Posts Tagged ‘ Carolina Panthers ’

Three Stars & Other Takeaways From Game One of the Preseason


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


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


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.


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


 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.


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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Carolina Panthers 2012 Seven Round Mock Draft

Since it would be too easy to mock Fletcher Cox in the first I’m not going to do that.  I’m buying that the Eagles want to move up and get Cox and we would be the primary competition for him.  I say cut out the middle man and add a valuable pick in the process.  The Panthers trade the #9 and #216 picks to the Eagles for the #15, #46, and #172.  Then, with a lot of value still left at the fifteen hole, the Cats manage to move down again trading the #15 to the Green Bay Packers for the #28, #59, and 123.  The Packers move up and get one of the two first round pass rushing specialists in Nick Perry, or Whitney Mercilus.

Pick #28: DT Devon Still, Penn State


While Cox may have more upside then Still, Devon was the more consistent player last year.  I see the talent difference as marginal, which is why I’m trading down.  If you tell me I can get two good to great prospects in the top 60 of the draft, or four, I’m taking four every single time.  Still is strong at the point of attack, and drives lineman back into the pocket on a regular basis.  He’s a well rounded tackle who provides contributions in run support, as well as the pass rush.  Has a similar skill set and size as Ndamukong Suh, but needs to play a little more nasty.

Pick #40: CB Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama


This is another value pick, but also comes at a position of need.  Jenkins absolutely should not be on the board at this point of the draft, but he will because of some character red flags.  This guy is an absolute monster, the best cover corner in the draft.  He has top ten talent, and the Panthers have to grab him if he’s there in the second.  He’s a little on the small size at 5’10, but he has elite speed, and is a physical corner who isn’t afraid to initiate contact.  Would be a stellar pickup here, and likely start opposite Gamble from day one.

Pick #46: LB Lavonte David, Nebraska


I like TD, and I hope he comes back healthy and plays every game, but chances are at some point we’ll need a quality backup to come in.  They get that guy in David, who can contribute not only on special teams, but be a quality starter if called upon.  David is a sure tackler, who flows well sideline to sideline.  I’ve been extremely high on Davis ever since the 2010 season, and think he has the tools to be a monster.  Even if TD can go, they get his long term replacement in the second round.

Pick #59: OT Mitchell Schwartz, California


Schwartz is a solid tackle with above average athleticism.  Will provide injury assurance in case Otah can’t go, and valuable depth along with Bruce Campbell.  Also, if needed he can slide around the line and play guard.

Pick #104: TE Ladarius Green, Louisiana-Lafayette


Ron Rivera can’t resist as he sees this athletic monster staring him in the face in the fourth.  Green gives Cam Newton another weapon to feed the ball to, and make our offense even more deadly.  At 6’6 with low 4.5 speed Green becomes an instant match up nightmare for opposing defenses.

Pick #123: WR Tommy Streeter, University of Miami


The Panthers need to find a number one receiver in the next three years.  They also would love for that guy to be a freak like Calvin Johnson Jr.  They wanted Stephen Hill, but had too many more important needs to grab him at the end of the first where he went.  They get a guy they think can be groomed to that level much later in the draft in Streeter.  Streeter is an extremely raw route runner and pass catcher, but has size and speed that cannot be taught.  If he can mature as a wide receiver he has a chance to play at an exceptional level down the road.

Pick #143: MLB James-Michael Johnson, Nevada


Outside of the top three MLB’s in the draft, there’s nobody to write home about.  Still, the Panthers are hurting at the position with little to no depth behind Jon Beason.  While I really like Thomas Williams and feel he could fill in on a limited basis, we still need bodies at the position.  Because of this, you take Johnson here based on the skill set he has.  JMJ has great size at 6’1 and around 240 pounds, and above average speed at the position.  He’s a little stiff in coverage, but is excellent in run support attacking the ball carrier with great burst.

Pick #172: P Drew Butler, University of Georgia


The Panthers jump the gun a little bit here.  They would like to wait till their compensatory pick to address punter, but feel a run on the position is coming.  They pull the trigger and get the best punter in the draft.  Butler has an incredible leg, averaging 44 yards per punt last season.  He also gets great hang time on his kicks, which was one of the main criticisms of Jason Baker.  Butler will come in and make an instant impact on special teams as a punter, and kickoff specialist.

Pick #180: DE Donte Paige-Moss


Much like when the Panthers selected Greg Hardy, Paige-Moss is a guy who has the tools and would have been selected much higher had he stayed an extra year.  At the start of last season, many 2013 mocks had him rated as the top DE.  He has good size for the position at just under 6’4″, and around 270 pounds.  He also has good athleticism, and is a above average edge rusher.  He lost his starting job this year, but in 2010 was a standout with 49 tackles, including 7.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss.  His character has been called into question after he ripped the Carolina coaching staff following their bowl game, and he is recovering from a knee injury.  However, this late in the draft you have to take chances, and Paige-Moss has the ability to turn into a draft gem if he puts it all together.

Pick #207: QB Darron Thomas, Oregon


The Panthers find the perfect backup to Cam at the very end of the sixth round in Thomas.  Thomas is raw as a passer, but has great athleticism and running ability.  The addition of Thomas allows the Panthers to run the same offense if Cam were to ever go down.

Undrafted Free Agents

OT Mike Ryan, UCONN
RB Jeff Demps, Florida (If track doesn’t work out)
WR Lance Lewis, ECU
DT DeAngelo Tyson, Georgia
CB/KR Greg McCoy, TCU
LB Chris Galippo, USC
S   Lance Mitchell, Oregon State
FB Chad Diehl, Clemson