Wednesday, October 30, 2013

My Bobcats prediction and some notes

A couple of notes and my Bobcats prediction:

1) The Bobcats open their NBA season this week with relatively high hopes (point guard Kemba Walker is pictured above in a portrait by our photographer Jeff Siner). My colleague Tom Sorensen predicts the team will go 33-49, which would give them a dozen more wins than last year's 21-61 record. I am not far off from what Tom thinks in this case, although I don't think they will be quite that good. Put me down for 29-53.

2) Was glad to see Armanti Edwards land with the Cleveland Browns, where head coach Rob Chudzinski has some familiarity with him from the duo's time together in Charlotte. Edwards deserves another chance, although I still don't think he will ever be a starting NFL receiver.

3) You should read Rick Bonnell's story on Al Jefferson and the two grandmothers that made him tick -- it really gives you insight into the character of the new Bobcat big man.

4) Our Joseph Person has a good story on Mike Shula, the Panthers' offensive coordinator who has been part of the team's three-game winning streak. And here's my column in Wednesday's newspaper on how important it is for the Panthers to deal with their modest dose of prosperity -- they are very used to dealing with adversity, but haven't been on this side of the coin very often.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Charles Johnson says he will play Sunday for Panthers

Panther standout defensive end Charles Johnson said Monday he believes he is "definitely" going to play Sunday despite a right groin strain.

Johnson (shown above, sacking St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford) told reporters Monday that he had had treatment on the injury "all weekend," which he suffered with 1:08 left against Tampa Bay In Carolina's Thursday night win.

"I feel like 100 percent I'm going to be on the field," Johnson said. Of course, 100 percent to a player doesn't automatically mean 100 percent to doctors or trainers, but coach Ron Rivera said he was optimistic Johnson would play.

The Panthers did not have a real practice Monday, but Johnson participated in the walk-through. He said of his weekend: "I wasn't hobbling, but it was sore."

Johnson, who grew up in Georgia and went to the University of Georgia, has always said the Panthers' two games every year against the Falcons are special to him.

"You always get up for anybody," Johnson said. "But Atlanta? There's just a little extra sauce on it."

Johnson's best individual game came against the Falcons in 2012, when he sacked Matt Ryan a team-record 3.5 times in a game the Panthers ended up losing on a last-second field goal. Johnson leads the Panthers in sacks this year with six.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Why I will never forget Bill Sharman

Bill Sharman died Friday at age 87. He was a basketball hall of famer as both a player and a coach in the NBA (here's a link to his obituary). But a lot of that was so long ago that you may not know much about Sharman (who is pictured above as he looked in 1971).

So in his memory, let me tell you one story to let you know what kind of man he was.

When I was seven years old, living in Austin, Texas, I wrote a letter and sent it off with an eight-cent stamp, to a place I had never been and a man I had never met.

The first word was “Congratulations,” which I had to ask my Mom how to spell.

It went on for a few sentences, in a second-grader’s painstaking print. It praised the coach of the Los Angeles Lakers for his team’s victory in the 1972 NBA Finals. I liked the Lakers mostly because of their uniforms.

The coach – and the letter’s recipient -- was Bill Sharman.

That team turned out to be legendary. It included Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Gail Goodrich and my own personal favorite player, Harold Hairston. I liked Hairston mainly because his nickname was “Happy,” and I knew if I ever became a pro athlete that’s what I would be.

I didn’t ask for anything in the letter and expected no reply. But a few weeks later, an envelope from California graced our mailbox.

I opened it. There was a sweet, handwritten letter from Sharman.

And a single sheet of white typing paper that contained the autographs of every Laker player on the squad.

Wilt the Stilt. Goodrich. West. Hairston. A mustachioed reserve named Pat Riley. All of them.

I loved that sheet of paper.

I studied it to see which player had the best handwriting and which ones included their jersey number. I showed it around. I marveled over it.

And, of course, I lost it.

I told that story in The Charlotte Observer in 2002 -- 30 years later -- as part of a column about the power of autographs. Sharman’s son-in-law in Florida saw the column. He told Sharman about it.

Sharman, by then a special consultant to the Lakers in California, dug through his files. He found a picture of that 1971-72 team and signed it. He found a copy of the original set of team autographs from that season, which he Xeroxed for me.

Then Sharman stuffed all that in an envelope and sent it to me along with another handwritten note that concluded, “Thanks for bringing back some very nice, exciting memories!”

I didn't lose that one.

RIP to Bill Sharman -- who cared enough to make the day of someone he had never met.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

5 things I liked as Carolina blasts Tampa Bay

The Panthers took care of business very efficiently on Thursday night, moving to 4-3 on the season by whipping Tampa Bay, 31-13, on national television (although undoubtedly a lot of national viewers were watching the World Series instead of NFL Network). Five things I liked in particular:

-- Cam Newton. The third-year quarterback (shown above in a photo by The Observer's Jeff Siner) is on what may be the best three-game run of his career. He's making smart decisions, he's running and he's throwing with extreme accuracy. The Panthers are 3-0 over their past three for many reasons -- including a favorable schedule -- but no reason is bigger than No.1. He has six TD passes, zero INTs and a completion pct. of 77 over those three games.

-- Ron Rivera. Give the coach credit -- he's become a real disciple of going for it on fourth-and-1 after two-plus years of conservatism. Rivera went for it again Thursday -- up 14-6, disdaining a field goal -- and was rewarded when the Panthers eventually scored a touchdown on the drive. And a tip of the hat to offensive coordinator Mike Shula, too -- he mixed it up nicely Thursday.

-- Colin Jones. He doesn't make this list often, but what an impressive play in the third quarter by the special-teamer. Jones first forced a fair catch by beating his man as a "gunner" going downfield. Then, when the punt was dropped, Jones outmuscled two other Buccaneers for the ball and a fumble recovery. That recovery resulted in the TD that truly put the game away for Carolina.

-- Team defense. The team's bedrock, the Panther D was tough again, allowing field goals instead of TDs when it mattered (the Bucs' lone TD came with 2:53 left and Carolina already ahead 31-6). They will continue to be ranked very high in all relevant categories after this week. One cautionary note: Charles Johnson limped off the field with 1:08 to go, obviously in pain. Losing No.95 for any length of time would be a huge blow (UPDATE: It's a groin injury, likely a strain. Johnson hopes to play in the next game but it's too early to tell). Captain Munnerlyn was also furious with himself for getting his hands on four footballs and catching none of them. "Gotta get on the JUGS machine," he said.

-- .500 phobia is over. The Panthers haven't been over the .500 mark during an NFL regular season since late December 2008. Now, finally they are at 4-3, with 10 days to get ready for a visit from the struggling Atlanta Falcons (2-4) on Nov.3. All in all, after that nasty 1-3 start, it's not a bad place to be at all. "We haven't been in a spot like this for a really long time," offensive tackle Jordan Gross said.

Meanwhile, the Bucs are in a freefall -- like the Panthers back in 2001 (at 1-15) or 2010 (at 2-14). I can't imagine coach Greg Schiano will last for too much longer -- not with an 0-7 record and stuff like this picture below going on in the stands.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Panthers to beat Bucs Thursday night

The Carolina Panthers continue their tour of the NFL's worst teams on Thursday night (kickoff 8:25 pm) -- a fortuitous bit of scheduling that could only be luckier if the Panthers next played Jacksonville.

Alas, they don't have the Jaguars on their schedule. But there are only three other NFL teams at the moment who have won one game or less in 2013. The Panthers have already played two of them -- the New York Giants and Minnesota -- and they get Tampa Bay twice, starting Thursday night (with rookie quarterback Mike Glennon, pictured above).

So this should be easy, right? The Buccaneers are 0-6. Carolina is 3-3, but has won three of its last four and has one of the NFL's top defenses.

Well, no. I don't think it will be that easy.

The Bucs are going to beat somebody this season -- the Panthers just can't let it be them. Tampa Bay has a few things going for it, including Glennon and wide receiver Vincent Jackson.

Glennon threw at Jackson 22 times last week and 14 the week before. Four of those throws went for touchdowns.

If the Panthers don't double Jackson on most every play Thursday night, they are nuts. Jackson, if you remember, was also the guy who made the great touchdown catch that helped the Bucs come back from 11 points down in the final 4:03 in 2012 in Charlotte to tie the game in regulation and win it in overtime.

-- When Carolina runs plays inside the Tampa Bay 5, don't be surprised to see a fake to Mike Tolbert and then a play-action pass. Tampa Bay has proved its mettle on goal-line run defense. The Bucs have only given up one rushing TD all season, tied for the best in the NFL with Baltimore.

-- I've been to almost all of the NFL stadiums and I can tell you that Tampa Bay's homefield "advantage" is among the league's absolute worst at the moment. Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano is only 3-8 at home, although one of those wins was against Carolina in 2012 (the Bucs swept the Panthers last year).

-- When you watch the NFL Network telecast Thursday, see what you think about TV analyst Mike Mayock. He's wordy, but I like him -- his depth and breadth of knowledge about the sport is impressive.

-- Tampa Bay rookie quarterback Mike Glennon basically does two things when he drops back -- he either throws the ball to Jackson or he dumps it short. There are a whole lot of quick checkdowns in the former N.C. State quarterback's repertoire, and there will be a few chances for the Panthers in pass coverage to jump one of those routes and grab an interception.

-- I've correctly predicted the Panthers' outcome four weeks in a row. To go for five straight, my pick is: Carolina 30, Tampa Bay 17.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Regrets? Yeah, Panthers and Rams have a few

There were several things that never should have happened in the game Sunday. You can see one of them above, where Robert Quinn is screaming at Cam Newton while Newton wanders off the field in a semi-daze after being hit by the St. Louis defensive end.

The previous blog item talks about six of the things I liked most in Carolina's 30-15 win over the St. Louis Rams Sunday. But there were also more things than usual in a Panther win that I found distressing in both teams' behavior. Here's a short list of four -- feel free to add or comment to it.

1) The picture above shows Robert Quinn, the Rams' defensive end, yelling what Newton would later refer to as "explicits" following Quinn's hit of Newton. Listen, I know football is an emotional game, but there's something wrong with this. You hurt a guy, you know he's hurt -- and then you yell at him?!

Newton said this was what prompted the ensuing brawl -- not that Quinn hit him (it was legal), but what he said later. It made the normally mild-mannered Jordan Gross go after Quinn, and then the fracas started.

And what the heck is wrong with Quinn anyway?

I used to really like the guy. I went down to South Carolina five years ago to write about him when he was in high school -- he had survived a brain tumor and was about to make his collegiate choice. I liked him and his parents, both of whom I met.

Quinn ultimately chose North Carolina, but the Tar Heels certainly wish he didn't now. Quinn was heavily involved in the agent scandal that has brought the football program to his knees. Now he's a great NFL defensive end, but he's doing needless stuff like this.

(After the game I didn't have a chance to talk to Quinn, but he didn't say much to other reporters besides noting that his hit on Newton was legal, which it was).

2) Chris Long (see picture at end of this blog). I know Long regrets throwing the punch that led to his ejection -- he said so after the game. But video shows at least two Panther fans throwing things at Long while he made his "walk of shame" to the locker room.

Long didn't get hurt, but c'mon, man -- those Panther fans should be as ashamed as Long. The actions of a couple of knuckleheads made everyone in the stands look bad. As Fox Sports' Dick Stockton correctly called those fans' behaviors on the telecast: "Inexcusable."

3) Sam Bradford/Mike Mitchell play. On a fourth-quarter play in which Bradford scrambled for a one-yard gain, Mitchell pushed him out of bounds. Then he lifted his arms to the sky and celebrated. Mitchell said later he didn't know Bradford was hurt -- "Absolutely not man, c'mon. I'm not that type of guy," he said. And he thought he had gotten a sack on the play (one yard earlier on the push-out, and he would have). And he avoided any personal-foul penalty then or at any other time in the game.

Still, I'm sure Mitchell regrets so dramatically celebrating the play that ended up putting Bradford out for the season with a torn ACL. Certainly, it didn't look good on TV. And I personally regret Bradford getting hurt (which was not Mitchell's fault, just bad luck). I think he's a classy guy and enjoy watching him.

4) One last regret, and this is just a personal preference. Can we ban the use of the word "chippy" to describe incidents like these? What does that even mean? It is becoming as prevalent as "it is what it is" as a catch-all phrase.

Chris Long walks off the field after being ejected. Fans threw at least two items at him during this walk.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Six things I liked in Panther win over Rams

Six things I liked about Carolina's 30-15 win over St. Louis, which pulled the Panthers up to 3-3 this season with a game against 0-6 Tampa Bay Thursday night (one of the things is pictured above -- Captain Munnerlyn's pick-6 interception return on the Rams' first play from scrimmage.)

1) Cam Newton. The quarterback had his second straight extremely accurate game. He went 15 for 17 for 204 yards with one TD and zero INTs, and one of the two incompletions was a drop. When Newton is throwing it like that, very few teams will beat Carolina. Now he needs to get a few more short-yardage carries, as the Mike Tolbert handoff is getting too predictable and had bad results twice Sunday (a safety and a personal foul penalty on Tolbert).

2) Steve Smith. His 800th career reception was a memorable one, as he scored on a 19-yard TD and left two Rams defenders grabbing air. The biggest star of the Rams/Panthers double OT playoff game from 10 years ago looked like he was 24 again on that play.

3) Captain Munnerlyn. The game's first play from scrimmage resulted in a pick-six for Munnerlyn. It was a heck of a play by No.41, who had to make a diving catch of Sam Bradford. Bradford's weirdly off-target throw (it was apparently tipped) and then weaved his way down the left sideline for a 45-yard TD. Munnerlyn later had a nice fumble recovery, too, on a fumble caused by Mike Mitchell, who was the subject of my Sunday column and was very active in the game (drawing a personal-foul penalty and making a sack among other things). He also hit Bradford going out of bounds, knocking the Rams quarterback from the game.

4) Graham Gano. Has this kicker been huge this year or what? Gano hasn't missed all season and hit three more on Sunday. His 50-yarder Sunday with 11:32 to go put the Panthers three possessions clear of the Rams (making the score 30-12) and basically clinched the game. Gano has been having a Pro Bowl-type season through six games.

5) The crowd. On a beautiful blue-sky day, Panther fans had a lot of things to cheer about and did so (with a side helping of fights that further inflamed them). The pink-themed halftime celebration was also well done.

6) Quintin Mikell. The former Ram didn't get suckered in when St. Louis went for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1 in the first quarter, guarding perfectly against the play-action pass and forcing an incompletion. Mikell also came on a safety blitz and bothered Bradford on Munnerlyn's pick-six.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Panther human bowling ball actually loves bowling -- and my Sunday prediction

Both of these pictures represent Mike Tolbert, the Panther running back also known as a human bowling ball.

Mike Tolbert is 5-foot-9 and 245 pounds. He has become the Carolina Panthers' primary short-yardage back. He is so low to the ground and so powerful that he is often likened to a human bowling ball.

In his six-year NFL career, Tolbert has scored 36 touchdowns -- including three this season for the Panthers. But for the first 35 of them, he never put his unofficial nickname into one of his touchdown celebrations.

On No.36, however, he did. After his second TD in Carolina's 35-10 whipping of Minnesota a week ago, Tolbert pantomimed a bowling routine in the end zone -- pretending to roll a ball and then clenching his fist as all those invisible pins went down.

"My friends call me the human bowling ball sometimes," Tolbert said. "So I did it for them."

Was that a strike you rolled, I asked?

"Nothing but strikes, man," Tolbert said. "I'm going for a 300 game."

If Tolbert scores against St. Louis in Charlotte Sunday, will he do that again? "I don't know," Tolbert said. "I don't plan those celebrations out."

I hope he does do it. That celebration fits him like a pair of multi-colored bowling shoes, since it turns out Tolbert knows what he's doing in an alley. Tolbert said he bowls twice a week in the offseason in San Diego. He said he averages 160 and has a high game of 217.

"I've even got my own ball," Tolbert said, "drilled just for me. I don't use my thumb at all, so it's a two-hole ball."

I like that the Panthers' human bowling ball is a good bowler. It makes me feel like life has a certain synchronicity, in the same way that the fastest man in the world has the last name of "Bolt" and that one of the most famous crossword puzzle editors ever had the last name of Akenhead. Seriously.

-- OK, onto the game. The way the Panthers can beat the Rams is to run the ball. St. Louis is 30th in the NFL in rush defense. DeAngelo Williams, Tolbert and the offensive line all need to have good games Sunday.

-- Weird stat: Of the 32 current NFL head coaches, eight played in the league as well. Of those eight, four played with the Chicago Bears, including both of Sunday's coaches. Ron Rivera said he and Jeff Fisher do like each other but Rivera is not as close to Fisher as he is to another former Bears teammate who turned into an NFL coach -- Minnesota's Leslie Frazier.

-- Rams quarterback Sam Bradford has been very good the past two weeks. Carolina must rattle him, because when Bradford gets hot he is extremely accurate. But he's a pocket passer for the most part, which should allow for more pressure.

-- I've picked the Panthers' outcome correctly the past three weeks in a row. To make it four straight, I'm going with this: Carolina 23, St. Louis 16.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Caustic radio host pens poignant book about Hope Stout and 2003 Panthers

Who knew a radio guy could write? And who knew Keith Larson had a soft side?

Larson, the longtime WBT radio morning host who specializes in political zingers, has penned a sweet, honest and surprisingly good book called "That Season of Hope."

On the 10th anniversary of the Panthers' 2003 Super Bowl season, Larson examines that year through the prism of an extraordinary girl -- 12-year-old Hope Stout, a spunky, redheaded Panther fan who was dying of bone cancer.

For those who don't remember this true story of have never heard it, Hope was asked by the local Make-A-Wish people what her heart most desired. Her wish? To raise enough money to help the other 155 children on Make-A-Wish's local list have their own wishes granted.

On Dec.19, 2003, Larson read about this story in The Charlotte Observer in an article by Elizabeth Leland. Larson never met Hope in person, but he did interview her on the radio that same day for 11 minutes and 50 seconds.

"Those 11 minutes and 50 seconds changed my life," said Larson, who still replays that interview every December on his show ( also has audio of that interview -- check out segment 11).

Larson and his wife Nancy -- who gets a writing credit as well for her organizational help -- will make no money off this book. Author proceeds are being split among three charities -- March Forth With Hope, Make-A-Wish and the Carolina Panthers' "Keep Pounding" cancer foundation.

I plan to have a fuller review on the book and what prompted Larson to write it in my column in Wednesday's Charlotte Observer.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

When Panthers are good, they are very, very good -- Carolina whips Vikings, 35-10

The Carolina Panthers absolutely bashed Minnesota on the road Sunday, 35-10, in a surprisingly lopsided game. I thought they would win (see my pick below) but not by that much. Which brings me to five quick observations about the game:

1) Have you ever heard the poem about the little girl with the curl right in the middle of her forehead? Stay with me on this one, because that kid reminds me of the Panthers. When she was good, she was very, very good -- but when she was bad, she was horrid.

That's the Panthers (2-3) this year. They have won their two games 38-0 and 35-10. They have lost three times -- by one, five and 16 points. They still haven't proved to anyone they can win a close game -- but they proved again on Sunday that they are good enough to blow out some teams on the right day.

2) I thought the biggest play of the game was the Panthers going for it on fourth-and-1 and making it from the Minnesota 2 with the score tied 0-0 in the first quarter. Kudos to coach Ron Rivera for going for it on fourth down -- twice! -- in that early drive. Rivera is really changing his stripes in terms of going for fourth-and-1s since that Buffalo debacle. But Steve Smith catching that short pass from Cam Newton (after Smith dropped a potential TD pass in the first quarter last week against Arizona) set the tone for everything that came after. Smith's block later on a Minnesota linebacker was impressive, too, although by then the game was over.

3) The Panther defense was absolutely stifling, getting all over Matt Cassel and mostly shutting down Adrian Peterson. The defense kept making its opportunities count -- Mike Mitchell had two interceptions thrown right to him, yes, but how many times have you seen Panther defensive backs drop those? Thomas Davis made his blitzes count. Greg Hardy had a lot of pressure that caused Cassel to get uncomfortable. The Vikings had scored at least 24 points in each of their first four games.

4) A number of Panther fans had emailed me about getting Derek Anderson into the game, but this wasn't what they had in mind. Anderson came in with 6:02 to go to wind down the clock after Newton played one of his most complete games ever, throwing for three touchdowns, running for another and not having a single turnover. It was a near-perfect day by No.1.

5) The Panthers will need to be good again this coming Sunday at home against St. Louis. The Rams blasted the Houston Texans in much the same way that Carolina blasted Minnesota, winning 38-13, and quarterback Sam Bradford won't make as many mistakes as Cassel did.

Friday, October 11, 2013

My pick for Panthers vs Vikings and some pregame notes

Are you ready for some scoring?

We should get some on Sunday, when Minnesota hosts Carolina. The Vikings' lackluster defense should be something of a cure for Carolina -- and if it's not, we can be guaranteed that the offense's problems are rooted very deeply. The picture above (shot by The Observer's David Foster) is worth the ol' one thousand words about that -- it is of Brandon LaFell dropping what should have been a fourth-down completion inside Arizona's red zone last Sunday in Carolina's 22-6 loss.

Minnesota has given up at least 27 points in every game this season, which is a large part why the Vikings are 1-3, just like Carolina.

On the other hand, the Vikings have scored at least 24 points in every game, primarily because fearsome running back Adrian Peterson is almost impossible to keep out of the end zone. That opens up the passing attack for whichever quarterback the Vikings are currently employing. If Carolina doesn't get into the end zone Sunday -- which is what happened last week in the Panthers' horrid 22-6 loss to Arizona -- it will be a huge surprise.

-- The Vikings and Panthers have played 10 times in team history, and my favorite single play in those games was referred to in the boxscore simply as "Johnson 3 pass from Johnson." This was in 1997. The game was tied 7-all in the fourth quarter. Minnesota had it third-and-goal from the Carolina 3. Minnesota quarterback Brad Johnson faded back, fired – and had the ball knocked into the air by Panther nose tackle Greg Kragen. But it came right back to him. Johnson caught the ball and scored -- one of the few times in football history a quarterback actually threw a TD pass to himself. I still wonder how that was scored in fantasy football.

-- What a day Sunday will be for the Kalil family. Offensive linemen Ryan (Carolina) and -- Matt (Minnesota) play against each oter, and sister Danielle sings the national anthem beforehand. I imagine they will be all over the TV coverage -- at least as much as a couple of offensive linemen can be. We're not going to be filming "The Book of Kalil" anytime soon -- it's not quite that big.

-- Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave served the same role for Carolina in 2000, but then he quit early in the season in a "Take This Job and Shove It" sort of moment with then-coach George Seifert.

-- Hard to imagine that the Vikings made the playoffs last season. Both these teams look a long way from that goal right now -- each has only a single win against an otherwise winless team this season. I have picked the Panthers' outcome correctly the past two weeks -- including a pick of Arizona to upset Carolina last week -- after missing the first two. This time around I see the Panthers rebounding in a high-scoring game. Carolina 30, Minnesota 26.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

It was past time for Armanti to go

Coach Ron Rivera said Armanti Edwards was the MVP of the Panthers' 2013 training camp, but that production did not translate onto the field once again.

Sometimes, a relationship just doesn't work out. No matter how hard you try, it just isn't going to happen.

That's the way it was with the Panthers and Armanti Edwards, who Carolina general manager Marty Hurney infamously gave up a future second-round pick for to take in the third round of the 2010 draft.

Edwards, an incredible record-setting quarterback at Appalachian State, tried very hard to make the transition to wide receiver. The Panthers tried very hard to give him the time to make that transition, allowing the "Armanti Experiment" to continue far longer than most NFL experiments.

But ultimately, it failed.

The Panthers waived Edwards on Tuesday, and it was probably past due. He's been here since 2010, and you could still count his big plays in a Panther uniform on his thumbs.

He finishes his career with Carolina with zero touchdowns in four NFL seasons -- that is the most damning statistic for No.14. Even his biggest plays -- an 82-yard reception and a 69-yard punt return, both in 2012 -- came with the same caveat. Yes, but he didn't score. On the 69-yarder, he was tackled by the punter, a source of much amusement in the locker room.

Edwards always practiced and played with class. Everyone who has ever met him comes away respecting his professionalism and his courtesy.

But the bottom line was he just couldn't play in the NFL. He was too slight, for one thing -- cornerbacks bumped him around. His lower-body strength was never quite there. He was fast, but not quite fast enough to make up for that.

Edwards was a tease for years, making one assistant coach after another think that well, maybe, it was finally going to work. Even when it seemed like the writing was on the wall for him to get released following the signing of kick returner-wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr., Edwards had a good training camp in 2013 and stuck around through August and then September.

But he couldn't survive October. This move really should have come sooner -- Edwards has been a non-contributor for a long time -- but it finally has come. I still think Edwards could be a quarterback again in the Canadian Football League. But he is not an NFL-caliber receiver. And no matter how hard he worked, that just wasn't going to change.

Monday, October 7, 2013

My exclusive interview with Ryan Lochte on why he moved to Charlotte

Ryan Lochte (left) and coach David Marsh pose for a picture after Lochte completed his first official swim workout in Charlotte Monday morning. Lochte, who has already won 11 Olympic medals, then gave me an exclusive interview about why the international swimming superstar was moving to Charlotte.

Ryan Lochte granted an exclusive interview with The Charlotte Observer Monday, which was his first interview since he moved to Charlotte last week.

I talked with Lochte one-on-one after his first practice under SwimMAC coach David Marsh at Queens University's sparkling new pool at the Levine Center. The plan is for Lochte to live in Charlotte for much of the next three years, training under Marsh and alongside his best friend, former N.C. State swimmer Cullen Jones, as they prepare for a run at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. (Lochte will also maintain a residence in Florida, which is where he grew up and went to school. If you'd rather just see the photos, here is a slideshow by The Observer's Jeff Siner of Lochte's first practice).

Lochte, 29, is generally considered the best male swimmer in the world, and so this is a coup for Charlotte, SwimMAC Carolina and Marsh. An 11-time Olympic medalist, Lochte had based his training at the University of Florida under coach Gregg Troy for more than a decade.

"I was at a college town, at the University of Florida for so long," Lochte said Monday. "I love that place to death but I'm getting to a point in my life where I'm getting older and it's time for a change."

Lochte is also something of a sex symbol, and every time he has swum at Charlotte's UltraSwim meet over the past several years he has been greeted with screams from teenaged girls who sound like they are at a One Direction concert. He is so popular that he has more than a million Twitter followers, has come up with his own catchphrase ("Jeah"), dabbles in fashion design, enjoys a good party and starred in a reality TV show based on his life earlier this year (although it was not well reviewed and was short-lived).

Lochte said a number of things drew him to train in Charlotte -- not just Marsh and fellow Olympic gold medalist Jones, who calls Lochte "the best athlete in the world when it comes to swimming."

Said Lochte: "They host the UltraSwim here and I've been coming to this meet for eight, nine years straight, and I mean I love this city. I wanted to move to a city, but I didn't want to go to like to L.A. or New York where it was really big and just chaos. This is perfect.... And my best friend, Cullen Jones, he's here. I love it."

Lochte also said he will live alone for the first time in his life in Charlotte. He has gotten a place in the same complex where Jones lives, but just down the hall so he can have his own space, he said.

Marsh is known for his unique training methods, which emphasize quality of work over quantity and include a number of innovative approaches to dry-land training as well. Marsh did not actively recruit Lochte to come to Charlotte -- although Jones certainly did, the swimmer said -- but the coach was very happy to see Lochte dive into the Queens University pool for Lochte's first workout with SwimMAC's Team Elite Monday morning.

"It's almost like back when I was a graduate assistant at Auburn and Bo Jackson was running," Marsh said. "You'd hand him the ball in a game and everybody in the stadium would hold his breath. Ryan dove in the water today and the way he moves through the water, it is very special. He has a relationship with the water I'm not sure even he understands."

Lochte said he would not be training in other places (Australia had been rumored) and was committed to staying in Charlotte through the 2016 Olympics (although, again, he will continue to keep the Florida residence as well). He will be 32 by the time those are held. There would be only one reason why he would stop training in Charlotte earlier than that, he said.

Said Lochte: "I'll be here through 2016, unless something happens where I start doing really bad in the sport. Then I'll have to go back to where my swimming career started, back in Florida. But I don't plan on getting any slower -- 2016 is my biggest goal. I want to stick it out here and see what me and David Marsh can do."

Lochte said his usual swim practices at Florida -- where he became a worldwide force in swimming under Troy but was sometimes overshadowed by Michael Phelps -- constituted churning out thousands of yards per day. He said he wanted to become more of a sprinter under Marsh, who is known for coaching the shorter distances particularly well.

Said Lochte: "In my next swimming career, which started this morning, I want to train for some sprint events now.... I'm not done yet. I think there's a lot more I can accomplish in the sport of swimming. I want to take my swimming to a new [level], and I want to bring it here to Charlotte."

Lochte, Marsh and Jones after practice Monday. The friendship of Lochte and Jones was a big reason for Lochte's move to Charlotte, both swimmers say.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Blame the offense for this one -- Panthers get hammered in Arizona

You have to look closely, as I took this picture with an iPhone from my seat in Arizona, but this is Steve Smith's end-zone drop that set the tone for a bad day for the Panthers.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- How many mistakes can one offense make?

The Panthers tried to answer the question Sunday as they lost, 22-6, to Arizona on Sunday. It was a contest that was ultimately defined by the way the Panthers' offense so badly mishandled the game as the team dropped to 1-3 while Cam Newton threw three interceptions and lost a fumble.

Start with the first drive, way back when Newton was as sharp as a cactus. He completed his first five passes in a row. Carolina got inside the Arizona 10, and Newton threw a sixth straight great pass -- this one to Steve Smith on a slant in the end zone.

It hit Smith in the hands -- and the 13-year veteran uncharacteristically dropped it.

So began the litany. Smith would drop the very next pass thrown to him, too. Brandon LaFell dropped a critical ball from Newton on a fourth-and-1 from the Arizona 15 that would have given Carolina a first down. Rookie Kenjon Barner dropped a pass later.

But there were offensive mistakes everywhere. The offensive line too often got blasted by the Cardinals, who had Newton uncomfortable for much of the game. Newton was wrong not to get the ball out on a third-and-5 at the Cardinals 30 -- the sack took the Panthers out of field-goal range -- but it would have been a moot point if the play had been blocked better. Same thing with the safety Newton took on another sack -- a critical two points as it allowed the Cardinals to basically put the game out of reach with a field goal with 3:38 that pushed their lead to 15-6.

Then there were Newton's two awful interceptions. One was an underthrow to Smith, which was gladly picked off by Patrick Peterson. The second came on the first play of the fourth quarter, when Newton tried to throw the same slant pass to Smith that had almost worked for a TD earlier. At that point, Carolina could have gone ahead 13-12 with a TD. But this time, Arizona linebacker Daryl Washington sniffed it out and one-handed an athletic interception before the ball got near Smith. And don't forget Newton's late fumble after yet another sack.

The Panther defense played plenty well enough to win this game, intercepting Carson Palmer three times and hurrying him much of the time. There could have been a fourth turnover, but Palmer was judged to be down before Charles Johnson ripped the ball out of his hands and scored.

Still, this one is on the offense. Arizona's point total was artificially high after being inflated by a late TD following a Newton fumble (his third turnover). If you can't score a touchdown in the NFL, you can't win. New Orleans hit the Cardinals up for 31 points a couple of weeks ago, and the Panthers can only score six?

I've seen this sort of Carolina game too often over all these years, and I'm sure you have too. It's why I picked against them in this game in the first place. Carolina has so often lost coming off a big win in a game against a mediocre opponent.

So now all those good feelings about beating the New York Giants have evaporated. Turns out everybody beats the Giants this year. The Panthers -- who led this game 6-3 at halftime and had outgained the Cardinals 259-118 at that point -- are 1-3. And all the old questions are about to resurface.

Friday, October 4, 2013

My Panther prediction and other game notes for Carolina at Arizona


OK, quick -- tell me the last time the Panthers were going into a game with a record above .500. You have to go back awhile -- to the playoffs following the 2008 season. The Panthers had just completed a 12-4 regular season and Arizona -- starring Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald -- was coming to town for a playoff game. (The video above, by the way, contains 3 Observer writers' pick for this game).

That day went very sour, and there have been a lot of sour ones since. The Panthers have not been better than .500, even for a week, since Jake Delhomme threw five interceptions in that playoff game and wide receiver Fitzgerald burned the Panthers repeatedly.

Fitzgerald is still around, although most of the other key players and coaches from that day are gone. Now the Panthers (1-2) visit Arizona with a chance to get to .500. And since Carolina has no team on the October schedule with a winning record, the Panthers have a real chance to surpass that mark this month.

-- If the Cardinals don't help a lot on Greg Hardy crashing in from Carson Palmer's blind side, they are nuts. Hardy is coming off a three-sack game (although he has been sick this week) and the Cardinals just traded their left tackle and have stuck Bradley Sowell, a player they picked up only a month ago, into the starting lineup.

-- Arizona has an underrated defense, especially vs. the run. Did you check out Doug Martin's numbers last week? Tampa Bay's fine running back got the ball 27 times and only could gain 45 yards. DeAngelo Williams may find rough sledding vs. the Cardinals.

-- I think the Panthers will need Cam Newton to move the ball through the air to win. Mike Glennon threw 42 times last week in Tampa's 13-10 loss to Arizona and didn't complete a single pass over 20 yards. Newton will have to do a lot better than that, and should given his predisposition the past two games for throwing the deep ball to Ted Ginn Jr.

-- With the Panthers relatively healthy, rested and coming off the most lopsided victory in their team's history -- a 38-0 win over the New York Giants -- this game would seem to set up for a Carolina victory. But after watching the Panthers since 1995, I have seen this sort of game disintegrate too many times. I have picked them to win all three times this season and missed twice -- so I'm 1-2 picking them in 2013. here comes my first anti-Panther pick of the season. Arizona 23, Carolina 20. Watch the video above, however, to see that Panther beat writers Joseph Person and Jonathan Jones both disagree with me -- they are picking the Panthers to win.

Beason traded for a pennies on the dollar price

This picture, during happier times, came during a Charlotte Observer photo shoot in Jon Beason's heyday for Carolina.

Jon Beason -- traded for a late-round draft choice?! Shipped out for a pennies on the dollar price?!

It has happened, the Panthers have confirmed -- Beason will go to the New York Giants for a late-round draft choice (what year and what draft choice has not been announced). The linebacker and former first-round draft choice (2007) has passed his physical, though, and is with the Giants.

This would have seemed inconceivable a little more than two years ago. In 2011, Beason was a cornerstone of the Panthers -- a three-time Pro Bowler already. He was Luke Kuechly before Luke Kuechly. Few blinked when general manager Marty Hurney signed him to a five-year, $51.5-million contract extension.

But now.... the sad truth is that the Panthers have been better on defense the past two years when Beason is not playing. Once Kuechly switched to middle linebacker early in the 2012 season following Beason's latest injury, they got better. Once Chase Blackburn was inserted into the starting lineup against the New York Giants in the Panthers' third game and Beason benched, the Panthers got way better, shutting out the Giants, 38-0.

Ironically, it is the 0-4 Giants who then wanted Beason, and the Panthers who were so ready to part ways with him that they will take what would have seemed like a completely lowball offer not that long ago. Not anymore, though -- that GM Dave Gettleman got anything for Beason is a bit of a surprise. Coach Ron Rivera confirmed the trade Friday afternoon, saying Beason talked to him Thursday and said he wanted to be a starter. Gettleman has yet to speak to the media about it.

In the first two games of 2013, Beason was a shadow of his former self, especially in pass coverage. He struggled to find his old speed. He missed tackles.

A torn Achilles in 2011 and knee and shoulder issues in 2012 had limited him to just five games in the 2011 and 2012 seasons, and it was obvious that the knee in particular still gave Beason problems. The shoulder didn't bother him anymore -- he did make a few good stops filling holes in run defense -- but a linebacker without the ability to run is a compromised linebacker. Beason still wanted to start and wasn't happy at all that he got only one snap against the Giants, but it was hard to see the Panthers doing it any differently at that point.

As Beason, 28, told a group of us reporters in August: “The wings are never an issue. It’s the wheels that get you.”

The deal will give Carolina some salary-cap relief, but not that much given that Beason's contract (newly restructured -- he had taken a substantial pay cut already) was going to void after the 2013 season anyway. Beason had been marginalized already -- no longer a team captain and turned into a parttime player.

I will miss No.52 -- always a standup guy in the locker room.

But I also understand why Carolina traded him. He no longer was doing the team much good on the field. In a bottom-line business, Beason -- really through no fault of his own, except that his body let him down -- no longer was producing. I imagine he understands this move, too. Good luck to him in New York.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

More on Ryan Lochte moving to Charlotte

Ryan Lochte in the pink briefs he sported for much of the 2013 UltraSwim meet in Charlotte in May. Lochte's swim cap read "Jeah," his own personal catchphrase.

International swimming superstar Ryan Lochte is just about to land in Charlotte for his training, as I reported in Thursday's Charlotte Observer. The picture above, taken in May in Charlotte by our excellent photographer Jeff Siner as Lochte prepared for one of his events in the UltraSwim, gives a hint as to why Lochte is popular in particular with the ladies and has more than a million followers on Twitter.

In particular, Lochte attracts the teenaged girl set. If you can imagine the screams from a "One Direction" concert reverberating inside a swimming venue, that's the way it is every time Lochte approaches the starting blocks.

Nevertheless, he will have a lot less attention in Charlotte than he did in Gainesville, Fla., where he has kept his home base for the past decade or so. It is hard for Lochte to go anywhere in Gainesville without attracting a mob. Once Lochte starts training in Charlotte -- and he will mostly be in the gorgeous new pool at Queens -- and the initial excitement about his move dies down, this will be all about whether Lochte can get his body ready for one more run at the Olympics. The tweets from people who have already seen him on Queens campus, checking out the facilities, will seem a little less breathless after awhile (maybe).

Lochte has 11 Olympic medals already (five of them gold). At 29, he is older than Michael Phelps, but Phelps has already retired (at least for now) and Lochte is gunning for the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Lochte also dabbles in fashion design, partying, catchphrases and reality shows. He had a short-lived reality show earlier this year based on his life (it drew disappointing ratings) and called "What Would Ryan Lochte Do?"

It turns out he would move to Charlotte, where his very close friend Cullen Jones resides. Although at one point Lochte sounded like he was going to dabble in training in a lot of different places, including Australia, now it sounds more like Charlotte will be a semi-permanent base for him.

Jones and head SwimMAC coach David Marsh haven't spoken about Lochte's imminent decision, but it's clear both have to be enormous factors in this move. Marsh is an internationally recognized coach whose innovative training methods and signature style -- quality of work over quantity -- has to appeal to Lochte at this stage in his career. Marsh trains an elite group of swimmers whose latest incarnation could even surpass the 2012 roster, which placed five swimmers into the London Olympics. Jones has made the Olympics in both 2008 and '12 working under Marsh.

Lochte ponders a reporter's question at the UltraSwim in Charlotte in May 2013.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Cop with fumble fingers drops two home run balls from same batter in same game

Bucky Goodale (above) is a Mooresville police officer and has been for seven years. He's also a big Atlanta Braves fan, a former outfielder for Pfeiffer and a man whose family was so deeply immersed in baseball that he was named for former New York Yankee Bucky Dent.

On Aug.17th, he had a chance to catch two Jason Heyward home run balls in Atlanta -- in the very same game! -- and dropped both, breaking two ribs in the process. Luckily, he has a sense of humor about it all. Watch the video above and/or read this column for more details. This YouTube video also shows some of the original fumbles courtesy of Fox Sports South.

70 years ago, a baseball milestone for Shelby and McKee

As the baseball playoffs gear up, pause with me for a moment to remember one of the most unusual stories among local baseball players that this area has ever seen.

Roger McKee was just 17 years old in 1943 and hadn't been out of Shelby High long when he started for the first and only time of his major-league career for the Philadelphia Phillies.

It was Oct.3, 1943 -- 70 years ago, in the middle of World War II. McKee pitched a complete game in an 11-3 Phillies victory over Pittsburgh. McKee scattered five hits in a game that only took an hour and 48 minutes. Here's the boxscore.

With that win, McKee became the youngest pitcher to ever win a game in major-league baseball’s post-1900 “modern era,” eclipsing Bob Feller and many others by winning his first game at the age of 17 years and 17 days. The fact that McKee’s father, a textile mill worker from Shelby, named him for baseball hall of famer Rogers Hornsby adds to the tale. (Most people drop the "s" and just call him Roger now).

McKee would throw his arm out the next year during an unseasonably cold spring training in Delaware. He would never start another game in the big leagues. His fifth and final major-league appearance came on his 18th birthday -- he ended his major-league pitching career with a 1-0 record and 5.87 ERA. Also a good hitter, he bounced around the minors for another 13 years (including one stint with the old Charlotte Hornets baseball team) as a first baseman and outfielder.

After that, McKee returned home to Shelby. He and his wife Denice have now been married 68 years. For 30 of those years, he worked as a postal carrier for the U.S. Postal Service. McKee is now 87 years old and, although he doesn't get around well, enjoys reading and watching sports on TV.

One other note: when McKee pitched and won his lone major-league start 70 years ago, he was a six-foot lefthander who "barely cast a shadow," as he tells it. His weight? It was 130 pounds.

Photo: Shelby's Roger McKee as he looked 70 years ago while pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies.