Monday, August 31, 2009

Fox needs to play starters vs. Pittsburgh

Maybe you remember this. Maybe you don't. But last season at exactly this point, Panthers coach John Fox decided not to play his starters at all in the final exhibition game of 2008 against Pittsburgh.

It was the first time in franchise history the starters hadn't played even a snap in the final preseason game -- they generally play a series or two in the final exhibition before retiring to the sidelines. Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger, for instance, played two series last year in the final exhibition (the Steelers won that meaningless game, 19-16).

This year, that shouldn't happen. It's obvious to everyone that the Panthers need some more work -- a lot more. On defense, especially. Fox criticized his team's tackling after Saturday night's 17-13 preseason loss to Baltimore; here's a rare chance to practice it against the defending Super Bowl champs.

Last year was different. Carolina creamed Washington in the third exhibition, racking up 47 points. Things were much more fine-tuned. The starters arguably deserved that night off.

But this 2009 Panther team has been a sluggish mess for much of the preseason, going 0-3, battling injuries and playing too soft on defense while trying to learn new D-coordinator Ron Meeks' system.

All that can be fixed, for sure, before the regular-season opener Sept.13 vs. Philadelphia. But this is not a time to play it totally safe in exhibition No.4. Sit out DeAngelo Williams and Jon Beason? Absolutely. Sit out a couple of other big-timers like Steve Smith and Jake Delhomme? That'd be understandable, too, because of their value.

But most or all of the defense, especially, has to get back out there and get to work. There's little time left, and surely Fox realizes that it's no time for "Casual Thursday" -- with the starters all wearing ballcaps instead of helmets -- this time around.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

4 things I didn't like about Panthers' loss No.3

So the Panthers are now 0-3 in the preseason after their 17-13 loss to Baltimore at Bank of America Stadium Saturday night. Here's my column about the game and here are 4 things I didn't like about the loss (and 2 that I did):

1) Third-down conversions. The Panthers were 0-for-7. Baltimore was 8-for-13. No matter who was playing -- and in this game, it was mostly the starters -- that's ridiculous. It continues a trend, too -- Carolina's offense is now 5-for-30 on third-down conversions (16.7 percent) in the preseason.

2) Chris Gamble. He's the Panthers' "shutdown corner" but he was shut down by Baltimore WR Derrick Mason (and QB Joe Flacco) Saturday night, who beat him time and again on underneath routes.

3) 31-for-39. That's how many passes Baltimore QBs completed against Carolina's soft-as-a-pillow pass defense. Carolina's one interception came on a ball that should have been catch No.32, but it deflected off the receiver's hand. The cornerbacks time and again were way off the ball when the catch was made, and the linebackers (minus Beason and Davis) couldn't chase down the safety valve RBs quickly enough.

4) Injured Panthers. The guys I'm most worried about not playing in the opener? Beason and Jonathan Stewart. Both seem very iffy. The Panthers at least did not seem to sustain any more major injuries in this one.


1) Mike Goodson. Given a heavy workload due to DeAngelo Williams and Stewart sitting out, Goodson flashed his potential once again. He held onto the ball, too, which was big for him.

2) Steve Smith returns. That was good news for an offense in sore need of him. Smith only caught 2 passes for 37 yards, but he seemed fine. "My body was feeling good, so there was no sense in waiting until next week," Smith said.

First-half thoughts

Some thoughts from the first 30 minutes of the Panthers' third exhibition game -- they are trailing Baltimore at halftime, 14-3, as I write this:

-- Carolina’s Steve Smith saw his first preseason action of 2009 after missing the first two games due to shoulder injury and knocked a bit of rust off early. His physical, confrontational style hasn’t changed a bit.

Smith blasted Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth out of bounds with a big block on Carolina’s first play from scrimmage. Later, Smith caught his first pass, tried to stiff-arm Foxworth and ended up face-masking him instead, drawing a penalty.
But at least Smith was using that formerly injured shoulder with authority. Later, he did successfully stiff-arm Foxworth on a 26-yard run off a flanker screen. Smith’s return was one of the most positive things about a very uneven game for Carolina.

-- The Panthers’ first-team defense seemed to have forgotten what a “3-and-out” was in the first half, but it certainly understood “10-and-in.” Baltimore had long touchdown marches on two of its first three drives – one of them a 90-yarder. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco repeatedly whipped the Panthers D, throwing very effectively to Derrick Mason when he was matched up on Carolina’s Chris Gamble.

Baltimore almost scored TDs on its first three drives. On the other one, the Ravens got to a first-and-goal at the 1 before two penalties, a Tyler Brayton sack and a missed field goal short-circuited that one. That first half was certainly not what new Panther defensive coordinator Ron Meeks wanted.

-- The game was remarkably well-attended given that it didn’t count. Although Bank of America stadium was only a tenth full 30 minutes before kickoff, it wound up close to 90 percent full. Charlotte is obviously ready for another football season.

-- It’s only preseason, but Panthers coach John Fox is starting to get into regular-season mode. On third-and-14 from the Baltimore 24, with the score tied 0-0 in the first quarter, the Panthers called timeout.

After a sideline discussion they went with a three-receiver set – and a draw play featuring fourth-string running back Decori Birmingham. The Panthers needed a timeout to come up with that? You can probably guess it came up short.

Friday, August 28, 2009

NFL needs to extend regular season

I'm writing a column for Saturday's paper about why the NFL should extend its regular season from 16 games to 18. Here's an unedited excerpt:

This extension of the regular season should have happened a long time ago, and it sounds like it still won’t happen until August 2011 at the earliest. But the NFL needs to play 18 regular-season games, and the preseason needs to be halved from four games to two.

Only one preseason game is actually worth watching anymore, and that’s the one that comes Saturday night for the Carolina Panthers at home against the Baltimore Ravens. Like most NFL teams, the Panthers traditionally play their starters for more than a half in Fake Game No.3. And they actually game-plan a little for the other team. So it’s interesting.

As for Fake Game No.4 against Pittsburgh next week, forget it. If you see the Panther starters play past the first quarter in that one, it will be a miracle.

Carolina plays a real game Sept.13 (the home opener against Philly). Like every other NFL team, the Panthers just try to get through that final practice game without sustaining any more significant injuries.

As for Fake Games No.1 and No.2 (which the Panthers have already lost -- and have had several players hurt in the process while doing so)?

Like Fake Game No.4, they are nice showcases for the players who are trying to win spots No.40-53 on a 53-man roster. Coaches like the extra practice games because they get more time to evaluate their young, marginal players. But all that doesn’t mean NFL fans should be paying full prices to watch these glorified scrimmages, like they almost always do.

(More to come on this subject in Saturday's Charlotte Observer. Also, make sure you check us out online Saturday night for real-time game coverage via and our various blogs and Twitter feeds -- mine is

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Beason out for Week 1 at least?

Panther LB Jon Beason's blog offers enough clues about his MCL knee injury -- far more than Panther coach John Fox is going to offer -- that upon reading it I think Beason will miss the Philadelphia Eagles game on Sept.13. That will be Carolina's season opener, and a game that could very possibly affect playoff seedings down the road.

Beason (right) writes toward the end of the blog entry: "I’m feeling a lot better by the day, I’m encouraged by how I feel right now. For me it’s all about getting back on the field. The crazy part is, even though Week 1 isn’t the Super Bowl, or the playoffs, of a game for the division title, I want to play, and I’d be willing to suck it up. But this is a long season, and I have to make sure I’m healthy for the long haul."

That sounds to me like a player trying to be realistic about his likely absence in Week 1, although I doubt the Panthers would officially say anything of the sort. Does it sound that way to you? Maybe Beason indeed comes back and plays, but the Panthers will be very careful with a commodity this valuable (Beason was a Pro Bowler in 2008 and, I thought, the defensive MVP of the team).

Also, Beason writes about the injury: "All my life I’ve healed fast and I don’t see why this time should be any different. I expect a speedy recovery. I think it starts in your mind; if you believe it in your mind, your body will follow. I think the guys who feel sorry for themselves take longer to come back from injury than the guys who are willing to do what it takes, listen to the medical staff and attack the rehab."

And he writes: "I hate being injured just because at the end of the day I think being a good player means being durable. There have been a lot of potentially great athletes who can’t stay healthy, and if you can’t stay healthy no one cares how good you are. It kind of sucks when freak things happen but injuries are a part of the game if you play long enough."

Again, if Beason doesn't play Sept.13, that doesn't mean the sky is falling (read the next "Scott Says" entry below for more of my theory on this). Which is a good thing, because now I don't think he will.

And a reminder: You can follow me on twitter at for more Panther (and other sports) news.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Is Panthers' sky falling?

I must be missing something regarding the histrionics concerning the Carolina Panthers' August so far.

Yes, they are 0-2 in preseason games entering Saturday's home exhibition vs. Baltimore (because, in part, the Carolina third-stringers can't hold a lead. Shame on them!).

Yes, they lost DT Maake Kemoeatu to a season-ending injury. Yes, both LBs Jon Beason and Thomas Davis are sidelined by sprained knee ligaments (MCLs, in both cases). Yes, safety Charles Godfrey has a broken hand. Yes, backup RB Jonathan Stewart has injury problems again.

But my gosh, is it this serious? Judging from what I hear in person and on talk radio and read via the Internet fan comments and the headline in my very own Charlotte Observer on Tuesday (3 injuries rip heart out of defense), we've reached the crisis point. And we're not even at Fake Game No.3 yet.

OK. Look. Let's all calm down here. The heart of the defense has not actually been ripped out. Nor has the heart of this team.

Now if Beason is hurt seriously, that one will sting badly. The "Beast" is a total stud and the team's most versatile linebacker. But other than that, c'mon. I've never heard so many people talk like the fallen Kemoeatu was the team MVP or something. Yet fans mostly ripped Kemoeatu while he was the starting DT or else paid him little attention at all, because he didn't make the big plays that Kris Jenkins did when he was here in all his eccentric glory.

I'm not arguing that Kemo is not valuable; he is. But he's also not irreplaceable, like (you can insert sound of knocking on wood here) a season-ending injury to Steve Smith, DeAngelo Williams or Jake Delhomme would be. Beason falls into that "irreplaceable" category too -- Dan Connor is serviceable but no Beason -- but there's no reason to believe right now that Beason's injury is incredibly serious.

In other words, nothing THAT bad has actually happened yet to the Panthers in August, Carolina fans. It's OK. Really.

I've covered this team since its inception in 1995, and I can remember a lot worse moments for the Panthers in previous Augusts. Here are 3: Kerry Collins getting his jaw broken by Bill Romanowski in 1997, Steve Smith punching Ken Lucas in 2008, Sam Mills being initially diagnosed with cancer in 2003.

So let's put all this in perspective a little, shall we?

(Incidentally, if you want to follow me on Twitter and get my thoughts on the Panthers in real time (more or less), go to and follow me).

*** On an unrelated note... I wrote a long story on David Chadwick Jr., the former Charlotte Latin basketball star, for today's paper detailing the ups and downs of his strange recruiting process. You can find it here.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Why high school football still matters

I wrote a column for today's paper about the glorious rite of passage that is high school football -- click here to read.

The column barely mentions something that a lot of yall probably missed in our paper because it was so long ago. But while I cover pro sports more than anything else, I love to get immersed in the prep experience from time to time -- some of my favorite stories ever have come from high school sports. (Here's one of them, about a guy named Kojak who was more or less adopted by the town of Lincolnton, NC.).

Another of my favorite high-school stories came in 1998. For one football season, I basically embedded myself at Kannapolis A.L. Brown, which was coached by the legendary Bruce Hardin (now at Providence Day) and had as its star player a dazzling running back named Nick Maddox, then considered the No.1 RB in the country.

A.L. Brown's nickname was the Wonders, and we eventually called this four-part series "The Wonders' Year." (A play on a title of the now-defunct TV show "The Wonder Years," which was one of the more underrated pieces of TV in the past 20 years, IMHO).

Anyway, it was great fun to do -- not just because of Maddox and Hardin, the two main characters in the story, but also because of the town of Kannapolis, which was really the third main character. It's a place where high-school football still matters so much (and still does today). There are lots of towns like that all over North Carolina and America, where the Friday night lights never dim.

As for whatever happened to Maddox, he spurned all of the major in-state schools to go to Florida State. But he never became a star there -- a solid player, an occasional starter, but not a star. He was on the Panthers' practice squad for awhile, but it turned out his true glory days came in high school (I've still never seen a better prep football player). He was a very smart kid, graduated from FSU and still lives in Tallahassee, Fla., where he works for Florida State.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Gruden LOVES DeAngelo

Did you catch the way Jon Gruden was practically panting on "Monday Night Football" a couple of days ago with his praise of Panther RB DeAngelo Williams?

Gruden said, among other things, that DeAngelo may be the best back in the NFL.

Gruden said there's a "debate" about that title in the NFL, but then left the unmistakable impression that he thought the Panthers' No.34 was indeed the best. When fellow MNF announcers Mike Tirico and Ron Jaworski teased Gruden about it, asking if his "sources" had ever heard of Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, Gruden stuck firm to his guns. He also said that while coaching Tampa Bay he kept thinking DeAngelo was getting stopped behind the line on a 1st-and-10 and all of a sudden it was instead "2nd-and-10" or "2nd-and-5."

Gruden also sounded almost lovestruck when he said that in the crew's pregame meeting with DeAngelo he "hated to say goodnight." And MNF also put up some statistics during the game to illustrate how great DeAngelo's 2008 season was, comparing it to one season apiece by Jim Brown and O.J. Simpson (even though DeAngelo didn't make the Pro Bowl team announced in December, which we all know was a joke).

In other words, DeAngelo ain't flying under the radar anymore, although he often says he'd like that to be the case.

When you lead the NFL with 20 TDs (18 rushing) and rush for 1,515 yards (3rd in the NFL behind the Vikes' Peterson and Atlanta's Michael Turner), you're a big jet airplane, and everyone is going to see that on the radar.

Now this much is true: DeAngelo had the best season of any RB in the NFL last year, bar none. I firmly believe that. Here's why. He scored more times than Turner and Peterson, and most importantly, he fumbled ZERO times.

Peterson (a league-high 1,760 yards) was a fumbling machine, with nine. Turner (1,699 yards) had three. And every other back in the NFL's top 10 in rushing yardage had at least one fumble except San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson, who has legendary ball security. Like DeAngelo, LT had zero fumbles in 2008 (but 405 fewer yards).

This is also true: Gruden has long been a master of hyperbole. He also mentioned Monday night that he long ago nicknamed Panther WR Steve Smith "Freddy Krueger," because Smith had scared him badly twice a year for seven years at Tampa Bay. Reporters all over the NFL knew that Gruden would come up with a great "this guy is unbelievable" quote about opposing players he was about to face -- it was partly the way Gruden motivated his own team.

But now Gruden is out of coaching and has nothing really to gain by excessive praise. And DeAngelo... well, he's got to be in the conversation for "Best Back in the NFL."

The key, of course, is consistency. In his first year as a starter, he had the best season any Panther back has ever had.

And the question, of course, is can he do anything like that again?

As I've written before, I think the number of times DeAngelo scores this year will drop -- 20 is a huge number, after all, and I think teams will dare Jake Delhomme to throw inside the 10 this season. Also, it stands to reason that the second part of "Double Trouble" -- Jonathan Stewart -- may get some of those carries as well.

But DeAngelo's rushing yardage? With that explosive burst he possesses, he might hit 1,500 yards again. In this run-first, run-second offense, he's certainly going to get opportunities. And you know what?

It might even be more than 1,500. A lot more.

(An unrelated note: Thanks to all of you who have already signed up for my new Twitter updates -- which are the best way to know when I've posted something new on the "Scott Says" blog here at If you'd like to follow me on Twitter, you can find me at

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Favre -- again?! Oh c'mon

So now, in the most predictable story of NFL training camp so far, Brett Favre has decided to come back -- again.

After weeks of speculation, Favre ended his second retirement on Tuesday. He boarded a plane from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and landed in St. Paul, Minnesota, then was quickly transported to the Vikings training facility, underwent a physical and signed an undisclosed contract.

The Vikings have been courting the Hamlet of the NFL most of the summer. Favre had already suited up in his familiar No.4 jersey for the Vikes this afternoon.

Surely he'll start for Minnesota, which has just about everything but a decent starting QB and will definitely contend for the NFC playoffs.

The Panthers will get to see Favre again barring injury -- he's nearly always been good against them. Carolina will play Minnesota in a critical home game Dec.20 that you can bet will have some sort of playoff implications.

In the meantime, though, I think most of us can agree we're tired of the Favre act. I mean, in or out, Brett. C'mon.

I've long loved the way Favre played. I've praised him numerous times in print and once went so far to write that I don't own an NFL replica jersey, but if I did, it'd be Favre's No.4.

That was a long time ago, though. Favre has tarnished his legend with me to an extent just because of the way the last few years have unfolded.

I don't mind the guy playing until he's 40 (which he will be in October). I just don't like the "Will-he-or-won't-he?" soap opera that swirls around him every spring and summer. He's like one of those boxers who comes out of retirement 5-6 times.

Not that Favre's wishy-washy nature is a capital offense or anything, but I think I do know the right punishment for it. When Favre finally calls his next "retirement" press conference, whenever that may be, absolutely no one shows up.

Monday, August 17, 2009

5 things I liked, 5 I didn't in Panthers' loss

Sure, it’s just preseason. But it’s still worth pointing out the things I liked and the things I didn’t in Carolina’s 24-17 loss against the New York Giants:


1. Mike Goodson – It says something that the Panthers’ breakout player of the first exhibition also fumbled the ball twice and embarrassed Carolina on national TV by making a terrible throat-slash gesture after his TD (don’t try that one at home, kids). But Goodson has undeniable speed and – since Jonathan Stewart can be injury-prone – he’s another exciting option as a change-up for DeAngelo Williams. Now he just needs to keep both hands on the ball before they get him into trouble again.

2. James Anderson – Had a sack and blocked a punt for a safety while also filling in decently as a starter for injured LB Thomas Davis.

3. Dan Connor – Nice to see the guy who missed almost all of last season with a torn ACL come back and look like he still had his instincts.

4. Jon Gruden – The former Tampa Bay coach will be entertaining as an “MNF” analyst. He sure likes DeAngelo Williams: Gruden made the case in the broadcast that DeAngelo is the best back in the NFL.

5. Hunter Cantwell – The 4th-string QB threw Carolina’s only TD pass of the night with a minute left, then converted the two-pointer to tie the game at 17 (to the chagrin of many, including the MNF announcers, who obviously wanted to get the heck out of there and not see an overtime). Cantwell then obliged them with a turnover on the game’s last play from scrimmage that the Giants ran in for a gift TD and a sudden "Game over."

5 Things I didn’t like

1. Turnover Central: It was shades of the Arizona playoff game as Carolina’s offense at one point managed to turn the ball over three times in four plays (and nearly four in five, except Mike Goodson’s second fumble of the night was recovered). The Panthers ended up with 5 turnovers altogether.
Goodson obviously must work on ball security – it’s a problem with him and will concern John Fox a lot more than the throat slash gesture. Other than that, the biggest lesson here was the Panthers better not get any offensive linemen hurt, because the second unit isn’t ready.

2. First-team defense: There was little to like in the Panthers’ first unit, which played less than a quarter yet managed to allow a 6-play, 77-yard TD drive during that time. On the TD play – a 19-yard run by Ahmad Bradshaw -- Jon Beason was thoroughly blocked and Chris Gamble and Charles Godfrey both got run over.

3. David Carr – As any Panther fan with a decent memory might recall, Carr was once the Panthers’ next great hope at QB when Jake Delhomme went down in 2007. A bunch of jittery incompletions later, he went to New York as a backup – and managed to burn the Panthers’ second-teamers for a screen-pass TD Monday night.

4. Panther stars – Julius Peppers lined up mainly on the right side and had an invisible quarter while he played. Jake Delhomme looked somewhat lost without Steve Smith and had a desultory first quarter (although no turnovers) before checking out very early. DeAngelo was decent but didn't have enough time to be spectacular.

5. Run defense – The Giants’ top 2 runners had 9 carries for 66 yards before retiring early. Carolina obviously needs to sign another 330-pound DT – the Giants might have had 2 100-yard backs if this had been a regular-season game.

Did Tiger choke? I think so

It's still hard to believe, isn't it? Tiger Woods led the PGA tournament for almost the entire weekend in Minnesota, then got beaten by some guy with a rooster on the back of his shirt.

Congrats to Y.E. Yang of South Korea, who crowed his way to a 3-stroke win over Tiger in the PGA Championship.

But let's not let Woods' undeniable and usually unbelievable greatness cloud the issue here -- Woods choked in the final round.

A 75? In his traditional red shirt, on a Sunday, with a 2-stroke lead going in?!

That let Yang win by 3 strokes.

If you don't think it was a choke job by El Tigre, just ask yourself this: If Woods had been 2 shots down going into Sunday, and Yang then shot a 75, and Tiger had shot a 70 and won by 3 strokes, would you have said Yang choked?

Of course you would.

Look, everyone chokes occasionally in sports. That's part of why it takes more courage to play than to sit on the sidelines.

I don't think Tiger Woods is a bad golfer because of this -- I think he's the best ever. But on Sunday, he wasn't. He showed he was human.

And incidentally, Yang's performance Sunday was only the second-best on Sunday. Usain Bolt's 9.58-second run in the 100 meters -- shattering his own world record -- was the best.

To get a gauge of how fast that is, if that time is translated into the 40-yard dash that football players are always running, it would be roughly 3.5 seconds.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Joe Gibbs and the Panthers

I wrote a long column today about Joe Gibbs, who wants very much to have a second chance in life to make up for the time he lost as a work-aholic football coach.

Gibbs believes he has found that second chance with his eight grandchildren. He never coached one of his sons' athletic teams -- he was too busy -- but now he coaches his 11-year-old grandson's football team (and even has been holding offseason film and Bible studies with the group).

What isn't in the story -- because it wasn't the focus of this piece -- but what I always have found interesting is that Gibbs could have been Carolina's first coach. How would the Panthers' history have changed then if Gibbs had decided to return to coaching in 1995 at the behest of Jerry Richardson (who wanted him)?

Instead, Gibbs said "No, thanks" -- he was early into his career as a NASCAR owner then and, even though he lived in the Charlotte area, he wasn't ready to make a move back into coaching then. The timing just wasn't right.

Gibbs would have been fantastic for the Panthers, of course -- although Dom Capers wasn't a bad first coach by any means and had one great season here (in 1996). He would have run a different offense (more one-back sets) and likely not have been so veteran-driven in the early years, for he would have felt less pressure to win early than a guy going into his first head-coaching job (Capers) undoubtedly felt.

Anyway, it's all speculation now, but I have always wondered a little at how far Gibbs might have taken the Panthers had he taken the job.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Vick is NOT a Panther, thankfully

Looks like Michael Vick will take his circus on the road to Philadelphia, where is reporting that he will sign to serve as a backup to Donovan McNabb.

Now that makes sense -- the Eagles' backup QB just got hurt. So you can see why they are doing this.

But unlike my colleague and friend Tom Sorensen, who wrote in today's paper that he would like to see Carolina sign Vick, I have never advocated this. I will repeat a bit of what I said on this blog several weeks ago (a blog that drew a personal record of 186 comments, so people obviously care about this issue).

From my previous blog:

"There are many questions about Vick, but here, I believe, are the two biggest:

1) Can he stay out of trouble?
2) Can he still play at anywhere near the same level?

Vick is only 29, but his promising career was derailed by his involvement with (and subsequent jail time for) an illegal dogfighting enterprise.

Now, should the Panthers sign him?

NO. Let's just consider Vick just as a football player for the moment. He doesn't fit what the Panthers like to do. John Fox doesn't care about his quarterback running much. He does care about accuracy -- always Vick's weakness as a thrower. Jake Delhomme is well-set here as the starter. Vick at best would be a backup and while certainly an interesting alternative to Josh McCown (No.2) and Matt Moore (No.3), it's not a good fit overall.

Carolina doesn't need the circus Vick will bring with him, and Vick needs a team that didn't win 12 games last year and is more willing to take a risk by bringing him aboard. That team should be warned, however: You just can't count on that athleticism that used to set Vick apart, and without that, he's an average NFL quarterback at best.

Still, I hope Vick resurrects himself in the NFL somewhere. He has served his time. He's got Tony Dungy on his side now as a mentor, and that's a good thing.

Vick deserves another chance."

Today, I still believe all of that. And the ones of you out there who are just sure Vick would take the Panthers to the Super Bowl... we'll just have to agree to disagree on that one.

(In the meantime, if you're reading this post before Friday, Aug.14 at 7 p.m., check out the next post down if you want a chance at a "Rabid Goldfish" T-shirt). And no, that name doesn't have anything to do with Vick.

The Panthers' "Rabid Goldfish" (and a free T-shirt)

Now you can't make this stuff up, so I won't try. (Aug.14 UPDATE on contest -- I posted the winners in the 40th comment on this blog post. Thanks, everyone for playing, and thanks to Jamie Spittler for providing the free T-shirts to the winners... Scott).

I keep finding out more things about DT George Hypolite, the Panthers' unknown but quite interesting reserve that I wrote about in today's paper.

Here's the latest: They called Hypolite "The Rabid Goldfish" at Colorado. And here's why: A couple of Colorado alums created "South Park" -- the offbeat, off-color, animated satire that was such a huge hit a few years ago.

Those CU alums got one of their characters -- Eric Cartman -- to introduce the Colorado defense for a televised football game awhile back. It makes for a funny "YouTube" bit even now -- watch it here, it only takes about 45 seconds.

In this TV bit, for no reason, Cartman calls Hypolite "The Rabid Goldfish." It stuck. People made T-shirts of this nickname for Hypolite, as a reader (and the T-shirt co-creator, Jamie Spittler of Colorado) pointed out to me today.

So there you go. For now, at least until the first round of cuts, the Panthers have a Rabid Goldfish on their hands.

In the meantime, I am going to acquire a T-shirt of the "Rabid Goldfish" via my main man Jamie Spittler and give it away to a reader of this blog.

All YOU have to do to win the "Rabid Goldfish" T-shirt is leave the funniest comment below -- YOU MUST give me a nickname for another Panther defensive player that is totally weird (but funny and clean) and I'll award the T-shirt to you.

You must leave your comment//nickname suggestion by Friday, Aug.14, at 7 p.m., about 24 hours from when I am posting this.Good luck!

How will Panthers' defense do?

While lots of attention will be focused on Carolina's offense when the Panthers open the 2009 preseason at the New York Giants on "Monday Night Football," I'm more interested in what their defense looks like.

The Panthers have a new defensive coordinator, a new emphasis on running to the ball at all costs and will be playing (at least for awhile) a Giants team that dismantled Carolina last season on the ground. As LB Na'il Diggs said Thursday: "It's kind of like a new car. I'm getting ready to drive my new car out on the street and see how it performs."

Diggs says the Panthers defense will be more "explosive" than last year. We'll see about that, but this will be a nice first test.

Meanwhile, I wrote about reserve DT George Hypolite today, who jokes that "I'm a football player first, so I must be a meathead." If you read a little more about Hypolite, you'll realize that's far from true.

And a reminder that I've just begun posting to Twitter if you're one of those who tweet:

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Pitino no longer 'Slick Rick'

Twenty years ago, I was a 24-year-old reporter for The Louisville Courier-Journal. My assignment was to cover Rick Pitino's first basketball team at the University of Kentucky.

(Pitino, of course, is in the news right now for his role in a soap-opera sex-and-extortion scandal -- the latest story is here).

That was an awesome assignment for a 24-year-old, and I knew it. I lived in Lexington, Ky., and was around Pitino almost every day for that first season, as he took a team absolutely decimated by NCAA penalties and transfers and cobbled together something respectable.

You could see Pitino's genius on and off the court -- Lord, his mind was quick and so was his tongue. Plus, he was a charismatic and handsome devil -- by then, the nickname "Slick Rick" had already stuck to him.

Twenty years later, it's time to peel that nickname away. I thought Pitino would be smarter than this, but his still-undetermined role in this sex scandal will now also be part of his legacy.

I just thought Pitino would be smarter than to get involved in something like this. Of course it's natural he would be appealing to other women -- he's always looked 10 years younger than his actual age, and he's a millionaire many times over, and he is thoughtful and quick-witted (and a reporter's dream because he's so quotable).

But Pitino admits consensual sex with the woman, and he gave her $3,000 later (his lawyer says for insurance, she says for an abortion).

It's a sordid affair, undoubtedly. And however it comes out, I'm disappointed with Pitino -- who was so fun to get to know 20 years ago, so admirable, and yet, like all of us, ultimately so flawed.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Don't play Smith in preseason

Steve Smith hurt his shoulder Monday night during practice at Panther training camp. And if that doesn't send a shudder through you, you're certainly not a Panther fan.

X-rays were negative, the Panthers said, which is good news. UPDATE: Smith said Tuesday that the injury occurred when he hit the ground and wouldn't project when he would be back, although several high-profile teammates opined that he would be ready for the regular-season opener. Smith's agent, Derrick Fox, said Tuesday morning that Smith would be out a minimum of two weeks.

If I were the Panthers, I'd shut Smith down for the entire month of August. No preseason games. No more contact work. Just meetings and non-contact workouts and stuff like that. That's it.

Imagining a 2009 Panther offense without Smith is difficult. Who would be the No.1 receiver then -- Muhsin Muhammad? And Dwayne Jarrett becomes a starter?! Wow. That would change things all right. Other teams would stack 8 on the line all day long, every day, daring the Panthers to just try and beat them deep.

Yes, Carolina went 2-0 without Smith last season while he was suspended for breaking Ken Lucas's nose in a training-camp skirmish. But you don't want to have to do that again if you can possibly help it.

Whether Smith is ready to go by Week 3-4 of the preseason or not, I wouldn't put him out there. For that matter, I wouldn't put DeAngelo Williams out there much, or Jake Delhomme, or Jonathan Stewart.

As my loyal readers may remember, I've campaigned for the preseason to be shortened from 4 to 2 games for years. Four games is a waste. And for veterans like Smith, it's really a waste -- just another chance to get hurt, really. So sit No.89 down and let him get welcomed back Sept.13 in the home opener vs. Philly -- nothing matters much until then, anyway.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Time for Panthers to Gamble

Here's a small preview of my next column about the Carolina Panthers from their training camp in Spartanburg, which will be in the paper sometime in the next 1-3 days. The basic premise: It's time to let Chris Gamble do what you pay him to do, and that is to guard the other team's best receiver far more often.

Gamble signed a six-year contract extension in November, but the Panthers don't get full benefit from him because he so frequently stays on the left side of the field and simply guards whoever comes into his area.

Gamble would like to guard the other team's No.1 threat more often. When I asked him about this, he said it's a challenge he looked forward to and something he wanted to do more of.

"Hopefully they'll want me to do that," Gamble said. "I'm ready for that challenge."

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Panthers' tweeting craze

After visiting more than a dozen Panther training camps here in Spartanburg, where I'm writing this at the moment, most things feel close to the same every year. But the new social networking Web site "Twitter" and the Panthers who are doing it -- that's definitely new.

I'll explore this in more depth in a column for Friday's paper -- now posted here -- but basically more Panthers seem to be "Twitter-ing" now -- and more often -- than ever blogged.

I think this is because a blog requires more time. A Twitter is only 140 characters long -- just a text-message, basically, but sent out to hundreds of people instead of just one.

"I've got a blog, too," said Panthers' kickoff specialist Rhys Lloyd. "But this is just easier. A blog is paragraphs. In this, you only have 140 characters. I don't have the time to sit there and write essays... This is just like sending a text message."

Lloyd (RhysJLloyd on is the early MVP in the clubhouse among the Panthers who Twitter (at least eight of them at last count).

Incidentally, I've joined up on Twitter, too -- you can follow me at But if you prefer this blog (or the newspaper), don't worry -- I'll still be writing just as much for both of them.