Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tuesday Thoughts

So much going on in the world, and especially our country these days. Sports seems a bit insignificant. Between watching the government work (or attempt to work depending on your point of view), and seeing the stock market take a beating on Monday, I was also fighting off one of those great summer colds. Enough whining, let's get on with it.

The Carolina Panthers looked good, but not great against Atlanta on Sunday. Part of that was Atlanta being good, but not great, and the other was Carolina having to deal wit4h some injuries. We'll find out more on Jordan Gross and Jeff Otah on Wednesday--smart money says Gross misses Sunday's game with Kansas City after suffering a scary concussion against the Falcons. Freak play, and I'm glad it wasn't worse.

Carolina still committed some mental errors, but not nearly as many as they had in the previous 3 games. A 3-1 start is pretty stout, with a chance to get to 4-01 against KC. That game is no gimme, now that the Chiefs found a win against Denver. Confidence breeds success. Kinda wish the stock market had some of that these days. Sorry for the crossover, there.

Charlotte Bobcats opened training camp ion Wilmington this morning. I like the prospect of this team actually being decent. i won't call them playoff contenders, but the pieces are there in the form of personnel. Now they have a bonafide Head Coach in Larry Brown. Some say Brown is worth 4 more wins this season. I would think the number is higher. It shall be interesting to watch this team grow over the course of the season.

Baseball fans, I apologize to all of you for the behavior of my beloved Chicago White Sox. They are the ones that lost 5 of their last 6 games, which led to a mandatory make-up game Monday against Detroit, which has now led them to a winner-take-all meeting with Minnesota tonight. I know everyone wants to talk playoffs, but until the A.L. Central gets squared away, y'all have to wait. Had the Sox done things the right way, they would be in Tampa getting ready for the Rays already.

Will break into the college football chatter later in the week--how 'bout them Heels and Blue Devils? Nice wins for both last weekend. Tough sledding for ECU, NC State and Wake. We'll talk more on them before the weekend.

As for me, I'm taking the evening away from the desk, trying to recuperate from this bout of the sneezes and sniffles. Tim Baier and Ryan Welch will take you through Sports Night at 10, so check them out. We'll hear from Adam Morrison, Bobcats forward on the mend from major knee surgery a year ago, plus hear from the Panthers, ACC football chatter, NASCAR and more.

Mike Solarte

Friday, September 26, 2008

Spraying to all fields

It is Friday, and in addition to the Discount Tire Friday Night Final, I have a lot on my mind. So, here goes.

College football picks:
Without breaking down game tape, my picks for teams of importance in the state look like this.
ECU beats Houston - ECU bounces back from NC State loss.
Duke beats Virginia - Duke finally gets a conference win in forever.
Miami edges UNC - the T.J. Yates injury could be a dagger.
South Florida over NC State - Classic back-up game for the Pack.
Wake over Navy - Wake outlasts the Middies.

The Panthers and Falcons should be a dandy game. Again, not getting too in-depth on the matchup, this one will simply boil down to which team decides they want to grab control of the division. In the past, the Panthers have consistently failed to show that killer instinct when there was a lot on the line. This team has the potential to do that, it's just a matter of them getting the job done. I would like to see the Panthers negate the pass rush of John Abraham, by pounding the ball on the ground on offense. On defense, I want to see Julius Peppers blow up the man in front of him, and make Matt Ryan run for his life. Granted, the Falcons have a running game now, with Michael Turner carrying the mail, so sacks could be hard to find. This is a good week 4 game for both teams, after each went 2-1 in their first 3. Likely a true barometer for Atlanta, and an atonement kind of game for Carolina.

Personally, I don't think highly of Atlanta. Their 2 wins came against Kansas City and Detroit--two teams that would have a hard time with Oregon State (the way they played USC on Thursday night). This week, they will face a defense that has the ability to bottle up the run, and make things uncomfortable for a rookie QB.

I'm going Panthers, by 4, something like 24-20.

Now, the thing that is stuck in my craw, is the Uptown Charlotte ballpark for the Charlotte Knights. And it should be pointed out that this is my opinion, and does not represent the opinion of News 14 Carolina or Time Warner Cable.

Everyone has an opinion on this. Tax payers don't want to subsidize a new park, and I get that. The Knights would be responsible for a bulk of the costs of building the park. The thing that gets me is Jerry Reese. Just what is his problem?

Is he fighting for the greater good by trying to stonewall this project? Is he fighting for the citizens of Mecklenburg County in this pursuit of blocking construction? If that is how he feels, then he is wrong. He is not fighting for me. He is not representing my interests. All he is doing is standing in the way of progress on this, because he believes Charlotte can be a Major League Baseball city.

I'll wait, so you can finish laughing.

This is a city that has great fans, but think about this: If the Charlotte Bobcats are not selling out a 19,000 seat venue for 40+ dates a year, how will this area (and not just the city, but the surrounding towns) supports a facility (and team) that would likely have a capacity of (and this is just a guess) 50,000? A ballpark in Uptown Charlotte has a better chance of having 5,000-7,000 fans in it each night with the businesses, and such that are there. Minor league baseball is cheaper on the fans wallet than the majors are. Check the ticket prices out. You'll see the differences. A family can go to a game, and still have some money left over.

Major League Baseball, incidentally, has been rather quiet about the whole thing. In fact, I don't believe that the league has even mentioned the word Charlotte, other than to say it is the home of the Chicago White Sox International League affiliate. Charlotte has been used as a threat in the past--when teams want a new stadium and threaten to relocate. The Florida Marlins were one of the teams that said "hey, what about Charlotte?" once, and if I recall, the Montreal Expos did, too. Well, the Marlins are still in Miami, and Montreal went to Washington, D.C.

Here's what I want to know. What is Jerry Reese getting out of all this? Is he in line for a huge windfall if an MLB team does come to Charlotte? Is he holding this up because he just wants a nice patch of grass he can walk barefoot in? What is the motivating factor for him? If I had to guess, I would say that no Uptown park means more money in his pocket from someone. I have no proof of this, I am just offering a thought, and if my thought turns out to be true, then baseball fans in the Charlotte area are truly being struck out. All due respect to Knights Stadium in Fort Mill, it's a nice park, but it is not the place for a team based in Charlotte.

It's time we got to the real reasons this plan is being held up by Mr. Reese. Enough of the grandstanding. Just come out and tell everyone why this is taking place. Rather than say things like (paraphrasing) "I will use every resource to block this project," come out and tell the truth.

Hard to believe one individual can stop the progress of a ballpark, especially since the guy stopping it isn't the one writing the checks to build it.

OK, off my soapbox. Enjoy the weekend!

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The aftermath of week 3

Well, I had a clunker of a weekend picking games--whiffed on the Panthers, ECU, and Carolina. Did manage Wake over FSU, but other than that, el stinko.

The Panther loss to Minnesota was simply this--all of the little things amounted to Vikings positives. Panther false starts, blocks in the back, holding, you name it, they did it. It was the worst the Panthers have looked all season--and they lost by 10. Couple things to keep in mind, here. Adrian Peterson was banged up, but still played and ran for 77 yards. The Vikings got 1 TD off of a turnover, and one from their offense. Panthers lone score came from their offense. Give credit where it's due--The Vikes were just better that day. Do I think they are better overall? If they are in the Dome, then yes. They are, however, beatable.

Next up, the Atlanta Falcons, a 2-1 team that has wins over Kansas City and Detroit, with a loss to Tampa Bay. We'll have more on this matchup later in the week (I promise).

Tough break for the Cats, losing LB Dan Connor to a knee injury. Donte Curry is back with the team, filling the roster spot left vacant after the injury. He was cut last week to make room for Steve Smith's return from suspension.

Other tough breaks: TJ Yates at Carolina. Russell Wilson and Nate Irving (among others) at NC State. Lots of big time injuries smacking some of the state schools. Speedy recovery to all, and good luck to the coaches trying to fill those voids.

Attended testing at Lowe's Motor Speedway on Tuesday, checking out the Sprint Cup drivers as they gear up for the Bank of America 500 on October 11th. Kasey Kahne has the chance to become the first Cup driver to claim all 3 races at the track in the same season. Kahne swept the races there in May, and he has won the fall race before. Should be interesting.

Heard from Brad Keselowski. He will try to make his Cup debut in Charlotte during the B of A 500--he needs to qualify on time, as he has no points to fall back on. He's 3rd in Nationwide Series points, and today, team owner Rick Hendrick said that Keselowski represents "the future of the company." Fairly lofty chatter from a guy that currently employs Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and coming in 2009, Mark Martin. Keselowski is talented, no question, but that statement could have some adverse affects. Hope not, because Keselowski is a good kid.

Tennis returns to the Charlotte area with the Citadel Group Championships at the Palisades. 8 players, all with remarkable tennis resumes take the court in South Charlotte, among them Jim Courier, Stefan Enqvist, Wayne Ferreira, and Anna Kournikova.

Yes, A-K comes to the tourney, along with Chanda Rubin, to play some mixed doubles exhibitions on Saturday. Tickets are going fast, according to Courier, so if you are a tennis fan, and want to see some of the greats from the not-so-distant past, this event is for you.

Until next time,
Mike Solarte

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Panthers-Vikes Primer

Just a couple hours shy of kickoff in the Metrodome, so here are a couple thoughts leading into the Panthers-Vikings matchup.

CAR offense v. MIN defense
The Panthers get Steve Smith back today, and that means their most dangerous home run threat will be on the field. In theory, this should make the Panther ground attack more of a problem for the Vikes, but you must remember, Minnesota has one of the better defensive fronts in the league. Smith will command some attention, drawing some multiple bodies in coverage. The onus is on the offensive line to get it done at the point of attack. If the O-line can win the battles up front,. the Panthers will be successful today. This, however, is no guarantee. Advantage-push

MIN offense v. CAR defense
Minnesota may be without Adrian Peterson, and even he does play, all reports out of the north say Peterson won't be 100% (hamstring). That would be a good thing for Carolina, considering the Vikes also benched Tavaris Jackson in favor of Gus Frerotte. Frerotte is more than capable as a back-up, but you have to consider some rust factoring in with him starting for the first time in a while. The indoor nature of this game doesn't lend too much of an advantage to either team--no weather conditions, an artificial surface. Speed is speed for both teams. Advantage-push

Special Teams
As mentioned above--both teams have capable kickers, weather not a factor. The last time these teams met in Minnesota, the Panthers tried a goofy lateral from Chris Gamble on a punt return that went for a fumble, and eventually a Minnesota win. Don't look for that today. Hard to give an edge one way or the other. Truth be told, I haven't seen enough of the Vikings in return situations to offer a solid opinion on them, so....advantage-push

The Panthers have the edge here, given that they are running a team with confidence, while the Vikings will be facing the possibility of going 0-3 with 2 losses coming at home. Minnesota will be the desperate team in this one, so Carolina will have to be ready for that (with the Vikings trying things they might not normally try), but so far, what I have seen of the Panthers is that they will be. Advantage-Carolina

I'll go with Carolina to move to 3-0 by a final score of 24-13.

As for college football on Saturday, hats off to Tom O'Brien and NC State for pulling off the upset and beating ECU on Saturday. NC State proved that rivalry games mean something, especially when you go in short-handed with personnel, and simply "man up," and play hard. Probably could question some coaching decisions by ECU, but credit NC State for capitalizing on mistakes, and getting it done.

Tough break for UNC to fall short to Virginia Tech, but losing T.J. Yates didn't help matters,m especially with the way Tech responded to being down, and not giving up.

And, while not a thriller, props to Jim Grobe and Wake Forest for beating FSU for the 3rd straight year. 12-3 doesn't stir up thoughts of a well played game, but a road win in the ACC is big, no matter who it's against. Wake proved they can win ugly ones too, and that can be big for them down the road.

Enjoy the games, and if you are like me, you are recording the Ryder Cup matches, as the Americans lead 9-7 heading into singles matches today. USA needs 5.5 points to win the Cup, while Europe need 7 to retain it. Would have loved to see Boo Weekley go head-to-head with Lee Westwood, but that won't happen. Westy faces Ben Curtis, while Weekley drew Oliver Wilson. Don't be shocked to see the galleries get rowdy on Sunday, as having a chance to win back the Cup (a legit chance) should whip the fans into a frenzy. I love the Ryder Cup matches, because there are no sponsor dollars on display, no big prize money on the line. It's playing for love of country, or in this case, continent. It means so much, that these guys grind their guts out, just to contribute to their team. Great stuff.

Mike Solarte

Friday, September 19, 2008

Heading to the Weekend

It generally takes my brain 5 days to recover from a Panthers game, so I apologize for being absent from the blog this week. Plenty to get to in this little corner of the internet. Such as...


Big weekend of games within the state. Looking at them, individually, we start with NC State hosting ECU. NC State is a MASH unit right now. Seems like half of their roster is out for the season, or at least going to miss the ECU tilt. Normally, this game has a bowl-game feel to it, but it may not this time. ECU is, in my eyes, clearly the superior team, and they face those depleted Wolfpackers. I don't see NC State having much of a chance in this one, only because they are so banged up, however, rivalries are rivalries. Prediction: ECU by 14

UNC-Virginia Tech
The Hokies have rebounded from their opening loss to ECU, after removing the redshirt from QB Tyrod Taylor back on September 2nd. The Hokies then beat Furman 24-7, and then eeked out a 20-17 win over Georgia Tech. Taylor brings a different style to the Hokie offense (think Michael Vick without the negative press), and that could pose problems for Carolina. UNC, however, is feeling quite good after a solid road win 2 Thursday's ago against Rutgers. I like what Butch Davis and company have done so far this season, and when you factor in the expected rush of the Heels playing a homecoming game in the ACC opener, I like the Heels chances in this game. I would think Brandon Tate will be a big cause for concern for Frank Beamer, but he's not the only one that can give Tech trouble. Prediction: UNC by 4

Wake Forest-Florida State
The Seminoles have looked very good early this season, but then again, they have played the equivalent of the News 14 Flag Football team (perhaps worse) so far this season. They have outscored their first 2 opponents (Western Carolina and Chattanooga) 115-7 in 2 games. Hardly the stuff top 25 rankings are made of. Still, FSU is always athletic, and Bobby Bowden is still Bobby Bowden. Wake Forest has faced tougher teams in their early games (Baylor and Mississippi), so we may know more about what the Deacons have than the Noles. We'll find out more about Wake this weekend, with this being a roadie, but I still give Wake a punchers chance. They may be short a punch or two, and I'm going with the home team. Prediction: FSU by 8

Ryder Cup
Every 2 years, golf fans get to watch what should be, the ultimate in competition and pride. The Ryder Cup has been lacking in American pride for the past 6 years. The Europeans have punked the Americans, and won the cup 5 of the last 6 times these matches have been played. As I write this, the morning alternate shot matches are well underway, and I am seeing a difference in this American team. There is more of the fist-pumping, and high-fiving between the players, and that is a good thing. I have thought that Team USA didn't gear up for these matches like the Euros do, and hopefully, that will be the difference for the Americans to overcome a very strong team, and earn the 14.5 points needed to win the cup again.

Speaking of golf, if you missed Sports Night on Thursday (shame on you), Tim Baier cranked out a nice piece on Lorcan Morris. Morris is a local golfer trying to cut it in big time golf. Funding is his problem. His game is not. He has a handful of wins on mini-tours in the region, but is looking for some sponsor support so he can chase his dreams at the bigger levels. Lee Trevino once said that pressure is "playing a $50 Nassau game with only $10 in your pocket." That's Morris, right now. He's got the game, but needs the backing. You can see the story on Morris here, and if you would like to help him out (or know someone who can), just shoot me an e-mail through the station. I'll be glad to forward that on to him. Lorcan is a nice young man, and I am pulling for him, big time.

I'll bang out a Panthers-Vikings preview for Saturday later tonight. Steve Smith is back, and Adrian Peterson may be out. Could make for a 3-0 Panthers start. We'll break it all down for you as a primer for Sunday.

See you on Sports Night at 10, and the Discount Tire Friday Night Final at 11!

Mike Solarte

BIG UPS!!!! September 19th 2008

Once again it's time for me to show some love to athletes from across North Carolina that you may not have heard of.

NCrunners.com has released its it's third poll of the season ranking the top cross-country programs in the state.

Shouts out to Green Hope, Broughton and Chapel Hill high school taking first, second and third places respectively in the Boys 4-A poll.

While on the boys Independent level Durham Academy, Cary Academy, Providence Day, Forsyth Country Day, North Raleigh Christian Academy, Charlotte Country Day, Greensboro Day and both Fayetteville Academy and Fayetteville Christian were each ranked in the top ten.
The ladies of East Chapel Hill, Green Hope and Myers Park are tabbed as the top three 4-A teams in the state.

While the girls of Cardinal Gibbons and Bishop McGuinness are the tops teams in the 2-A and 1-A levels.

A big shot out to these kids, I have no clue how in the world yall do all of that running. But a definite BIG UPS for all your accomplishments. Keep up the good work the season is far from over!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Panthers-Bears Fallout

Better look up the number of your local cardiologist, Panther fans. Looks like it's going to be a long season. Not a bad one, just a long one.

2 completely different Panther teams against Chicago. The JV in the first half--the ones that couldn't keep from moving before the snap, couldn't line up properly on a great punt from Jason Baker. The Varsity in the 2nd half. Bruising runs from rookie Jonathan Stewart, solid play from the offensive line to move the pile, a defense that got mean and nasty when it mattered most.

Carolina willed themselves to victory on Sunday, while the Bears came apart at the seams. Chicago held a 14 point lead, when they did the unthinkable--the took a shot at a fiery quarterback who had scrambled and then made the usual QB slide to surrender the play. 2 Bears unloaded on Jake Delhomme, leaving the QB a little wobbly. Once he came to, he grabbed his headgear which he had taken off, and began unloading language that would have made a trucker blush. All of it directed at the Bears defense.

It reminded me of Rocky III. Apollo Creed is deceased, Balboa agrees to fight the mighty Russian, and is getting pummeled. Rocky's trainer says to Paulie, "he's getting killed." Paulie replies, "he's not getting killed, he's getting mad."

Same thing.

That shot on Delhomme (which wouldn't be a shock if the NFL throws some fines at Chicago for), woke the Panthers up. All of them. Offense, defense, and special teams. The o-line blocked harder. The defense pursued harder. They played with a passion and intensity that was absent in 2007. Not a coincidence that also missing in 2007, was Jake Delhomme.

This is a Panther team, that 2 weeks in, is 2-0, and both wins come against good teams, and without their best player on the field. Steve Smith's suspension is now over. he'll be a part of the Panthers again, as they prepare to travel to Minnesota this week. Indoor game, artificial surface, and the Vikings coming off of a tough 18-15 loss to Indianapolis, after holding a 15-0 lead on the Colts.

It's hard not getting excited about this team, so if you are fighting it, don't.

Just have your heart doctor on speed-dial before you give in.

Mike Solarte

Friday, September 12, 2008

Points of Interest on a Friday

In my last blog post, I said UNC had a legit shot at a nice road win at Rutgers, and I picked UNC to win by 6. I meant, POINTS, but they were trying to make it touchdowns. Hats off to the Heels for taking care of business on the road. Rutgers has been good in recent years, but last night, once Carolina got rolling, Rutgers looked lost, and completely out of sorts. Carolina did a nice job of bouncing back from a less than stellar performance against McNeese State--yes, they won, but against McNeese St., the score should look like their win over Rutgers. Good win to build from heading into next week against Virginia Tech.

OK, NFL matchup time...

Chicago v. Carolina, Sunday 1pm.

CHI offense v CAR defense

The Bears possess one somewhat legit weapon, in RB Matt Forte. I say "somewhat " because he has just 1 NFL game under his belt. Still, it was a solid game against Indianapolis last Sunday night. QB Kyle Orton doesn't frighten anyone. He is more known for his pictures on the internet of him holding near full bottles of liquor than for his QB skills. Granted, his skills as a game manager are quite good, but don't ask him to beat the opposition, because he can't do it. Carolina's prime objective is to slow/shut down Forte. If they can do that, Orton will try and find anyone in the open, but considering the Panthers speed at LB, and the way the secondary can cover a lesser opponent (San Diego had loads of offensive weapons, the Bears..not so much)... Advantage: Carolina

CAR offense v. CHI defense

In the opener with Indianapolis, the Bears looked like the Monsters of the Midway, from back in the day. Question is this: Is Chicago that good, or was Indy that bad? For the Bears being good argument: They were good. Got great pressure up front, bottled up running lanes, and made life very uncomfortable for Peyton Manning. That is what they are supposed to do.

Here is where we introduce the Indy being bad part. Manning didn't take a snap in live game action all pre-season as he recovered from knee surgery (removal of a bursa sac). He was rusty, and frankly looked like Eli Manning in his early days. The Colts also lost RB Joseph Addai to a head injury, and TE Dallas Clark to an injury as well. Taking out Clark and Addai is akin to taking out Ladanian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates from the Chargers lineup. Had LT and Gates not played Carolina last week, Dante Rosario would be a tight end, and the Panthers would have rolled San Diego.

In the end, it was a combo of good (but not great) Chicago D, and bad (but not atrocious) Indy offense. Carolina's offense looked good through much of the game with San Diego, but abandoned the run in the 3rd quarter in the name of balance. Forget that stuff, gang. Dance with the date that brung ya. If running it works, run it. Carolina has to try and pound the ball on Chicago's D on Sunday. This should be the best matchup on the field. Advantage: Push

Special Teams

Wow, this is fun. Devin Hester for Chicago is the best return man in the game. Period. Dangerous and a threat to score when he touches the ball. Carolina can not let him touch the ball. Rhys Lloyd has to boot it through the endzone every time, and Jason Baker has to kick it to the corners, or out of the endzone as well. Yes, Hester is THAT GOOD. Carolina's special teams coverage hasn't exactly set the world on fire, so play to the strength of Lloyd's leg, and Baker's ability. Otherwise, the Panthers will get burned. Carolina had Jonathan Stewart returning kickoffs, and Mark Jones on punt returns. Both are adequate, but they aren't Hester. Advantage: Push, but leans slightly towards Chicago.


Going into this game, I give the edge to Chicago. Carolina showed some fairly bad clock managing skills against the Chargers. Lovie Smith's biggest problem against the Colts was Hester trying to fake out an entire coverage team by returning a kick from 7 yards deep in his own endzone, and being tackled at the 3. Advantage: Bears


Carolina turned heads last week by beating SD, and they continue to make them spin by beating Chicago 27-13. A 2-0 start without their best player, Steve Smith, as he serves a 2-game suspension. For those that are interested, Smitty is keeping a blog of his own with Athletes United for Youth. You can see it by clicking here.

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Mid-week Musings

* The Carolina Panthers are gearing up for the Chicago Bears this weekend. We'll hear from them after practice Wednesday, and start looking ahead to an early season meeting between two teams that could (yes, it's early, but still), play a significant role in the NFC playoff picture. Reminder--no Steve Smith again this week, so expect another heavy dose of running the ball.

* Carolina Hurricanes unveiled their alternate 3rd jersey today--it looks quite nice. It will definitely be a purchase in the coming weeks. Canes open training camp in 10 days, and I am looking forward to hockey season in a big way.

photo courtesy Joe Ovies

* I'll have some ACC football thoughts in the days ahead, but I will say that UNC has a legit shot to pick up a nice road win Thursday at Rutgers. Not saying they will, but as in any game, it comes down to execution. I say Carolina by 6 points, which drives our Web Manager insane, as he is a Rutgers grad.

* Want to say a big thank you to the great staff at 850 the Buzz in Raleigh, for allowing me back to host my old radio show today. It was a lot of fun catching up with some of the old school listeners and doing something that I truly miss doing. Thanks to the management at News 14 Carolina for allowing me the chance to stroll down memory lane. It was a blast.

Mike Solarte

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Sunday Night Panthers Chatter

The Carolina Panthers put together a thriller in San Diego, culminating in a game-winning-touchdown-as-time-expired finish. It was the kind of game Panthers fans will remember for a long time (sort of like Jake Delhomme's debut against Jacksonville when he played the 2nd half, and led the Panthers to a late 4th quarter win).

Under the microscope:

Jake Delhomme: He provided this team what they missed so much last season-hope. When the game was in the balance, Delhomme stepped back into his comfortable shoes, and calmly led the Panthers back from the abyss. It's the thing Panthers fans have almost come to expect from the Louisiana gunslinger, and it showed. The offense didn't get rattled, didn't show signs of disbelief, or doubt. They knew the job ahead of them, and they simply went out and did it. That confidence comes from the guy wearing number 17.

The O-Line: The new look O-line dominated the Chargers in the first half, and then, inexplicably, they seemed to abandon the run in the 2nd half. Granted, Jeff Otah and Travelle Wharton were dinged up (we'll find out how severely on Monday), but still, the strength early on was pounding it on the ground. Still, Otah managed to get back in, and they were able to move the ball well.

The receivers: As Steve Smith watched the game at home, Muhsin Muhammad, D.J. Hackett (4th quarter fumble aside), Dante Rosario, and Dwayne Jarrett did a more-than-capable job of catching 23 passes for 247 yards. Rosario will get most of the run, since he had 7 catches for 96 yards, and the game winning TD, but don't overlook Jarrett's contribution. He had 2 grabs, but they were for a total of 36 yards--meaning both catches went for Panther first downs.

The kicking game: John Kasay is John Kasay. 4-for-4 on field goal attempts. Rhys Lloyd did his job quite well, with 6 kickoffs, 4 for touchbacks.

The defense: Hard to give them too much credit, as they allowed 3 touchdowns, but, holding Ladainian Tomlinson under 100 yards (he had 97), and limiting Philip Rivers to 217 yards through the air (with 68 of those coming on 2 plays) is getting some work done. No doubt, they will all say they have things they can improve on, but this was a good test for them, and they passed (if you must grade them, go with a "B").

Fans will question the 4th and goal play in the first quarter. I loved it. I love the fact that Head Coach John Fox looked his offense in the eye, and said "get me 6." I disagreed with the play call (why not bang in on the ground?), still, they went for it. A year ago, with the three-headed QB know as Davinnieatt Carraverdemoore, that would never have been a thought. This is a confident bunch, and they poured some more water on that seedling in San Diego on Sunday.

It is, after all is said and done, just 1 game, with 15 more to go. Panthers fans should do what the players do--enjoy this one for 48 hours, and then put it to bed. Chicago comes to Bank of America Stadium in 7 days (and they are beating Indianapolis as I write this). Test number 2 is up ahead in the distance.

Better get ready.

Mike Solarte

Peppers looking to bounce back

Julius Peppers is a 6-foot-7, 283-pound freak of an athlete who is faster than a speeding bullet—4.68 second 40-yard dash—and more powerful than a locomotive—56 all-time sacks tops in team history.  And if the Panthers hope to turn around their abysmal 2007 season, they will need Julius Peppers to be Julius Peppers again.

More magician than locomotive last season, Peppers started two

 fewer games, made 20 fewer tackles, and collected a whopping 10.5 fewer sacks, doing an all-around disappearing act for the length of the Panthers’ mediocre 7-9 season.

‘‘Going 8-8 and 7-9, that doesn’t cut it in this league,’’ quarterback Jake Delhomme said of the Panthers.  ‘‘If you don’t perform well, you’re looking to get run out extremely quick.’’

If the preseason is any indication though, the freak who grew from the ground up in Wilson, N.C. is back.  Peppers has embraced his move to the right side of the defensive line and has been a stud in the preseason, terrifying NFL coaches into trotting out sacrificial second-stringers.

Even though NFL teams actually stopped sending double-teams Peppers’ way in the final games of his pedestrian 2007 season, Peppers said he isn’t playing with a chip on his shoulder this year.

"Some people may feel like I should prove something, but I don't feel I've got anything to prove to anybody," Peppers said. "I feel like I'm the same dude I've always been for 10 years now playing football."

But that’s not exactly true.  Peppers has a lot to prove if this team wants to make a postseason run.  The Panther’s defensive roster looks fresher if not younger, with new faces replacing those names Panther fans knew for years, names like Rucker, Jenkins, and Morgan.

And Peppers also has a lot riding on this year in terms of contract money.  If he goes back to being in the NFL Defensive Player of the Year talks, he will get the money reserved for those game-changing players; if not, well it could cost him millions.

"I've got to focus on playing San Diego right now," Peppers said of Sunday’s season opener. "I can't really be focusing on contracts or what's going to be happening with contracts and what's going to happen after the season or during the season.

“I've got to focus on right now."

For the Panthers, they are focused on the “right now” too, and if Delhomme stays healthy, the upgraded receiving corps gives Steve Smith just a little help, and Julius Peppers plays anything like he did this preseason, the Panthers will be one scary team to face going down the stretch.

Wes Wilson

Friday, September 5, 2008

Another weekend of football

Another weekend of football means a lot of things to a lot of people. First and foremost, though, it means high school football tonight. Plenty of games around the state were shifted to Thursday night, due to tropical storm Hanna. The western half of the state (for the most part), stayed on course for Friday games. You will get to see highlights of all games covered )between Thursday and Friday) on the Discount Tire Friday Night Final tonight at 11pm, and if you miss it tonight, check out the replay at 11am on Saturday morning.

The colleges will take center stage on Saturday, and I would look for Duke to have their hands full with Northwestern. The Wildcats are coming off an opening week win over Syracuse (but Syracuse isn't all that good this year, again). Duke won their opener, and they will need the fans to show up again, and cheer the Blue Devils on hard. I'll make it 2 straight for David Cutcliffe's bunch.

NC State comes back home to face William & Mary. To the point, the Pack need to dominate and blow out W&M. They were embarrassed by South Carolina last week, who in turn, embarrassed themselves by losing to Vanderbilt last night. If the Pack wants to establish itself as a player within the ACC, they need to build their confidence, and a big win over W&M will help that. Pack win Saturday.

Wake Forest christens the new Deacon Tower as they host Mississippi. I love what Wake has this season. Solid at most positions, good at those that are not solid. Wake is not a national championship contender, but they are a legit BCS bowl team. This will be a good test for the Deacs, and I suspect they will win a close one with the home crowd excited to have their team home.

East Carolina will try to parlay the good feelings from their win over Virginia Tech as they face West Virginia. ECU showed me plenty in beating VT, but can they stop West Virginia? My head says no--that the Pirates will have the inevitable letdown after a big win. My gut says the Pirates will get an early lead, and then play passionately to hold off WVU. I'm gonna go with my gut. The Pirates, as Head Coach Skip Holtz said last Saturday, are led by a group of players that is tired of losing. We'll see how Hanna affects this game.

At long last Sunday will arrive, and the NFL kicks off around the country, not just New York (as we saw the Giants beat Washington 16-7). Carolina opens with San Diego. It feels like the Panthers were in Spartanburg for training camp just last week. Instead, they are 4 exhibition games in, and ready to take on the AFC runner-up from last season.

The breakdown:

CAR offense v. SD defense

The Panthers offense underwent more than a makeover--it was a face lift. Gone are offensive linemen Mike Wahle, and Justin Hartwig, and in a Jeff Otah (draft), Keydrick Vincent (FA), and Ryan Kalil (2nd year player who was behind Hartwig ate center). The o-line went from smaller and athletic to big earth-movers. They will have to establish themselves early in the game, but may some issues with the Chargers 3-4 defense. Up front, it's Igor Olshansky Jamal Williams and Luis Castillo, and the linebackers are led by Shawne Merriman. Merriman is on a bad left knee (reportedly with 2 torn ligaments in that knee). Don't be surprised if the Chargers load up against the run with Steve Smithy out of the lineup for the first 2 weeks of the season. Carolina's O-line, and WR's will need to do a solid job of blocking to make space for DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. If Carolina needs to throw, Jake Delhomme will need big days from Muhsin Muhammad, D.J. Hackett, and Dwayne Jarrett to be successful. From what I saw of the Panthers in the pre-season, I give them the edge, as long as they establish to ground attack.

CAR defense v. SD offense:

Wow, what an opener. The Panthers first teamers allowed just 3 points in the pre-season (a field goal to Indianapolis, on their 3rd drive of the game). San Diego is loaded with weapons. Ladainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates, Chris Chambers, Vincent Jackson, and it all starts with QB Philip Rivers. Rivers is coming off of knee surgery, LT hasn't played a snap in the pre-season. There are some questions about the health of Gates. If you are a Panther fan, here's the rub. Anticipate all being 100 percent, and if they aren't, the Panthers then have the edge. Even if they are 100 percent healthy, their lack of work as a unit in the pre-season could produces some early signs of rust. Carolina needs to take advantage of that to have a chance. I'll give the edge to the Chargers, but it's only a small one, considering all factors.

Special Teams:

The Chargers have Nate Kaeding, one of the more reliable kickers in the league, while the Panthers have John Kasay. This is a wash. Rhys Lloyd should make a difference on kickoffs, provided he continues booming kicks into the end zone. Returners could find the Chargers with the advantage, as Mark Jones has signed with Carolina this week to handle those return duties. The Chargers will send veteran Darren Sproles back there. Jones has to learn personnel, and Panther schemes on returns, but he's also a 4 year vet. Continuity gives San Diego the edge here.


I have never been a fan of Norv Turner, but you can't argue with the results (at least with the Chargers). To me this is a push.

I am taking Carolina in this one, but don't count on this game being a blowout. If it is, that means the Panthers are being run out of the building, and will be looking for their flight home.

Enjoy the games!

Mike Solarte