Thursday, July 29, 2010

Beuerlein and the Redskins

Just got off the phone with Steve Beuerlein, the former Panther Pro Bowl quarterback and one of the best guys who has ever been in the Carolina locker room.

Beuerlein was in the car on the way to the Washington Redskins' training camp in Ashburn, Va. At the invitation of Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, Beuerlein is going to be there for the next couple of weeks, starting with a team meeting tonight and Redskins practice Friday. Beuerlein will sit in on coaches' meetings, go to all the practices and see life from an NFL coach's perspective.

Does this mean that Beuerlein would like to go into coaching? "Who knows what the future holds?" Beuerlein, 45, said. "This is not a big deal right now. I just want to basically get a feel for what the coaches do and see if it's something I would like to do down the road."

I was talking with Beuerlein mostly about Jimmy Clausen. Beuerlein has a unique perspective on Clausen, as he preceded Clausen as the Notre Dame starting quarterback by about 20 years and also as a Panther quarterback. "I'm really glad we've got another Notre Dame quarterback in town," Beuerlein said, "and I think he has a bright future."

I'm interviewing lots of people about Clausen for what will be an extensive background story on the Panthers' new rookie quarterback. It is slated to be published in Sunday's sports section, as well as online at Take a look at it once it is published -- I can promise you there will be some things in there about Clausen you didn't know.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Clausen's first big completion

Rookie Panthers QB Jimmy Clausen will be at training camp in time to see and hear everything -- our Darin Gantt reports that Clausen and the Panthers have agreed to a deal just in time.

This serves as Clausen's first big completion of the preseason. There was no sense in holding out for a few more thousand dollars (the money is pretty modest for an NFL QB -- Clausen's big money won't come until his second contract, if he proves himself over the next four years). Clausen wasn't going to get enormous money anyway at pick No.48, but if the former Notre Dame QB held out, there was going to be a chance that he fell far behind on the QB depth chart.

So this is a smart move by Clausen and his agent, Gary Wichard. Get the guy in camp. Let him get every rep and go to every meeting, and let's see what he can do.

I was just asked on a morning radio show how I thought the Panthers' QB situation the early part of this year. I'd be stunned if Matt Moore wasn't the opening-day starter and held that job at least through September -- John Fox likes his veterans, even those with only 8 career starts -- but I don't think anything is guaranteed after that. Now Clausen has given himself a chance to be in that conversation.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Panthers don't trust anyone over 30

The anti-war youth movement of the 1960s had as one of its rallying cries: "Don't Trust Anyone Over 30!"

The Panthers have seemingly co-opted that still-popular slogan (shown above on a magnet available at a website called for their 2010 team.

As my colleague Darin Gantt notes in this story, the Panthers have only five players 30 or over on the roster as the 2010 training camp begins. They are OT Jordan Gross, K John Kasay (the only one over 40), P Jason Baker, WR Steve Smith and DE Tyler Brayton.

Wow -- talk about going young and cheap. Here's my preview of the 2010 camp -- I think it's going to be a really difficult one for those players remaining. Coach John Fox will want to impose his stamp upon all these new players and also -- given the fact he only has a year left on his contract and may well be coaching somewhere else in 2011 -- he doesn't want to go out with a whimper.

A fish story from Lake Norman

My nine-year-old Salem Fowler reels in one of the 50 or so fish we caught -- mostly white perch -- on Lake Norman last Thursday.

I'm back from vacation this week, and one of the things I did while on it was go out on Lake Norman in a boat with a couple of my kids and go fishing.

Here's the column that resulted -- we had a great guide and caught 50 fish (almost all of them white perch) in a couple of hours before the kids (ages 9 and 6) got tired of pulling them up in the broiling sun.

That was a fun column to write, but now it's going to be "all Panthers, all the time" for me for most of the next 3 weeks. The Panthers head back to my Spartanburg hometown on Wednesday and begin training camp practices Thursday -- I'll be writing a camp preview column for Wednesday's newspaper and online.

One last thing: Did you hear about the Florida Marlin baseball player who tore up his knee while hitting his teammate in the face with a pie? True story -- you can find it here.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

On Livingston and the Bobcats

I wrote my column today on the Bobcats' love of trading -- they made their 11th one in the Larry Brown era Tuesday.

Now today comes another Bobcats move -- not a trade this time, but only because Shaun Livingston wasn't on another team. Instead, the Bobcats are about to sign Livingston, who is mainly known around here as 1) the guy who was supposed to go to Duke but went to the NBA instead directly out of high school and 2) the guy who had a horrific knee injury against the Bobcats.

He's got nice height -- 6-foot-7 -- for a point guard. But is he the answer? Is he better than Raymond Felton, for instance? No way.

Livingston has been in the NBA since 2004 and has never started more than 31 games in a single season, despite playing on some very mediocre teams (to be fair, that knee injury had something to do with that).

If this is the Bobcats' "answer" at point guard, I'm underwhelmed until proven otherwise. If Livingston is just bolstering the depth and the Bobcats still have something big coming, then I'm OK with it.

Monday, July 12, 2010

To trade or not to trade?

For the Bobcats, "To Trade or not to Trade" is the current question (see Rick Bonnell's blog here for the latest new on the proposed three-way deal that would bring Jose Calderon to Charlotte and possibly ship out Boris Diaw and/or Tyson Chandler).

The answer, of course, is that they will trade, because that is what they do. Which is fine -- Charlotte is a lot better than trading (for Stephen Jackson, most notably) than they are at drafting (Adam Morrison, Sean May, etc.)

I talked to Michael Jordan Friday mainly for this story about the way he is starting to find his niche -- and show up a lot more in public -- in Charlotte.

But late in the conversation I also asked him a couple of basketball questions regarding the spate of early free-agent signings and the way the Bobcats had only stood pat so far.

“We’re not done," Jordan said. "We’re just getting started.” He also mentioned that the team had discussed a number of trades -- including some "three-ways," as he termed it -- but nothing had struck their fancy as of yet.

Obviously, once Raymond Felton officially went to the N.Y. Knicks, the level of urgency became a lot more intense. I think it makes Bobcats coach Larry Brown very uncomfortable to think of D.J. Augustin being his starter at point guard, so acquiring Calderon from Toronto makes a good bit of sense. He's an offense-first, pass-first sort of player who sometimes struggles on defense but may well make the Bobcats' sometimes stagnant offense ruun more smoothly.

As for losing Diaw, he certainly became less effective once Jackson got here, and he's definitely expendable given that the Bobcats just re-signed Tyrus Thomas to a five-year, $40-million deal. That's starting money, for sure. The Bobcats will miss Diaw's court sense, but they had to upgrade the point guard position somehow.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Jordan on Felton, Tyrus and Bobcats

I had a one-on-one interview with Bobcats owner Michael Jordan today, mostly about his increased visibility in Charlotte since he purchased the team about three months ago. The column resulting in part from that interview will likely be published in this Sunday's newspaper.

I did get in a couple of questions, however, about where Jordan thought the Bobcats -- who have been very quiet so far this offseason -- were headed with free agency. Here are some highlights from Jordan's answers:

-- On possibly losing restricted free agent Tyrus Thomas: "Our biggest task now is Tyrus Thomas. Because we know some team’s going to come in there and make him an unbelievable offer now. We’ve got to be prepared to what we’re going to do with that." UPDATE: Bobcats beat writer Rick Bonnell reports that the Bobcats now have an agreement in principle for Thomas, so check this one off the list.

-- On whether it was unlikely that point guard Raymond Felton, an unrestricted free agent, would end up staying in Charlotte: "It's not unlikely."

-- On the Bobcats' plan to improve the team: "The best thing to happen for us is the salary cap got moved up, the luxury tax got moved up. Everything has been in a big hold as to what’s happening with these free agents. We’ve been having countless conversations, trying to figure out, OK, how can we better ourselves. Obviously we can’t get into the [big-ticket free agent] sweepstakes, even though we’ve tried to work possible three-way [trades], that’s just what we have to continue to try to work out.

"We're not done. We're just getting started. I think things are just starting to happen right now. Now LeBron has made his decision, and all these teams have all this cap space and what are they going to do with it? So you never know."

Thursday, July 8, 2010

LeBron goes to Miami; Jordan lays low

Like many of you, I watched LeBron James' announcement on TV Thursday night that he was going to join the Miami Heat, where he will form Miami Thrice along with superstar buddies Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

Meanwhile, as the NBA world was knocked off its orbit by LeBron, Michael Jordan was quietly doing business in Charlotte.

It was an interesting dichotomy -- in the space of a couple of hours I saw LeBron on TV (in what I thought was a very frustrating and contrived ESPN TV special) and Michael Jordan in person, quietly doing business in Charlotte.

I write about this a lot more in my column for Friday's newspaper and online, but I was struck by the fact that Jordan was the man responsible for all the “I can’t believe it!” moments in pro basketball. But the Bobcats’ majority owner was about as far away from this big moment as you could get.

Although King James has long idolized Jordan, the Bobcats were never a factor in the LeBron sweepstakes. While LeBron was repeatedly punching Cleveland in the gut by announcing in an hour-long ESPN special that he was leaving the Cavaliers for Miami -- and I have no connections to Cleveland but still feel awful for the city -- Jordan spent his Thursday under the radar.

Jordan spoke to a group of about 100 Bobcats’ season ticket-holders at a one-day adult fantasy basketball camp Thursday night. Then he went up to his office at Time Warner Cable Arena and watched a Bobcats’ summer-league game on TV.

At the fantasy camp, Jordan was jokingly asked one question by an adult camper about whether the Bobcats might pull off a last-minute coup and sign LeBron.

“If we get LeBron, I’m surprised, you’re surprised, I’m pretty sure everybody is surprised,” Jordan said.

Jordan also promised his fantasy campers Thursday night: “There’s a lot of action going on around the league. We don’t know what’s going to happen, but I do know we’re going to be a better basketball team than we were last year.”

Really? How so? The Bobcats didn’t have a draft pick, haven’t signed a big-time free agent and appear close to losing starting point guard Raymond Felton.

Even if the current players get better, the Bobcats will still be undermanned when they plan on avoiding a first-round playoff sweep in 2011.

“Whatever it takes, I’m going to continue to build this basketball team into something that we can all be proud of,” Jordan said last night to the campers.

Really? Then show us.

But please, when and if you do, don’t create an hour-long TV special with ESPN and talk about it.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Fred Lane's first big moment

I wrote a long column you can find here about the 10-year anniversary of Fred Lane's death.

It happened 10 years ago this week, on July 6, 2000, and the story explores what sort of place Charlotte was then as a pro sports town and also updates the story of what happened to both families (Deidra Lane, Fred's estranged wife, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter after killing her husband that day. She got out of prison in 2009).

One thing I didn't get in the story, though, and wanted to put into this blog was the moment I first really noticed Fred Lane.

It was at the Panthers' traditional free scrimmage at their stadium in Charlotte -- mostly a practice, really, with some live intrasquad scrimmaging at certain points. If you're a longtime PSL holder, you may have been there, and if so, you certainly noticed Lane, too.

I had seen Lane a little before at training camp in Spartanburg, but not much. This scrimmage day (once called "PSL Day" and technically limited to seat-license holders, now open each year to all) preceded the first exhibition game for Carolina.

On that day, Lane burst for a 55-yard touchdown run against Carolina's first-team defense. He had a couple of other nice moments, too, and afterward a lot of Panther fans asked him to sign autographs. He would say later they were the first autographs he ever signed -- that at tiny Lane (Tenn.) College (enrollment 750 when Fred went there) everyone knew who he was and nobody wanted his autograph.

Anyway, from there, Lane became the Panthers' unlikely starting running back for awhile as a rookie and ended up with 809 rushing yards. In a down year -- the Panthers went 7-9 in 1997 after going to the NFC title game the year before -- he was a great bright spot.

Even today, more than a dozen years later, reporters going to the Panthers' free scrimmage day (usually in early August) talk about that day and whether there will be any "Fred Lane types" at the scrimmage this season. Invariably, there are not (this is partly because coach John Fox doesn't run nearly as many live plays in that setting as Dom Capers used to in Lane's time).

That day was the first of Lane's big moments. He would have a number more, but that, to me at least, was the beginning of the Fred Lane story in Charlotte.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Air Coryell was a joy to behold

All of us who love the NFL owe a debt to coach Don Coryell, who died this week at age 85.

"Air Coryell" -- his pass-happy offense co-piloted by quarterback Dan Fouts -- entertained everyone in the early and mid-1980s. Coryell's San Diego teams led the NFL in passing yards for six straight seasons. It was always Fouts droppping back and hitting Charlie Joiner, or Kellen Winslow, or John Jefferson, or Chuck Muncie. Or somebody.

That offense got copied, to an extent, in all sorts of places. As my friend Clark Judge points out in this excellent column currently on, Judge influenced both the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys, who won multiple Super Bowls in the late 1980s and 1990s.

I remember, mostly, the thrill of watching a Chargers game back in Coryell's heyday. In an NFL mostly dominated by defense and 4-yard-runs, a San Diego game was a pleasure.

Coryell isn't in the NFL hall of fame -- Fouts, Winslow and Joiner all are, however. Their coach should join them there, posthumously. Although he never made it to a Super Bowl, he had a great -- and positive -- influence on the game that so many love.

NASCAR's 2nd hall of fame class should be...

I wrote my column today about who should be picked for the second Hall of Fame class, which will be inducted into the NASCAR hall of Fame in Charlotte in 2011.

NASCAR released a list of the 25 finalists Thursday night.

That list will be winnowed to five in October by a voting panel (which I'm not a member of, but which didn't stop me from making my own list). Here's my top five for the second class, all of whom were great drivers first and foremost: David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, Lee Petty and Darrell Waltrip.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Bobcats' Chandler knows he has a good thing going

The biggest non-surprise in Bobcats' offseason news so far this season (which I wrote about in today's newspaper) is that center Tyson Chandler -- after supposedly careful consideration -- decided NOT to opt out of his contract and instead take the $12.6 million the Bobcats are obligated to pay him for the 2010-11 season.

Fortunately, that season is Chandler's last under this current deal, in which he is ridiculously overpaid for what he produces. Let's be fair first of all -- the Bobcats inherited that deal, they didn't make it. But it is crazy. Chandler ranks as the team's highest-paid player, and it's not even close.

This is despite the fact that he's not close to being one of the Bobcats' best two players (Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson). This is despite the fact that he was usually the THIRD center to enter the game in the Orlando playoff series (Coach Larry Brown basically considered Chandler the starter, he said, but preferred to let Theo Ratliff and Nazr Mohammed pick up all the early fouls on Dwight Howard).

Chandler is a classic tease of a player -- a seven-footer who can run the floor and is decently athletic. But if he's not dunking, he's not scoring. And while he can rebound and block shots when healthy, he's too often not healthy. I could be wrong on this, but I don't see Chandler as being a whole lot better next season than he was this season, and then after that I don't see him here at all.

I'm sure Chandler thought a little about opting out and testing the market. But then he came to his senses. When you're about to get a guaranteed $12.6 million, you don't do anything stupid. And Chandler didn't.