My One and Only Panthers Roster Projection

The Panthers wrap up their preseason on Thursday night against Pittsburgh in what should be a spectating event for most of the roster locks and regular contributors. For those that will play, it will be their final chance to state their case to be on the roster for the coaching staff and front office. Cut day is Saturday and just like Winter, it’s coming/here.

Here’s my take on what the 53 man roster will be after cuts have been made:

Quarterbacks (3): Cam Newton, Derek Anderson and Joe Webb

Business as usual here. A lot of fans want DA out or would like Webb promoted up to the backup slot. It won’t happen. Webb is the perfect #3 QB and is a great contributor on special teams and at wide receiver when he’s called upon. Given DA is a UFA after this season, this will likely be his last ride with Carolina.

Running Backs (4): Jonathan Stewart, Christian McCaffrey, Fozzy Whitaker and Cameron Artis-Payne

After Carolina drafted McCaffrey in April, my initial thought was that CAP’s spot on the roster was in jeopardy, but he has played well enough to deserve a spot on the roster. He also serves as the best replacement for Stewart in case of injury. Whitaker has been a staple for a couple of seasons, but in my opinion, he is the most at risk of getting cut due to personnel at his position and on special teams.

Fullbacks (1): Darrell Young

I went back and fourth on this one. Panthers are one of the few teams in the league that use a fullback so it would make sense that they retain one at the position. Other option would be to have a fourth tight end Richie Brockel type, but that is unlikely. Alex Armah has flashed in camp as a rookie, but given that he’s still so raw, practice squad seems likely for him leaving Young. Young’s experience in the league makes him serviceable.

Wide Receivers (5): Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess, Curtis Samuel, Russell Shepard and Damiere Byrd

Rivera has enough receiving versatility with McCaffrey and Joe Webb on the roster to get away with only keeping five wideouts on the 53. Curtis Samuel being healthy again also helps justify Ron building up depth elsewhere. Byrd makes the team as a vertical threat and special teams threat. Brenton Bersin and Kaelin Clay would be vying for the 6th spot if there was one available.

Tight Ends (3): Greg Olsen, Ed Dickson and Chris Manhertz

Olsen is an elite tight end and Dickson is a solid backup / best blocking tight end on the roster. Those two are solid. The third tight end spot is shaky at best. Manhertz beats out Scott Simonsen primarily because the latter has been injured, but this could be a group that sees a new addition added after cuts are made.

Offensive Line (9): Ryan Kalil, Trai Turner, Andrew Norwell, Matt Kalil, Daryl Williams, Taylor Moton, Tyler Larsen, Gino Gradkowski and Chris Scott

Extremely solid group. Matt Kalil has looked solid at left tackle this preseason and Taylor Moton has a really bright future. Larsen will be Ryan Kalil’s primary backup at center while Scott and Gradkowski will fill in as interior depth.

Defensive Line (9): Charles Johnson, Julius Peppers, Mario Addison, Wes Horton, Daeshon Hall, Kawann Short, Star Lotulelei, Vernon Butler, Eric Crume

Again, this is an extremely solid group with a great mix of veteran leadership and young talent. Short and Star are arguably the best interior tackle duo in the league and once Vernon Butler gets healthy, he will only make that group stronger. Daeshon Hall will most likely take the back seat to Horton on game days initially, but I like his potential. Kyle Love gets cut due to health reasons, but Eric Crume has been a nice surprise in games so far.

Linebackers (6): Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Shaq Thompson, David Mayo, Jeremy Cash and Ben Jacobs.

Best group in the league and it’s not close. David Mayo looks to be an even better version of AJ Klein as the primary backup. Ben Jacobs edges out Jared Norris for the final spot due to special teams ability, but it’s close.

Cornerbacks (6): James Bradberry, Darryl Worley, Captain Munnerlyn, Teddy Williams, Zack Sanchez and Corn Elder

Zack Sanchez’s game against Jacksonville showed me enough improvement to warrant a roster spot. That being said, a big reason why he makes the team is due to Corn Elder’s injury. Elder looks to be on the mend so it’ll be interesting to see how things shake down once he makes his return to the field, but given that he’s a rookie it will take time to integrate him into the rotation. Teddy Williams will continue to lead the charge on special teams.

Safeties (4): Kurt Coleman, Mike Adams, Colin Jones and Dezmond Southward

This is another group that could see a new addition once cuts have been made. Jones is a “special teams ace” so his spot seems safe. Southward has had a nice preseason so I think he makes the team Saturday, but he will be the first to go if the front office finds an upgrade on the market Saturday night.

Specialists (3): Graham Gano, Andy Lee and JJ Jansen

According to media reports, Jansen is the only lock here at long snapper. I do think that Rivera will ride with Gano for one more season over Butker, but if he misses a few to start the season, the leash will be extremely short. The punter battle between Lee and Palardy has been widely publicized, but given Lee’s skill, experience and contract situation, it just makes sense to keep him.

Reliving Cam Newton’s Preseason Debut

One of the bigger media stories out of Charlotte in the past week was the fact that Cam Newton was finally green lit for live game action for the first time since his offseason shoulder surgery. Obviously, for us as fans, this is pretty relieving news. Cam’s camp action was such a roller coaster ride being that one day he was full go, the next day he was sore and prohibited from throwing, the next day he threw individual drills and not team, and so on, etc. Cam barely threw in the 10 plays that he was on the field Thursday night against Jacksonville, but just seeing him out there leading the offense certainly helped ease any nausea fans would feel imagining Derek Anderson having to start a regular season game to buy Cam more recovery time. Even though it was a brief sample, Cam looked great to me.

Things to note of the drive:

  • Of Cam’s 10 snaps, only two were passes. The other eight were hand offs to either Jonathan Stewart or Christian McCaffrey.
  • Cam’s passes totaled for 21 yards including a touchdown

The drive started on the 25 yard line after the opening kick was downed as a touch back. Typically, when you’re on offense in a football game, the coordinator can call either a run or a pass play. That’s basic football 101. Normally, you have a 50% chance of guessing it correctly every time, but in the instance of Cam Newton’s preseason debut after recovering from shoulder surgery, you could have bet the house that the first play would be Cam handing the ball off. Not only did Cam hand the ball of on the first play, he handed the ball off to his backs the next five plays after that.

It was pretty evident that if Cam didn’t have to throw, then Ron Rivera and Mike Shula weren’t going to force the issue. Fortunately for them, Stewart and McCaffrey were both able to progress the ball down the field with relative ease. Aside from Stewart’s 31 yard rumble on the game’s second play from scrimmage, the Panthers didn’t gouge the Jaguars defense in huge chunks, but even though the odds of each play were overwhelmingly in favor of keeping the ball on the ground, the backs made positive gains every time.

There were two plays that Shula and Rivera did dial up for Cam to throw the ball, but the first one didn’t come until the Panthers were already sitting on Jacksonville’s 25 yard line. So much of Cam’s career as a passer has been defined on deep passes down the field. The arm strength he possesses is clearly an elite trait among the league’s other quarterbacks and the Carolina offense has utilized it to the fullest extent possible. It’s interesting that even though the scheme has dictated deep throws, the front office has made it a point to draft bigger receivers like Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess to serve as Cam’s weapon foundation instead of going with Ted Ginn-esque receivers that can really stretch the field. The personnel would suggest that you’d use those bigger receivers to body up smaller defensive backs near the sticks, but it just hasn’t been the case.

The entire offseason was built and adjusted to help give Cam relief in the passing game. Former GM Dave Gettleman, drafted dynamic and speedy playmakers in Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel to give Cam an out if the play was taking too long to develop. The main question was, can Cam adjust? Can a guy who has only thrown deep, or run for yards, his entire career successfully stay in the pocket and check down to receivers and backs on a regular basis? Well the two passes we saw from him last Thursday proved that it’s possible.

The first pass Cam made was a simple check down to McCaffrey who stood in the backfield and floated through the line when the blitz didn’t come and took Cam’s dump pass for 12 yards up the field. Three plays later, Cam threw a simple slant pass 4 yards across the middle to Kelvin Benjamin who took it the rest of the way for a nine yard score. For me as a fan, it was poetry in motion.

Cam’s night was done after the KB score. Frankly, there was really no need to play him any longer as easing him into week one is the smart play, but it was great to see him out there on the field again. It will be interesting to see if Rivera will run him out on the field against the Steelers for the preseason finale this upcoming Thursday night. Typically, for the fourth preseason game, Cam will have been shut down to prepare and rest for the season opener, but given the fact that his work load has been lighter this summer, we may see him for another drive.

 

 

Stock Watch: Panthers vs Titans

Due to some previously scheduled obligations, I was unable to catch the Panthers second preseason game against the Titans in its entirety, but I have seen enough of the game to this point to draw some conclusions. The end result of the game was disappointing and you’d obviously like a better performance from your starters, but ultimately, there isn’t anything to panic about.

Stock Up

Christian McCaffrey – It’s obvious that this kid is special. That doesn’t really bear much repeating, but even just glimpses of McCaffrey on the field show you just how capable he is of taking this offense to another level. We saw him run between the tackles for a score and we saw a one yard screen pass from Derek Anderson go for 39 yards. He makes the simple play look incredible and we haven’t even seen the depth of play calling options he gives to the offense yet.

First string O-Line – Shouts to the offensive line for not allowing a sack. Also, someone needs to pay Andrew Norwell.

Taylor Moton – He’s not technically a starter, but this kid is a beast. For such a young player he’s displayed an excellent amount of potential through the first two games. We know how smart he is, but physically. he’s shown he belongs.

David Mayo – Luke Kuechly was given the day off to rest some sore ribs so David Mayo was given an opportunity to start in his place. Mayo isn’t Luke, but he flew around the field and logged 10 tackles in condensed playing time. Losing AJ Klein was an underrated departure for this team, but Mayo has potential to be just as good of a backup which is huge.

Tyler Larsen – He has been rock solid filling in for the injured Ryan Kalil.

Cameron Artis-Payne – With Carolina taking CMC at pick eight, most people wrote him off before camp started. Well CAP is making his case to stick to this roster. Carolina has been known to keep five running backs/fullbacks on the 53 before and his fit as a bruising between the tackles back makes sense should Stew or CMC miss a game here or there.

Julius Peppers – Because he’s Julius Peppers! It was nice to see him on the field in Panther blue again.

Stock Down

Devin Funchess – He’s had a great camp, but he’s got to be that consistent in the game. His fumble put the defense in a bad spot and they gave up a touchdown.

Derek Anderson – As sharp as he looked against Houston he was that bad against Tennessee. Fans are calling for Joe Webb to take his backup spot. That’s a little much, but with Cam nursing that shoulder, we need DA to be better.

Damiere Byrd – Did literally nothing on Saturday. Not endanger of losing a roster spot I don’t think, but the hype has cooled.

Colin Jones – Special teams wizard, but not a good defender. Gets burned on coverage and misses tackles. Safety depth in general is a big issue.

Mike Adams – Like DA, he was solid in his time against Houston, but had a rough day on Saturday. He’s a two time pro bowler so he will get back on track, but with zero safety depth, we need Adams to be good every week.

Next up: Panthers travel down to Jacksonville for their Thursday night dress rehearsal. Kickoff at 7:30 PM.

Stock Watch: Panthers vs Texans

Photo Cred — panthers.com, Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez

The Panthers’ preseason got off to a great start last night and the end result was a collective team win against a Houston Texans team that won their division a season ago and will likely be a contender for that crown again. To quote Greg Olsen post game, this team isn’t a “finished product” yet, but overall, there was a lot to like.

Let’s take a look to see who improved their stock last night and who didn’t:

Stock Up

First team defense — It’s no secret that this defense is packed with talent. They had talent last year too, but there was a ton of young talent (especially in the secondary) and they got exposed at times. Last night though, they looked like the top 3 defense that we’ve been used to watching the past couple of years. In total the 1st unit was on the field for six plays and the Texans gained a total of negative three yards. Yes, you read that correctly. Don’t overlook the fact that Charles Johnson and Julius Peppers didn’t even play. Shout out to KK Short for a sack and a QB hit in four pass rushes.

Kelvin Benjamin — KB is obviously a roster lock and is the definitive #1 wideout on the depth chart, but he’s taken a lot of heat this summer for showing up to OTA’s overweight. Well, KB came to the game last night looking svelte and his play was oh so similar to the rookie KB pre acl tear. He had two catches for 40 yards. One was an impressive 23 yard touchdown and the other was a 5 yard curl route that he turned into 17 yards while bowling over DB’s.

Damiere Byrd — Easliy last night’s MVP. Hauled in four catches for 98 yards and two scores. With KB, Funchess, Shepard and Samuel as locks for the 53, someone needed to provide separation from the group for the 5th WR spot. Byrd strengthened his case last night. It helps that there is a current void of a receiver that can take the top off a defense like Ted Ginn has done the past two seasons.

David Mayo — Mayo did what Mayo does well. He flew around the field and was around the ball. He forced a fumble that Jared Norris got credit for in the second quarter.

Daeshon Hall — Didn’t stuff the stat sheet, but drew a couple of holding calls and tripped up Deshaun Watson for a sack in the third quarter.

O-Line — Matt Kalil had a nice cameo and Silatolu and Taylor Moton were solid in relief playing unfamiliar positions.

Safety Depth — Specifically Dezmen Southward and LJ McCray. Both guys flew around and brought the wood on some tackles. Southward was on the spot to recover the Mayo/Norris forced fumble in the 2nd.

Teddy Williams — Hasn’t gotten a ton of camp pub, but he made several nice coverage plays last night.

Harrison Butker — His only field goal attempt was a 51 yarder late in the game and he drilled it.

 

Stock Down

Second Team Defense — For as good as the starters looked, the backups were just as disappointing. Even with Shaq and Captain out there, they allowed the first team Houston offense to march down the field for a score while overcoming three penalties in the process.

Colin Jones — Safety is such a thin position on this roster. A couple of the reserves had good nights, but for Jones, having been on this roster for a few seasons I wanted to see more production in his coverage. We know he’s great on special teams, but the coverage as a safety was lacking a bit last night.

Zack Sanchez — Didn’t give up a big play, but didn’t stand out or shut down his side of the field either.

Graham Gano — Gano, by all accounts, has been winning the kicking competition this camp, but missing the 50 yarder off the upright early in the game wasn’t a good look.

 

Other Notes

Christian McCaffrey — Got just a glimpse of what he can do last night. Didn’t explode or anything, but got seven carries for 33 yards and did a nice job of moving between the tackles and getting out on the edge.

Brenton Bersin and Vernon Butler — Both got banged up during the second quarter. Butler’s injury in particular was more concerning as he got blindsided with a crack back block on a play he wasn’t really involved in. After the hit, Butler was holding his knee which he likely tweaked after contact and landing on the ground. From the looks of it, it didn’t look to be a tear, but a sprain would hold him out for a couple of weeks which is unfortunate.

Certainly there was way more good than bad last night and I imagine the coaches will be please for the most part. Next up is their game against the Titans on Saturday the 19th.

5 Questions Ahead of the Panthers Opening Preseason Game

Photo Cred — Chuck Burton, Associated Press file

When the Cowboys took on the Cardinals last Thursday in the hall of fame game, that signified that football was officially back. We may still have a month to go before any games of actual consequence start, but as fans of football, we will be able to indulge in some sort of action every week from now until the Super Bowl in early February. That, in and of itself, is a blessing. The Panthers open up their campaign this week on Wednesday evening against the Texans. Kickoff is set for 7:30 PM in Charlotte and we should finally get some clarity on a few questions we have built up throughout the offseason.

Here are a few of my questions going into the first preseason game:

1. What will Cam Newton’s role be?

I’ll go ahead and get this one out of the way. It’s unlikely that we will see Cam Newton in the game at all on Wednesday given how limited he has been in practice over the last week. Typically, the first string guys (especially the quarterback) will only participate a series or two in the first preseason game anyway. Should Cam get medically cleared to play or force his way onto the field (not a stretch) then I imagine that any throws he makes will be quick, short passes and I imagine there would only be 1 or 2 of them total.

2. How much of an evolved offense will we actually see?

Ever since the 2016 season ended, we have heard a ton about evolution and adjusting the offensive philosophy to not only protect the health of Cam, but to also win more games. The offensive staff is still in tact, but drafting guys like Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel showed that offensive evolution wasn’t just a bunch of talk. Samuel’s hamstring injury will keep him sidelined for this game so we won’t get to see how his involvement will affect the offense, but we should get a ton of looks at McCaffrey. I can’t remember a Panther rookie that has garnered this much hype and attention from the fans and the media during the first couple weeks of training camp. That includes Cam Newton. All signs point to CMC being the real deal and we should see him get a lot of touches Wednesday night. It’ll be interesting to see how much Rivera plays him though. My guess is that he will be pulled at halftime.

3. Will the second year DB’s officially not look like rookies?

There was a ton of criticism (and rightly so) for Dave Gettleman when he let Josh Norman walk away for nothing in 2016 and placed the entire fate of the secondary in the hands of a couple rookie corners. That being said, James Bradberry and Daryl Worley showed a ton of promise towards the end of last year after taking some lumps early and the reports out of camp have been extremely positive of their performance. On Wednesday, both Bradberry and Worley will get their chance to show just how good they are against a pretty solid Texan receiving core.

4. How will Matt Kalil hold up in pass protection?

The Panthers made a sizeable investment to Kalil to hold down the left tackle spot for the next few seasons. Some people liked the signing and some people didn’t. That being said, Kalil is a high character guy and has all the physical tools to be a top tier tackle in this league. The question and unknown has always been his health. The indications are that they hip surgery he had this offseason has alleviated the main issue that has slowed him down the past couple of years in Minnesota, but the only way to prove it is by performance. I’m not sure if JJ Watt is playing on Wednesday night or not, but if he is, I can’t think of a better litmus test for the o-line’s ability to pass protect and Kalil in particular.

5. Which back end player(s) will take a step forward to making the roster?

I always find it amusing when fans get super involved in which player makes the final few roster spots because, for the most part, these players will be inactive during the regular season barring any injuries. In their defense, those battles are important and having good depth is key for good football teams.

The deeper reserves should get plenty of chances to make a move in this game. Most, if not all, of the starters will be done after halftime so guys will get a chance to actually make plays on offense and defense. The special teams opportunities will be there all game and if there is a sure fire way to make this roster it’s because you made plays on special teams.

There will be a bunch of position battles to watch, but wide receiver is certainly at the top of the list. Benjamin, Funchess, Russell Shepard and Curtis Samuel are locks to make the team, but with Samuel’s injury, there is a decent chance Rivera will carry 6 receivers into opening day which leaves two spots open. Known commodities like Brenton Bersin are still out there, but with Samuel out and Ted Ginn in New Orleans, there is a definite need for speed on the outside which will make guys like Damiere Byrd, TJ Graham and Austin Duke intriguing guys to watch on Wednesday.

How Big of a Deal is This Curtis Samuel Hamstring Issue?

Photo Cred — David T. Foster III — dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

We are almost a week into NFL training camp and there have been mostly positives coming out of Spartanburg, SC regarding the Carolina Panthers. Even though he’s on a pitch count, Cam Newton is throwing like we are used to, Christian McCaffrey is destroying anyone willing to challenge him in 1 on 1 drills, Luke Kuechly is doing Luke Kuechly things, etc. The only noticeable issue right now are the nagging injuries of a handful of players. Fortunately, none of the injuries that are currently known are deemed to be overly serious, but the lack of reps for some of the young guys on that list does bring some cause for concern.

I’m not entirely sure when exactly the hamstring became an issue. There was no indication from anyone in the media that he was hampered when he checked into training camp last Tuesday, but to my recollection, Samuel hasn’t been involved in many of the team drills so far, if any at all. The only thing I truly remember reading his name for on Twitter was when he split punt return reps with a couple other guys.

After Sunday’s practice session, Coach Rivera did say that he was optimistic that Curtis would be more of a full go in the practices leading up to fan fest, but it’s really hard to truly gauge the timetable of return for an aggravated hamstring.

Do I think that this is some sort of dire, season threatening injury for Curtis Samuel. No, I don’t believe it’s that serious. We are still over a month away from playing games that actually matter so there is certainly time to heal and not rushing a player back from this type of injury is definitely the smart move, but for a rookie receiver, being able to devote the time on the field during camp is definitely important in order to be effective during the season.

Samuel was a full participant during the mini camps and OTAs so he, at least, has familiarity with the offensive scheme and playbook, but Cam Newton’s shoulder surgery prevented him from participating in any throwing drills until the start of training camp last week. So when it comes to the timing of Cam, the QB, and Samuel, a rookie receiver, we are still at square one. That is the concern.

The injury to this point is secondary. I know Samuel is going to get healthy and I know he is going to play this season, but my hope is that he will be able to see some action back on the practice field sooner rather than later. Given the evolution that the offense is scheduled to undergo and given the fact that Curtis Samuel was picked as high as he was to be one of the focal points of the new offense, make it really important that he and Cam build up that timing in order to position themselves to win football games starting in September.

I anticipate that Samuel will make it back on the field prior to the team’s first preseason game on August 9th, but his status is something to keep an eye on over the next few days. If he and Cam can help get each other up to speed in the new system, they could be quite a dynamic pairing.

Stay Tuned.

Introduction

Welcome to Charlotte Sports Blog! The blog that is 100% dedicated to professional sports in the Charlotte, NC market.

This blog has been something I have wanted to do for a while, but admittedly, it’s taken some time to get it going. I started writing a couple of posts around the 2017 NBA all star break when I got the blog and domain set up, but the timing felt off so I scrapped it. When contemplating how and when to really launch the blog, it was pretty clear that the correct timing was going to be important when it came to building momentum.

At the core of it, the blog will be dedicated to professional sports in Charlotte, NC namely the Panthers and the Hornets. As a small market in the sports landscape, the Panthers and the Hornets rarely get coverage from the national outlets and there isn’t enough local coverage around that typically quenches the thirst of the reader for content. Now I’m not a journalist and I don’t claim to have any legitimate sources, but breaking news or providing reported speculation of team news is not the goal of this blog.

My idea of this blog is to give fans of both the Panthers and the Hornets a place to read about both teams from the view of the common fan. Whether it’s a game recap, statistical analysis, media hot takes, free agency & draft news or just anything team related, I will strive to have that content here and available to you.

I’ve been chomping at the bit for months to put this blog in motion. I sat through both league drafts and free agency periods as I waited for the right time to provide content. Ultimately, I felt that the best time to begin a blog would be at the beginning of a season. With training camp set to kick off the new NFL season this week, now is as good a time as any to get going.

I’m looking forward to following along the story lines with all of you and am excited to share my takes here.

Check back for more in the coming days!