A few Panther thoughts on a Friday while I'm in Atlanta, getting ready to cover the Final Four:
-- The Panthers' exhibition schedule is out, and the best news on it is that the team will play the most important preseason game (the third one) at Baltimore on national TV on Aug.22nd. If that was the fourth game, it would be meaningless, but NFL teams traditionally play their starters for a half or three quarters in game 3 -- it will be a natural motivator for Carolina to face the defending Super Bowl champs in that one. Carolina opens the preseason at home against Chicago on Aug.9th.
-- Signing former N.Y. Giants wide receiver Domenik Hixon to a relatively cheap deal is another of those below-the-radar moves that new GM Dave Gettleman should be commended for so far. I like Hixon's potential better than Louis Murphy's (the No.3 receiver from 2012, who now has signed with tthe Giants) and figure he will win the job over the other candidates.
-- Cam Newton isn't in the race for the next cover of the Madden video series, after finishing a close second last year to Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson. I'm sure Newton isn't real happy about this -- he wanted to win so badly against Johnson last year he made a funny homemade video and put it on YouTube -- but I think it's absolutely fine.
-- Kudos to former Panther fullback Brad Hoover, who has decided to try his hand as a high school football coach at Monroe's Union Academy. Hoover will be a good one -- he's earnest, smart and will undoubtedly put in the long hours necessary in that job. I can just see the crowd after his first win at the 1A charter school as the "Hooov" chant goes up and fathers explain to their kids: "They're not saying boo, they're saying Hoov."
-- Lastly today, I bid a fond goodbye to film critic Roger Ebert -- a wonderfully gifted writer who died at age 70 on Thursday. If you're not familiar with his work, check out his website and you will see what I mean. Some know him only for the succinct "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" he made popular on TV with fellow critic Gene Siskel, but he was a deep and engaging writer who delved into all sorts of topics. I remain a huge fan of his work.