Coaches Film Review: The Maturation of Cam Newton

One of the most heated debates in football year in and year out revolves around the Quarterback position. “This guys better than that guy”, “This young Quarterback has reached elite status but this one hasn’t”, “This guy hasn’t been dealt as good of a hand as this one”. The debates go on an on (and will continue to do so), but for some reason Panthers Quarterback Cam Newton is often overlooked. Against the Bears Newton displayed traits that should have him in the discussion as one of the great young Quarterbacks in the league. With the help of the coaches film I would like to highlight five of these. 

1. Lower Body Technique

One of the areas where Newton has made noticeable strides is his technique in the pocket, especially in regards to his lower body. When he came into the league Newton’s lower half would be sloppy and slow. He wouldn’t step into throws, didn’t adjust to his target and would often just ignore his lower body in general. Since that time though, Newton has cleaned up his technique allowing him to be more accurate as a passer.

cam feet

This is Newton’s first throw of the game. He does a good job squaring his lower half to his target, and stepping into his throw.

cam feet 2

His technique allows him to put touch on the ball, and throw a soft pass that Cotchery is able to make a relatively easy sideline catch on. In the past, Newton would have looked to just fire the ball in there and convert the down. He’s grown to trust his feet and technique in the pocket, which has resulted in him developing into a Quarterback who can elevate the players around him.

cam-cotch

While this is an area where Newton has made great strides, it’s also an area where he could continue to be more consistent…

cam olsen inc 1

Here we’ll see a play where the technique isn’t so strong. He’s got a clean pocket and Tight End Greg Olsen, is coming open on the in-route. Instead of planting his feet and stepping into his throw, he decides to gun the ball in there with only his upper half.

cam olsen inc 2

Unsurprisingly, Newton puts the ball too far out in front of his TE, and the play is incomplete. A better technical throw and this is likely a completion that moves the chains.

cam-olsen-inc

cam feet2a

Late in the first half on a critical drive, we see the young QB with much better footwork again.

cam feet2b

Newton plants and steps into his throw instead of relying on his upper body. He’s able to snap his lower half to the target, which allows him to drive the ball more accurately to the intended receiver.

cam feet2c

The result is an easy catch for Wide Receiver Jason Avant, who finds a hole in the middle of the Bears Zone for a 20 yard gain.

cam-avant-20

2. Ball Placement

Newton has also made improvements in his ball placement. He’s become better at putting touch on the ball to make for an easier catch, as well as locating the ball where his receiver can make a safe catch. This is one of the finer points of Quarterbacking, and is another big sign in how much Newton has already developed as a passer.

cam td olsen 1a

On Newton’s Touchdown to Olsen at the end of the first half, we’ll see the QB utilize excellent ball placement. Once again we’ll see it all starts with the technique in the pocket, Newton is standing tall, his hips are square to the target, and he’s transitioning off his plant as he steps into his throw.

cam td olsen 1b

The Safety breaks late, but if the ball is thrown inside of Olsen he’s probably got a chance to make a play.

cam td olsen 1c

Recognizing the high Safety inside of Olsen, Newton places the ball outside and trusts his TE to make the play. Olsen rewards him with a good extension catch for the TD to pull within seven of the Bears going into the half. This play would be one of the turning points of the game in which the Panthers would come back from being down 14 to win 31-24.

cam-olsen-td

Cam-KB-EZ

On this pass Newton does an excellent job leading rookie WR Kelvin Benjamin away from the Defender. He places the ball over Benjamin’s outside shoulder, meaning if Kelvin doesn’t catch it, nobody will.  Benjamin is unable to locate the ball, but it’s still a great throw by Newton.

3. Keeping Eyes Down Field While Moving the Pocket

Another area where Newton has continued to improve is maintaining his eye level down field while scrambling our of the pocket, or climbing up it. This has been vital to his success in 2014 as he’s battling an ankle injury that has limited his ability to make plays with his legs. On Sunday against the Bears, Newton demonstrated this ability during the first quarter, on a play that nearly moved the sticks. Even though the receiver ultimately dropped the pass, it’s worth pointing out Newton’s play.

cam climb 1

The pockets closing and the play hasn’t opened up yet. There’s a lane where Newton could get a few yards if he wants, but with third and long & a bad wheel the QB is going to look to make the play with his arm.

cam climb 2

He climbs up into the lane in the pocket, but continues to keep his eyes down field looking for a target.

cam climb 3

The Defenders close the gap, but his scrambling has bought time to  free up Jason Avant right at the sticks. Newton sees him and zeros in on his target. He loads and releases the ball under immense pressure.

cam climb 4

He’s able to make an incredibly difficult throw across his body. The throw is on the money, giving Avant a chance to get down and making the catch while shielding himself. Unfortunately Avant lets the ball bounce off of him and the Panthers are forced to punt.

cam-climb

4. Throwing the Ball Into Tight Windows

Newton has only thrown one interception this season. Without studying each game, somebody may draw the conclusion that he hasn’t taken chances as a QB. The truth couldn’t be any further from that. Newton has displayed excellent confidence in his ability, “threading the needle” on multiple occasions to give his team a chance.

KB-window

On this play Newton will fire in a ball to Benjamin in traffic. Not only is the coverage on Benjamin tight, but the window at the LoS is also small as the blitzing Linebacker is filling the lane. Newton is able to place the pass right in Benjamin’s body, but the rookie drops it.

cam-window1

cam-kb-window

In what became a trend against the Bears, Newton once again drops a dime on the rookie and Benjamin isn’t able to finish the play. Newton is pressured from his blind side as well as up the middle, but stands tall in the pocket and fires a dart. The window is tight, but Newton is able to drop the ball right into Benjamin’s hands. Before Benjamin can fully secure the catch fellow rookie Kyle Fuller is able to slap the ball out.

A look at the still image from the broadcast shows us just how easy Newton made this for Benjamin….

cam needle 1

5. Looking Off Defenders

The last area I want to highlight is the improvements Newton has made with his eyes. While he can still lock onto a target at times (like all Quarterbacks), Newton has gotten much better at going through progressions on plays. More importantly, the young QB has developed the ability to fool the Defender with his eyes to open the play up.

cam-eyes-1

On this play, Newton will bait the Defender with his eyes. The Safety will stay to the outside of the field, even taking a false step as he eyes Newton. By the time Olsen breaks inside the Defender is already out of the play. Newton’s able to snap back and fire a strike to his TE.

cam vision 1

As Newton pulls the football out on his play fake he switches his eyes to the left side of the field where Kelvin Benjamin is. Notice the Safety at the bottom right of the screen, he’s reading Newton’s eyes and shading to his right.

cam vision 2

As Olsen breaks inside the Safety tries to recover but his false step has taken him out of position to make the play. Newton locates his TE and loads up.

cam vision 3

Newton is able to snap his body back to Olsen, and fire a strike to the TE. The intermediate middle of the field has been vacated thanks in part to Newton’s eyes, and Olsen is able to secure the ball for the game winning Touchdown. Newton actually had two potential scoring options thanks to the middle being vacated, as fellow TE Brandon Williams was coming open from the other side on an identical route.

cam-vision

 

While young signal callers Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck and Colin Kaepernick are often spot lighted by the media, Newton has become the forgotten face. Quietly, Newton has turned into a top-tier Quarterback in his own right, especially in 2014 as he’s been forced to make more plays from the pocket.  As his ankle steadily heals, a critical point in Newton’s continuing maturation is approaching. Will he opt to scramble more often, or will he continue to look to make plays with his arm? The answer to that question could be the determining factor of his development into either an elite passer, or just a great one.

Please  and feel free to email me at danguy013@gmail.com

 

Coaches Film Review: Charles Johnson

cj

Two total tackles….two. Hardly the numbers you expect out of your highest paid player on the roster, and Panthers fans have taken to social media to express their frustrations. It’s easy to look at box scores and stat pages drawing conclusions that a player isn’t performing well, but rarely is it quite that simple. After watching the coaches film for the Panthers home win against the Detroit Lions, it became clear to me that the man Panthers fans call “Big Money” thanks to his exorbitant salary, was taking some undeserved criticism. While everyone (including myself) would like to see Charles Johnson go out and have multiple sack games each week, the truth is that’s just not realistic. What fans should know though is CJ is impacting plays, and I want to show you just a few of the ways.

Edge Rush

Despite the lack of sacks, Johnson is still getting pressure on the Quarterback off the edge. Here we’ll look at a simple example of this.

cj 1

The situation is 3rd and 2 and the Panthers have dialed up a blitz. They’re going to send Linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis into the A-Gap to try and overload the interior of the Offensive Line. At the same time, Defensive Tackle Star Lotulelei is going to slant out to the LT while rookie Defensive End Kony Ealy stunts in on the Guard. Safety Roman Harper will drop back into Man Coverage on Tight End Brandon Pettigrew. DT Colin Cole will attack the Right Guard, leaving Johnson 1-1 with the Right Tackle.

cj3

Initially Stafford has a good pocket. The Lions seemed to have picked up the blitz, and it looks like Stafford will be able to sit back and wait for routes to develop. However, on the left side you can see that Johnson has gotten into the Right Tackles frame, and is starting to drive him back.

cj2

Johnson continues to drive with his legs, and ultimately is able to push the Right Tackle back into Stafford’s lap as he’s releasing the ball. The result is a hurried and poor release, that falls in the dirt. No Johnson doesn’t get the sack, but his rush does help to force a punt. On the ensuing drive, the Panthers would run 14 plays and take a second quarter lead on a field goal.

Here’s another play where Johnson impacted the game from the edge

cj edge 1

It’s the beginning of the fourth quarter and the Lions are trailing 13-7. They’re facing 3rd and 5 from the Panthers 49. It’s a four man rush however Thomas Davis reads Bell as staying in to block so initially blitzes. When Bell flares out, Davis adjusts and shadows him into the flats. Kuechly will drop into coverage from the start. Addison will be one on one with the Right Tackle, with Dwan Edwards occupying the Right Guard and Center. Both Short and Johnson will be man on man vs the Left Guard and Left Tackle respectively.

cj edge 2

Almost instantly, Johnson wins the leverage battle and is able to drive the Left Tackle backwards. He uses a powerful bull rush to dictate the Left Tackle’s position, and again collapses the edge.

cj edge 3

Johnson’s bull rush is so effective that he actually runs the Left Tackle into Stafford’s back. 

cj edge 4

Realizing the pressure he’s now under, Stafford looks to move the pocket, however what he doesn’t realize is he’s sliding right into Addison who has worked his way across the line.

cj edge 5

Stafford tries to evade Addison in the backfield to keep the play alive, but the more athletic Defensive End is able to close in and swallow him up with the help of Dwan Edwards. The play results in a sack for a loss of 15, and the Lions having to punt. Another play where Johnson doesn’t register in the box score, but he certainly had an impact.

 

As A Standing Blitzer

Johnson also disrupted plays blitzing up the middle as well. Here we’ll see Johnson lined up blitzing the A-Gap much like Luke and Thomas Davis were the previous play. While the Lions actually completed the pass this time around, it wasn’t because of anything Big Money did or didn’t do.

cj sugar

The situation is 3rd and 7 with the ball on the Detroit 40 yard line. The Panthers are once again blitzing, though this time their sending only one extra man, Safety Thomas DeCoud. They load up the line of scrimmage and give the appearance that they’re sending the house. However DE Mario Addison, Linebacker Luke Kuechly and Slot Corner Bene Benwikere all drop out into Zone Coverage. DeCoud comes down and looks to get around the edge.

cj sugar 2

The Left Guard is left in no mans land when Addison drops back, leaving Thomas Davis, Dwan Edwards and Johnson with 1-1 match ups across the line.

cj sugar 3

The Guard eventually adjusts, but by this time Johnson has driven the Center back, and is effectively collapsing the pocket in on Stafford. Stafford actually does an excellent job to even get the pass off, being that his Center was actually ran into him by Johnson’s bull rush. That said, the ball comes out high and if not for an outstanding effort by Wide Receiver Calvin Johnson, it likely is caught harmlessly out-of-bounds.

cj sugar 4

Interrupting Throwing Windows

Another way Johnson impacted Stafford’s performance Sunday was by getting into his throwing windows on passing plays.

cj window 1

The situation is 2nd and 10 from the Lions 27 with the Panthers trailing 6-7. This time it’s a standard four man rush, with Harper, Davis and Kuechly all dropping back. The TE furthest to the right will run a drag route across the face of Stafford, leaving the inside Tight End Brandon Pettigrew, to block Mario Addison 1-1. The Lions will commit two men to both Defensive Tackles on the play. At Right End, Johnson sill split out wide as he sees the Left Guard pulling. The RB tries to chip him (marked by the black x), but Johnson does a nice job with his hands and feet to slide by undeterred for the most part.

cj window 2

Here you’ll see the interaction between the RB Joique Bell and Johnson in the backfield. Again, with nimble feet and quick hands, Johnson is going to avoid Bell for the most part with relative ease.

cj window 3

Johnson engages the Guard to Stafford’s left, and once again has good leverage to drive him backwards.

cj window 4

He’s not able to drive him back into the QB completely this time. Realizing this, Johnson does a good job to interrupt Stafford’s throwing lane by getting his hands up at his eye level. The result is a ball that’s slightly off target for Bell in the flats, falling incomplete. Johnson’s effort helps to force a third and long, where the Panthers are able to create another incompletion. The Panthers will get the ball back, taking the lead on a long drive. It’s a lead they won’t relinquish throughout the rest of the game.

In Coverage

One of the more interesting looks throughout the game was when the Panthers dropped Johnson into coverage.

cj cvg 1

The situation is 3rd and 4 from the Lions 42. We’re in the second quarter, and the Panthers have a slim 3-0 lead. The Panthers will show a heavy blitz to Stafford pre snap, but ultimately it’s only a three man rush. Bene Benwikere will play a shallow zone to the far side of the field, Luke Kuechly will drop into the middle, and DeCoud will drop deep. Thomas Davis, Mario Addison and Dwan Edwards will all rush the passer. The Panthers will do something very unconventional, and have both Charles Johnson and Kawaan Short drop into shallow coverage.

cj cvg 2

Johnson actually does a decent job jamming Tight End Eric Ebron as he comes off the line, redirecting him to where he has more help in the middle of the field. Ebron ultimately gets free, but it’s hard to fault Johnson’s effort.

cj cvg 3

Ebron will create just enough space to catch a five yard drag route and move the chains, but the versatility Johnson shows on plays like this should be mentioned.

Ultimately a player (especially a pass rusher) is judged on his numbers, so Johnson will have to start producing for everyone to realize he’s still a very good player. What shouldn’t go unsaid though, is that he’s still recovering from a nagging training camp injury that caused him to miss a good bit of practices and preseason action. Even watching him on film and comparing to last year, you can tell he’s not quite up to full speed yet. When he does get there I have no doubt that he’ll continue to impact games both on the stat sheet, as well as beyond it. The Panthers will surely hope so, as they will look for Big Money to take the reins and help shoulder the load of Greg Hardy’s recent suspension.

 

Please  and feel free to email me at danguy013@gmail.com

 

Three Stars and Other Takeaways From Preseason Game Three

luke-slamLuke saw Brandon Williams’ suplex last week and said anything you can do I can do better…

 

Friday night the Panthers traveled to Foxboro to take on the New England Patriots in what typically is the “Dress Rehearsal” for most teams in the NFL Preseason. While most starters played into the third quarter Friday, it felt nothing like a typical third preseason game, even from the start. After just three series Luke Kuechly left the field, the Panthers opened the game with six straight passes (something that’s extremely atypical of the Carolina Offense), and the game (at least from the Panthers perspective) just seemed to lack planning all-together. Still, even with the far from normal Dress Rehearsal there are things to take away and a few things to like, and even more to dislike. So with that said, lets start with the players that flashed on Friday.

 

Honorable Mentions

1. Thomas Davis

Davis is a great story. Athletic Linebacker who is playing sensational then suffers three ACL injuries on the same knee. You would expect the story to end with Davis hanging the cleats up and for many it would, but TD is a rare breed. Instead of taking the easy way out Davis clawed back and fought to return from the devastating injuries. Now two years later the injuries are an afterthought (though I doubt I’ll ever stop holding my breath when he makes a tackle), and Davis is playing arguably better than he ever has. Quick, instinctive, punishing, effort, heart, passion. Any of these words would be a great way to characterize an NFL player, but TD has them all. He’s the complete package at Linebacker, and perhaps the most vocal leader on the team. Friday night he flashed several times, including this reaction to a pass in the backfield. TD, never fooled for a minute, stops the play in its tracks.

td-reaction

On this second play we see how easily Davis flows to the ball carrier and punishes him.

td-run

2. Jonathan Stewart

Once thought to be an albatross by Panthers fans, Stewart has flashed for two consecutive weeks now. While the stat line is much stronger against the Chiefs, Friday Stewart had several plays that once again gave fans hope for a productive year. On the first, he makes a catch on the sideline. The catch itself isn’t exactly the prettiest catch you’re ever going to see by a Running Back, but the run after reminded us of the burst that Stewart has despite his size. Stewart does a good job to absorb the contact while maintaining balance along the sideline. He then hits the gas and gets a good amount of yards after the catch.

stew-catch

He also had a physical run later in the game where he absorbed contact and kept his legs moving to gain extra yards. It wont amount to much in the box score, but the effort shouldn’t go unnoticed. His ability to run through first contact makes him the ideal back for a system like the Panthers, and his effort could eventually mean a lions share of the workload IF he can stay healthy.

stew-run

 

Three Stars

1. Star Lotulelei 

The first of the three stars for week three is Star Lotulelei. Or as I like to call him, perhaps the luckiest moment in Panthers history. While Star didn’t have the flashy sack like he did against the Chiefs, he did make his presence felt in the trenches yet again. I want to mention Colin Cole too, because he ability to regularly occupy two blockers has allowed Star to play some 3-technique during the Preseason where he can exploit Guards with his combo of strength and quickness.

The play below is a good example of this.

star-pressure

Initially Cole playing the 1-technique is doubled off the snap by the Left Guard and Center. This leaves Star 1-1 with the Right Guard. Star almost instantly beats the Guard by ripping and shedding inside. The Center adjusts to try to help, but Star has already shot the gap and broken past the line. Without holding the Center has no shot to slow down Star. Star explodes into the backfield and pressures Brady into a poor throw. It doesn’t look like much, but this slight pressure forces Brady to throw the ball before he’s ready, and into the dirt. In the regular season, this could be the difference of getting the ball back to the offense with a chance to win the game late.

star-shed

Another simple play, this time the Center bumps Star off the line in hopes to get him off balance. However Star keeps surging forward and into the Guard. With quick hands and power he’s able to get into the Guards pads where he can redirect him on the field. Star then simply overpowers him and is able to rip outside shoulder to shed the block. Star doesn’t finish the play, but his initial contact on the Running Back in the backfield is the act that allows Safety, Colin Jones to get down field and stop the Back for a loss.

star-screen

This last play highlights Star’s recognition on a Screen. Star barrels ahead rushing Quarterback Ryan Mallet as usual. However, as soon as Ryan slides to the near side of the field to toss the ball to Running Back Shane Vereen Star recognizes that a screen is being set up. While Wes Horton and Kony Ealy continue to push the pocket Star instinctively bails out and pursues the Running Back. On this play Star shows he’s more than just a physical animal on the football field, he’s an intelligent one too.

2. Kelvin Benjamin

In what’s becoming less surprising by the week, the Panthers new number one Wide Receiver once again finds himself on the “star” list. Not only did Benjamin have his best outing from a statistical perspective Friday, he did it against the best opposition he’s faced thus far. In fact he even got the best of arguably the best Corner in the league with this beauty of a hands catch on third down. Not only did he move the chains, but Benjamin showed how much a luxury it can be to have an “area code” Wide Receiver.

benjamin-hands

More importantly then flashy extension catches like this though, was the chemistry Benjamin and Cam Newton showed on the field. The duo hooked up five times for a total of 47 yards, including back to back receptions on the first drive.  After being sacked on his first drop back, Newton and the Panthers Offense found themselves looking at second and long. With ease, Benjamin found space in the Defense on a dig route, and Cam confidently fired the ball into his new BFF’s awaiting arms.

benjamin-dig

On the next play Newton did a good job standing in the pocket and waiting for Benjamin to get open on the comeback. Benjamin did just that getting down field past the sticks, and aggressively coming back to the ball before making a sure catch along the sideline.

benjamin-sideline

 3. Brenton Bersin

Another player made an impact Friday night and just in case you weren’t quite certain the former Terrier was making the roster (he is), he made it next to impossible to cut him with his two 21 yard catches late in the third quarter Friday night. The first was a sensational hands grab on third and very long, where Bersin plucked the ball out of the air in order to move the chains.

bersin-hands

Another look shows us how Bersin was able to use his hands to shake the Defender on his release and give him the space to break inside. I especially liked Bersin’s awareness to signal the first down after finishing the play too.

bersin-hards-2

The second was a simple seam route where Bersin gets down field, then sits down in front of the Defender to make an easy grab. Simple, nothing special at all, but highly effective.

bersin-grab

The fact is that outside of Benjamin, Bersin has been the most consistent WR throughout camp. He’s what you need in a chain mover. A scrappy, fundamentally sound player, with good hands and nice clean routes. At this point I would say Bersin has gone from post draft long shot to virtual lock for week one.

 

Other Takeaways

The Panthers Defense Is Lost Without Luke Kuechly

Ok….maybe not lost, but there certainly is a sizable drop off when 59 exits the field. After three series Friday Kuechly was rested in favor for looking at other players. The results speak for themselves: In the first three series the Panthers surrendered just 46 yards and a field goal, in the remaining six drives the Carolina Defense yielded 332 yards, and three drives of 80 yards or more. Staggering to say the least, Kuechly is brains of the Carolina Defense and the player that makes the whole thing work. His ability to react to plays before they happen, cover the flats, use his athleticism blitzing, and his incredible tackling ability all add up to one player the Panthers just can’t be without in 2014. He’s a Defensive player Coordinators absolutely must account for on every play, and one that will continue to get better entering his third year in the NFL.

Chemistry Still An Issue For Newton and Receivers Not Named Benjamin

Friday night Newton was sacked several times, and looked hesitant to throw the ball at other points. While some were quick to jump on Byron Bell and the rest of the Offensive Line, that wasn’t the whole story. For whatever reason, the other Receivers weren’t getting passes thrown their way. The first reaction was that the Panthers pass catchers weren’t getting open down field, and while this could certainly be the case without coaches tape it’s hard to say for sure. Then, Jason Avant commented on Saturday that after watching the film the he and the other Wide Receivers on the roster were in fact getting open down field. This to me says chemistry and trust still hasn’t developed. This isn’t totally surprising with Newton missing time during the off season after ankle surgery, but it is something the Panthers will need to correct in a hurry. With the start of the season just two weeks away the Panthers cannot have their Quarterback hesitant to push the ball vertically, and everyone needs to be on the same page. Which is why in my opinion, Head Coach Ron Rivera has been adamant that Newton and the rest of the starting Offense will play on Thursday in the Preseason finale against the Steelers. Historically the Panthers have rested starters in this game in favor to get a look at the backups, however that doesn’t seem to be the plan for Thursday. The good thing is it should be a good test for the Offense, as the Steelers have a talented Defense with some young and explosive pass rushers. I wouldn’t expect Cam and Co. to be out there long, but it should be some more quality reps to develop the chemistry in the unit.

We Were Introduced to Byron Bell’s Dance Moves Friday, and They Are Legendary…

As Colin Hoggard host of The Call Up on WFNZ put it….#Belling

Projected 53 Man Roster

Quarterback: Cam Newton, Derek Anderson

Thought Process: Same decision as last week, it’s a numbers game and Cam has shown enough mobility that Joe Webb has become a luxury the Panthers can’t afford despite his admirable performance throughout the weeks.

Running Backs: DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert, Fozzy Whitaker

Thought Process: With Barner’s trade to Philly the fourth Running Back spot has become Fozzy’s to lose in my opinion. It doesn’t hurt that Darrin Reaves hasn’t been able to play in two games, and Fozzy has taken advantage of the opportunity.

Wide Receivers: Kelvin Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant, Tavarres King, Brenton Bersin, Corey Brown/Free Agent

Thought Process: Earlier today Tiquan Underwood was cut due to his inability to make plays even against practice squad bound players. This opens the door for Corey “Don’t Call Me Philly” Brown to make the 53 man roster as the lone “burner”. In my opinion, the Panthers could look to the last round of cuts to bring in a more proven home run threat, but for now the spot is Brown’s.

Tight End: Greg Olsen, Ed Dickson, Brandon Williams, Richie Brockel

Thought Process: Richie Brockel makes the roster as a fourth TE, but will primarily be used as a lead blocker at FB. Brandon Williams completes a trio of athletic Tight Ends who can all stretch the Defense. I don’t forsee any changes to this group despite D.C. Jefferson’s touchdown catch Friday night.

Offensive Line: Ryan Kalil, Byron Bell, Nate Chandler, Amini Silatolu, Trai Turner, Chris Scott, Gary Williams, Brian Folkerts, Fernando Velasco/Free Agent Addition

Thought Process: Same list as last week. Depth is an obvious concern, and the Panthers could look to make upgrades in this area.

Defensive Line: Charles Johnson, Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short, Greg Hardy, Dwan Edwards, Mario Addison, Kony Ealy, Wes Horton, Colin Cole

Thought Process: I said it last week and I’ll say it again, if it’s not broke don’t fix it. The Defensive Line and Linebackers are the obvious strengths of the team. A nine man rotation allows for fresh bodies most of the game. Having Charles Johnson, Greg Hardy and Kony Ealy in the rotation allows for creative scheming up front as all three can slide inside to allow for more pass rush on the field.

Linebackers: Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Chase Blackburn, AJ Klein, Jason Williams, D.J. Smith

Thought Process: See above, the Linebacker unit definitely isn’t broken. D.J. Smith has made some plays both on Special Teams and in the late stages of games so he holds onto that last LB spot.

Cornerbacks: Antoine Cason, Melvin White, Bene Benwikere, Charles Godfrey (versatility to play Safety keeps him here), Josh Norman

Thought Process: The play of Cason and White have been bright spots in the Secondary. Charles Godfrey and Bene Benwikere continue to battle for the Nickel and Dime roles, and Josh Norman could be a huge wildcard if he can keep his emotions in check and be more consistent.

Safeties: Roman Harper, Thomas DeCoud, Colin Jones, Robert Lester, Tre Boston

Thought Process: Still the weak link of the team in my opinion, I almost expect to see additions in this area after cuts. Something to watch will be Roman Harper, who has been gone an awfully long time with Turf Toe.

Special Teams: Graham Gano, Brad Nortman, J.J. Jansen

Thought Process: Not much to say here, both Nortman and Gano are two of the best at their respective positions. Jansen is a longtime Special Teamer in Charlotte who can play Linebacker in a pinch.

*Frank Alexander wouldn’t have to be included on 53 man roster till his suspension is over*

 

Did you really think I wasn’t going to find a way to fit Brandon Williams in here? You obviously don’t follow me on twitter…

bones-save

In all seriousness, the effort to run the Defender down and force him out of bounds didn’t go unnoticed in the film room.

 

Please  and feel free to email me at danguy013@gmail.com

 

 

Three Stars & Other Takeaways From Preseason Game Two

The Panthers took the National spotlight last night, and familiar face in the Panthers huddle the last few years made his return…

 

After sitting out the first Preseason game still recovering from his Offseason ankle surgery, Quarterback Cam Newton finally got back on the field and had some live bullets thrown at him. His first drives were rocky at best, with some inaccurate passes and poor decisions, but eventually Newton settled down and made a couple of pretty throws including a fireball over the middle of the field to new BFF Kelvin Benjamin. On the Defensive side of the ball, the Panthers started slow for the second straight week surrendering an opening drive Field Goal. Much like the Panthers QB though, the Defense quickly settled in and controlled Kansas City for much of the first half. All in all, it was a good night for Panthers fans, seeing flashes from several familiar faces, and a few new arrivals. As with every Preseason game, the goal is evaluation and there was plenty to evaluate last night.

Honorable Mentions

1. Brenton Bersin

bersin-td

Bersin had a good day with a couple of very nice catches including a back shoulder adjustment for a touchdown. The former Charlotte Latin standout did a good job setting up his Defender on a Corner route, and created just enough separation to make the grab in the end zone. Bersin’s route running could be a big asset for the Panthers in 2014. His skill set makes for a potential prototype third down chain mover, and with concentration catches like this one Bersin should definitely have a locker when the Panthers open the regular season against Tampa Bay.

2. Brandon Williams

Swole Bones makes my standouts for a second week in a row, this time falling just shy of a “star” of the game. Williams was a good presence in the passing game yet again, including a long reception where he proved difficult to bring down for the Chiefs….

bwill-catch

He also narrowly missed a touchdown for the second straight week, however he did draw a flag in the end zone setting up an easy Fozzy Whitaker score. Williams probably should have brought down this pass, but it wasn’t the best of throws either.

bwill-ez

Williams also showed an ability to get to the second level as a blocker. The same can’t be said for his results as a lead blocker, which almost certainly provided a few laughs during film session on Monday.

bwill-lead-block

Thankfully for Williams he can refer everyone to this textbook suplex if they give him too hard of a time.

bwill-suplex

3A. Star Lotulelei

I could have easily said the entire Defensive Line again, but this week I decided to single out Star. I’m not sure if people should be surprised by Star’s play anymore, but when a 320 pound Defensive Tackle shows a great combination of speed, power and pass rush moves it’s worth mentioning.

star-sack

This move demonstrates Star as a football player. He’s quick and explosive off the snap, swimming over the Guard with his right arm. Once he gets inside the Guard he bursts around him. At the same time he uses his other arm to brush the Guard aside and push them in to the turf. Star finishes the play showing a good level of explosiveness to stop the Quarterback in the backfield. Star’s versatility on the interior has also been on full display during the preseason with the former Ute playing both the 1 and 3 technique, one of the many reasons I had him as the third overall player in the 2013 Draft.

3B. Antoine Cason & Melvin White

cason-open-field

I juggled back and forth with who to include and who to leave out, but in the end I thought both warranted a mention. Cason showed a good level of pursuit in coverage, and understanding of the Chiefs Offense. It was in the open field where Cason shined though. He closed in on Chiefs pass catchers numerous times, and made sound tackles every time, forcing the Chiefs to punt on two occasions.

melvin-run-support

Cason’s running mate, and David Gettleman gem Melvin White also had a solid game Sunday. The 2013 UDFA addition flashed numerous time in run support, sealing the edge and making perfect form tackles. He shows a willingness to stick his head in the pile, and doesn’t shy away from contact which is something you love to see out of your starting Corner. Once regarded as an afterthought, White has steadily improved week to week in the Panthers Defense to the point that Panthers fans can feel at ease for the most part with him on the outside. White had several good moments in coverage as well, including this play where he locked up the Receiver off the line and prevented him from making a catch.

white-cvg

Three Stars

1. Jonathan Stewart

stew-td

He’s baaaaaack…..Ok, maybe it’s a bit premature, and who knows how long it will last for, but Sunday night Jonathan Stewart reminded everyone why he was regarded as one of the top Running Backs in the NFL back in 2011. J-Stew looked like his old self, bouncing off tackle attempts and bursting through holes with power and explosion. When the Panthers offense was struggling, it was Stewart who jump started them with a good run on a stretch play. He showed great patience waiting for the play to develop, before bursting through the hole and gaining extra yards after contact. Stewart also showed why he can be a factor in the passing game, picking up a Kansas City blitzer with relative ease and allowing Newton time to get the ball away.

2. Kelvin Benjamin

kb-dig

Benjamin makes the list for a second week in a row almost as much for the plays he didn’t have an opportunity to make as the plays he did. One of the biggest questions surrounding Benjamin entering the NFL was could he be a legitimate deep threat. At least through the first two weeks of the exhibition season, Benjamin has answered those questions with a yes. In week one Benjamin was able to run right by Bills Corner Stephonne Gillmore, and Sunday night he repeated the feat. Benjamin worked through a slight press off of his release, and then was able to beat the deep Safety. With two steps on the last defender, Benjamin was poised for another explosive gain, but Quarterback Cam Newton couldn’t put the ball on target. Still, the ability he’s shown to get vertical has to have Panthers fans optimistic. The rookie contributed in the running game as well, with some good physical blocks. He even drove a Defender off the field right before halftime blocking on a screen. Kelvin made a great grab over the middle, and flashed some stellar hands ability with a nice extension snag.

kb-snag

3. Fozzy Whitaker

fozzy-ball-security

Maybe it’s the name, maybe it’s the effort, maybe it’s the fundamentals, but I am growing very fond of Fozzy. Despite his size he’s a physical runner, refusing to shy away from contact. Fozzy is also a no nonsense back. That is to say he doesn’t do a lot of dancing in the backfield. He finds the hole and hits it hard. He keeps his legs moving, and showed an ability to fight for extra yards Sunday. Fozzy also showed that he can be a weapon in the passing game with a catch and run where he tiptoed the sideline. Finally, on the closeout drive of the game, Whitaker showed excellent fundamentals covering the ball with both hands in traffic. Fozzy is certainly a player who’s made the most of the opportunity he’s been presented with, and someone I could certainly see in the discussion for the 52nd or 53rd spot on the roster.

fozzy-catch

 

Other Thoughts

The Offensive Line Is Gelling

One area of concern for the Panthers leading into the season was Offensive line, specifically both Tackle positions. While all the worries haven’t haven’t gone away yet, the truth of the situation is less severe then it looked a month ago. Left Tackle Byron Bell has quietly has a solid start to the Preseason, mirroring well with pass rushers, and performing admirably in the running game. While Bell still has issues giving up too much ground in his vertical set at times, and still can have trouble targeting Defenders to block, he’s not nearly the trainwreck many have expected him to be. At the same time, the return of Left Guard Amini Silatolu and the play of third round rookie Trai Turner have helped to solidify the interior of the line. Turner has picked up the NFL game rather quickly, becoming road grading Guard for Double Trouble and crew to run behind. The biggest area of concern for the Offensive Line could be Right Tackle Nate Chandler, and it’s more a question of a nagging knee injury then a question of ability.

The Safety Position is Worrisome

One area of the Panthers roster that should have some attention paid to it is in the Defensive backfield at Safety. Free Agent addition Thomas Decoud has been underwhelming, taking poor angles at times and not providing much in run support. Fellow Free Agent Roman Harper hasn’t even seen the field since the first days of Training Camp, and it’s starting to become a big concern. Harper has been out with what is being diagnosed as “Turf Toe”, but after not seeing him for three weeks now you have to wonder if it’s not something more that could potentially end up with a trip to IR. The Panthers depth at the position doesn’t give you a warm and fuzzy feeling either. Anderson Russell started the game in place of Harper Sunday, but was far from spectacular. He took poor angles on several occasions, and had a few lapses in coverage. Perhaps the most surprising is Robert Lester who seems to have regressed from the form he finished 2013 in. Lester also took very poor angles Sunday night and fell for play action fakes on multiple occasions. If not for a dropped pass, Lester would have given up a long gain over the middle to Tight End Anthony Fasano that resulted solely from his reaction to a play fake. Colin Jones is a solid Special Teams player, but not someone you would want starting 16 games, and it remains to be seen if fourth round pick Tre Boston can even contribute this year. Safety is certainly a position I would address, and could see the Panthers addressing after the wave of Preseason cuts.

 

Projected 53 Man Roster

Quarterback: Cam Newton, Derek Anderson

Thought Process: Last week I had Joe Webb included. It’s nothing he did to lose the spot, but Cam showed me enough pocket mobility Sunday that I feel comfortable only going into the season with two Quarterbacks on the roster. Blanchard could be kept on the Practice Squad, but I think it’s more likely the Panthers pick up a young mobile QB for that spot.

Running Backs: DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert, Fozzy Whitaker

Thought Process: Fozzy is outperforming Kenjon Barner right now and that’s what this decision is about. Preseason roster projections are fluid though, so he will have to bring his lunch pail these last two games to prove himself. He should see significant playing time against the Steelers to make his case.

Wide Receivers: Kelvin Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant, Tavarres King, Brenton Bersin, Tiquan Underwood/Free Agent Addition

Thought Process: Same as last week. The only reason Underwood is here still is because he’s proven he can stretch the field during the regular season, and the Panthers need at least one of those guys.

Tight End: Greg Olsen, Ed Dickson, Brandon Williams, Richie Brockel

Thought Process: Richie Brockel makes the roster as a fourth TE, but will primarily be used as a lead blocker at FB. Brandon Williams completes a trio of athletic Tight Ends who can all stretch the Defense.

Offensive Line: Ryan Kalil, Byron Bell, Nate Chandler, Amini Silatolu, Trai Turner, Chris Scott, Gary Williams, Brian Folkerts, Fernando Velasco/Free Agent Addition

Thought Process: Same list as last week. I’m getting more comfortable with the starting five, but obviously there’s a bit of a talent drop off in terms of depth. This could be an area where the Panthers look to upgrade after cuts.

Defensive Line: Charles Johnson, Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short, Greg Hardy, Dwan Edwards, Mario Addison, Kony Ealy, Wes Horton, Colin Cole

Thought Process: If it’s not broke don’t fix it. The Defensive Line and Linebackers are the obvious strengths of the team. A nine man rotation allows for fresh bodies most of the game. Having Charles Johnson, Greg Hardy and Kony Ealy in the rotation allows for creative scheming up front as all three can slide inside to allow for more pass rush on the field.

Linebackers: Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Chase Blackburn, AJ Klein, Jason Williams, D.J. Smith

Thought Process: See above, the Linebacker unit definitely isn’t broken. D.J. Smith takes Joe Webb’s vacant spot to add to the Linebacker depth.

Cornerbacks: Antoine Cason, Melvin White, Bene Benwikere, Charles Godfrey (versatility to play Safety keeps him here), Josh Norman

Thought Process: The play of Cason and White have been bright spots in the Secondary. Charles Godfrey and Bene Benwikere continue to battle for the Nickel and Dime roles, and Josh Norman could be a huge wildcard if he can keep his emotions in check and be more consistent.

Safeties: Roman Harper, Thomas DeCoud, Colin Jones, Robert Lester, Tre Boston

Thought Process: The weak link of the team in my opinion, I almost expect to see additions in this area after cuts. Something to watch will be Roman Harper, who has been gone an awfully long time with Turf Toe.

Special Teams: Graham Gano, Brad Nortman, J.J. Jansen

Thought Process: Not much to say here, both Nortman and Gano are two of the best at their respective positions. Jansen is a longtime Special Teamer in Charlotte who can play Linebacker in a pinch.

*Frank Alexander wouldn’t have to be included on 53 man roster till his suspension is over*

 

Please  and feel free to email me at danguy013@gmail.com

 

 

 

Three Stars & Other Takeaways From Game One of the Preseason

1eVyWr.AuSt.156

Friday night marked the return of Panthers football. Sure the league year had started back in March, and yours truly got to go to the Draft in New York City. Training camp started almost two full weeks ago even. But for most, the season doesn’t truly start until there are live bullets flying, and for the Carolina Panthers that finally happened with their game against the Buffalo Bills Friday night. With Training Camp and the Preseason comes the evaluation period. From man one through man 90, each player is evaluated, assessed, and graded based on their performance and value to the team. At the end of the Preseason only the best 53 will remain, so it’s imperative that a player show the coaching staff the can’t afford to let them go. For the Panthers 90, that process started tonight, and there were several players who made their case.

 

Honorable Mentions

1. Tavarres King

2. Amini Silatolu

3. Joe Webb

 

Three Stars

 

1. Kelvin Benjamin

InsidiousQueasyIndianpalmsquirrel

Was there really any doubt who the number one star was going to be? Carolina has been starving for a Wide Receiver that can do the things the freak from Florida State can do, and he didn’t wait long to provide the fans with an appetizer. If you look at the box score you won’t be wowed. Benjamin registered just one catch on two targets (the other a significant overthrow by Quarterback Derek Anderson), but it was the way he played that gives hope to fans in Charlotte. His deceptive speed as he covers an unusual amount of ground with each stride, his body control to regain himself and finish the play in the endzone, his hand usage to work through some of the physical coverage he saw, all of it is exactly what Panthers fans wanted, and needed to see. Benjamin even contributed in the running game with some physical drive blocks from his WR position.  You could argue that former Bulldogs WR Tavarres King had a better night (four receptions for 50 yards), but when I factored in that Kelvin did it against the Bills starting Defensive unit I had to give him a slight edge. Panther fans will hope that Benjamin will build on this performance next week against Kansas City and who knows, he might even show off his wingspan and plucking ability that could make him a dynamic play maker early in his career…

 

kelvin catch

 

2. The Defensive Line

Star-Penetration

An entire unit? Yes I know it’s cheating a bit. But the Defensive front was too impressive to leave off the list, and it was hard to single any one player out as numerous lineman made plays. After a shaky start to the game, the Panthers Defense found themselves in the shadow of their goal line. However on third down Defensive End Greg Hardy was able to knife around into the backfield and tackle Bills RB Fred Jackson for a short gain. This forced a fourth and inches and with it being the Preseason, the Bills made the call to go for it and evaluate. What resulted was Jackson getting stopped cold, and the Panthers forcing a turnover on downs. What you’ll see above is an all around effort from the Panthers Defense as a whole, but specifically the Defensive Line. The play starts when last years first round pick Star Lotulelei gets an initial surge and is able to literally claw and crawl into the backfield. Lotulelei’s presence forces Jackson to make a slight cut. You can also see Lotulelei get his arm on Jackson’s ankle which slows him just enough. By the time Jackson makes it to the line fellow second year Lineman Kawann Short has shed his blocker and drives Jackson back with force. Greg Hardy cleans up, and just for good measure Linebacker Chase Blackburn finishes off the play by dragging Jackson to the ground.

It wasn’t just the first team Defensive Line unit that made plays though. 2013 Undrafted Free Agent Wes Horton from Southern California picked up where he left off in 2013. Several splash plays by Horton reminded fans why he ended up with a locker during the Panthers 12-4 NFC South run last year. Horton ended the night with a sack and another hit on the Quarterback, a very solid impression going into game two.

Perhaps the most welcome sight on Defense was second round pick Kony Ealy, and the plays he made. A versatile pass rusher, Ealy has been struggling during Training Camp judging by all the reports from Spartanburg. With third year player Frank Alexander facing a four game suspension and Greg Hardy’s long term future with the team foggy at best Ealy could be asked to make plays early. He did so last night, with a couple of tackles and a nice pursuit play where he chased down former Blue Devil QB Thaddeus Lewis and forced him to throw the ball away.

kony-ealy-pursuit

Ealy also demonstrated a good speed rush later in the same drive, showing a good ability to bend and beat the Tackle to the edge. He became part of a three Panther party in the pocket, which it’s always good to see multiple Defensive Lineman getting into the backfield on any given play. I must also point out Kawann Short on this play, who just bullies his way by his blocker and bursts into the backfield.

kony-speedOne thing of caution with Ealy is he was very inconsistent in terms of winning his battle at the Line of Scrimmage, and playing with leverage. Too often he was redirected at the line, or stood completely up. This is something that should improve though, as he becomes stronger and learns to utilize leverage better.

3. Brandon “Swole Bones” Williams

bones

 Full disclosure here, I’m a bit of a Williams fan. In fact, you might have even seen my #TeamSwoleBones tweets at one point or another. The former Oregon Duck is a bit of an enigma so far in his career. Athletically, he has every quality you could want out of a dynamic Tight End. At 6’4 and 250 pounds Williams is the ideal size for a security blanket in the middle of the field, and to say he’s built like a Greek God might be doing Swole Bones a disservice. Couple that with his good level of athleticism and you have a package that could be a nightmare for Defenders. A long shot to make the 2013 roster, Williams played in nine games last season but failed to register a single catch. However with the new year comes an improved Williams if Training Camp reports are anything to judge by. Williams has been one of names consistently mentioned during Training Camp, both as a pass catcher and as a blocker. Blocking will be critical for Williams in 2014, who finds himself third on the depth chart behind Free Agent arrival Ed Dickson. Still, there’s a lot of reason to think Williams could have a breakout year of sorts, especially with the amount of 22 personnel Carolina is expected to run.

bones1

Other Thoughts

1. The “Panthers Have No Weapons” Argument Is Overblown

I didn’t actually need the Preseason game to tell me this, but it was nice to see some plays made by the pass catchers on the roster. Obviously the standouts were Benjamin and Williams with their touchdowns, but several other Panthers weapons made plays Friday. Greg Olsen had a couple catches that show why he will yet again be a reliable option for Cam Newton. Brenton Bersin had only one catch, but it was a good play where he ran a crisp route and found the soft spot in the Defense. He also nearly had a highlight worthy sideline catch on a poorly thrown ball. Running Back Fozzy Whittaker showed some ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and accelerate down field. Even Undrafted Rookie Corey Brown got involved with several catches, and one diving attempt that he almost brought down. The star of the “other pass catchers” though was the already mentioned Tavarres King. King looked great on Friday night, hauling in four passes for 50 yards. He had another catch for significant yardage down the left sideline, but it was called back on an Offensive penalty. While King did “double catch” on a few of the attempts, you still have to give him credit for finishing the play. Friday night showed a glimpse of what some of these guys can do if given the opportunity, and that was playing without Cam Newton. When Newton gets back on the field guys like Williams, Bersin and King could really be solid playmakers for the Panthers.

2. The Panthers Running Game Is A Work In Progress

Another observation I made Friday night was how ineffective the Panthers running game was outside of Quarterback improvisation plays. If you take away the respectable five yard average that QB’s Joe Webb and Derek Anderson managed your left with a sobering statistic of 18 carries for 39 yards, or a 2.2 yards per carry average for all Panthers running backs. While the number hits you like a ton of bricks it needs to be put in context. The Panthers were without their pair of former first round RB’s DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, and the Offensive Line is still trying to gel for the most part. Both Tackles Byron Bell and Nate Chandler have been rotating positions throughout camp, and the team is trying to bring Rookie Guard Trai Turner along as quickly as possible. Still, the Running Game did not look strong Friday night, and the Panthers will need to make adjustments to get it going. The Panthers believe it or not, may need to try and manufacturer a running game by first establishing the quick passes and using screens and passes out of the backfield. This will be an area to watch as the Preseason progresses, and could be critical to the Panthers successes or failures in 2014.

53 Man Roster Heading Into Week Two of the Preseason

This is in no way set in stone, but just how I see it heading into week two.

Quarterback: Cam Newton, Derek Anderson, Joe Webb

Running Backs: DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert, Kenjon Barner

Tight End: Greg Olsen, Ed Dickson, Brandon Williams, Richie Brockel (second on Depth Chart at FB)

Wide Receiver: Kelvin Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant, Tavarres King, Brenton Bersin, Tiquan Underwood/Free Agent Addition

Offensive Line: Ryan Kalil, Byron Bell, Nate Chandler, Amini Silatolu, Trai Turner, Chris Scott, Gary Williams, Brian Folkerts, Fernando Velasco/Free Agent Addition

Defensive Line: Charles Johnson, Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short, Greg Hardy, Dwan Edwards, Mario Addison, Kony Ealy, Wes Horton, Colin Cole

Linebackers: Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Chase Blackburn, AJ Klein, Jason Williams

Cornerbacks: Antoine Cason, Melvin White, Bene Benwikere, Charles Godfrey (versatility to play Safety keeps him here), Josh Norman

Safeties: Roman Harper, Thomas DeCoud, Colin Jones, Robert Lester, Tre Boston

Special Teams: Graham Gano, Brad Nortman, J.J. Jansen

*Frank Alexander wouldn’t have to be included on 53 man roster till his suspension is over*

Next week the Panthers will host Kansas City in Preseason game two, and this guy should be back….

cam

Please comment and  to interact!

Film Breakdown: Panthers Versus Falcons

Early in the game against the Falcons, Mike Shula dialed up a play I’ve yet to see this year. While the result was a modest gain of eight yards, it’s a play that by design could work a number of times, and has the potential to result in a much bigger gain.

Image

The situation is second down and 10 yards to go from the Atlanta 39. Quarterback Cam Newton is in the Shotgun, with Running Back DeAngelo Williams to his left. He has a three wide formation to his left, with Wide Receiver Steve Smith playing inside on the line of scrimmage, and WR Brandon LaFell as well as Tight End Greg Olsen outside of him. The play utilizes Play Action out of the back field, and then Williams releases just past the line of scrimmage as the check down option. Smith will run the inside post. Because of the play maker Smith is, this will by design keep the Safety Thomas DeCoud in the center of the field. Notice how far off Cornerbacks Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant are? This will come into play as the routes form.

Image

As the ball is snapped, LaFell instantly gives Alford the look of a bubble screen. This causes Robert Alford to bite and shoot up field to defend the quick screen pass. At the same time, CB Desmond Trufant maintains his distance from TE Greg Olsen so as to not let Olsen get behind him. Instead of getting up field to jam Olsen out of his break, Trufant drops back to the 30 yard line to protect the play at the sticks. DeCoud is playing Smith the entire way, and as the ball is snapped begins creeping up to help on the Panthers explosive WR.

Image

Here’s where the play catches my eye though. LaFell turns his bubble route into a wheel route, forcing the defender (Alford) to try to adjust to recover. Alford was in front of Olsen’s route, but with LaFell’s move up the sideline is forced to vacate the area, leaving an open hole in the Atlanta defense. If DeCoud was on this side of the field to help Trufant could break on Olsen, but with no help over the top on the left side he has to stay back.

Image

Because of quick pressure by Defensive Tackle Jonathan Babineaux, Cam is forced to make an early decision.

Image

The wheel route clears Alford out, and Newton is given an easy target in the form of his TE Greg Olsen on the comeback route. Because Trufant was playing so far off of the TE, Olsen is able to get another three yards after the catch and set up a manageable third and two from the Atlanta 31. This is where the bigger play part of the analysis comes in. Notice the huge red circle up the left sideline? There’s no Safety help over the top, and LaFell has a step on Alford at this point (was almost level with him when ball was thrown). If Newton has a fraction of a second longer in the pocket this is an easy touchdown for the Panthers.

This play shows what having a player of Steve Smith’s caliber can do for an offense, even when he’s not getting the ball. The Falcon’s know they have to commit extra attention to Smith, and because of this two capable play makers are left in single coverage. The screen route LaFell uses to set up the wheel creates confusion with a young DB, and by the time he show’s his true intentions LaFell has put Alford in a very difficult position to recover from. While some of the success of this play is due to soft coverage by the Falcons, the routes could be modified to create opportunities against press coverage as well. Against the press, LaFell could sell the same bubble screen and turn up field, at the same time instead of a comeback route, Olsen could run a quick slant to get inside the defender. While the gain might be a modest 4-5 yards, it’s still almost automatic by design. With a slight personnel tweak, the Panthers could create an even more dangerous play by using Tedd Ginn in LaFell’s position. Not only does Ginn give you elusive ability after the catch in the event you throw the bubble screen, but he’s also a player who can get behind a single defender easily. Either way, this is a play I could certainly see the Panthers coming back to several times down the stretch. Now that defenses have it on tape they’ll have to be selective, and disguise their intentions to the Defense, but the possibilities the play design creates can certainly cause headaches for a Defense.

 

Thanks for reading and be sure to comment, and follow me on twitter @danny_g13

Looking Ahead to the Top Five Wide Receivers in the 2014 NFL Draft

The 2014 Draft class (like all Draft classes) is deep at some positions, while relatively weak at others. The good news for the Carolina Panthers (and any other team who needs a play maker) though, is one of the 2014 classes deepest positions is Wide Receiver. There is no shortage of quality pass catchers in this Draft class, and in my opinion there are eight to ten potential number one Wide Receivers in this class. So with that said, lets look at the five who stand out among the rest.

Image

1. Mike Evans, Texas A&M: 6’5 225 lbs projected 4.55 40 yard dash

Evans entered the season as my fourth WR, but his consistent dominating performances have shot him up my big board. Evans is a gigantic athlete at 6’5 and 225 pounds. Not only does Evans have the size to be an almost impossible WR to defend, he also possesses a competitive desire to win the ball that intrigues me. While Johnny Manziel may get most of the recognition for the Aggies success, Manziel has benefited on numerous occasions from Evans’ ability. Evans in my opinion, is the best WR in the nation in jump ball situations. He locates the football well, and times his leap to catch the ball at the highest point possible. This makes it extremely difficult for defenders to win a 50-50 ball from Evans. Also, Evans excels at coming back to the ball when Manziel scrambles. One of the most important things for a WR to do is keep working to get open, and Evans is tireless in this regard. He keeps fighting throughout a play for position, and uses his body well to shield a defender from the ball. Finally, Evans has great body control to make highlight reel catches, and has made significant improvements as a hands catcher since his first game last season.

Perhaps the biggest concern, with Evans is his speed. Evans doesn’t display overwhelming vertical speed in games, and he seems to lack the extra gear a home run threat at the position possesses. I would like to see him continue to improve his route running, and route tree in general. Still, with his overwhelming size, and desire to win the ball, Evans shouldn’t have much trouble becoming an impact player in the NFL in my opinion. Whether you play him at WR, or try to use him as a hybrid Tight End, I still see Evans giving opposition headaches at the next level, and have him as a solid top 15 selection.

Image

2. Sammy Watkins, Clemson: 6’1 200 lbs projected 4.40 40 yard dash

The next player on my list has stayed right where he was on my big board entering the 2013 season. Watkins is a gifted athlete, who uses a great skill set, excellent tools, and track speed to win match ups. A player who two short years ago was nothing more than an unrefined freak athlete, Watkins has matured and turned into one of the best pass catchers in the nation. Watkins biggest asset is his explosive ability. He’s lightning quick off the line, and can blow by defenders in an instant if they let him. Also unlike Evans, Watkins does possess that extra gear to squeeze through the smallest of lanes and take any play the distance. Watkins also has become an exceptional route runner since his Freshman year. He not only has good foot/hand work on his routes, but his route tree has been expanded from just the fly and post routes he used to run.

If there’s one huge area that Watkins needs to continue to work on, it’s competing for contested balls on a consistent basis. At times he can be excellent in jump ball, and contested situations. He will outwork his defender, and go up to reach the ball at its highest point. However, he will also play too passive other times, and give up far too easily. He will need to become reliable in these situations to maximize his potential, and reach his ceiling. Watkins will have to become a more physical WR to become the dominant player I think he can be.  He will need to use his body better to shield defenders, and fight through jams at the line more consistently if he wants to live up to the top 25 selection I currently have him slated as.

Marqise+Lee+USC+v+Colorado+M9FiihLj7jnl3. Marqise Lee, University of Southern California: 6′ 190 lbs projected 4.45 40 yard dash

Marqise is probably my most interesting (not to mention controversial) name on my big board. After dominating from the position last year, Lee has been invisible in multiple games, and battled knee and ankle injuries throughout the year. Still, Lee has to be on my list for several reasons. First, when he gets the ball in space, he can be absolutely deadly. He has great acceleration which allows him to stop and go in an instant, and change directions constantly. You never quite know where Marqise is going, and sometimes it works against him.  Lee is an improved route runner since entering USC as a raw athlete. Like Watkins, Lee has not only improved route technique, but has extended his route tree to include the digs, curls, comebacks, slants and double moves. Lee has also improved as a pass catcher, showing the ability to be a natural hands catcher, as well as technique to fight through physical press coverage. While he still needs to continue in these areas, the signs of progress are encouraging for a WR who’s only been playing the position since his Senior year of High School. Finally, while he lacks the deadly extra gear that Watkins has, Lee does have ability as an explosive play maker. Lee shows the ability to not only run away from players, but also to be a great yards after the catch player.

Lee’s biggest flaw in my opinion, is that he tries to do too much on any given play. Lee to me, is an all or nothing type of guy, and he will need to adjust in the next level where big gains are few and far between.  At times he can get caught going East to West too much resulting in negative plays, or minimal gains. He has shown that he will cut back and go behind the sticks even after picking up the first down, to try to pick up an even bigger gain. While this has resulted in several big plays for Lee, it’s resulted in just as many negative plays, or critical third down failures for the team.  Also, Lee needs to make improvements in his concentration during games. He will at times drop easy passes, which speaks to concentration issues. I believe these issues come from Lee’s lack of inclusion in the offense this season, but he will still need to show NFL Scouts it wont be a regular problem. Lee will have to show the injuries that have plagued him this season, won’t linger in the future. Still, I have him with Watkins as a top 25 selection, with a small chance of sliding early into round two.

maxresdefault 4. Brandon Coleman, Rutgers: 6’6 220 lbs projected 4.6 40 yard dash

Right now Coleman is the fifth best Receiver on my board, but he could see a huge rise/or fall in his stock in late February.  His draft stock (maybe more than most Receivers this year) will be greatly impacted by his measurables at the Combine. If Coleman goes to the Combine and runs a sub 4.5 time in the 40 yard dash he could end up battling Watkins/Evans and Lee for a spot in the top 25 picks. It goes without saying that Coleman is a massive prospect at the Receiver position. At 6’6 he’s got an absurd catch radius, which he extends even more with his ability to pluck the ball as a natural hands catcher. His 40 time is so important though because he doesn’t look like a burner on tape. That’s not to say he’s slow by any means though. He shows good acceleration, and when he gets up to speed he’s like a runaway train with his size. One other thing I love about Coleman is he’s big and he knows it. He’s a physical Receiver who doesn’t shy away from contact, staying in bounds to pick up every yard possible. He also doesn’t let physicality from Corners impact his game, showing that he can make the tough contested catches. But for a big Receiver, he’s also deceptively elusive, showing potential as a yards after the catch guy.

Like other players on my board, one of Coleman’s biggest knocks is consistency. This mainly shows up as a pass catcher. Coleman shows you that he can pluck the ball before it gets to his pads, but too many times you’ll see the ball get into his pads still. He also has consistency issues with locating the football at times. He’s generally good in this respect, but there are times where he doesn’t put himself in the best position to make a catch.  Finally, he’s a raw player still who will need some time to develop better technique. His feet can get choppy a little too often, and he doesn’t always use his hands as well as you would like him too. His route is also somewhat limited right now, and his cuts can be a little too rounded and prolonged instead of sharp and sudden. Even with him being a raw talent, the physical gifts are undeniable. Like I said before, Coleman’s Draft stock will be greatly impacted by his 40 time. A sub 4.5 time and he’s a top 15 selection, a time in the 4.55-4.6 range and he’s a top 35 selection.

ncf_a_beckham_o_6005. Odell Beckham Jr, Louisiana State: 5’11 185 lbs projected 4.40 40 yard dash

Beckham is a player who definitely wasn’t in my top five at the beginning of the season, but he shot up my rankings quickly. He’s an explosive WR who can absolutely take the top off the defense. He also is an experienced Special Teams player who shows ability both as a kick and punt returner. He’s more than just a one trick pony though, showing he can be much more than just a vertical threat. He’s a good route runner showing quick and fluid feet. He flashes the ability to extend his catch radius, whether he does it by diving for passes, or by out leaping defenders in jump ball situations. He has incredibly strong hands for a smaller Receiver, that he uses to pluck the ball out of the air, or win from the defender. Finally, Beckham shows a great willingness as a blocker, and utilizes above average technique to create opportunities for his teammates.

The biggest question for Beckham not surprisingly, is consistency. Beckham possesses all the physical ability to be a special play maker at the position, but he has lapses in his game that are concerning. As a route runner, he can become choppy at times. This increases the time it takes for him to run his routes, and makes it easy for Corners to stay with him.  Above I said he flashes the ability to extend his catch radius because it’s just that. Flashes. He shows he can do it, but there are times where he needs to use that ability and it doesn’t happen.  Beckham also flashes ability to be a natural hands catcher, and at times shows great technique for catching the football. However other times, he lets the ball get into his pads, and drops easy passes. That said, Beckham Jr. is still one of the best Receiver’s in this class to me. Even though he’s a smaller Receiver with consistency issues, he still shows all the physical tools to be a potential number one target, which is why I have him slated as a top 25-40 selection.

So there you have it, my top five Wide Receivers for the 2014 Draft. What do you think of my rankings, was there someone you expected to see that wasn’t there? Did I have someone too high? Let me know on twitter @danny_g13 and thanks for reading!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.