NFL Nation: Anthony Fiammetta

Jimmy Clausen looked very good at times in his NFL debut. Matt Moore looked mediocre at times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Draft Watch: NFC South

March, 26, 2010
3/26/10
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NFC Under-The-Radar: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each week leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Under the radar needs.

Atlanta Falcons

The talk has been all about defensive end and linebacker and those positions probably will be addressed early. Although the Falcons appear to be in good shape on offense, they’re not going to ignore that side of the ball because they need depth at several spots. The offensive line has been good, but the Falcons can’t be complacent in this area. Center Todd McClure isn’t getting any younger and it might be time to find his eventual replacement. The Falcons are content with Roddy White, Michael Jenkins and Harry Douglas as their top three receivers, but it might be wise to add another weapon here. Jenkins is more of a role player than a playmaker and another receiver with some explosiveness could be a big help.

Carolina Panthers

Overhauling the defensive line and finding a No. 2 wide receiver are the early priorities. But there are needs elsewhere. Carolina’s veteran purge was designed to get young players like linebackers Dan Connor and James Anderson on the field. But someone will have to take their places on special teams and the Panthers will be looking for athletic linebackers. Also, keep a close watch on fullback because second-year player Anthony Fiammetta is all the Panthers have there. Also, don’t be surprised if the Panthers look for another receiver beyond the early rounds. They haven’t used the slot receiver much in recent years and I believe they’d like to change that.

New Orleans Saints

The big needs have been narrowed to defensive line and outside linebacker. But always remember that Sean Payton is an offensive coach and that side of the ball won’t be ignored. Payton always is looking to add new toys. Although running back and receiver appear deep, they could get even deeper. Fullback depth is also a possibility. The Saints slumped a bit after Heath Evans was injured last year and they’d be wise to have a viable alternative in case Evans gets hurt again.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It’s tough to separate big needs from smaller ones here because the Bucs need just about everything. But let’s say defensive line and wide receiver are the two biggest needs and work from there. The Bucs like to say they feel good about their offensive line and linebackers. But should they? The offensive line wasn’t all that good last year and the linebackers didn’t really make plays. These areas definitely can be improved. Veteran cornerback Ronde Barber was a bit of a bright spot last year, but how long can he go on like that? With 11 picks in this draft, the Bucs have a chance to find Barber’s successor. If they can get a good corner, they could pair him with Aqib Talib and be set at that position for several years.
Wow, here’s an interesting one. Looks like you can add Brad Hoover's name to the Purge in Pantherland.

Hoover
Hoover
At least according to safety Chris Harris, Hoover has been added to the list of cuts that started with Jake Delhomme and a bunch of other older guys last week. This one’s a bit surprising because Hoover still was playing at a high level and there’s no real heir apparent, unless you think Tony Fiammetta is a sure thing.

Personally, this one’s kind of sad. I was covering the Panthers on a daily basis back when Hoover first made the team as an undrafted free agent. The guy carved out a very nice career for himself and did it with class.

As we reported at the end of the season, Hoover won the inaugural Tom Berry Good Guy Award, for being the Panther who was most helpful to the media doing its job. I recently nominated Hoover for the Pro Football Writers of America Good Guy Award, which will go to one player from all around the league.
 
  G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images
  After recording 14.5 sacks last season, Julius Peppers said he wanted out of Carolina. The defensive end eventually agreed to play for the franchise tender.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- The good news is the Carolina Panthers were 12-4 last year and return 20 of 22 starters.

"We don't have any reason to be bad," All-Pro offensive tackle Jordan Gross said.

The bad news is coming off a winning season has never led to good things for the Panthers. In their short existence (the franchise began play in 1995), the Panthers never have been able to put together back-to-back winning seasons. That's a fact that weighs heavily on the minds of owner Jerry Richardson, head coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney.

Camp Confidential: NFC South
Panthers: Thurs., Aug. 6
Saints: Mon., Aug. 10
Falcons: Sat., Aug. 15
Buccaneers: Tues., Aug. 18

The Panthers have won big at times -- making the Super Bowl in the 2003 season and the NFC Championship Game in the 2005 season -- but they've also followed up with some massive flops. Take the 2006 season, when they were the trendy pick to win the Super Bowl after adding the supposed missing link (Keyshawn Johnson). Instead, with injuries and locker-room dysfunction playing big roles, they were one of the NFL's most disappointing teams.

Preventing that kind of downturn this year is a big theme in Carolina's camp. Like Gross said, there really is no reason for the Panthers to be bad. The only starters they're missing from last year are cornerback Ken Lucas, who was getting older and was released in a salary-cap move, and defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu, who went out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon on the first day of camp.

Other than that, the Panthers look a lot like the NFC South champions of last year.

"There's no doubt that back-to-back winning seasons is on the front burner for us this year," Hurney said. "We've always said we wanted to be consistently competitive and we have been. But the next step is to win in back-to-back years. We started this in '02 by saying we wanted to draft well, develop young players and keep your core players. That philosophy is probably more evident now than at any time since we started this in 2002. We were able to keep the core players we identified over the past year and, now, as a result, I think we need our young players to step up and fill those holes as far as backups and depth."

The Panthers have kept the nucleus of last year's team together, re-signing Gross to a huge new contract, extending the contract for quarterback Jake Delhomme and forcing defensive end Julius Peppers to play for the franchise tender. But those moves have come at a high cost.

With almost no salary-cap room, the Panthers didn't sign a single player in free agency and they watched as some key backups walked away. Depth is a question mark almost everywhere. Carolina has a very good starting lineup. But is that enough to give the Panthers back-to-back winning seasons?

"It starts with having enough depth to sustain," Hurney said. "Different things happened in different seasons in the past. But drafting well and having a young base is really important as far as staying ahead of the game and not having to go out in free agency and bring in guys a lot. If you draft well and bring those guys up, you have a continuity in there that should keep you competitive. Continuity is a result of bringing in the right guys from the start."

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