NFL Nation: Jeff Lewis

Little precedent for Seahawks' Wilson

August, 27, 2012
8/27/12
10:40
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Five rookies are scheduled to start at quarterback in Week 1 this season.

The NFL has previously had no more than two rookie starters at QB on opening day since the 1970 merger, ESPN Stats & Information notes.

Seattle's Russell Wilson isn't quite the same as the other rookies scheduled to start in 2012. Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden were drafted in the first two rounds. Wilson lasted until the third, presumably because teams were skeptical about his relative lack of height.

Wilson will become only the sixth rookie since the merger to make an opening-day start at quarterback after entering the NFL as a draft choice taken in the third round or later. That note comes from Elias Sports Bureau. Wilson stands out from that list as well in that he won the job outright, unlike most of the others.

A quick look at Wilson and the other rookie quarterbacks since 1970 to start in Week 1 as third-round-and-later picks:
  • 2012 Seahawks: The team appeared most likely to start free-agent addition Matt Flynn, but Wilson kept exceeding expectations. Their competition was close most of the way, particularly when viewed through the filter that tends to suppress expectations for rookie quarterbacks. The way Wilson performed in the preseason, especially against Kansas City, validated what the Seahawks were seeing behind the scenes. At that point, Wilson won the job decisively.
  • 2005 Chicago Bears: Fourth-rounder Kyle Orton became the starter by default after Rex Grossman suffered a broken ankle and backup Chad Hutchinson failed to impress. The Bears, with a defense that allowed an NFL-low 12.6 points per game, went 10-5 in games Orton started. Thomas Jones carried 314 times for 1,335 yards. Orton tossed nine scoring passes with 13 interceptions, completing 51.6 percent of his passes. The Bears attempted the third-fewest passes in the NFL that season.
  • 2001 Carolina Panthers: Fourth-rounder Chris Weinke became the starter after Jeff Lewis struggled during the preseason. This would be George Seifert's final season as an NFL head coach. Matt Lytle and Dameyune Craig were the other quarterbacks on the roster. Carolina ranked fourth in pass attempts that season. Weinke had 11 touchdowns and 19 interceptions while going 1-14 as the starter. Jim Harbaugh was on the roster that season, but did not play.
  • 1982 Baltimore Colts: First-round pick Art Schlichter's out-of-control gambling had to play a role in another rookie, Mike Pagel, emerging as the starter that year. The Colts went 0-8-1 during that strike-shortened season, all with Pagel as the starter. Pagel went 7-8 as a starter the following season.
  • 1977 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Eighth-round choice Randy Hedberg opened the expansion Bucs' second season as the starter. Gary Huff and Jeb Blount also started that season. Tampa Bay went 2-12, then used the 17th pick of the 1978 draft for Doug Williams.
  • 1973 Buffalo Bills: Joe Ferguson started as a rookie and held the job for 12 consecutive seasons. He won four of his first six starts and went 26-16 as a starter over his first three seasons. Ferguson beat out incumbent Dennis Shaw for the job. The Bills leaned heavily on a ground game featuring O.J. Simpson and future Hall of Fame guard Joe DeLamielleure.

The chart breaks out Wilson and the five others for a quick look at their combined 20-36-1 record as rookie starters

Carolina Panthers buried in avalanche

October, 10, 2010
10/10/10
6:37
PM ET
Jimmy ClausenBob Donnan/US PresswireJimmy Clausen was sacked five times and completed just 9-of-22 for 61 yards in Carolina's loss.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – You know that lockout that everybody keeps saying might be coming in 2011? It’s already started for at least one National Football League team.

That’s the Carolina Panthers.

They’re 0-5. They’ve got a lame-duck coach. They’ve got absolutely no offense and a defense that already is almost worn out. They’ve got absolutely nothing positive going for them right now.

Why?

You could say Carolina owner Jerry Richardson already has locked out his franchise and his fan base. If you want to see what an autumn Sunday without NFL games looks like, look no further than what happened in Bank of America Stadium in a game that will go down in the books as a 23-6 victory by the Chicago Bears over the Panthers. But that was not NFL football.

Despite the best efforts of Bears quarterback Todd Collins and his 6.2 passer rating to hand the game to the Panthers, Carolina couldn’t grasp it. Quite simply, that’s because the Panthers are playing with their hands tied.

“In every phase, that was an avalanche,’’ Carolina coach John Fox said.

An avalanche that’s far from finished. Seriously, if you think things are going to get better for the Panthers anytime soon, you probably also thought back in 2001 that Jeff Lewis actually was going to be a legitimate NFL quarterback. The Panthers haven’t even hit bottom yet.

Things are so bad in Carolina right now, that it felt an awful lot like the dark days of 2001 when I walked through the stadium tunnel in the final minutes of the game Sunday. Sir Purr, the Carolina mascot, shrugged his shoulders. A couple minutes later, Steve Smith, perhaps the best player in franchise history, came along wearing a boot, bouncing a tennis ball and looking very dejected.

Before joining his teammates in the locker room, Smith stood in the tunnel the Bears took to their locker room. He bounced the ball occasionally and shook hands with a few Bears. Then, a noticeable noise picked up and a crew of cameras followed Julius Peppers into the tunnel.

Smith and Peppers clasped hands, embraced and chatted for just a minute. Then, they went very separate ways -- Peppers to celebrate a big day that featured a dazzling interception and Smith to a locker room where it was tough to sense any hope.

“He made a great play,’’ Fox said of the first quarter play when Peppers leaped to get a hand on a Jimmy Clausen pass, fell to his knees and then dove to make an interception. “That’s what great players do.’’

Yep, and once upon a time, Fox had a lot of players to make great plays. But he doesn’t anymore. You know all about Peppers, Fox’s first draft choice, who spent about two years begging to get out of Carolina before getting his wish. You know about Smith, who’s sidelined with an ankle injury.

[+] EnlargeJulius Peppers
Bob Donnan/US PresswireJulius Peppers' interception helped the Bears shut down the defensive end's former team.
Apologies to Jon Beason, Jordan Gross, Chris Gamble, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, but the Panthers just don’t have a lot of talent. Fox may shoulder some of the blame for the fact Peppers wanted out and defensive tackle Kris Jenkins did the same thing a few years before. And you can certainly question some of the moves general manager Marty Hurney has or has not made in the past few years.

But just like Fox said, “the quarterbacks are having some help’’ as the offense continues to be dismal, Fox and Hurney have had some help that’s hurt a lot.

That’s where Richardson comes in. The guy has long been perceived as honorable and brilliant throughout the league. But what exactly is Richardson doing with his franchise right now?

Nobody knows exactly because Richardson isn’t talking. He’s got a standing invitation from the NFC South Blog to do that and that message was reinforced to his media-relations director after the game.

Until Richardson talks, we’re left to guess what’s going on and here’s what we know: The Panthers have made themselves into the youngest team in the NFL (at least according to opening-day rosters) and they haven’t signed a free agent of any significance since Mike Wahle and Ken Lucas back in the middle of the last decade. If there was a salary cap this season, the Panthers would be standing right about at $113 million. That’s not a particularly low figure in comparison to the rest of the league, but those numbers are misleading.

If you take away the $30-plus million in what ordinarily would be dead money, the Panthers would be slightly below the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have what would be the league’s lowest cap figure ($84 million), if there was a cap.

“For two weeks, we’re going to be sitting here at 0-5,’’ cornerback Richard Marshall said as he pondered Carolina’s coming bye week and the current situation. “That’s real difficult. It’s frustrating because we’re 0-5. It’s embarrassing.’’

Fox, who has not been offered a contract extension -- his deal is set to expire at the end of this season -- continues to stay on the high road.

“We’ll continue to work on our weaknesses, which are many,’’ Fox said.

But there’s only so much Fox and his staff can do with what they’ve got. Hurney doesn’t seem to have the authorization to go out and make any quick fixes.

“Something has to change,’’ defensive end Everette Brown said.

No doubt, but do the current collection of people who coach and play for the Panthers have the wherewithal to suddenly stop the avalanche? I don’t see it.

There’s really only one guy who can stop the avalanche. That’s Richardson. Again, we don’t know exactly what he’s thinking and you have to believe some of what he’s doing is to prepare his franchise for a lockout.

But the avalanche keeps coming and it sure seems like there is a non-stop blizzard at the top of the mountain.
ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 22

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- In the kindest of terms, fans and media are referring to the Carolina Panthers as a team in a youth movement.

There’s some basis for that as they opened camp with the league’s third-youngest roster after saying farewell to popular veterans such as Julius Peppers, Jake Delhomme and Brad Hoover.

In the harshest of terms, fans and media have referred to those departures as a “bloodletting’’ and are talking about the Panthers as a team without an identity, a team that’s not going to be very good.

Now, let’s turn to two guys who beg to differ.

“How do you say we’re going through a youth movement, when we beat those teams late in the season using the same key components?’’ running back DeAngelo Williams said. “People can say what they want to say. But we know what it takes to win and we have what it takes to win.’’

“The way I look at it is, I like our core guys,’’ linebacker Jon Beason said. “I think we have a great nucleus. Now we’re looking for a few good men, a few young guys who are talented. For those young guys, it’s an opportunity to come in and do great things.’’

Maybe Beason and Williams have valid points. They’re two team leaders with a pretty good feel for the pulse of the locker room. They also have impressive résumés. Williams was one of two Carolina running backs (Jonathan Stewart was the other) to run for 1,100 yards last season. Scouts, coaches and players everywhere will tell you Beason is one of the best linebackers in the NFL.

Can you really call the Panthers a team without a face?

That’s kind of a difficult statement to make when you look at Carolina’s roster and see Beason and Williams. Then, keep looking and you see Stewart, left tackle Jordan Gross, center Ryan Kalil, right tackle Jeff Otah, receiver Steve Smith and cornerbacks Chris Gamble and Richard Marshall. Those are all guys the Panthers view as core players. Look around the league and see how many teams have that many core players in place.

“There are question marks, sure,’’ coach John Fox said. “Anytime you have question marks, the expectations on the outside might not be that high. But on the inside, we know we’ve got some very good core players and those core players are going to have to have big seasons.

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeMatt Moore
Sam Sharpe/US PresswireThe Panthers' confidence in quarterback Matt Moore appears to be growing.
1. Can this team win with Matt Moore as the quarterback? Let’s cut to the chase. This team already has won with Moore as the quarterback. Moore started the final five games of last season after Delhomme was injured. The Panthers won four of those games and Moore looked sharp the entire time.

Sure, that’s not the longest of track records and the Panthers did draft Jimmy Clausen in the second round. But this isn’t the Carolina camp of 2001, where the Panthers were kind of expecting Jeff Lewis to fail and to hand the job to rookie Chris Weinke.

Williams’ point about the youth movement taking place last year might be right. Moore won this job with his play down the stretch and, so far in camp, the team’s confidence in him is only growing.

“Matt Moore is a gamer,’’ Williams said. “When he mentally locks in, the game comes easy for him. All quarterbacks in the league are pretty much the same. They can all throw the ball or they wouldn’t be here. The thing that separates the good ones from the bad ones is decision making. Matt Moore can make decisions. Matt’s going to be fine.’’

Let’s keep one other thing in mind. With an excellent offensive line, two very good running backs and Smith at wide receiver, Moore has a pretty strong supporting cast. He doesn’t need to be Peyton Manning or Drew Brees. He just needs to keep mistakes to a minimum and the job can be his as long as he wants.

2. Can the defensive line be any good? For much of Fox’s tenure, the defensive line has been the foundation of the team. But Peppers was the last in a line of supernovas that used to include Mike Rucker, Kris Jenkins and Brentson Buckner. There are no current stars on this defensive front.

But Fox and the Panthers don’t appear to view that as a bad thing. They’re not expecting any single guy to come in and replace Peppers. They believe they can get quality out of quantity and are hoping the defensive front can attack in waves. They’ve got high hopes for Charles Johnson and Everette Brown, and rookies Eric Norwood and Greg Hardy have been very impressive in camp. They brought back Tyler Brayton for a bit of continuity, but they feel they’ve got some pass-rushers who can emerge.

They also have a better feeling about defensive tackles Louis Leonard, Tank Tyler and Ed Johnson than a lot of people realize. This might not be the traditional Fox defensive front with a huge run-stuffer in the middle and a big name on the outside. But, keep in mind, the Panthers brought in Ron Meeks as defensive coordinator last year and his system is based more on speed than power up front.

“We were eighth in the league in defense a year ago with a new scheme,’’ Fox said. “It’s kind of early to tell, but we should be better with our scheme the second time around.’’

[+] EnlargeJohn Fox
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonJohn Fox owns a 71-57 record in eight seasons with the Panthers.
3. Does all this talk about Fox being in the last year of his contract really make a difference? Not at all. Fox is a creature of habit and he’s going to coach the way he always has coached.

He’s a confident guy with a pretty solid résumé. He’s not losing sleep because he knows he can get another job if it comes to that. But he wants to make it work in Carolina, a place where his family has set down roots. Keep in mind, Fox never has had a truly bad season. There have been some disappointing years, but the record’s always been close to or above .500. He’s sometimes stumbled a bit when expectations were high, but he always has done his best job when people weren’t counting on much out of the Panthers.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Greg Hardy. The defensive end was a sixth-round draft pick because his college career didn’t end all that well. But the Panthers took a shot because they thought there was uncommon physical talent sitting out there late in the draft. So far, they feel as if they might have hit a home run. Hardy has looked great in camp. Coaches are noticing him and so are other players. There were some questions about Hardy’s ability to focus on football at the pro level. But so far, so good on that end. Brayton, Johnson and Brown are competing for the starting jobs, but Hardy appears to be carving out some playing time.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Dwayne Jarrett. As they’ve been doing for his entire career, the Panthers are hoping the light suddenly comes on for this wide receiver. He’s still running with the first team, but all indications are it’s just not happening for Jarrett. There’s still some work to be done and polish to be added, but the Panthers are starting to think rookie Brandon LaFell is their best option at the starting position opposite Smith. Jarrett basically is fighting for a roster spot at this point. The fact he’s still making mental mistakes this far into his career means there’s a good chance he’s gone before the preseason is over.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Clausen
Sam Sharpe/US PresswireCarolina has been pleased with how Jimmy Clausen has looked in the early part of camp.
OBSERVATION DECK

  • As mentioned above, the Panthers are singing Moore’s praises and that’s all very legitimate. But behind the scenes, the Panthers also are thrilled with what they’ve seen from Clausen. His physical skills and mechanics are as solid as expected and Clausen’s doing everything right on and off the field. There’s not a sense of urgency to play him because Moore has looked so solid. But the Panthers believe they got a steal when they took Clausen in the second round.
  • There’s been a lot of hype about third-round draft pick Armanti Edwards. Understandable because he was a college quarterback and came from Appalachian State, which automatically makes him popular in the Carolinas. The Panthers aren’t disappointed with Edwards by any means, but the reality is he’s just feeling his way as a receiver and a return man. Don’t look for him to be a huge contributor instantly. There’s big upside here because Edwards is so dynamic and he might be in a few packages early on. But it’s going to take some time for him to become a staple in this offense.
  • The Panthers let go of Keydrick Vincent, who played every snap at right guard last season, for a reason. He was older and they had Duke Robinson waiting in the wings. Coaches, players and the front office believe Robinson can be a punishing run-blocker. Put him on the right side with Otah and the Panthers believe that side of the line can be just as good as the left, where Gross and Travelle Wharton are outstanding.
  • If you’re looking for a long shot to make the roster, I’ll throw out Trent Guy’s name. This is a tiny wide receiver, but every time I looked up during my visit to Wofford College, Guy seemed to be making a play. He’s got rare speed and good hands, and also could be a factor in the return game.
  • Thomas Davis, who had major knee surgery in June, has been hanging around at camp and working hard at his rehab. The Panthers haven’t ruled out a possible return for him later this season, but I don't see that happening for a guy who has torn his ACL twice in less than a year. The Panthers wouldn’t have moved Beason from the middle to the weak side unless they thought he’d stay there for the long haul. At the moment, they’re happy with what they’ve seen from Dan Connor in the middle and James Anderson on the strong side. That better stay that way because, aside from Jamar Williams, there’s no real depth at linebacker.
  • A lot of people have questioned why the Panthers would take Beason out of the middle where he’s been such a dominant player. The answer is simple. Under Meeks, the Panthers run the “Tampa 2’’ defense. In that scheme, everything goes through the Will linebacker. Think Derrick Brooks.

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