerry Richardson is abandoning years of making it a point to stay clear of guys with character issues? Probably not and I don’t think new coach Ron Rivera has much more influence than predecessor John Fox did in this department. Yeah, the Panthers might be pushing things a bit by signing a flamboyant tight end who has been followed by controversy throughout much of his career. But, if you really look at Shockey’s track record, it’s not like he’s had a slew of major legal issues. I don’t think this is going to suddenly open the gates for the Panthers to jump up and sign Plaxico Burress as soon as he gets out of jail. Shockey’s issues have been more about personality than legal problems. He can be outspoken, controversial and he’s always going to want the football. There’s no crime in any of that.
- Can we interpret this move to mean anything about Carolina’s plans at quarterback? Yeah, I think you can read some things between the lines. My take is this is another sign the Panthers probably won’t draft Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert. Shockey used to bully a young Eli Manning when they were together with the Giants. Put him with Carolina receiver Steve Smith and their competitive desires and outspoken natures could make life real difficult for a young quarterback. I’m thinking trading for or signing a veteran like Donovan McNabb or Carson Palmer, who reportedly could be available, would make for a better situation. Shockey was relatively well behaved in New Orleans because the Saints have basically one rule: You don't mess with Drew Brees because it's his team. Shockey followed that rule.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Gerald HerbertJeremy Shockey should give the Carolina passing game an extra dimension.
- Can Smith and Shockey coexist? Flip a coin here and we may not know the answer until well into late next season. Like I said, both are strong personalities and both want the ball, so there is potential for them to clash. Smith clashed badly with Keyshawn Johnson in the one season they spent together and wasn’t exactly a warm influence with young receivers like Dwayne Jarrett and Keary Colbert in the past. But the bottom line is that these two guys really want to win and if each can see that side of the other, this thing could work. Besides, we’re not even sure if Smith will be with the Panthers next season. Rivera’s made it clear that situation is fluid and much of it will be up to Smith. But adding another threat in the passing game might help persuade Smith to stay.
- Will there be enough passes to go around? Rivera has been very vocal about wanting the tight end to be a big part of the passing game. The Panthers haven’t had anything remotely close to that since Wesley Walls, nearly a decade ago. This is a sign Rivera’s serious about that. Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski was Shockey’s tight ends coach at the University of Miami a long time ago. Again, a lot will depend on what happens at quarterback, but I don’t think Shockey would be signing with the Panthers if he wasn’t sold that the tight end is going to be a big part of Carolina’s passing game.
- What does this say about Carolina’s youth movement? The Panthers went through most of last season with only four players who were 30 or older. I don’t think they’re suddenly abandoning the youth movement and I don’t think you’ll see them sign a bunch of veterans. I think this move is sort of like the character thing above. The Panthers might be bending some of their old rules just a bit to help speed the youth movement along. But, given Shockey’s age and durability issues, I wouldn’t look for him to suddenly be an 80-catch, 1,000-receiving yard tight end. I think he’ll be more of a role player. He’ll be a tight end who will be expected to go out and catch some passes and help add a little variety to the passing game.
- Quarterback. There is not a bigger need on this team than at the game’s most important position. It’s been a huge problem spot the last two seasons and new coach Ron Rivera knows he has to find a quarterback in order to have any chance at success. Could the Panthers take Auburn’s Cam Newton or Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert with the first overall pick? It’s possible and either of those prospects could help their chances with a big combine. But the Panthers are a conservative franchise and Newton and Gabbert each have upside and downside. The Panthers may look to free agency or a trade to find their quarterback.
- Defensive tackle. This also has been a problem spot the last couple of seasons. There generally is a much lower bust factor for a defensive tackle than a quarterback and that’s why I’m thinking Auburn’s Nick Fairley might be the guy Carolina goes with as the No. 1 pick.
- Cornerback. This remains up in the air because we don’t know what will happen with Richard Marshall in free agency or if Chris Gamble can get back into good graces with Rivera after falling out of favor with John Fox last year. But it’s likely at least one of them will be gone.
- Tight end. Rivera has made it clear he wants the tight end more involved in the passing game. I’m not sure any of Carolina’s current tight ends really fit the profile. It might be time for Carolina to go out and get the first true pass-catching tight end the franchise has had since Wesley Walls.
- Defensive end. On the surface, it’s not that huge a need if the Panthers can re-sign Charles Johnson. But a lot of people think Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers is the best player in the draft. If the Panthers agree, they have to at least consider taking him even if Johnson is back.
“I have worked with Rob and know that he is a very good offensive coach who possesses a strong knowledge on that side of the ball,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. “I have seen him work with players and he has the communication skills and expertise to make a most positive contribution to our coaching staff as offensive coordinator.”
Chudzinski was the tight ends coach and assistant head coach for the San Diego Chargers, who had the NFL’s No. 1 offense in 2010. Rivera was with the Chargers as the defensive coordinator before being hired by Carolina.
Chudzinski, 42, was Cleveland’s offensive coordinator in 2007, a season in which the Browns went 10-6, ranked eighth in the league in offense and sent quarterback Derek Anderson, tight end Kellen Winslow and receiver Braylon Edwards to the Pro Bowl.
We’ll hear more about Chudzinski’s plans for the Carolina offense once he gets a chance to meet with the media. But, at the moment, I think it’s fairly safe to assume the tight ends will be much more involved in the passing game than they ever were in the John Fox years. The Panthers haven’t had a true pass-catching tight end since Wesley Walls.
Chudzinski worked with Antonio Gates in San Diego and Winslow in Cleveland and at the University of Miami. While an assistant at Miami, Chudzinski also coached tight ends Jeremy Shockey and Bubba Franks.
Carolina’s tight ends last season were Jeff King, Dante Rosario and Gary Barnidge. King and Rosario are potential free agents. Each of those guys has some receiving skills that weren’t used all that much in Fox’s system and could be retained. But I think there’s a very good chance the Panthers will look for a pass-catching tight end in the draft or free agency.
That's a novel concept for the Panthers, but it might help make them more competitive in the NFC South, where the other three teams have strong pass-catching tight ends. New Orleans has Shockey and Jimmy Graham, who developed nicely in his rookie season. Tampa Bay has Winslow and Atlanta has Tony Gonzalez, who probably is the best tight end in history.
Now, if Chudzinski, Rivera and the rest of the Carolina organization can figure out a way to get a quarterback who is in the same league as Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman, the Panthers might have a chance.
It was nothing formal, really, but it was a nice little touch. New team president Danny Morrison came up with the idea to invite a bunch of past players out to watch practice. In addition to Beuerlein and Walls, I also saw Kevin Donnalley, Tshimanga Biakabutuka, Matt Willig, Dwight Stone, Jeff Mitchell and Ricky Proehl. Heck, Kevin “The Rocket’’ Hurney, who used to work in the equipment department, even came down from North Carolina State, where he now runs the equipment department, for the day.
The players were scattered around the edges of the practice field and most of them got to spend some time speaking with team owner Jerry Richardson, who was watching practice from his golf cart.
Speaking of Richardson, I got to catch up with him after practice. He didn’t want to do any formal interviews because he likes to stay out of the spotlight. But I got to visit with him a bit and am glad to see him continuing to get stronger after having a heart transplant more than a year ago.
Is he the best player in franchise history? Let’s set some ground rules before starting this debate. Guys like Reggie White and Sam Mills don’t count. They played with the Panthers at the very end of their careers and we’re only taking into consideration what guys did while they were with Carolina.
With that in mind, here’s my list of the top five players in Carolina’s history:
1. Peppers. Yes, he wasn’t always consistent. But he took over games at times and was phenomenal -- when he wanted to be.
2. Steve Smith. There’s a very good chance the little man could move past Peppers before all is said and done. Another good year or two should do it.
3. Wesley Walls. In the early years of this franchise, no one was consistently better than the tight end.
4. John Kasay. Yeah, he’s a kicker, but he’s been as consistent as anyone in the league. He’s the last original Panther and he someday will have a statue outside of Bank of America Stadium.
5. Dan Morgan. Yep, that’s not a misprint. I know Morgan’s legacy is that of a guy who could never stay on the field because of injuries. I’m not disputing that. But I’m asking you to remember how good Morgan was when he was on the field. He was spectacular. His place on the list won’t last long. Give Jon Beason another year or so and he’ll pass Morgan. Heck, give Beason a few more years and he could be at the top of this list. Give Jordan Gross, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart another year or two and they also will be somewhere on this list.
Let’s hear your list of top five Panthers in history. Hit the comments section below or send a note to the mailbag.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
The much-anticipated NFC South all-decade team offense was supposed to go up before the defense and special teams this morning. Due to a technical glitch it did not.
But we'll run your offense out now. I say "your" team because it truly is. I asked you to vote and you did by the hundreds. I didn't make any of the selections. You did. I just counted up the ballots, so give each other grief in the comments section below if you don't like a pick (In fact, you made some picks I wouldn't have and I'll note them below).
Quarterback: Jake Delhomme. This was really close. After nearly 700 votes, Delhomme edged out Drew Brees by 11 votes. It was a tough call because Brees has been with the Saints since only 2006 and Delhomme has won a pile of game for the Panthers. I still would have gone with Brees just because he's been so spectacular in those three seasons. This wasn't just a two-horse race. Brad Johnson, the only NFC South quarterback to win a Super Bowl, finished a respectable third and Michael Vick even got 22 votes.
Running back, Warrick Dunn. I wouldn't call it a total landslide because there was some solid support for Deuce McAllister, but Dunn won pretty easily. He was productive in Tampa Bay and Atlanta throughout the entire decade. No argument here.
Fullback: Mike Alstott. This one was an absolute runaway and it probably should have been. Alstott had a very nice career even though he was almost as overrated as Jason Sehorn. Plus, there wasn't much competition. Carolina's Brad Hoover did get a few votes and those people deserve bonus points for looking beyond the easy and the obvious.
Tight end: Alge Crumpler. Crumpler was the easiest winner on the offense. The only reason we can't say Crumpler was a unanimous choice was because there was one vote for Wesley Walls. Not another tight end even got a vote.
Wide receivers: Steve Smith and Joe Horn. Smith was nearly unanimous and Horn wasn't that far off. Muhsin Muhammad got some attention and, somehow, Keyshawn Johnson got a vote. Thanks for stopping by the blog, Key.
Offensive tackles: Jordan Gross and Jammal Brown: Willie Roaf got some votes, which was a nice try by Saints fans, but Roaf was shipped off to Kansas City early in the decade and didn't qualify. Gross won easily. Brown edged a pack that actually included Todd Weiner and Todd Steussie. If he hadn't, I might have vetoed the vote and inserted Roaf on the team.
In the NFC South, where trends catch on quickly, there's a new one.
Well, actually it started last July when the Saints traded for Jeremy Shockey. But it looks like the division where the two-back system was the rage last year, suddenly will be known for pass-catching tight ends.
With Tony Gonzalez joining the Falcons today and Kellen Winslow joining the Buccaneers in February, the NFC South is suddenly filled with the best pass-catching tight end in history and two guys who, at least on paper, aren't that far off.
Anyway, this is suddenly looking like the showcase division for tight ends, which is a pretty strong contrast to the end of last season when, by default (Shockey's injury and no other pass catcher in the division), I selected Tampa Bay's Alex Smith as the All-NFC South tight end. These days, Smith might be No. 3 on Tampa Bay's depth chart.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
As the Terrell Owens saga takes another turn with his release by Dallas, I'm reminded of a fascinating psychological profile of wide receivers I stumbled across a few years ago.
The profile actually goes back way earlier than that, but it holds remarkably true. In 1973, Arnold J. Mandell worked as a team psychiatrist for the San Diego Chargers. Coach Harland Savard asked Mandell to come up with personality profiles for the different position groups.
Mandell took a unique approach. He collected handwriting samples from all the Chargers and the entire class of rookies around the league in 1973. He worked with a handwriting analyst and also observed players closely. Mandell came up with personality profiles for every position group and I can see some truths in every one of them.
But Mandell especially nailed it in his personality profile on wide receivers.
"The wide receiver is a very special human being," Mandell wrote. "He shares many features with actors and movie stars. He is narcissistic and vain and basically a loner."
Yeah, you never want to stereotype. But think about that a little bit. Every great wide receiver fits to some degree.
Owens, Chad Johnson, Randy Moss, Steve Smith, Joe Horn, Keyshawn Johnson? They've all got it. Think even further back to guys like Michael Irvin, Otis Taylor, Mark Clayton and Mark Duper. They had it, too. You can argue about guys like Marvin Harrison and Jerry Rice. But talk to people who've been around them and they'll tell you they've got a touch of the wide receiver traits, but they're just better at hiding them. It's also part of what makes them great.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Minter, along with former teammates Mike Rucker and Wesley Walls, took part in Monday Night Football's Chalk Talk Luncheon Series this afternoon. Minter was asked about Carolina's recent defensive struggles and predicted his former teammates will bounce back strong tonight.
"We've had a little trouble,'' Minter said. "But it's a long season. Unless you're the 1985 Chicago Bears, you're not going to dominate every game. But I had a little talk with them and that Carolina Panther defense is going to be ready tonight.''
|Daniel Plassmann/US PRESSWIRE|
|Pro Bowler Steve Smith was named the greatest player in Carolina Panthers history.|
Readers' pick: Steve Smith, WR
Forget the off-field stuff with Smith for a moment. When it comes to what he's done on the field, no one else is remotely close. I also chose Smith No. 1 when I wrote about the greatest players in Carolina history back in July.
I think the Peppers' ranking is way too high. Yes, he's been very good at times. But he's also been very ordinary and only had 2 ½ sacks last year when the team really needed him to step up. I also think it's a bit of a stretch to put Kasay at No. 3. That's no knock on Kasay. He's a good kicker, a good guy and he's been reliable for a long time. But, even a team that's only been around since 1995, shouldn't have a kicker as one of its top five players.
No argument here on Delhomme. But I will argue that putting Walls fifth is too low. I had him at No. 2. The reason? Walls was the heart of the offense in the team's early years. He put up some big numbers and was a major reason why the team went to the NFC Championship Game in only its second year.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Just read an item in the Charlotte Observer in which former co-worker Scott Fowler selects the two greatest Carolina Panthers of all time. He comes up with two answers based on class and production, and I agree with both of his choices.
He lists linebacker Sam Mills as the classiest Carolina player ever. I didn't get to Charlotte in time to cover Mills' career as a player, but he was working as an assistant coach and still making a huge impact on the entire organization. The guy was nothing but class right up through the final days of his brutal battle with cancer. Let's take it a little further in this category. I'll go with former Carolina quarterback Steve Beuerlein, who took on the role of team spokesman during the Rae Carruth saga, at No. 2 and former linebacker Dan Morgan third. I'll round out the top five with Mike Rucker and Mike Minter.
Fowler's other category is based solely on production and the easy winner there is receiver Steve Smith. Just like Rucker and Minter wouldn't get a lot of consideration for greatest player based solely on production, Smith probably wouldn't stand a chance in the class category. His behavior has been boorish at times and he's nicknamed "The Little Monster'' by the Carolina media.
But that's not important because we're basing this on what Smith has done on the field and nobody's done more for the Panthers than he has. He could end up being the team's first Hall of Famer. Former tight end Wesley Walls would be my No. 2 because he was very good for a long time. No. 3 will draw some argument because this guy was never very popular or appreciated by fans, but when Kris Jenkins was taking care of himself and before he hit a couple of major injuries, he was the best defensive tackle in the league. Go back and look up his Pro Bowl appearances. Quarterback Jake Delhomme, who's better than a lot of people give him credit for, is No. 4. Five is a tough call because there are probably four or five guys for whom you could make a case.