Archive for August, 2014

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

 

 

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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

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 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.

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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….

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