Thursday, August 10, 2017

Panthers Look Sharp in Preseason Debut; Defeat Texans 27-17

Even though Cam Newton didn't play and a few other starters never made an appearance in last night's game, the Carolina Panthers looked pretty good in their preseason opener at Bank of America Stadium last night against the Houston Texans. In a word, I would call it impressive. Both the starting defense and offense looked in mid-season form, and you could not have asked for much more from them.

The Texans took the opening kickoff and were lead out by career backup quarterback Tom Savage in their first series. However, the Panthers' defense proved to be too much for the Texans, as they went backwards on their first series. The Panthers were lead in their first defensive series by two of their biggest stars, LB Luke Keuchly, who posted a tackle for loss on the game's second play from scrimmage. That was followed by a sack from DT Kawaan "K.K." Short on the next play that sent out the punting unit for the Texans.

Backup QB Derek Anderson wasted little time in getting us reacquainted with two of the Panthers' offensive stars, hitting WR Kelvin Benjamin on a square in and then connecting with TE Greg Olsen down the seam. That would set up a 23-yard toss in which Benjamin climbed the ladder to snare the Panthers' first touchdown catch of the season.

Also impressive was the performance of rookie RB Christian McAffrey. Although the former Stanford star wasn't able to break one into the open field, he still was able to gain positive yardage each time he touched the ball.

The stars of the game for the Panthers were 3rd string QB Joe Webb, who threw for 128 yards and 2 TDs and WR Damiere Byrd, who had 4 receptions for 98 yards and was on the receiving end of both TD passes from Webb. Byrd was on the Panthers' roster last year, but he was low on the depth chart. After his performance last night, the coaching staff might consider moving him up. With rookie WR Curtis Samuel nursing a hamstring and Devin Funchess still not completely developed, Byrd could become a viable second option behind Kelvin Benjamin.

Aside from a controversial catch that was originally ruled a fumble picked up by the Texans' defense and returned for a TD, but then overturned and ruled an incomplete pass, it was a pretty good performance overall. Stats don't mean much when it comes to preseason games, but you like to see good plays and good players. After last night's game, head coach Ron Rivera and his staff don't have an easy decision on who stays and who goes. Luckily, roster cuts don't come until next week, giving the coaching staff another week to look at everyone.

Two notable injuries in last night's game: DT Vernon Butler suffered a knee injury in the first quarter and was carted off the field. No further updates were available at this time, but he was up and trying to walk on it sometime after the injury occurred last night. WR Brenton Bersin suffered a contusion to his left leg after a violent collision with a Texans defender in the second quarter. He should be okay.

The Texans did have some highlights, with rookie QB and former Clemson star DeShaun Watson having a solid showing through almost three quarters of game action. He looks to have the inside track on the starting job in my opinion. He was extremely poised and calm in the pocket.

The Panthers travel to Tennessee next to scrimmage against the Titans before playing them in Nashville next Saturday afternoon.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Benjamin Returns To Practice After Sitting For Sore Knee

After missing a week due to a bone bruise in his knee, rookie WR and Panthers first round draft choice Kelvin Benjamin returned to the practice field on Saturday and showed no ill effects or loss of mobility after missing the week. Benjamin is expected to be the Panthers' no. 1 receiver this season with the wide receiving corps in Carolina basically being all new, so his return to help catch him up to speed with QB Cam Newton was vital.
In other camp news, rookie running back Darrin Reaves looked sharp on Saturday with some huge runs. With more emphasis on the running game and more expected from the running backs this season, and with Jonathan Stewart once again sidelined with an injury, someone needs to step up here and take charge. Perhaps Reaves will be the guy to do so.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

2014 Season Preview

As the 2014 season gets ready to begin at Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC, today, I thought I would take a few moments to preview the coming season.

Coming off a highly successful 2013 season that saw the Panthers go 12-4 and win the NFC South title and make it to the Divisional Round of  the 2013 playoffs, the Panthers made perhaps the biggest surprise move of the offseason, and upset a lot of Panthers fans (including this one), by releasing the Panthers' all-time leading wide receiver and 13-year Panther player, Steve Smith. Shortly thereafter, free agency began and all of the other three receivers that the Panthers utilized regularly in 2013 all left, leaving the Panthers with exactly zero receivers with a regular season reception in a Panthers uniform on their active roster. This has obviously been the hottest topic among Panther fans since March. Couple that with retirement of 13-year starter at left tackle, Jordan Gross, and you have the biggest question marks on the team coming into 2014.

Panthers GM David Gettleman did a pretty decent job of recovering some talent at the wide receiver position by signing former Steelers receiver Jerricho Cotchery and former Eagles receiver Jason Avant as well as Tiquan Underwood from Tampa Bay. Cotchery lead the Steelers in touchdown receptions last season with 10. He has 437 career receptions (source: Avant has promise, but has yet to show his true ability. He spent his first 8 seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, and in Chip Kelly's fast-paced, pass-oriented offense last season only managed 38 receptions and just 2 touchdowns. Underwood is somewhat of a project but came into his own last season with the Bucs, with 24 catches through 12 games with 4 TDs.
By far the biggest (literally) of the additions to the wide receiving corps was the Panthers first round draft choice in this year's draft. Gettleman selected Florida State standout wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin with the 28th pick in the draft. Benjamin stands 6 foot 5 and weighs 240 pounds. He is as big as the man who will be throwing him the ball, Cam Newton! His size and strength make him a great weapon for Newton, who has trouble with delivering the ball too high. Look for Newton to quickly make Benjamin his new favorite target.

The offensive line is still a bit of a question mark. Going into training camp, Byron Bell, who started all 16 games last season at right tackle, is slated to start at the left tackle spot that Gross' retirement left vacant. Ryan Kalil will once again anchor the offensive line at center, but other than that, the competition is pretty much open, with Garry Williams, Amili Silatolu and Edmund Kugbila all returning from season-ending injuries that occurred early in the year last season. Nate Chandler has been converted from a defensive lineman and is expected to compete with Bell for the starting left tackle position. Add Chris Scott, Brian Folkerts and Andrew Macdonald to the list of returning linemen from last season, plus rookie third round choice Trai Turner out of LSU and you have what is expected to be the heart of the competition at offensive line during training camp. The Panthers just today also added former Steeler Fernando Velasco and former Titan Kevin Matthews to their roster. Velasco started 11 games for Pittsburgh last season before injuries sidelined him. Matthews is the son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews and has appeared in 17 games in three seasons.

Defensively, the Panthers look great! With the core nucleus of the front seven returning in its entirety from last season, led by All-Pro middle linebacker Luke Keuchly, arguably the best linebacker in football right now, along with Thomas Davis, Chase Blackburn and sack masters Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson, the defense is primed for another fantastic season. Even the secondary is much improved, with the additions of former Falcons Pro Bowler Thomas DeCoud and former Saints star Roman Harper, along with Charles Godfrey, who will return from a season ending achilles injury last year to switch to cornerback this season. Josh Thomas and Josh Norman will return from injury, James Dockery is still there as well, along with last season's surprise standout Melvin White. No need to go any further with the defense here, it's good.

The Panthers will be relying heavily on Cam Newton this season, and coming off surgery on his ankle this offseason, that could be a dicey situation. The running game will rely more heavily on running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart (who is finally healthy after an injury-plagued 2013) along with fullback Mike Tolbert for more production, at least during the early part of the season, until Newton regains confidence in his surgically repaired ankle. This is going to be key because, due to his surgery, Newton has had little to no time to develop a chemistry with his brand new wide receiving corps. That is going to slow down the passing attack. However, this team is resilient, as we discovered last season. So, don't count the Panthers out in 2014!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Beason Out for Season; Beane Takes on Added Role

Today the Panthers announced that starting LB Jon Beason had been placed on injured reserve due to the knee injury he suffered in week 4. Add this to the growing list of attrition that seems to be adding to the Panthers' woes. Earlier in the week starting CB Chris Gamble was placed on IR due to a shoulder injury he suffered in week 4 as well. Both players will require surgery to fix torn ligaments in their respective areas of injury.
Brandon Beane
In other news, the Panthers' long-time Director of Football Operations, Brandon Beane, has been tagged with new responsibilities, given the departure of former General Manager Marty Hurney, who was relieved of his duties on Sunday. Beane will now oversee the day-to-day operations on the football end inside the office,while coordinating his efforts with Head Coach Ron Rivera and Pro Personnel Director Mark Koncz.
One of the first orders of business was to fill the roster spots left vacant by the injuries to Gamble and Beason. The Panthers have claimed LB Doug Hogue off of waivers from the Detroit Lions to fill Gamble's spot and have signed CB James Dockery to fill Beason's spot. You lose a corner, you sign an limebacker, you lose a linembacker, you sign a corner. Go figure...

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Panthers Fall Flat Again;Fire GM Hurney

Coming off a bye week in which the Carolina Panthers seemed to refocus their efforts, the team once again looked anemic against an up-and-down Dallas Cowboys squad on Sunday. Quarterback Cam Newton threw an interception inside the Cowboys' 5-yard line that cost the team at least three points, and Tony Romo connected with Miles Davis on a 26-yard TD pass that would help the Cowboys to a 19-14 victory. Kudos to the defense for their effort on Sunday. They kept the cowboys in check, allowing just 87 rushing yards and holding them to just 19 points.
On the other side of the ball, however, it was awful. Neither DeAngelo Williams nor Jonathan Stewart could get into the flow of the game, Newton continued to be average at best, and there was not enough time given by the offensive line to allow for a decent passing game to develop. Afterwards, Newton asked the members  of the press to drop suggestions in a suggestion box as to what was wrong with the Panthers' offense, because, he said, he had no clue.
In a post-game press conference, GM Marty Hurney hinted that his job may be in jeopardy, taking the blame for putting together the unit that is this year's underachieving squad. True enough, Panthers Owner Jerry Richardson announced late Sunday evening that Hurney had been fired after 11 seasons as the Panthers' General Manager. A replacement for Hurney has not been named.
Also, Head Coach Ron Rivera told the media on Monday that starting CB Chris Gamble would need season-ending shoulder surgery and that Gamble had been placed on the injured reserve list.
When it rains, it pours Panthers fans.
Brandon LaFell reaches across for one of two Panthers touchdowns against the  Cowboys on Sunday.
I would say that the Panthers could rebound against the Bears this Sunday, but against the Panthers, the Bears will probably be a dominate force to contend with.    

Friday, October 19, 2012

Commissioner Goodell Recuses Himself from Saints Bounty Scandal

Earlier today NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that he is recusing  himself from the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal. The scandal began back in March when the Commissioner announced that there was evidence that Saints players had been offered monetary compensation to injure certain players during the course of a game. The league launched an investigation that resulted in the suspensions of Saints head coach Sean Payton for an entire season, and the indefinite suspension of then Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Also suspended were Saints linebacker Johnathan Vilma (for an entire season) and  defensive end Will Smith (7 Games), along with former Saints linebacker, now with the Cleveland Browns, Scott Fujita (originally a 3-game suspension, but has been reduced to one), and free agent defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove (8 games reduced to three if he is picked up by any team).
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell
U.S. District Court Judge Ginger Berrigan overturned these suspensions later on and told Commissioner Goodell that his penalties were too severe and that he needed to review the case in more detail. After doing so, Commissioner Goodell reaffirmed the suspensions about two weeks ago. Since then, Vilma and Smith have each petitioned the Commissioner to recuse himself from the case, feeling that his rulings are too emotionally biased. Goodell has been fuming over this case since the story broke earlier this year. It is apparent that he is not happy with these accusations. However, Vilma and Smith at least continue to maintain their innocence in the matter, stating that they never have participated in any pay-to-injure schemes.
It seems that the only evidence the league can produce is a videotape of the Saints' defense in the huddle on the sidelines with coordinator Gregg Williams after Michael Vick was knocked out of a game in 2010 in which Will Smith appears to say something like "You owe me for that. Gimme my money." Although the audio evidence is very unclear and it is not certain exactly what was said, and there is no evidence that the video is authentic.
Former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue
Given all the controversy surrounding the ruling, Commissioner Goodell may have done the right thing. He has appointed former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, now retired,  to continue the investigation .He will hear from all four players involved on October 30th. Tagliabue will then determine if the suspensions are warranted or if they are too strong or even necessary. Until that point, all players involved will continue to play, although Hargrove is still unsigned, Fujita's play is limited, and Vilma has been on the Saint's physically unable to perform list up until this week.
I personally feel that there is not sufficient evidence to uphold the suspensions, however if these suspensions are completely overturned, does that not meant that the league is admitting that the bountygate scandal does not have enough evidence to uphold any suspensions, including those of Payton, Williams, defensive assistant Joe Vitt and others involved in the Saints' front office? If so, did this bounty scandal actually occur? Tagliabue's decision could spell doom for Goodell and the league, or it could make him look like the strong leader that he intends to portray. In either case, this scandal has taken a conservative turn by bringing in the former Commish.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Dismal Start for Panthers in 2012

Yes, I know Panther fans, it has been awhile since I wrote anything here. I didn't want to let the blog just die, however, so I am here to get you up to speed on what has been a dismal first quarter of the 2012 season for the Panthers.
Panthers 1sr-round draft pick Luke Keuchly
Image Credit: Jeremy Brevard-US Presswire
The Panthers drafted LB Luke Keuchly out of Boston College in the first round of the 2012 Draft. Keuchly was the all-time FBS leader in tackles coming out of BC. He was expected to add some much needed support at a linebacker position that was decimated last year with the losses of both Thomas Davis, who suffered his third torn ACL in as many years, and Pro Bowler Jon Beason, who tore his hamstring in the second game of the season and was out for the remainder of the year.
However the one thing that the Panthers failed miserably at in their draft class was to address an ailing and, quite frankly, under-talented defensive secondary. With the exception of Josh Norman, a third-round pickup from Coastal Carolina, the Panthers came into 2012 with only one viable cornerback on their roster, 9-year veteran Chris Gamble. And that lack of talent has reared its ugly head throughout the season.
The Panthers started the year with a surprising 16-10 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team picked by most experts to be the cellar dweller in the NFC South. They followed this with an impressive home-opening win against the New Orleans Saints, who are still struggling to overcome the bounty-gate scandal and the suspensions involved.
The next stop was a Thursday night game at home against the defending Super Bowl Champions, the New York Giants. It did not go well. Cam Newton struggled and seemed completely out of it mentally in his national television debut as a professional, and Eli Manning and company cruised to a 36-7 victory. The Panthers looked like a a laughingstock through the course of this game.
The Panthers faced their fiercest division rivals next in the Atlanta Falcons down in the Georgia Dome. Although the team looked much better, it was this game in particular that highlighted the Panthers' ineptitude in the secondary. With the Panthers up 28-27 and 1:20 left on the clock, the defense had the Falcons pinned at their own 2-yard line. That's when safety Haruki Nakamura gave up a 52-yard completion to Roddy White and allowed the Falcons into position to kick the game-winning field goal. If you follow football any at all, you know the Falcons' record. And you know the outcome of this game. Falcons won 30-28.
On a cool, overcast afternoon in Charlotte, the Panthers hosted the Seattle Seahawks in a game that could have meant some vindication for the team, but the offense came up empty and the only touchdown the team managed was a pick-6 by nickel back Captain Munnerlyn. Eventually, a failed 4th-down conversion on the Seahawks' 3 yard line would prove to be the demise of the Panthers as they lost 16-12 to fall to 1-4 on the season.
So now you are up to speed. The team had a bye week in week 6 and will host the Dallas Cowboys this Sunday at Bank of America Stadium. This is another winnable game, if the offense finally shows up and the defense can keep Tony Romo in check. But, at this point, I won't hold my breathe...