NFL Nation: Mario Addison

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers defensive line coach Eric Washington is standing on the sideline with a group of large men huddled close behind him.

"Lotulelei!" he shouts.

Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei sprints onto the field at a pace he normally saves for chasing quarterbacks.

Three plays later, Washington bellows, "Addison! Short!"

Both run onto the field as though they’re coming out of the blocks in the 100 meters.

[+] EnlargeCharles Johnson
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsGetting Charles Johnson and the other defensive linemen a breather now and then will be crucial for Carolina against Philadelphia's up-tempo attack.
This isn’t a live game situation. This is practice.

Substitution, normally a routine matter, is critical when facing the Philadelphia Eagles (6-2) as the Panthers (3-5-1) will on Monday night at Lincoln Financial Field.

Getting defensive linemen on and off the field becomes a focal part of practice. When Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez says the offense is like fast-break basketball, these guys understand.

"The key is having fresh bodies in the game," defensive end Wes Horton said. "Coach doesn’t want Charles [Johnson] in the game for too many snaps when he’s obviously tired.

"Having everyone prepared and in their stance ready to play ball, knowing what they have to do, is going to be key."

So the Panthers practice that, more than they have any week all season. They understand there are only limited times to get linemen in and out during a series, and they have to take advantage.

They also understand they can’t be caught with a player jogging off the field at the snap, resulting in a penalty for too many men on the field.

"It’s based off what coach Washington says," Horton said. "We don’t run onto the field until he says to go, but he’s preaching if it’s an incomplete pass or they’re substituting we’re already gearing in our heads to be ready to run out. Once he actually says it, we’re ready to fly out."

It’s not that the plays Philadelphia runs are unique as much as it is about the Eagles' tempo. The last thing the Panthers want is to have a defensive lineman on the field for six or seven plays in a row.

Carolina wide receiver Jason Avant, who played in Chip Kelly’s system at Philadelphia last season, has seen close up what the result of that is.

"It’s always the guys up front [that get tired]," he said. "They have so many plays offensively that a lot of times you think they’re a passing team. But a lot of their explosive plays happen in the running game.

"So when the D-line is tired, that’s when they can keep pounding."

The Eagles, ranked fourth in the NFL in total offense with 409.3 yards per game, are averaging 70.75 plays a game. That’s 10 more than the Panthers.

So it’s a challenge for defensive coordinators to find ways to slow the tempo and get fresh linemen on the field. Forcing incompletions and keeping first-down yardage to a minimum helps.

"If you allow them to get positive plays, it’s going to be a hard day," Avant said. "If you can keep them behind the chain, it’ll slow it down a little bit.

"We have to go out and be persistent when it comes to not being tired and remembering assignments. If you can stay assignment-pure and not give into fatigue you’ll be fine. Those teams that are weak, that forget things when they’re tired, it’s going to be challenging to you."

The Panthers normally rotate their linemen a lot. For example, Horton typically plays on first and second down, or obvious run situations. Mario Addison comes in for third down and obvious pass situations.

Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards typically is used more in pass-rushing situations.

If the Panthers can’t get them on the field at the right time, the advantage goes to Philadelphia.

"Normally you would jog out," Lotulelei said. "No stress. But with the pace they run, we can’t get caught with an extra guy on the field. Those kind of penalties will kill you.

"If you’re in there for six, seven plays in a row you’re going to be winded. You’ve got to be strong, think fast and be fast."

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There will be a spot for Frank Alexander with the Carolina Panthers when the defensive end returns from his second suspension of the season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.

Alexander began a 10-game suspension Wednesday, the day he was expected to return to practice after missing the first four games for violating the substance-abuse policy.

Alexander said in a statement through the NFLPA that the suspension stemmed from a violation that occurred “many months ago."

“Disappointed for the young man," Carolina coach Ron Rivera said Thursday. “My understanding is, as Frank said, it was from an old test. But it’s a situation he’s in. He’s going to continue to work and try and get things worked out and get things in the right way, and we’ll go from there.

“Hopefully, this time will pass, and we’ll go forward with him. We’re not tossing him aside."

Alexander was expected to help fill the void of Greg Hardy, who two weeks ago was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list until his domestic violence case is resolved. The earliest that could happen is Nov. 17, when Hardy’s appeal of a July 15 guilty verdict by a Mecklenburg County judge is tentatively scheduled for.

“The last four weeks he worked his ass off," defensive end Mario Addison said of Alexander. “For him to hear news like that, I know it hurt. It hurt us as a whole on the defensive line because we were expecting to have him back."

But Addison says Alexander deserves another chance when the suspension is over.

“Every guy makes bad decisions here and there," he said. “As a person, Frank is not a bad person. He [doesn’t] do anything that is terribly bad. I don’t agree with what Frank is doing, but at the same time he can be better at what he’s doing that’s messing him up.

“So, yes, he deserves another chance."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It's Tuesday, a day off for the Carolina Panthers -- unless you're left defensive end Charles Johnson.

[+] EnlargeCharles Johnson
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsCharles Johnson has yet to record a sack this season, but that isn't stopping the eight-year veteran from putting in extra work at practice.
Johnson typically spends at least part of this day working -- often alone -- on his pass-rushing technique against the blocking sled. It's helped him collect at least nine sacks in each of the past four seasons to climb to third on the team's all-time list with 54.

But through three games this season the former Georgia star has none, in part because he's been double-teamed more with right end Greg Hardy out indefinitely after being placed on the NFL commissioner's exempt list until his domestic violence case is resolved.

The earliest Hardy could return is after the bye week in mid-November, and it's more than likely he's out for the year.

With Hardy on the field, opponents had to pick their poison on who to double-team. It freed him and Johnson to combine for 49.5 sacks the past two seasons.

Mario Addison, who has helped replace Hardy the past two weeks, hasn't drawn the attention away from Johnson despite 3.5 sacks in two games.

"The hard part for Charles is he's now the bell cow," coach Ron Rivera said on Monday. "He's the guy they're all looking to. So Mario's got to continue to step up, and who knows, now all of a sudden Mario may become the focal point and give Charles a few more opportunities."

But Johnson obviously feels pressure to do more, particularly after a 37-19 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in which the defense was made to look average.

Although he's restructured his contract the past two years to ease the salary cap situation, he's still known as the player who in 2011 agreed to a six-year, $72 million deal.

Perhaps that explains in part this Monday tweet by Johnson, who is known as @randywattson on Twitter:



Nobody has complained that Johnson isn't working hard enough or earning his pay. Few if anybody with the Panthers works harder.

"I don't get into the money part," defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. "He's a valuable part of this football team. He works his tail off and he's doing everything we ask him. That's all I care about."

That Johnson usually is on the practice field on Tuesdays is a testament to his work ethic.

"I've been out there jogging around the field and all of a sudden I see him come walking out," Rivera said. "He's working on his get off, he's working on his hand placement, his moves. He's been doing that from Day 1.

"But it's good to see because we need him."

This isn't the first time Johnson has gotten off to a slow start with sacks. He went sackless in his first three games in 2012, then had 3.5 in Week 4 against Atlanta en route to a career-best 12.5.

He had only one sack during the first three games of the 2010 season and finished with 11.5.

One also has to remember Johnson missed most of the preseason with a hamstring string injury.

"To me, Charles is continuing to get back in the mix," McDermott said. "[Sunday night] he took another step forward. I know you guys are probably looking at numbers. But when you look at the total package of him defending the run, he did a better job. He rushed fast. The ball was coming out fast."

And, as McDermott reminded, Addison's sack came in part because Johnson got such a good push from his side.

"It just so happens Mario gets his hand on the quarterback before Charles does," McDermott said. "Let's not overlook the good that he's doing, because he is doing some good things."

To bring heat, Panthers call 'NASCAR'

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- On at least one play during Sunday's 24-7 victory against Detroit the Carolina Panthers lined defensive ends Charles Johnson and Mario Addison in the middle at tackle in order to create more quarterback pressure.

It's called, appropriately, "NASCAR."

Addison
Johnson
"We put four guys out there and say, 'Go fast,'" coach Ron Rivera said on Friday.

The formula is simple, and one that might have to be used more to apply pressure with 2013 sack leader Greg Hardy on leave of absence until his domestic violence case is resolved.

The intent is to put as much pressure as possible on the quarterback with the front four, allowing the linebackers to drop into coverage. It works hand-in-hand with the cornerbacks being physical with wide receivers in the first five yards, to throw off the play's timing.

It's a philosophy that helped Carolina lead the league in sacks last season with 60, without having to blitz a lot.

Rivera said there will be times when you will see defensive tackle Kawann Short surrounded by three ends, or four ends and no tackles. It will always be the fastest and freshest players the Panthers have in obvious passing situations.

Regarding fresh, Rivera said he has to find a way to cut down on the snap counts for Johnson. With Hardy out against Detroit, the team's third all-time leader in sacks (54) was on the field for 62 of 72 defensive snaps.

That was 18 more than the next defensive lineman and 28 more than the next end.

Johnson was double-teamed much of the time because the Lions didn't have to worry about Hardy on the other side. He had no sacks for the game and has none for the season.

"Will he continue to get doubles like he did last week?" Rivera said. "If he's getting doubled, then other guys have got to step up, a la what happened with Mario [2.5 sacks]."

Among others Rivera cited as needing to step up was second-year tackle Star Lotulelei, who also has no sacks.

"We're going to be physical," Rivera said. "We're going to buy that extra step. But we want the four fastest to go, just to get up in there and haul butt."

Rivera said he likely will stick with the rotation he used to replace Hardy at right defensive end against Detroit. Wes Horton started and played mostly on first and second down. Addison played mostly on third down and pass rush situations.

Second-round draft pick Kony Ealy began mostly on third down, but worked more into the rotation on first and second. He could be used to give Johnson a break.

"We've got to be smart," Rivera said. "One of the things we've got to be aware of is that we don't wear Charles out."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Wes Horton doesn't have a catchy nickname like Greg Hardy's, aka the Kraken, the player he and a platoon of others are replacing at right defensive end for the Carolina Panthers.

So let's give him one.

How about Gemini Jr.?

Before he began chasing quarterbacks, Horton chased his father around the original set of "American Gladiators," a television phenomenon that ran between 1989 and 1996 featuring amateur athletes against the show's gladiators in tests of agility and strength.

[+] EnlargeMichael Horton
Courtesy Wes HortonMichael Horton was Gemini, one of the six original "American Gladiators." Here, he holds his son Wes, left, a Panthers defensive end, and his son Shane, right, a linebacker with the Toronto Argonauts.
Michael Horton was one of the six original gladiators. He was known as Gemini, apparently fitting because of his split personality: calm one second, aggressive the next.

"It was a hot show," said Wes, who was born a year into the show. "[My dad] was kind of the man around town for a while. It was cool to play on the sets and travel around the country and do all kinds of crazy contests, throwing people around and being a big, strong guy."

Wes still throws people around, only now it's offensive tackles and running backs -- and an occasional quarterback. He got his first start in Sunday's 24-7 victory over Detroit after Hardy was placed on the inactive list.

With Hardy out indefinitely after going on the commissioner's exempt list until his domestic violence case is resolved, Horton will get more opportunities.

Next up is Pittsburgh for a Sunday night game at Bank of America Stadium.

"It's just going to come down to more snaps from all of us and being consistent with those snaps," said Wes, who will share the position with Mario Addison and Kony Ealy. "It's not enough to show flashes and have a big play here and move on to the next game.

"We've got to be impact players."

Wes' father was all about flash. From a tight red, white and blue spandex costume to swinging on ropes and tackling contestants, he was a muscle man's superhero.

"I can still get in the spandex very easily," said Michael, now a consultant on physical fitness in the Los Angeles area. "I'm in as good a shape now as I was then."

Wes isn't so sure about his father wearing spandex, but the being-in-shape part he won't deny.

"He trains me in the offseason," Wes said. "Pretty much every aspect of football, he shoots me advice. He's my No. 1 critic after games. I always call him and say, 'Pop, how'd I do?'"

Michael knows football. He spent nine years between the NFL, Canadian Football League and USFL before turning to television. While he never made it past what was then the taxi squad in the NFL, he always knew Wes would.

"He probably should have gotten drafted, but that's another deal in itself," Michael said of his 6-foot-5, 270-pound son, who was signed by Carolina as an undrafted free agent out of Southern Cal in May 2013. "He's on course to be a very good football player, and his work ethic will get him there."

Wes played mostly on first and second down against Detroit. He was the run-stopper, the player who did all the dirty work. Addison got the headlines with 2.5 sacks even though he played six fewer snaps (28).

Wes is OK with that, too, although he'd one day like to be an every-down player.

"Wherever they want to put me on the field, I'm more than willing to step in there and give it everything I have," said Wes, whose brother Shane is a linebacker for Toronto in the CFL.

In some respects, Wes is like his father. He's a gentle giant off the field. Then, when the whistle blows, he turns on the aggression.

But he wants to make one thing clear: He never dreamed of wearing spandex and being an America Gladiator. As much fun as he had playing on the Powerball, Swingshot and Eliminator on the show co-hosted by former NFL quarterback Joe Theismann, his goal was to be in the NFL.

Wes still could use a nickname, though.

Let's let his father pick one.

"Oh, gosh," Michael said. "He would probably say something easy like 'Terminator.'"
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- You hear it all the time, how an athlete plays harder and produces more in the final year of his contract because he's playing for his future.

When you add to off-the-field issues that said athlete has to overcome to help his image and marketability, you'd expect an increase in effort.

[+] EnlargeGreg Hardy
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonGreg Hardy has put legal issues aside and shown an impeccable work ethic during the Panthers' training camp.
So it should come as no surprise that the two players Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera mentioned as his training camp MVPs -- at least during the time spent at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. -- were defensive ends Frank Alexander and Greg Hardy.

Alexander has been suspended the first four games for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. While he has one more year left on his deal, his salary-cap number ($777,563) is low enough that the defensive line-rich Panthers wouldn't hesitate to cut him if he didn't perform at a high level.

Hardy has been found guilty by a judge of assaulting and threatening ex-girlfriend Nicole Holder, a verdict he is appealing to a jury trial. The 2013 Pro Bowl selection is not guaranteed anything after the $13.1 million he will receive this season as the team's franchise player.

In other words, how both perform will determine their value and where they play next season.

Rivera wasn't surprised by Hardy's effort. Hardy always practices hard, so it would have been a bigger shock had he not done well.

That Hardy was able to main such a high level with legal issues hanging over him doesn't surprise Rivera, either.

"No, I'm not concerned with Greg, because he's able to take what he's able to focus on, and he's focusing on this, and we all know there's nothing he can do about it until the process takes care of itself," Rivera said of Hardy, whose next court date is Nov. 17, with the likelihood of being pushed to 2015.

Hardy never was better than Tuesday's final practice in Spartanburg, dominating the tackles and guards on one-on-one pass rush drills and knocking down two passes in coverage during team drills. He got to one more than 20 yards downfield covering tight end Greg Olsen, the team's leading receiver last season.

Alexander is a different situation. A fourth-round pick out of Oklahoma in 2012, inconsistency has kept him off the field. According to Rivera, that had more to do with his lack of playing time last season than being ejected in the opener after throwing a punch at Seattle offensive lineman Breno Giacomini.

"The penalty is not the concern," Rivera said. "It's always consistency with anybody that we rotate."

It took Hardy into his third season to produce the consistency that made him one of the league's best pass rushers. He went from a combined seven sacks in his first two seasons to 11 in his third and 15 in his fourth.

Rivera would like to believe Alexander's progression has more to do with maturity than playing for his future.

"He knows he made a mistake and he knows he's got to make it right," Rivera said. "And he'll be ready to go when we get out of that four weeks, and we'll go from there.

"For a player that continued to make mistakes like he was for a first-, second- and third-year player, this is about when you see guys; either they're going to truly show or take a back seat to some of these young guys."

Alexander has plenty of young guys breathing down his neck. The Panthers drafted Missouri end Kony Ealy in the second round and signed Mario Addison to a two-year extension averaging $1.2 million. Wes Horton also is playing well.

"No matter how you look at it, whether it's intended or not, the message has been sent," Rivera said.

And no matter how you look at it, the Panthers will benefit from having two players as motivated as their training camp MVPs.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart has missed so many offseason and preseason practices with injuries during his six-year NFL career that you'd swear he was faking it to avoid the hot, humid days that are typical in these parts.

Stewart
He's not.

Stewart's injuries, from big toe surgery that kept him out of OTAs in 2008 to ankle surgery that sidelined him throughout the entire 2013 offseason, have been legitimate.

But he's healthy now, as healthy as he's been since the 2011 season.

If the former Oregon star can return to the form he was in 2009 when he rushed for 1,133 yards sharing the backfield with DeAngelo Williams as they became known as "Double Trouble," the Panthers can't help but be better for it in their quest to be a ball-control team.

"Very excited about having Jonathan on the field," coach Ron Rivera said after Wednesday's workout. "He's healthy again. He's moving the way we need him to move. I like what we're getting out of him.

"Even Jonathan is saying this is the first time he's been healthy [in a while]. So that's a good thing."

The rotation of a healthy Stewart and Williams, along with fullback/halfback Mike Tolbert, could give the Panthers one of the best trio of running backs in the league.

Throw in quarterback Cam Newton, who should be stronger and faster than ever once his left ankle completely heals from surgery, and Carolina has four legitimate threats in the running game.

That's why Rivera said Stewart doesn't need to be a 1,000-yard rusher to be effective. He just needs Stewart to be more effective than he was a year ago when he spent the first seven games on the physically unable to perform list and then missed the last three games after suffering a knee injury at New Orleans.

"We need to be able to rush for 100 yards a game like we did last year," Rivera said. "That's one of the things that really helped us out [last season]. We ran the ball well, we controlled the clock, we controlled the tempo of the game."

A healthy Stewart would help all of that.

A few more observations from Wednesday:
  • Guard Chris Scott, who spent last Wednesday working with trainers on conditioning and left practice the previous Wednesday because he was overheated, wasn't on the field. Rivera would not be specific for why Scott was out other than to say it was health related.
  • Third-round draft pick Trai Turner, particularly with Scott out, continues to get the bulk of the work at right guard.
  • Fourth-year player Mario Addison, not second-round draft pick Kony Ealy, worked a lot with the first team at defensive end with Greg Hardy out with a minor leg injury. Hardy, by the way, was expected back Thursday and for next week's minicamp.
  • Neither Rivera nor quarterback Cam Newton could be lured into what Newton called a "pissing match" with former wide receiver Brandon LaFell, now with New England. LaFell said last week that the Patriots' offseason workouts were tougher than what he was used to at Carolina. Rivera wished LaFell well, but insisted his practices were plenty tough enough. Newton said he respects LaFell but he "begged to differ."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Welcome to another edition of the Carolina Panthers' Mailbag.

There were a lot of questions about the future of defensive end Greg Hardy, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. I apologize up front if yours wasn't among those that were chosen.

Carolina's free agents in general remain a hot topic.

Once the Super Bowl is over and general manager Dave Gettleman has completed his evaluation of the roster, you'll start to see some movement on a lot of fronts. For now everything is pretty much in a wait-and-see mode.

To the mailbag:
 
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Cam Newton may be on his way to becoming the most recognized celebrity/athlete in Charlotte, but the third-year Carolina Panthers quarterback isn't there yet.

To borrow a phrase from the person he has to surpass: "To be the man, you gotta beat the man."

WOOOOOOO!!!

Yes, Ric Flair.

[+] EnlargeRic Flair
Mark Dadswell/Getty ImagesCam Newton has a ways to go before he reaches the popularity level of Charlotte's favorite son, Ric Flair.
When you talk about institutions in the Queen City, the 16-time heavyweight wrestling champion, often described in these parts as the platinum blond deity, remains king.

So it seems only fitting that the Panthers (12-4) have adopted "The Nature Boy's" famous "WOOOOOOO" that he uses to taunt opponents.

Cornerback Drayton Florence actually came up with the idea one day in practice. He suggested that the defensive backs break with two claps and a "WOOOOOOO!"

Next thing you know the linebackers were doing it. Then the entire defense was doing it. Then the offense wanted to get involved.

Eventually, it led to whoever gets the game ball following a victory having to give two claps followed by the entire team going "WOOOOOO!"

Newton somewhere along the line began adding "and the Nature Boy" after a slight pause. Here's a sample from the Panthers.com website.

"It's exciting to hear," Newton said. "It's exciting to say it and exciting to do ... It's a tribute to what he does. It's kind of something of a rejoice when you say it."

And yes, Newton grew up a fan.

"Who didn't grow up watching WWF, WCW and having Ric Flair slap somebody's chest and go, 'WOOOOOOO?'" Newton said.

Flair has yet to give a pregame locker room pep talk, and it's doubtful he will be available for the Jan. 12 playoff game because of a prior engagement.

But Florence is doing his best to arrange something, if not for the 12th then the NFC championship if the second-seeded Panthers win and top-seeded Seattle loses to put the game in Charlotte.

"He's the man," Florence said of Flair. "We want the man to join us."

Flair did send a phone message via Mario Addison, who ran into him at a local Taco Mac, that the defensive end played for the team before the Monday night game against New England.

Legacy Talent and Entertainment, which represents Flair, put the message to music and pictures on the wrestler's Facebook page.

"Hey boys, it's The Nature Boy Ric Flair calling you live from Atlanta, Ga.," Flair said in the message. "Tonight's the night guys. The New England Patriots are in town. Who cares? It's Carolina Panther time guys. And remember, tonight is the night, and to be the team you've got to be the team.

"Cam Newton, athletic gifts unparalleled. Steve Smith, the baddest man in the NFL. My good buddy Mario, you guys do it tonight. Remember, to be the team, you've got to beat the team. And right now you are the team, and will be all night long. Let's do it guys. Let's have two claps and a Ric Flair WOOOOOOO! Go Panthers. WOOOOOOO!"

Flair, who once wrestled in a tag-team match with former Carolina linebacker Kevin Greene, told ESPN.com he is flattered the Panthers have adopted his battle cry.

"It's awesome!" he said. "I'm a champ brother, so I know a thing or two about celebrating victories! I'm humbled to have achieved that much respect by my hometown team. I really believe the Panthers have the weapons to go all the way."

Florence said he didn't realize Flair lived in Charlotte when he came up with the idea that he borrowed from his high school in Florida. He suggested the "WOOOOOOO" break after the Panthers re-signed him following the second game.

Carolina is 12-2 since.

Florence, safety Mike Mitchell and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn already have taped a video of them doing the "WOOOOOOO" to play for the crowd on the Jumbotron before the Panthers face Philadelphia, Green Bay or San Francisco a week from Sunday.

"If we get to do it three more times [after games], that means we're in the Super Bowl," Florence said.

It's all part of team bonding that has been key to this season. Carolina coach Ron Rivera gets a kick out of the chant.

"They really seem to get themselves fired up over that," he said. "It's kind of become their trademark. It's fun. It's good for them."

But Rivera hasn't quite gotten the courage to try it with them.

"No," he said. "I'm not quite sure I have enough rhythm to do that."

Said Florence, "We'll coach him up."

But what Florence really wants is Flair in person.

"We need him, man," he said. "He's a Charlotte great. Anything we can do to get us motivated and hyped up to play another team, man, we're all for it."

Injury update: DE Johnson questionable

December, 14, 2013
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers added sack leader Charles Johnson to the injury report on Saturday with an undisclosed illness.

The defensive end leads the team with 8.5 sacks. If he cannot play in Sunday's 4:05 p.m. ET game against the New York Jets, Mario Addison is the likely replacement.

Johnson missed two games before last Sunday's 31-13 loss to New Orleans with a sprained right knee.

The only player listed as definitely out for Sunday is running back Jonathan Stewart with a slight MCL tear in his right knee.

Upon Further Review: Panthers Week 12

November, 25, 2013
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MIAMI -- A review of five hot issues from the Carolina Panthers' 20-16 victory against the Miami Dolphins:

Rewards of winning: Seven straight wins have earned the Panthers (8-3) their third prime-time game of the seaosn. NBC has picked up the Panthers' Dec. 8 NFC South showdown against the New Orleans Saints (9-2) for its Sunday night telecast as part of the league's flex scheduling. If the Panthers hold serve against Tampa Bay, a team it beat 31-13 on a Thursday night telecast, and the Saints lose at Seattle, which is almost unbeatable at home, this would be for the outright division lead. The teams also play in Charlotte on Dec. 22 in a game that could decide the division title.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
AP Photo/Alan DiazCarolina's Cam Newton made big plays when they were needed in an exciting win against Miami.
Spitting blood: Quarterback Cam Newton might have to consider wearing a mouthpiece in the future. He was hit so hard by Miami's Cameron Wake on Carolina's first play that he called a timeout to make sure he hadn't bitten his tongue off. He doesn't like wearing a mouthpiece, because it gets in the way of calling plays and gives him dry mouth. He chews gum to keep his mouth moist. But the hit gave Newton reason to believe a mouthpiece might not be such a bad idea. "I'm not fond of wearing a mouthpiece, and hopefully my mom is not listening to this, because she always said you get one set of teeth," Newton said. "It's something I need to look at if we continue to have a problem."

Spitting blanks: Newton was 0-for-7 with an interception on throws of at least 15 yards downfield on Sunday. It was his first career game with at least seven attempts of that range and no completions. Newton also struggled against four or fewer rushers, completing only 41.7 percent of his passes. He had a 64.2 completion percentage against those fronts through the first 10 games. But Newton was good when it counted, completing a pass to Steve Smith that turned into a 19-yard gain on fourth-and-10 from his own 20 with just over two minutes remaining to keep alive the game-winning drive. He also ran 8 yards for a first down on a fourth-and-1 play from his own 41.

Three men and a sack: The Panthers were without sack leader Charles Johnson (knee), but his replacements did just fine. Yes, replacements. It took Mario Addison, Wes Horton and Frank Alexander to replace Johnson. Addison had a sack and tackle for loss, Alexander had three tackles, and the trio helped hold Miami to 52 yards rushing on 3.1 yards per carry. I'm not saying Johnson wasn't missed, but the Panthers were allowing 3.9 per carry with him.

Boom, boom, boom: Punter's often get overlooked, but Brad Nortman deserves props for his effort against Miami. He is a big reason the Panthers were able to keep the Dolphins from spending most of the game in Carolina territory. He had punts of 72, 61 and 58 yards, averaging 56.7 yards on seven punts. His net average of 46.6 was well above his 39.2 season average.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There is no arguing that end Charles Johnson is a valuable member of the Carolina Panthers' defensive front. He leads the team in sacks with 8.5, and the defense is allowing 1.5 yards more per play with him not on the field.

So if the sprained right knee Johnson suffered in the third quarter of Monday night's win against New England keeps him out of Sunday's game against Miami -- which it is looking like will be the case -- it will be a loss.

But it shouldn't be game-changing.

[+] EnlargeCharles Johnson
AP Photo/Mike McCarnThe Panthers, who might not have Charles Johnson on Sunday, have made depth a team strength.
One of the strengths of the Panthers (7-3) has been the overused "next man up'' cliché. When a player has missed time with an injury or been replaced because of poor play, there hasn't been a significant drop-off in performance.

In some cases, performance has improved.

For example:
  • Veteran tackle Dwan Edwards suffered a hamstring injury in Week 2 that sidelined him for five games. With veteran Colin Jones and rookie Kawann Short, the defense had seven sacks and a shutout in the next game.
  • Starting free safety Charles Godfrey suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 2. Strong safety Mike Mitchell moved over to free and has become the leader of the secondary, playing to a Pro Bowl level. Rookie Robert Lester went from the practice squad to the starting lineup. He had an interception in each of his first two games.
  • Weakside linebacker Jon Beason was traded to the New York Giants after three games. Chase Blackburn came in and solidified a position where the team was giving up big plays.
  • Blackburn suffered a foot injury at San Francisco. Rookie A.J. Klein played so well the rest of that game and against the Patriots that there's a chance he'll remain the starter when Blackburn returns.


So there is no panic on the league's No. 3 defense that Johnson might be out.

"Charles is a great player," middle linebacker Luke Kuechly said. "Don't get me wrong, he's great at rushing the passer. But one thing we have, especially on the defensive line ... I've noticed no matter who the front four is, they've done a great job."

Coach Ron Rivera says whoever has the best week of practice between Mario Addison, Frank Alexander, and Wes Horton will start at left end if Johnson can't go. But that doesn't mean you won't see other players there as well.

"I'm telling you, man, we're all the same player," right end Greg Hardy said. "If we need to put Dwan out there at end, he can go out there. We put a tackle out there against Atlanta when me and [Johnson] went out.

"Everybody can do the same job."

Hardy is the best example. He's played everywhere from end to nose tackle.

"It's the way we've been taught, and things have been instilled in us over the two or three years that Coach Rivera has been here," Hardy said. "It's finally hitting home with everybody. Everyone is just buying in."

The coaches prepare for these moments. They rotate Addison, Blackburn and Horton in so they are prepared to step up when times like this come up.

"Greg's one of those guys that plays all four spots," Kuechly said. "But all those guys do a good job of playing spots. A lot of that falls on [the coaches]. They're getting guys prepped and ready to go. That's what makes it effective, when you can bump guys around and play different positions."

Greg Hardy unlikely to play for Panthers

December, 30, 2012
12/30/12
10:34
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The Carolina Panthers reportedly could be without defensive end Greg Hardy in Sunday’s season finale at New Orleans.

Joseph Person reports Hardy did not travel with the team Saturday. Hardy was excused from practice all week while dealing with a family issue. Hardy has had the best season of his career, recording 11 sacks.

If Hardy doesn’t play, Frank Alexander and Mario Addison likely would share time at his position.

Injury-report implications

September, 21, 2012
9/21/12
4:49
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Implications from the injury reports around the AFC South …

Indianapolis remains without inside linebacker Pat Angerer and guard Joe Reitz. Jerrell Freeman’s been a great fill-in for the defense, but Reitz’s replacement, Seth Olsen, is poor. Dwight Freeney, Cory Redding and Mike McGlynn are all questionable. Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison would work for Freeney, Ricardo Mathews probably for Redding and Trai Essex for McGlynn. Big drop-offs all.

Jacksonville will be without left guard Eben Britton, which means another start for Herb Taylor. Daryl Smith will miss his third game, putting Kyle Bosworth into the lineup as an outside linebacker. Cameron Bradfield is questionable, and should be an upgrade at right tackle if he can play and push Guy Whimper back to the bench. Cornerback Derek Cox is probable and should be a boon to the pass defense.

Tennessee will be without middle linebacker Colin McCarthy, a defensive captain. The Titans also have two questionable players on the interior defensive line: Sen’Derrick Marks and rookie Mike Martin. If both are out it’ll mean more snaps for undrafted rookie DaJohn Harris. Detroit tight end Tony Scheffler is doubtful. If he’s out the Lions could play less two-tight or use reserve Will Heller. Strong safety Louis Delmas is also doubtful. His backup is John Wendling.

Houston is quite healthy. Backup inside linebacker Tim Dobbins is questionable. Denver right guard Chris Kuper is out and Manny Ramirez is in line to replace him.
Click here for the complete list of Indianapolis Colts' roster moves.

Most significant move: I didn’t expect they were doing anything with Dwight Freeney, but his $19 million salary had stirred up a new round of rumors that the Colts could let him go. He’s on the team, and there were no real cuts of note aside from the team’s most senior player, long-snapper Justin Snow. It’s not as if they were so deep there was no room, but the Colts held on to several players who weren’t drafted -- tight end Dominique Jones, offensive tackle Ty Nsekhe, linebackers Mario Addison and Mario Harvey and long-snapper Matt Overton.

Onward and upward: The Colts kept both Drew Stanton and rookie Chandler Harnish as backups to Andrew Luck. I understand that Stanton’s been with the Colts through Bruce Arians' installation and there is value in that. But last season showed the value of a decent backup quarterback. If Luck gets hurt and the Colts need an alternative, I suspect there are some guys who just became available who qualify as more talented. General manager Ryan Grigson should have insight into one of them, Mike Kafka, who was released by Philadelphia. Grigson was hired by the Colts from the Eagles personnel department.

What’s next: Every player who is not a vested veteran is subject to waivers. And as the worst team in the NFL last season, the Colts still retain the first pick in the waiver order. That means they will get anyone they claim, so long as the claim comes with a corresponding roster move. That means guys who are feeling good tonight might still be in position to turn in their playbooks Saturday, or in the days to follow. Grigson could do a lot of work to upgrade the last five spots on his roster. Or more. I’d expect some turnover on the offensive line, in the secondary and perhaps at linebacker and quarterback.

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