Some mid-May thoughts about the Carolina Panthers:
-- I think Panther coach Ron Rivera just about had to let Jon Beason play where he wants -- which is obviously middle linebacker, based on his past statements -- after drafting Luke Kuechly in the first round.
Beason has played in multiple Pro Bowls. Kuechly, for all his gaudy tackle stats at Boston College, is a rookie. So you have to put Beason in the middle to start and Kuechly at weakside linebacker. That's not only the right football move, it's the right move in terms of team chemistry.
Will it stay that way? No way to tell. Kuechly is learning the middle spot, too, and Beason already knows the weakside spot. Who's to know where it goes as the season progresses and injuries factor in. But you can't just tell Beason -- coming off a long injury rehab and a prideful man, just as most every successful NFL player is -- to move outside for the rookie. Rivera, a former NFL linebacker himself, knows that.
With Thomas Davis, it's trickier. The odds are ultimately against Davis coming back from a third ACL surgery on the same knee, and both the Panthers and Davis know that. So do you start Davis over Kuechly automatically (I'm assuming here Beason and James Anderson will both start)?
That's a decision you have to take the Fifth on for now if you're Rivera -- just let it play out. It will be obvious by late August, if not earlier, what to do there.
-- Talk about some athletic respect. Cam Newton finished fifth in a poll of 146 NBA players, taken by Sports Illustrated, about which athlete of today could play in the NBA right now if he wasn't doing something else.
The NBA players' list went like this:
1. Calvin Johnson, Lions WR 16%
2. Jimmy Graham, Saints TE 10%
3. Terrell Owens, Free-Agent WR 7%
4. Antonio Gates, Chargers TE 7%
5. Cam Newton, Panthers QB 6%
6. Tony Gonzalez, Falcons TE 5%
My vote would have been for Gates, who had by far the best college basketball career of that group (Graham and Gonzalez also played college hoops). Newton? He's a phenomenal athlete, yes. But in the NBA he'd be a "tweener" -- an undersized power forward or a small forward who would have to guard extremely quick "threes." And he has no big-time basketball background to speak of. Still, it's an interesting thought, isn't it?
-- Speaking of Newton: Greg Cosell, a senior producer at NFL Films and one of the best deep thinkers among media types in today's game, recently wrote an interesting blog post about Newton and Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Cosell re-watched every snap Newton took in 2011 and came to the conclusion that Newton has become such a good quarterback not because he's a great runner, but because he's such a poised passer. Here's an excerpt of the story from Cosell, who is the nephew of famous broadcaster Howard Cosell and a longtime executive producer:
"Newton did not have a record-setting rookie season because he’s a great athlete. Certainly, his touchdown run against the Bucs late in the season was spectacular, and few quarterbacks have that kind of breathtaking running ability. But no one becomes a great quarterback in the NFL because of the way they run.
"I watched every Newton snap in 2011, and the reality was he played exceptionally well from the pocket. He was poised and composed, decisive and accurate. He stood tall and delivered the ball in the eye of the storm. He made difficult throws into tight coverage. He did not run unless it was the last and only option or it was a designed play call. What was so extraordinary about Newton’s season was that he transitioned to the NFL in a manner that was unexpected and unforeseen based on his college résumé. He was primarily a run/option quarterback at Auburn. While the big arm and occasional NFL throw were there, Newton was not often asked to display the attributes necessary to thrive on Sundays.
"Two early-season plays really stood out last fall, and previewed Newton’s exceptional season. His first NFL touchdown pass, 77 yards to Steve Smith on the opening Sunday, featured a change in protection against a blitz. The ability to recognize and then adjust before the snap is an increasingly necessary attribute to play at a high level in this league, and Newton demonstrated it in Week 1. Three weeks later against the Bears, on a 26-yard completion to Smith, Newton showed the kind of progression reading and pocket toughness that are two hallmarks of top quarterback play. The initial read was to his left, but it was taken away by the Bears coverage. With the pocket collapsing, Newton came backside to Smith on a dig route. It was as good as it gets. And that was his fourth NFL start."
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