Wednesday, August 31, 2011

No Big Ben Roethlisberger for Steelers Thursday vs. Carolina Panthers

Pittsburgh will play its final exhibition very safe in Charlotte Thursday, resting quarterback Big Ben Roethlisberger and likely a number of other first-teamers against the Carolina Panthers.

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said at a Tuesday news conference that Pitsburgh plans to start Charlie Batch at QB against Carolina in both teams' final preseason game -- traditionally a game that is played mostly by backups. Dennis Dixon will also play QB for the Steelers, who won the AFC title last season but lost to Green Bay in the Super Bowl.

On the other hand, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is supposed to play a couple of series -- of course, he needs the work a little more than Roethlisberger does. The majority of the game will likely be quarterbacked by Jimmy Clausen and Derek Anderson for Carolina.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

John Kasay signs with New Orleans Saints

Former Carolina Panthers placekicker John Kasay did not stay unemployed for long.

An NFL source told me this Tuesday morning and it was officially announced by the Saints Tuesday afternoon six hours later -- Kasay has officially signed with the Saints to be a placekicker for the team.

Kasay, 41, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Saints have used Garrett Hartley as their primary placekicker for the past three seasons and he has been mostly successful. But Hartley got hurt late in the Saints' 40-20 exhibition win over Oakland late Saturday on an extra point and the Saints went for two after that when they scored on touchdowns. The extent of the injury is unclear, but coach Sean Payton said afterward something to the effect that Hartley had "tweaked his hip."

Depending on the extent of the injury, Kasay's employment with the Saints could be a short- or long-term deal.

Hartley made three field goals of more than 40 yards in the Saints' Super Bowl win and he was 20-for-25 last season, a FG percentage only slightly worse than Kasay's (who has made 82 percent of his FG attempts in his career). However, on at least one occasion in the past the Saints have signed veteran John Carney to take Hartley's place temporarily (before eventually releasing Carney).

The Saints have occasionally kept two kickers on their active roster -- Hartley and Carney -- under coach Sean Payton.

Kasay, who was on the Panthers' roster from their inaugural year of 1995 until being released recently in favor of Olindo Mare, has long had very good success kicking in the New Orleans Superdome. Most all kickers love to kick inside a dome's climate-controlled conditions. He beat the Saints with game-winning field goals in the dome at least twice.

When Kasay was released by the Panthers, he penned a gracious handwritten letter to all Carolina Panther fans and entrusted it to me to publish. This was my column about the letter.

If Hartley doesn't come back quickly from injury, Kasay could kick against his former team, the Panthers, twice a season. The first time would come Oct.9th in Bank of America Stadium, when the Saints visit Charlotte. The Saints open the NFL regular season a week from Thursday -- three days earlier than the rest of the league -- against the Green Bay Packers.

Monday, August 29, 2011

On cuts and the Carolina Panthers' offensive line

The Panthers start trimming the roster this week, ultimately getting down to 53 players shortly after their final preseason game Thursday at home against Pittsburgh. (The Panthers have until Saturday to make the cuts, although they may well do some of them Friday).

Here's beat writer Joe Person's take on what the final cuts will look like.

My most recent Panthers' column focused on the offensive line -- reputed to be a strength but instead a weakness in the past two preseason games.

For the story, I interviewed center Ryan Kalil and tackle Jeff Otah, who hasn't played in a real game since Dec. 2009 but is expected (maybe) back this week. I also asked a question or two of left tackle Jordan Gross and coach Ron Rivera in a group interview setting. No one had a definite answer as to what was wrong, but they all know it's got to be fixed, and quick.

Meanwhile, it's a busy week for Bank of America Stadium, which hosts a Panthers game Thursday night and then South Carolina vs. East Carolina on Saturday night.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

5 things I didn't like in Carolina Panthers' loss to Bengals

I'm in Cincinnati, finishing up in the press box after watching the Panthers make the Bengals look like the New England Patriots in a 24-13 Cincinnati win. Lots to choose from, but here are the 5 things I liked the least:

1) The defensive interior. The Panthers started rookies Sione Fua and Terrell McClain at DT, and as coach Ron Rivera acknowledged, they looked like rookies too often. The Bengals had two running backs with more than 60 yards and a touchdown apiece in the first half, and most of that was right up the gut. Can't stop the run, can't win.

2) Cam Newton in the pocket. He was good running the ball (a 16-yard TD, a 26-yard scamper). He was decent on the run. But when Cam was in the pocket, he was really bad. He kept bumping into his own blockers and overthrowing the ball, or else locking into one receiver and throwing it to him even if he was well-covered.

"He has some moxie, but he has a long way to go," Rivera said of Newton. I still think Rivera will and should start Newton in the regular-season opener against Arizona because of the lack of alternatives, but Newton went 6-for-19 for 75 yards in this one, and that has to be giving the coach pause.

3) Offensive line. Very unimpressive the past two games, I have thought. Rivera made mention of this in the postgame when he noted the Panthers really need to work on their QB protection. Center Ryan Kalil told me postgame that since he calls out the pass protections that he will take the blame for that, but certainly it's a combined effort.

4) Armanti Edwards' fumble. Rivera said he thought Armanti took a peek to find a running lane. The fumble certainly wasn't forced, as Edwards had at least 5-10 yards of open space on a line-drive punt. The lost fumble led to a Bengals TD one play later.

5) Panthers' pass rush. Where has bbeen? Where has anybody been? Bengals rookie QB Andy Dalton looked like a veteran, completing 11 of 17 passes for 130 yards and a TD. He was never sacked and rarely pressured (Newton was sacked twice).

Panthers trail 24-13 after 3 quarters

Carolina continues to trail by 11 points entering the fourth quarter. The only scoring in the second half has been two Olindo Mare field goals, as the Bengals benched starting quarterback Andy Dalton after his excellent first half.

Panther quarterback Cam Newton finished 6-of-19 for 75 yards, with one rushing touchdown and no turnovers. He has a completion percentage of 40.4 after three preseason games. Jimmy Clausen relieved Newton just before the fourth quarter began.

Olindo Mare's 2nd FG cuts Bengals lead over Panthers to 11

Olindo Mare just hit his second field goal of the game, a 38-yarder, as Carolina cut Cincinnati's lead to 24-13 midway through the third quarter.

The Panthers' drive was only 12 yards and was set up by a fumble recovery. Cam Newton tried to throw to Steve Smith on two straight plays but both were incomplete -- he has now targeted Smith eight times, and seven were incompletions.

Cincinnati played rookie QB Andy Dalton only for the first half, but for now Newton remains in the game for Carolina. (UPDATE: Jimmy Clausen entered the game just before the fourth quarter began, with the Panthers still down 24-13).

Carolina Panthers down 24-10 to Bengals after Mare FG

The Panthers made a small dent in Cincinnati's lead on their first possession of the third quarter, getting a 42-yard field goal from Olino Mare to slice the Bengals' lead to 24-10.

The field-goal drive came on the Panthers' first possession of the third quarter. Trent Guy had a 49-yard kickoff return from deep in the end zone to get things started. Cam Newton hit Jeremy Shockey for two big plays -- a 15-yarder and then a six-yard gain on a fourth-and-2. But the drive stalled after Newton couldn't connect with Jonathan Stewart on a third-and-4 pass.

Newton is really trying to get the ball to Steve Smith but with little success. He has targeted Smith six times with passes, but Smith has caught only one (most weren't catchable) for nine yards.

Cincinnati Bengals lead Carolina Panthers 24-7 at halftime

Well, that was ugly.

The Cincinnati Bengals scored the last 24 points of the first half and have taken a commanding 24-7 lead over the Carolina Panthers at halftime.

After Cam Newton's 16-yard touchdown run to begin the scoring, it has been all Cincinnati. The half has borne much resemblance to the first half a week ago in Miami, when Carolina trailed 17-0 at halftime after allowing a staggering 301 yards. This time, Cincinnati has 269 (compared to Carolina's 111).

Cincinnati's Mike Nugent hit a 55-yard field goal just before the end of the first half to account for the final points.

Newton is only 3-for-12 passing and has thrown a number of balls at very well-covered receivers or else inaccurately at receivers who were slightly open. However, he did have a gem of a TD run and also a 26-yard scramble that was one tackle away from going another 20-30 yards.

The Panthers' main problem: run defense. They have allowed the Bengals to run roughshod over the middle of the defensive line, as Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott have both scored a touchdown apiece and rushed for more than 60 yards each for the Bengals. The third TD score was on Andy Dalton's 40-yard TD pass to A.J. Green.

Dalton, another rookie, has been much more impressive throwing the ball so far than Newton, who is slated to play one more quarter.

Bengals take 21-7 lead over Carolina Panthers

Cincinnati has scored again with 1:29 left in the second quarter, taking a 21-7 lead over the suddenly hapless Carolina Panthers.

Tailback Bernard Scott scored on a 12-yard run that was set up when the Panthers' Armanti Edwards fumbled a punt return. Edwards wasn't hit on the play -- in fact, he had at least 5-10 yards bewteen himself and the nearest defender.

After that, it took the Bengals only one play to score. Both Bengals' primary running backs -- Cedric Benson and Scott -- have over 60 yards at halftime.

Panther cornerback Chris Gamble, meanwhile, has a thumb injury and likely won't return. Carolina is also missing normal defensive starters LB Jon Beason and S Sherrod Martin, but that doesn't excuse another really poor first-half defensive performance (Carolina gave up 301 total yards in the first half to Miami last week).

Bengals take 14-7 lead over Carolina Panthers

Cincinnati continues to dominate the Panthers' defense and has taken a 14-7 lead midway through the second quarter on a 40-yard touchdown pass from Andy Dalton to A.J. Green.

The Bengals took only four plays to go 63 yards on the drive -- a short pass to Green, two good runs by the backup tailback Bernard Scott and then the deep sideline pass in which Green beat Chris Gamble in one-on-one coverage.

The Panthers have gotten little pass rush for the most part, but more troubling is their very bad run defense so far. The Bengals keep getting in situations like second-and-2 -- that's the play the touchdown pass was thrown on -- as the Panthers can't stop the run.

Bengals tie game at 7-7 as Carolina Panther run defense having major trouble

Carolina's defense is having all kinds of trouble stopping Cincinnati's run game, and Cedric Benson has tied the game at 7-all with 12 minutes left in the 2nd quarter.

The Bengals drove 80 yards on 15 grinding plays, and most of it was Benson running straight up the gut. The Panthers' defensive tackles are having all sorts of trouble holding up. The offense actually had only one possession in the first quarter -- Cam Newton scored on a 16-yard run.

Benson has already carried for close to 60 yards and a touchdown. In the first quarter, the Bengals ran off 21 plays compared to Carolina's eight.

Cam Newton's first NFL TD puts Panthers up 7-0

In his third preseason game, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has just accounted for his first touchdown.

On his first drive against Cincinnati, Newton capped a 46-yard march by scrambling 16 yards for a touchdown on third-and-11. On the run, Newton got to the 5 without much trouble, then cut back to avoid two Bengals and spun through a third to the end zone.

That gave Carolina a 7-0 lead. The Panthers had gotten the ball when Cincinnati's opening drive fizzled. The Bengals had advanced to the Panther 33, but then got a holding penalty and a fumbled exchange between QB Andy Dalton and RB Cedric Benson. Panthers CB Chris Gamble recovered.

On the ensuing 46-yard march, Newton had a 9-yard completion to Steve Smith, a near-completion to Smith in the back of the end zone and two successful third-down conversions (the first was a run by Jonathan Stewart on third-and-1).

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Cam Newton, Jerry Richardson and tattoos

Panthers owner Jerry Richardson appeared on Charlie Rose's excellent talk show this week, discussing a number of topics from the end of the NFL lockout to whether Charlotte was ready for a Super Bowl (not yet because it doesn't have enough hotel rooms, he said) to Charlotte's hosting of the Democratic National Convention (Richardson said he was "sure" that President Obama would give his speech at the DNC in Bank of America Stadium).

What has attracted the most notice, however, was Richardson retelling the story on the show (which can be seen in its entirety here) of how he had a conversation with No.1 draft pick Cam Newton several months ago (about three weeks before the Panthers wound up picking Newton). He told Newton then he liked the fact that Newton had no piercings or tattoos and basically that he hoped Newton would keep that clean look.

My colleague Tom Sorensen wrote about this very conversation three months ago in a column, but that one didn't go national.

This time it did with the help of Rose's show and also the influential sports blog, in which Mike Florio called Richardson's words to Newton "troubling" and "heavy-handed."

Of course, Richardson has employed the heavily tattooed Steve Smith for years as one of the team's best players. His team signed the even more heavily tattooed Jeremy Shockey in the offseason. I'd venture a guess that well over half the Panthers' players have ink on their bodies somewhere.

Not Newton, though. And Richardson likes that. OK, so what? If Newton gets a tattoo or comes back next offseason with both ears pierced, do you think Richardson is going to fire him?

Of course not. Newton's performance will be graded on the field, as it should be. It's Richardson's right to like the "clean" look. It is also Newton's right to do whatever he wants to with his body, as long as it's legal.

I don't find Richardson's actions out of bounds here. He simply expressed an opinion to Newton, the same one that I will probably express to any of my four children the first time one of them asks to get some sort of tattoo or piercing.

I won't like it and I won't pay for it and I would tell them that. But if they are 18 or older, it's their body, and I'm not going to disown them for it.

Newton can ink himself up like Dennis Rodman and still be beloved if he can get the Panthers to the playoffs. Or he can do everything exactly right off the field during his rookie year, go 1-9 as a starter and be constantly derided by fans (that previous sentence describes Jimmy Clausen).

Bottom line: The NFL is about winning, not about ink. The far more notable story about the Panthers Wednesday concerned linebacker Jon Beason's sudden surgery for Achilles tendinitis.

That could definitely be "troubling."

This isn't.

On Busch, Summitt and Isner's Panthers

Around the sports world on a Wednesday morning after we all survived that "devastating" earthquake:

1) Kyle Busch was penalized in a court of law for his 128-mph-in-a-45-mph-zone transgression Tuesday -- probation and getting his driver's license revoked for 45 days were among the punishments. Busch, though, will continue driving in NASCAR races during that time, because the sanctioning body doesn't require a driver's license to compete in its races. Doesn't that strike you as ridiculous?

2) I am so sorry for Tennessee Vols women's basketball coach Pat Summitt and all those who care for her. Summitt, 59, announced Tuesday that she was suffering from early-onset dementia but would still try to coach this season. I once spent some one-on-one time with Summitt for a story many years ago, and I still remember both her honesty and her graciousness.

3) My column in Thursday's newspaper and online will be about tennis pro John Isner, who grew up in Greensboro and is now ranked in the top 30 in the world. Isner is well-known for his powerful serve and for his 70-68 win in the fifth set a couple of years ago at Wimbledon in the longest tennis match ever.

What's not as well known is his love affair with the Panthers -- Isner is undoubtedly one of the Panthers' most avid celebrity fans. More on this Thursday -- including Isner's prediction for the Panthers' record this season, which will undoubtedly surprise you.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Cam in Times Square

Thanks much to Charlottean and PSL owner Dan Owens, who snapped this picture of Cam Newton's larger-than-life Under Armour advertisement in Times Square and sent it along to me. Owens took the picture Sunday and wondered if Cam becomes the first Panther featured in such an ad in New York's tourist mecca -- I don't know for sure, but certainly would imagine so. (Photo by Dan Owens)

This is a rare photo-only blog post for me. If you want more of my perspective on Cam, click here, where my most recent two columns about him are posted and you can also link to lots more Panther coverage.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Newton to start vs. Cincy -- and maybe permanently

I wrote my column today on why the Panthers should make rookie quarterback Cam Newton their starter in the season opener.

Coach Ron Rivera edged in that direction Sunday afternoon without going all the way, saying Newton will start and play the first three quarters in the Panthers' third exhibition -- Thursday night at Cincinnati. Jimmy Clausen will likely play all or most of the fourth quarter.

In other words, if Newton doesn't mess things up too badly, he's the starter from here on out. But Rivera isn't saying that yet -- he's hedging a little, which is probably smart given that he doesn't have to make this decision yet. The Panthers will use this week as a dress rehearsal for a real game -- actually game-planning for Cincinnati, which they haven't done in the first two preseason games.

Rivera said Sunday that Newton was making good decisions and that his mechanics had improved greatly from the first day of practice but that he needed more "consistency." Very true. In about 4 quarters of play over two preseason games, Newton has yet to lead the offense to a touchdown or convert on a single third down.

Newton wasn't available after the practice to talk to reporters about Rivera's decision.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

5 things I didn't like in Panthers' loss to Miami

I didn't go to the Panthers' game Friday night. And, in a rarity, I didn't watch it live on TV either. I was covering a much higher-scoring game -- Kannapolis Brown's 43-24 win over Shelby in high school football (that column is here).

But I did DVR the game and watched it Saturday. It was pretty hard to stomach, wasn't it? So onto the "5 things I didn't like":

1) The Panthers' first-team defense. Wow, who knew that Chad Henne, Reggie Bush and Brandon Marshall would be Pro Bowl starters in 2011? At least it looked that way Saturday night. Where was the pass rush? Every time I looked, Charles Johnson was getting double-teamed and nobody was getting close. The Panthers looked slow and out-of-sorts while giving up 301 yards and 17 points in the first half, when the game was decided.

2) Panther quarterbacks. Cam Newton and Jimmy Clausen both gave fans very little to get excited about. (My column on their competition will appear in Sunday's newspaper).

3) Panther wide receivers. Can no one get open? Or is the quarterback just not getting anyone the ball? Probably a combination, but very uninspiring.

4) Penalties. Ron Rivera said the coaching staff would take the blame for a "12-man-on-the-field" call, and there were several other key errors as well.

5) Defensive backs. A week after a makeshift secondary looked very good against Eli Manning and the Giants, it looked very off-kilter Saturday night. Henne ate the Panthers up with medium-length passes, and too often the Dolphin receivers were getting free releases off the line.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

5 quick thoughts on Panthers-Dolphins

After watching the Panthers in their first practice back in Charlotte Thursday, a few random thoughts before preseason game No.2 at Miami Friday night:

1) I think Ron Rivera would like to name his starting quarterback for the Sept.11 season opener this Sunday (here's my column delving into this issue more in depth). Not that he will, but I think he'd like to. That Sunday will count as a "Wednesday" in Panther parlance -- they are going to use the week as a dress rehearsal for a real game. Wednesdays are when game plans go in for a normal "play-on-Sunday" week, and so ideally you know your starting QB by four days before the game.

2) Panther LB Jon Beason is doing himself no favors not talking about the Miami scandal, since his name has been linked to it. Speculation rushes in to fill a "lack of information" void, and Beason knows that. If I were him, I wouldn't just try to wish this away. I'd talk about it once, and then after that I'd be done with it.

3) Is Derek Anderson a dark-horse contender in the QB race? No. It's going to be Cam Newton or Jimmy Clausen in that opener at Arizona.

4) The Panthers keeping such a deep stable of running backs already looks like a good idea. Of their top 3 backs, only DeAngelo Williams is healthy enough to play Friday night.

5) I'm interested to see Steve Smith in action Friday night, especially with Newton. Smith has a history of performing well in Miami, and I thought he looked very good in practice Thursday.

(Note: Guys, I had to disable comments again for this blog due to a small minority of folks who insist on using obscenities and/or racial taunts in their comments. I am sorry for the vast majority of you who keep it clean, but when some folks stoop so low I have no choice.... Scott)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A cool photo -- and my take on Cam-Jimmy

This very cool picture was submitted to me by loyal reader Darren Bolick -- he shot it Saturday night with his iPhone after the Panthers-Giants preseason game. That's one of the six Panther statues surrounding Bank of America stadium in the foreground, of course, and the Duke Energy Center (which can produce all sorts of spectacular light shows) doing its Panther-blue thing in the back. The moon adds a surreal quality, don't you think?(Photo by Darren Bolick)

While you glance at that striking photo one more time, here's my take on the Cam Newton-Jimmy Clausen debate:

My colleague Tom Sorensen advocates in today's newspaper the naming of Cam Newton as the Panthers' starter, beginning Friday night in the preseason game at Miami and continuing into the indefinite future.

While I don't entirely disagree with Tom -- he and I both advocated Newton being picked No.1 in April and both believe he's the future of the franchise -- I wonder if Cam is really ready. (Newton will indeed start against Miami Friday, coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday, but beyond that there's no telling as of yet).

So, back to Tom's theory of all Cam, all the time from now on: One preseason game as the backup and that's it? Really? That's not exactly a lot of dues. And that 8-for-19, no-TD passing performance was OK, but hardly the type that vaults you into the clear No.1 role.

There are alternatives. Jimmy Clausen is not nearly as athletic as Newton, but does throw the ball more accurately when he has time (when he doesn't, he still looks jittery). Derek Anderson actually knows the offense the best of the three and probably could do a decent job as a game manager-type of QB.

So while I do think Newton should start and play the majority of the season, I'm fine with Ron Rivera taking his time on this decision for a little while longer. I advocated the "alternate the QBs as starters for the first two weeks of preseason and see what you've got after that" idea in this blog a couple of weeks ago and still espouse it.

It's only a matter of time until Cam is The Man, but is the time really up already?

One side note: If you haven't read the report on the University of Miami football allegations filed by Yahoo! Sports Charles Robinson, you really need to. Here's the link. This is the sort of investigative journalism that is very hard to do, but also very worthwhile.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Goodson's fumbles: Inside the numbers

This year during the Panthers season I am going to occasionally post a statistics-heavy blog, taking a deeper look at something regarding the Carolina team.

Today we'll get started with one about Mike Goodson's fumbles -- a sore subject for the Panthers' multi-talented back.

Goodson had two fumbles Saturday night in the Panthers' 20-10 preseason win over the New York Giants, losing one of them (the other bounced out of bounds).

Not great, but is it a trend?

Unfortunately for Goodson, it has been recently. In the last two regular-season games of 2010, Goodson fumbled a total of three times, losing two of them. That means in his past three games, he has fumbled five times, losing three.

Now the preseason game won't count in the stats, of course. But nevertheless, this is disturbing. Coach Ron Rivera said Saturday night after the game that Goodson was too good to give up on but that the problem would (once again) be addressed.

Panthers owner Jerry Richardson told my colleague Tom Sorensen before the season about Goodson: "Mike Goodson knows very clearly that he is in good favor with me when he does not fumble the ball."

Goodson had only one fumble in his 2009 rookie season, but that's partly because he wasn't used nearly as often. Now he has seven fumbles altogether in two seasons (not counting exhibition games). He had six fumbles altogether in 2010 while running the ball, receiving and returning kickoffs. That wasn't the worst in the NFL -- Cleveland's Peyton Hillis had eight fumbles, leading all running backs in the category -- but it did put Goodson among the NFL's top 10 fumblers (among non-quarterbacks).

By comparison, DeAngelo Williams, the Panthers' most sure-handed back only has six fumbles in five seasons and once went an entire season without fumbling. (Jonathan Stewart's ball security is between those two -- better than Goodson, although Stewart did fumble four times in 2010, but not as good as DeAngelo).

Goodson apologized for the fumbles via Twitter late Saturday night, saying he was sorry about them and would work on it. A good-hearted soul, I'm sure he indeed will work hard on this. And he better.

Once you get the reputation as a fumbler in the NFL -- and Goodson now has it -- defenders try even harder to strip you.

Goodson too often lets the ball stray from he security of his chest, holding it out like a loaf of bread to be batted away. As the Panthers' best kickoff returner and best third-down back, he's got to get better at this, because he has potential to burn in so many other ways.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

On Panthers, Austin, Kasay and the half-penny

A couple of notes as we start another week with the Panthers looking promising after their exhibition win Saturday night:

-- My column for Monday's newspaper, which can be seen here, talks about the energy on the field and in the stadium Saturday night. It was such a rare thing, that sort of energy, in 2010. Nice to see.

-- Along with a reporter from a Raleigh TV station, I conducted an impromptu question-and-answer session with New York Giants defensive tackle Marvin Austin following the game. Austin, who used to play for UNC, is a central figure in the school's NCAA investigation. You can find that here.

-- John Kasay's thank-you letter to fans, which I shared in a column last week after Kasay entrusted it to me to do so, had an incredible response. It's up to more than 1,100 "Likes" on Facebook, which is far more than any other story I've written. I know that's not a bit because of me. I believe it's partly because more people are on Facebook now but mainly because Kasay's gesture was so touching and so rare among today's professional athletes. If you missed that column, here's the link.

-- Finally, I promised a winner in the "half-penny contest" from last week. I had found a penny neatly cut in half on the Panthers' practice fields in Wofford and asked readers to theorize on what that meant.

I got a lot of funny responses, and they're worth a second to look at if you have time. (I think the real answer, that the penny was cut by a sharp lawnmower blade, was probably accurately portrayed by several readers as well).

In a close call, though, I'm going to actually give two copies of the book away. The first goes to the very first respondent (he's "anonymous," so he'll have to contact me at the prize of a signed copy of my book about the Panthers' Super Bowl run.

That reader quipped of the half-penny: "I think that's left over from the Fox lame duck year. Whenever he tried to put his 2 cents in, Richardson said no and gave him his change back."

The second goes to the "Renfrows," who wrote: "I knew Rivera was looking for a nickelback, but this just makes no cents."

Saturday, August 13, 2011

5 thoughts on Panthers' 20-10 preseason win over Giants

It was only the preseason, of course, but the Carolina Panthers were both impressive and interesting Saturday night in the Panthers’ 20-10 win over the New York Giants in Charlotte. While the duel between the two quarterbacks was basically a draw – Cam Newton led the Panthers to two field goals, while starter Jimmy Clausen threw a touchdown pass to his own team and one to the Giants – Carolina’s defense and special teams were very solid and the offense was just good enough to win.

So, after an eight-month absence, it's time for a new edition of "5 thoughts"...

1. Of the Panthers’ three quarterbacks who played Saturday night, it was Derek Anderson who actually had the best ratio of points per offensive series for Carolina. Anderson got Carolina into the end zone on his first series – albeit against a collection of reserves – and gave the Panthers a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter.

2. What about that Panther defense? Missing five starters due to various nagging injuries, it stonewalled Eli Manning whenever the Giants starter was in the game. The Giants’ only touchdown in the game came on an interception return on Clausen’s second pass.

3. Among the improvements in Ron Rivera’s first Panther team compared to John Fox’s last one: the kick coverage and return teams seem to be worth watching again. Other than Newton, Panther fans want no one to succeed more than Armanti Edwards, and he got off to a great start Saturday by breaking multiple tackles on both his first and second punt returns. (Edwards also had a 36-yard catch on a pass from Newton). The Panthers won the field-position battle for most of the game and also blocked a field goal, all of which was key.

4. Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski won some hearts and minds in the Carolinas with his very first play call as a Panther. In a steady downpour, he had Clausen line up in the shotgun and had the quarterback looking downfield. Clausen fired a great pass and Brandon LaFell caught it for 31 yards.

5. A few young Panther players who caught my eye in a positive way: cornerback R.J. Stanford, wide receiver Kealoha Pilares, Edwards, linebacker/special teamer Jordan Senn, cornerback Kendric Burney and special-teamer Michael Greco.

Friday, August 12, 2011

On Clausen, Gettis and Panthers

Panthers coach Ron Rivera has made the right move starting Jimmy Clausen Saturday against the New York Giants. Clausen is the veteran, this week overall in practice I think he's looked better throwing the ball and certainly he's a bit more familiar with the speed of the NFL game than Cam Newton.

With that said, as I wrote in this blog earlier this week, I'd start Clausen this week but then let Newton have a start next week at the Miami Dolphins. See what he can do. Let them both play under as equal circumstances as possible over a two-week period and then see what you've got.

In the meantime, they both have one less receiver to throw to, as the torn ACL in David Gettis's knee means he will be lost for the season. That's a blow, for sure, but only the second-most significant injury in camp so far. The first? The torn triceps sustained by DT Ron Edwards, counted on to bolster the middle of the Panther defense.

Gettis certainly is a blow, too, but I don't think he would have started anyway. Before he was hurt, Rivera wasn't high on either what Gettis or fellow second-year receiver Brandon LaFell had done in this camp. In any case, this makes it all the more smart-looking that the Panthers and Steve Smith mended fences.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Contest: a half-penny for your Panther thoughts

I found this mysterious half-penny on the Panthers' practice fields in Spartanburg this week. What do you think it means?

OK, so this is weird. I have spent most of this week in Spartanburg, watching the Carolina Panthers' training camp. On Wednesday, I was walking off the fields and found this half-penny, half-buried in the grass. Seriously. It was there.

Where did it come from? What does it mean? Who takes the time to cut a penny in half, and how did they do it?

I apologize for the blurry, UFO-like quality of the image, which I set on a white tablecloth so it would show up better.

Anyway, before we get back to our regular programming (I'm writing about the Panthers cornerback situation for Friday if you wanted to know) I want your opinion on what a half-penny on the Panthers' practice field means.

Is it an omen? Lucky? Unlucky? Do you have a funny line about it? For instance, when I showed it to Steve Reed of the Gaston Gazette, he cracked: "That's all the money Jerry Richardson has left now after that spending spree."

Best theory -- preferably funny -- wins a signed copy of my 2004 book on the Panthers' Super Bowl run (a little dated, but hey, it's free).


Also, if you particularly like your comment and think it might win, send me an e-mail copy at along with your full name AND YOUR COMMENT (just as a backup).

Deadline is 6 p.m. FRIDAY, AUG.12th Eastern time. The winner only will be contacted over the weekend, and I'll also post the winner on this blog. Thanks and good luck!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Shula talks about the 3 QBs

I am writing my column for Thursday's newspaper and online on Mike Shula, the Panthers' new quarterback coach.

Shula is charged with the daily supervision of Cam Newton and Jimmy Clausen. It's not his decision who starts, but he's the one most responsible for getting them ready.

I'll have a lot about that in my column, but here are a few quotes from Shula on Newton, Clausen and Derek Anderson (we didn't talk about Tony Pike, since Shula has barely seen him due to a shoulder injury). He is complimentary of all three, but I think by reading this you can get at least a little sense of how each one stands in Shula's mind entering the first preseason game Saturday night:

JIMMY CLAUSEN: “Jimmy has really worked very hard and has a good feel for what we’re asking him to do. Got a good sense of timing. A strong arm. Kind of getting used to the fact that every throw is a little bit different. You can’t throw everything on a line, like a short throw, just as hard as you can. So he’s still learning on all that, and on the ins and outs of the protections.

“Every player will say after their first year they will take the biggest jump from year one to year two. We all know the Panthers didn’t have a good year in 2010 and as quarterback he was a leader of that team. But his mindset is he’s going to get better because of that, and that’s the approach you’ve got to take.”

CAM NEWTON: “The biggest change for him, I would think, is what they did at Auburn last year is they really had no-huddle offense and a silent count. Now he’s got to verbalize everything.

“Like Jimmy, he has a really good grasp of our concepts. Both of them have good vision. Cam, because he’s so big, one of his assets is that he sees things really quickly. Like most rookies, he, is getting used to speed of the defense, and the disguised coverages, and trying to react quicker to what he sees.”

DEREK ANDERSON: “He probably knows the offense better than I know it just because he’s been with Chud [coach Rob Chudzinski] at Cleveland. Got a very fast mind.

“Really understands all the throws. Good tempo. A true pro, understands what you need to do to prepare to be a quarterback, which is different in my opinion than any other position. Very helpful in meetings. Hasn’t gotten many reps yet, but we need to get him some more.”

More on Kasay's letter

Maybe by the time you read this you will already have seen John Kasay's letter to Panther fans, which can be viewed here if you haven't.

I also wrote a column about the letter, explaining a little how it happened. Here's a little more of the story.

John dated the letter last Tuesday, Aug.2nd, and he dropped it off at The Charlotte Observer security desk, to be delivered to me. It was put in my mailbox sometime Wednesday, and originally John was hoping (he told me in his separate cover letter) that the letter could be published in the Sunday, Aug.7th newspaper.

One problem: I didn't see it until Monday, Aug.8th. I work out of the office almost all the time these days -- most sportswriters do, working from either a press box at some offsite location (for me it's been Spartanburg for most of the past few weeks at Panthers camp) or telecommuting from home.

So I came in and saw John's letter on August 8th and, as I wrote in the column, was very touched by it. I was touched he entrusted it to me to spread the words he wrote, and I was also touched that he wrote fans a handwritten, 257-word, two-page letter like that. In more than 20 years in the business, I've never gotten a letter quite like that one.

You can obviously see the letter by using the link. However, since you may well be a Panther fan if you're reading this, I want to make you an offer:

Email me at and I will send you a free PDF attachment of the first and second page of Kasay's letter in a reply email. Or you can email me someone else's address who you think would like it, and I will send it to them. Please don't send me dozens of people at a time, but I'm happy to email it to someone who you don't think would have seen it.

Kasay, after all, wanted me to get this to as many Panther fans as possible, and I want to do that for him. So if you want to have a PDF of the original letter for some reason, let me know.(I'm not able to send out hard copies of the actual letter through snail mail, but you can certainly print it out yourself from the PDF for you or someone else if you so desire).

I think we can all agree this is one of the classiest things an athlete can do when he basically gets fired by his longtime employer, so feel free to spread John's words of thanks to all Panther fans in whatever ways you think are appropriate.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Notes from Tuesday's Panther camp

A few notes from the Panthers' padded practice Tuesday, which was intense, sometimes sloppy and sometimes very entertaining:

-- Steve Smith's finger injury, likely to keep him out a week or so after he injured it in practice, will give the younger receivers a chance to make some plays against the New York Giants Saturday night (I certainly wouldn't expect Smith to play in that game). On the other hand, it may make it harder for either Jimmy Clausen or Cam Newton to look good.

-- The best and worst of Newton was on display. He fumbled one ball that might have gotten returned for a TD in a real game, but also made an incredible touch pass to Jeremy Shockey over James Anderson.

-- I still would like to see Jimmy Clausen throw more downfield, but he was more consistent than Newton Tuesday.

-- Brandon LaFell made a terrific catch off a tipped ball.

-- Coach Ron Rivera didn't sound terribly pleased after the practice, as he believes the Panthers aren't performing consistently enough.

-- Interesting to hear Rivera's take on why Eric Norwood has moved ahead of Everette Brown to become a starter at defensive end (at least for now).

Rivera said Norwood has been extremely physical in camp, while Brown -- despite the speed rush that sometimes gets him to the quarterback -- has been a little too much of a finesse player and sometimes isn't as consistent. That's the sort of honest explanation you never would have heard from John Fox.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Ron Edwards' injury

I wrote my column today about Ron Edwards, the Panthers' new defensive tackle who tore his triceps in his very first practice as a Panther.

(MONDAY UPDATE from "Inside the Panthers" blog: Edwards has to undergo surgery and will likely be out a minimum of two months, and maybe the whole season).

This was a column I actually wrote twice. I talked to Edwards Thursday night by phone (I was out of town and not in Spartanburg, although I will return there for much of this week). He sounded happy. The column was slated to be published on Monday -- occasionally we try to work a few days ahead in the sports coverage business, although to do so is always somewhat perilous.

I wrote most of the column Friday. Sure enough, on Friday night, the Panthers said Edwards had torn his triceps.

At first, I was going to throw away the column completely. But then I decided to rewrite it instead, more on the theme of how quickly the ground can shift under your feet in the NFL (as in life).

Friday, August 5, 2011

Fans remember Kasay

When I think of the Carolina Panthers' various incarnations of Fan Fest over the years, I think of two Panther players above all else -- the late Fred Lane and John Kasay.

I think of Lane because that's where he burst onto the scene -- one of the very few players to make a mark on the field at Fan Fest and then continue that momentum for months.

I think of Kasay because of the way he acted at all the fan days like the one coming up Saturday in Charlotte -- he knew they were for the fans, first and foremost. The Panthers' placekicker would literally climb into the stands after some of them, taking a seat in the bleachers and signing autographs for hours until everyone had gone home.

After the Panthers fired the last of the original Panthers last week and hired Olindo Mare, I asked readers on my blog to email me with some of their favorite Kasay memories. I received far too many to publish them all here -- thanks to all who participated. But this edited sampling should give you an idea of what Kasay meant to fans:


My memories of John have very little to do with football.
John helped me coach numerous baseball teams for our sons over the last few years. Through every game, John kept the same composure and combined it with a caring personality for all the boys on the team. One would never know he was one of the greatest NFL kickers of all time by watching him around the baseball field. His faith and personality have made him one of my all-time favorite friends. Regardless of what John does next, he will remain an inspiration to everyone that crosses his path.

Tripp Roakes


The season before last at Panther training camp I was there at an early practice session. Kasay was practicing on a separate field, with no one watching except a Mom and a young boy about seven years old.

Kasay took notice. After awhile, he went over to the boy and his Mom and tossed the ball to the Mom saying "Can you hold this for me for awhile?" Then he asked if he could take the young boy for a walk to meet the rest of the team.

Kasay and the boy walked down the sidelines, meeting all the players. After about 30 minutes, he walked the boy back to his Mom -- and, of course, told them to keep the ball!
Richard McGinnis
Boiling Springs



This was in 1996 at the first fan appreciation day. When they finally finished with their 7-on-7 drills, most of the players jogged off the field waving at the fans.... Walking next to Kerry Collins was this very young player. I thought maybe he was a walk-on. He was wearing the number 4. He turned to the security guard, asked him something and then he jogged over to the wall. He then climbed the wall, with a little help from the guard, and then, very calmly asked everyone to line up in single file, and he would sign autographs and take pictures.

Kids were lined up the as far as you could see, getting all excited at thought of finally meeting a real football player. I was standing in front of John Kasay as he politely talked to each person, and answered their questions. I asked John after 90 minutes, how much longer was he going to do this, he looked up and said, "As long as it takes to meet every person here."

Mickey Kidwell


Throughout each season, I always knew the type of on-field performance to expect from Kasay, I always knew to expect his deflection of praise to all his teammates after a game-winning field goal, and I always knew to expect him to act like a sponge for all criticism after a miss.
I don't know what path Jerry Richardson and the Panthers will take in honoring Kasay, but induction into the Panthers Hall of Honor seems to me to be the only proper way to publicly recognize his consistently brilliant Panthers career.

Cody Brown


I know the kickoff was bad in the Super Bowl... But if you look at that season, how many game-winning kicks did Kasay drill? The guy has been the most clutch kicker in the league for almost his entire career.

I was ten years old when we got the Panthers as a franchise and I have been watching and rooting and screaming and cursing at them since that time. The one guy you could never get mad at during a game has always been John Kasay.

It will be almost like culture shock to see him put on a different uniform this season. No matter what is said or where he goes I will always root for him as a player. I don't even think any Panther fan could ever even say a cross word if he was to put one through the uprights against us with time ticking down this season.

SPC Kirby Daniel
FOB Hadrian


I can't remember the game... The Panthers had called a timeout with about two seconds left in the game. They sent Kasay out to kick a field goal. It was win or lose. If he made, the Panther won, if not, they lost. He made it.

The next day, in your paper, I think it was Brentson Buckner who said he was standing on the sidelines, watching Kasay jog out to take the kick, and he saw a rookie player sitting on the bench with a towel over his head. He asked the rookie want he was doing, and the rookie said something like: "This is too nerve-racking, man, I can't watch."

Buckner said: "Man, take that towel off your head. That's number 4 going out there."

That's how I always felt about Kasay--that he was always going to make it.

Especially if it counted.

Stan Meihaus

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Panthers are 150-1 to win Super Bowl

Bodog sent me its current Super Bowl odds, which are below. The Panthers and Buffalo Bills are the longest shots to win the Super Bowl, at 150-1.

But get this -- the Panthers odds have actually gotten worse than they were three months ago, BEFORE this current spending spree that they're on. On May 4th, shortly after the NFL draft, they were only 100-1.

So let's just say oddsmakers aren't as impressed as folks locally have been with Carolina's recent upgrades. New England has surged ahead of Green Bay in the past three months and now ranks as the slight Super Bowl favorite.

For your perusal, listed in order of shortest to longest odds to win the next Super Bowl:

Odds to win the 2012 Super Bowl XLVI (Current)

New England Patriots 13/2

Green Bay Packers 7/1

Philadelphia Eagles 8/1

San Diego Chargers 11/1

New York Jets 12/1

Atlanta Falcons 14/1

Pittsburgh Steelers 14/1

Baltimore Ravens 16/1

Dallas Cowboys 16/1

New Orleans Saints 16/1

Indianapolis Colts 18/1

New York Giants 25/1

Chicago Bears 28/1

Houston Texans 28/1

Detroit Lions 30/1

Minnesota Vikings 30/1

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30/1

Kansas City Chiefs 40/1

St. Louis Rams 40/1

San Francisco 49ers 50/1

Miami Dolphins 55/1

Arizona Cardinals 65/1

Oakland Raiders 65/1

Jacksonville Jaguars 75/1

Tennessee Titans 75/1

Cleveland Browns 80/1

Denver Broncos 80/1

Seattle Seahawks 80/1

Cincinnati Bengals 100/1

Washington Redskins 100/1

Buffalo Bills 150/1

Carolina Panthers 150/1

Odds to win the 2012 Super Bowl XLVI (as of 5/4/2011)

Green Bay Packers 7/1

New England Patriots 7/1

Pittsburgh Steelers 11/1

San Diego Chargers 12/1

Baltimore Ravens 14/1

New York Jets 14/1

New Orleans Saints 16/1

Indianapolis Colts 16/1

Atlanta Falcons 16/1

Philadelphia Eagles 16/1

Dallas Cowboys 16/1

New York Giants 18/1

Chicago Bears 25/1

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30/1

Minnesota Vikings 35/1

Detroit Lions 35/1

Houston Texans 35/1

Kansas City Chiefs 35/1

Oakland Raiders 40/1

San Francisco 49ers 40/1

St. Louis Rams 40/1

Miami Dolphins 50/1

Tennessee Titans 50/1

Washington Redskins 50/1

Cincinnati Bengals 60/1

Denver Broncos 60/1

Cleveland Browns 65/1

Jacksonville Jaguars 65/1

Arizona Cardinals 75/1

Seattle Seahawks 80/1

Buffalo Bills 100/1

Carolina Panthers 100/1

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

10 quick impressions of Panther camp

I forgot to put up a link to my "10 quick impressions" column after watching the first few days of Panther camp.

Here it is, with some interesting nuggets about Cam Newton, the Panthers' blitz package, Olindo Mare, the problem at cornerback and so on.

Also, this isn't in the column but that is interesting that Ron Rivera gave a one-word impression of Newton Tuesday at training camp, and the word was "Wow." That indicates to me that Rivera is thinking very hard already about starting Newton in the regular-season opener Sept.11 at Arizona.

Monday, August 1, 2011

On Olsen, Goodson and Armanti

I wrote my column today about Greg Olsen, who I've been very impressed with so far just watching him catch off a JUGS machine (which is about all he can do until later this week due to the new CBA rules). Here's the column.

Some other notes from the last couple of days:

-- Armanti Edwards said last season - when he barely played as a rookie trying to make the change from star college quarterback at Appalachian State to NFL receiver - was "one of the lowest points" of his football career.

Edwards said he lost confidence, particularly on punt returns.

"Last year I didn't trust myself," he said.

He has spent a large part of the summer working on route techniques with former Panther receiver Muhsin Muhammad, who has tried to get Edwards to use his hands more to get off the jams that NFL cornerbacks employ to throw receivers off-stride.

How that will all work out remains to be seen, but I will say that Edwards looks far more comfortable circling under a punt right now than he did in last year's practices.

-- Third-string running back Mike Goodson knows his opportunities to carry the ball will be limited because DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart - "Double Trouble," as they call themselves - are back. But Goodson plans to make the most of his chances.

"I'm going to try and change it to 'Triple Trouble,' " Goodson said of the running backs' nickname.

-- The Panthers' first padded practice is tonight (Monday).