Friday, October 31, 2008

The View from the Press Box-Friday

Happy Halloween to all of you out there in Blogville. Hope you find all the treats you like in your pumpkin tonight. Here's a few nuggets heading into the weekend.

1-The Philadelphia Phillies are baseball's champions, and I salute them. Well done. Also a tip of the cap to the Tampa Bay Rays, who won 97 regular season games, but couldn't find the magic (or the offense) against the Phils. While the Phils and Rays made for a "new faces" Series, it didn't ultimately matter, because the games began so late, and thus ended even later.

I know it's a tired old argument, but seriously, a first pitch for a baseball game after 8:30pm? Baseball is a slow game on its own, then add in those meaty commercial breaks between half-innings, and you have the ingredients for a broadcast that will run (generously) 3.5 hours. Do the math. That game is over after midnight.

The number of kids playing baseball is dwindling. The same kids that were playing baseball have moved on to other sports: basketball, football, golf, etc. Why? Well, for starters, they can watch the pros play it while they are awake. There are NBA games that start at 7. Kids can watch them, or even afternoon college games on weekends. Same with golf, football. Watchable while the sun is up.

The bigger joke of the Series was the fact game 5 took 3 days to play, due to weather. Game 5 began after 8:30. If they had begun the game at, say 7:30, game 5 would have completed (likely) on Monday night. Commissioner Bud Selig made a comment in the aftermath, saying something like "if I had any say in the matter...." WHAT? YOU ARE THE COMMISSIONER OF BASEBALL!!!! You are supposed to have ultimate power. Truth is, Selig is a shill for the owners, and only has their interests in mind. The guy is still part of the owners, even though the Brewers are listed as his daughter's team (right).

I love baseball, grew up playing it as a kid. I hate the state the game is in. There has to be a better way to return the national pastime to relevance. That won't happen under Selig's watch.

2-The Panthers are off until Monday, and won't really practice again until next Wednesday. 6-2 at the bye week, enjoying Halloween and the time away. I have to tell ya, I said in my last post this team is legit, and I still believe that. they may be more than that. Here's their remaining 8 games:
@ Oakland
v. Detroit
@ Atlanta
@ Green Bay
v. Tampa Bay (Monday Night)
v. Denver
@ NY Giants
@ New Orleans

Looking at those opponents, I see 3 legitimately tough games. Home with Tampa, and the final 2 on the road. The other 5 are quite winnable. I'm not saying it will be a cakewalk, as we all know it won't be. The Panthers have never done things the easy way, however, OAK & DET are wins, ATL will be tough, but should be a win. GB will be a challenge, but the Panthers have more weapons, and frankly have a better unit. TB will be a dynamite game, DEN has some offense, but can't stop Independence, the Giants are legit, and NO will be better at home by season's end. If it all shakes out, the Panthers could find themselves home for the holidays--but still working. Could be a couple home playoff games in their future, and how cool would an NFC Championship game at B of A Stadium be? If you dream it, it could come.

3-Mallard Creek High School's punishment is a harsh one, and personally, I hope they win the appeal. I don't know all the particulars, but Mallard Creek is such a young school, I find it hard to believe they willingly and knowingly committed an infraction, having one of their players breaking the 8 semester rule.

I never knew such a rule existed. Apparently, the player in question played in another state, then went to another NC school, before landing at Mallard Creek. Why a kid moves around so much--I don't know. Frankly, I don't care. If he was eligible in the district he lived, and played at that school, so be it. This one is a tough pill for the Mavericks to swallow, as they hadn't lost a game, and now they are 1-9, having had to forfeit 9 of their 10 wins. I do hope they win their appeal, although I know such things are long shots.

4-The Bobcats opened their season in impressive fashion, trailing by 17 at the half to Cleveland, cutting the deficit to 5 points, before allowing the Cavs to slam the door on them, 96-79. Yes, Larry Brown is in his first year with the Bobcats, and yes the Bobcats have deficiencies all over the court. I was one of the folks that got a full cup of the kool-aid when Brown was hired, but nothing I have seen from the Bobcats so far leads me to believe they will contend for a playoff spot this year in the NBA East. A rather sobering thought one game into the schedule, huh? I would love for them to prove me wrong, but until they prove they can hit shots, and defend, they will be another pretender, rather than a contender.

That's all for now, have a great weekend, and remember to brush those teeth after your Halloween haul!

Mike Solarte

Monday, October 27, 2008

Something funny happened on the way to 6-2...

The Carolina Panthers are legit.

There, I've said it.

8 weeks into the NFL season, the Panthers have shown themselves to be a better than average football team. They are NOT the best team in the league, but they are in the conversation. You have to look at them and put them in the mix of teams like the Giants, Steelers, Tampa Bay, and maybe Dallas. Dallas did beat Tampa, but something about the Cowboys strikes me as "car-wreck waiting to happen."

Carolina has 2 losses, both on the road, to Minnesota and Tampa. The loss to the Vikings was based on one play--the sack, fumble, recovery for TD just before the half. That gave Minnesota all the momentum, and they rolled in the 2nd half. The loss to the Bucs was horrifying--Carolina was nowhere near the word "good" that day.

In their 6 wins, they have come from behind in 3 of them (San Diego, Chicago, and Arizona), and were dominant against Atlanta, New Orleans and Kansas City. The nay-sayers will look at their 6 wins and say there is maybe 1 playoff team in the bunch (that being the Cardinals who could win the NFC West by default). I say, this is a Panther team that wins games, no matter the opponent.

Couple things from Sunday's game:

Steve Smith is ultra-motivated. His play has become the benchmark for this team. When he is going, the Panthers are going. I'm not talking about his big plays, I mean his quick hits where he throws out the stiff-arm and scoops up 3-5 more yards. He is a competitor, and he LOVES to play. Such a joy to watch.

Props to the Panther defense, but my question is this--why were the DB's playing off the receivers at the line? It's no wonder Kurt Warner had a big day (381 yards passing), when he was able to hit his targets when the corners are playing 7 yards off at the snap. Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin are very good receivers--no need to give them so much cushion. I guess it was part of the philosophy of not giving up anything down the field, but that, to me, was too much respect.

I have a request for all you Panther fans that were at the game Sunday, and will go in the future. When the score is tight, like it was Sunday (24-23 in the 4th quarter), PLEASE DO NOT START THE WAVE!!!! Are you kidding me? Your team is in a dogfight, and you guys are doing the stinking wave? Arguably the most ridiculous fan thing ever invented. 1 point game. 4th quarter. Rather than get up when it's your turn to "keep the wave a-rollin'," get up and pay attention to the game! When I see Charlotte rated as a poor sports city by publications, I point to these exact instances as to why.

You have until November 16th to get that wave thing out of your system. Please, for nothing more than my personal sanity, exorcise that demon. Thanks.

You friend,
Mike Solarte

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The weekend is underway

Saturday morning has arrived, college games will begin in about an hour, and then the beauty that is week 8 in the NFL commences on Sunday. A break down of the Panthers and Cardinals for your reading pleasure.

They are no longer the joke of the NFL (that title belongs to the Detroit Lions), as they sit 4-2 and lead the NFC West. Mind you, leading the NFC West (with Seattle, San Francisco and St. Louis) is akin to being Valedictorian of Summer School, but hey, first place is still first place. The Cards have gotten Kurt Warner to look like he did back in his Rams days (with maybe as much receiver talent), but they don't have that Marshall Faulk runner. Arizona will want to throw it all day long, but Carolina must, at least at first, pay attention to the Cards desires to run it occasionally. The Panther defense has been quit good against the run so far, and I would imagine that will continue Sunday. The pressure this week falls on the Panthers secondary. Larry Fitzgerald is a monster, and Anquan Boldin will be back for the first time since September 28th. Boldin will likely be back in a limited role, but he'll be on the field, which makes him very dangerous.

Defensively, the Cardinals are middle of the road. 14th overall, 11th against the run, 20th against the pass. By the numbers, Carolina should have success throwing it more than running it. Don't look for that balance to take place. Carolina will try to pound the ball on the ground, in spite of missing Jeff Otah and Ryan Kalil for the 3rd straight game. Jeremy Bridges and Geoff Hangartner will likely get the starting nods at RG and C respectively (barring a miracle healing by Otah and Kalil in the next 36 hours). The offensive line has had their starting 5 o-linemen on the field for some ridiculously low number (I want to say it is 41, but don't hold me to that) this season. Yet they are 5-2, with a running game that has been slightly better than average (against the league numbers). The Panthers will face a young Arizona secondary that is active and can make plays. Jake Delhomme has done a nice job of managing the football, and not making overly dangerous throws. Expect more of that this weekend.

This is an all important week for the Panthers. A win over Arizona gets them to 6-2 on the season, and they head into their bye week (a perfect time--squarely in the middle of the schedule). In the time I have covered this team, the Panthers are 4-2 in the game before the bye week, and 3-3 in the game after the bye week. Twice (in 2003 and 2005) did the Panthers win both games, and once (2002) they lost both games. What are the connections? 2003 the Panthers went to the Super Bowl and in 2005, they went to the NFC Championship game (and were so banged up against Seattle, they had little chance). Not that the bye week is all that important in the standings--but in the minds of the players, winning before the bye gives them a good week mentally away from the game.

I like Carolina's chances this week, and I know it sounds homer-ish, but seriously, the Panthers are perhaps one of the best kept secrets in the NFL. At 5-2, very few national media types are even thinking of the Panthers, for a number of reasons. The Cowboys are imploding, Tom Brady has an infected leg, there is talk of Peyton Manning's formerly infected leg, a report that 10-15 (or more) players failed substance tests, Kellen Winslow Jr. being suspended by the Browns, and so on. So many off the field issues are preventing folks from talking football.

That likely suits the Panthers just fine. To am man, they would likely say that if no on noticed them until Super Bowl Sunday, that would be quite alright.

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Mid-Week Mental Floss

- College hoop season is approaching like a runaway freight train. It'll be here before you know it, and I stumbled upon this little nugget from the desert, regarding Arizona State hoops.

It's basically the affirmation of an opinion I held when Herb Sendek was Head Coach at NC State. Give it a read. The author nails it. Herb is a class guy, runs a clean program, and wins games. He fields competitive teams. NC State was foolish to run him out of Raleigh. Sidney Lowe has been a nice replacement, but he has struggled at times (and in fairness, so did Sendek). However, I would think that had Sendek stayed, the Wolfpack would be farther along than they are. I'm not dogging Lowe. He has done a very commendable job, and is still early enough in his contract (in my view), that he deserves more time to field a top tier team. Will he? Time will tell, but the Pack might just be closer (if not there already) with Herbie at the helm. Sendek was shown the door because he didn't beat the right teams often enough. Had Herb never lost to UNC and Duke, he'd still be in the Triangle.

-Speaking of Arizona, the Panthers host the Cardinals this Sunday at the big ATM. At the start of the season, there likely weren't many people that thought this would be a fairly large game for both teams. Truth is, it is big for both. Carolina will try and go 6-2 heading into their bye week, and keep pace with (or even leave behind), Tampa Bay. We'll chat with the Panthers on Wednesday getting their thoughts on the match-up, but quick hits on it:

1-Anquan Boldin could play this weekend. He's been out since late September after a vicious hit suffered against the Jets.
2-Kurt Warner continues to sip from the Fountain of Middle Age. Warner has been very good, guiding the birds offense (and it's mostly an air attack with Boldin, and Larry Fitzgerald as his normal primary targets).
3-The Cards are coming off their bye week, and should be well rested. They went into the bye with a win over Dallas (just at the start of the Cowboys meltdown).

Much more on this for you on Sports Night at 10.

-Bobcats lost another one, his time to the LA Lakers. 0-7 are Larry Brown's kittens, and just one more fake game before they actually start to count. The Lakers again on Thursday. I repeat the mantra-"Exhibition anything is meaningless," but you have to think the losses are weighing on the players minds. Beat writer Rick Bonnell at the Observer had a good line about the Bobcats so far, trying too hard to impress the new boss. At some point, the REAL Bobcats have to show up (the ones that played hard, with reckless abandon, gave effort and didn't overthink things), and when they do, under Brown's guidance, they should be fine. You can't fault the players for over-thinking things. Brown's system demands comprehension of what hes trying to accomplish. He's thrown the playbook at them, and has been on them since day 1. It's a lot to absorb, I am sure.

-App State and East Carolina will face each other in football to start the 2009 season. That's awesome. First meeting between the schools since 1979 (maybe both will be allowed turn back the clock uniforms, huh?), but certainly both programs are in much better places. The 'Neers are 3-time national champs (perhaps 4 when they face the Bucs), ECU is enjoying a resurgence under Skip Holtz. That is a game I may actually try and scoot to Greenville to see. Props to both schools for making this happen, and no question Dowdy Ficklen will be rocking that day.

-World Series begins tonight. Scott Kazmir against Cole Hamels (Rays v. Phillies). This is a great series for baseball. It's bad for TV, but great for the game. Young, vibrant talent for both teams, Rays skipper Joe Maddon wearing the mohawk hair cut (and he's not a young guy by the way), some former Durham Bulls in the Rays lineup (Evan Longoria for one). All that good mojo in Tampa won't amount to much, I'm afraid. I love the way the Phillies have played in the post-season. They have gotten big at bats when needed, their pitching has been good, and besides, I can't stand Tampa for ending the season of the 2005 World Series Champion Chicago White Sox. No, I'm not over it.

Prediction: Phillies in 6.

Mike Solarte

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A late night hit (or early morning depending on your read time)

Well, a game I thought would be close wasn't close at all. Congrats to the Panthers for truly proving me wrong about the outcome. Yes, I predicted a 24-21 Carolina win. The 30-7 shelling they handed the Saints was not what I expected.

I thought the Panthers would be able to run the ball effectively, which they did (145 total on 37 carries). What I didn't anticipate was the passing game being so darn good. Jake Delhomme was money, as were Steve Smith, Muhsin Muhammad, and Dwayne Jarrett. Smitty was nails, making big catches, Moose snaring just about anything that was catchable, and Jarrett, while not big in numbers, made a nice catch on a 3rd down conversion to keep a drive going.

The O-line deserves a ton of credit--Jake sacked just once in the game, and the work opening gaps for DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. There was one noticeable absence in this game from the O-Line perspective--dumb penalties. False starts were a non-factor. In fact, penalties were few and far between for both teams. Not that penalties weren't committed--they were, they just weren't called. A group of us sideline photographers chat throughout the game, and at one point we counted (without the benefit of replay) 3 holding penalties that should have been flagged on the New Orleans offensive line. If you watched the game at home, you probably saw more. (Sorry about the rant there). Anyway, props to the Panthers offensively for getting things done.

Defensively, wow. Flying to the football, good pressure on Drew Brees, and for the most part, they did a good job of keeping the Saints from getting too frisky with the ball. Reggie Bush is amazing (he had 55 yards on 5 carries, before injuring his knee with what has been reported as a torn meniscus), but the Panther special teams answered the call on Sunday. Proof positive was the play made by Na'il Diggs in punt coverage, doing his Superman imitation with his flying tackle of Bush. All that was missing was a cape. Julius Peppers has officially returned. This is the kind of disruptive force Panther fans have known throughout his career. He's playing with reckless abandon, and making life miserable for the opposition. He recorded a sack, pass break-up, and a forced fumble...all in the first half. He's a beast, and he's playing like his old self, a nice bonus through 7 games of the season.

Hard to believe that Carolina is nearly halfway through the season, but at 5-2, I guess time sure flies when you are having fun!

Not all is well, though. The secondary will likely spend some additional time in front of the JUGGS machine in practice this week. I can't say for sure, but the DB's may have had more drops than the receiving corps. And don't think for a second the receivers will let them slide on that little nugget, as they head into this week's meeting with Arizona.

Other notes on this (now) Sunday morning:
Credit Tampa Bay for beating Seattle Sunday night, but shame on them for basically being an embarrassment. Nice way to honor Mike Alstott with his induction into the Ring of Honor (or whatever they call it there), but if you are going to do that, the least you can do is spell his name correctly on the framed jerseys you gave him! He was given a large frame containing 2 #40 jerseys for his time with the Bucs. The dark red one they now wear, and the orange one the team used to wear (which I personally love, by the way). The red jersey had the name right, the orange was wrong. A-L-S-O-T-T. C'mon people, even this blog has a spellcheck feature. Travesty. Utter travesty.

Another tip of the cap to the Tampa Bay Rays for winning the American League pennant, first in team history. And credit the Boston Red Sox for making it a series when all was thought to be lost. Great drama. Hard to pick against the Rays going into the Fall Classic, but I am going to, but only because of my blind loyalty to my beloved Chicago White Sox, 2005 World Series champs. Phillies in 6.

Oh, and can we ditch the swim goggles for the locker-room celebrations? You guys look foolish.

Mike Solarte

Heading out for the Panthers and Saints

Couple quick notes as I head out to the big ATM on Mint Street:

New Orleans getting back Marques Colston and Jeremy Shockey is not a good thing for the Panthers. The Saints have gotten by at 3-3 without these two, and their return ads weapons to Drew Brees. While both are going to get their opportunities, the addition shouldn't be enough to decide the game. You would have to figure on both having a certain degree of rust. Shockey is a better pass catcher, than blocker in my opinion. Task for the Panther defense will be to keep them in check as best they can. The home run threat is still Reggie Bush, and he remains priority one, but adding Colston and Shockey means the defense has more to watch out for.

Carolina's rushing attack facing the 14th ranked defense against the run. Problem there is they Panthers will go in (likely, as I haven't heard officially), without Jeff Otah and Ryan Kalil. Geoff Hangartner and Jeremy Bridges have done good work in their absence, and will have to do more of the same. In this "Fox Ball" offense (run, run, run), getting yards on the ground is imperative. I do think there will be added incentive for the Panthers to move it on the ground this week, considering their 40 yards on the ground against Tampa Bay last weekend. The Panthers can not win without a solid ground game, so if the Panthers can move it via the rush, they give themselves a great chance to win.

Reggie Bush. Not only is he the home run threat on offense, but on special teams as well. He has run back punts better than anyone else in the league this season, going nearly 27 yards per return. That's a bad sign, considering the Panthers have trouble in punt coverage. I don't foresee New Orleans going after Jason Baker as other teams have--they have a better chance of scoring by setting up a return. Baker needs booming kicks that have some enormous hangtime in order to keep Bush from taking it to the house.

Overall, this game will come down to how badly the Panthers want to win it. To me, the Panthers are clearly the better overall team, it's a matter of them showing up to get it done. I think they will, but as mentioned before, you may need to keep your cardiologist's phone number handy.

Prediction: Carolina 24 Saints 21

Make sure you check out Coach Fox's post game comments live on news 14 about 10 minutes after the game ends!

Mike Solarte

Monday, October 13, 2008

Monday, the Day After

If you're a Panthers fan, you can laugh or cry, so you may as well laugh. The Panthers got smoked Sunday in Tampa Bay, and now there's a 3-way tie for the lead in the NFC South. Time to panic? Well, no, but it IS time to be concerned about the Panthers and special teams play.

In recent years, the Panthers punt and kick returns have been abysmal. For example:

The Panthers haven't returned a kickoff for a touchdown since 2003, when Rod Smart (He Hate Me) did it against New Orleans. The last regular season Panther punt return for a score came in 2003. That was Steve Smith against the New York Giants. Opponents returned a punt against Carolina for a TD last season in Green Bay. The last kickoff taken to the house was by Tim Dwight in 1998. Basically, the Panthers can tackle people on kicks fairly well, but haven't blocked them up to get those game changing scores.

The flipside of the special teams play is punt blocks. I've been with News 14 since 2002, and I don't think the Panthers have had 3 blocked punts since I arrived here. They've had 3 blocked this season. Prior to 2008, the last time the Panthers had one blocked was 2006, by Pittsburgh Steeler James Harrison. 2006.

Monday, Head Coach John Fox addressed the punt blocks, by saying it was a communication problem, and he would not name the names of the guys who goofed it. That's fine. Ultimately, something has to give with this team and this portion of the kicking game. Punter Jason Baker is responsible for one of the 3 blocks. He dropped the snap. First time I have ever seen him do that, so I am ok with a guy being human. There are 2 other kicks that need to be accounted for, and incidentally, those 2 are the ones that were blocked and resulted in touchdowns for the opposition.

Great teams don't have recurring problems like this. They just don't. Full marks to Tampa Bay for running the Panthers into the ground. They played well, and forced Carolina to play poorly. The Panthers want to be among the NFL's elite, but they won't get there until they clean up the little things that make them give points away. Elite teams simply don't do that.

More on the Panthers as the week moves along. New Orleans comes to Charlotte this weekend, and Carolina needs to be ready, or they go from a tie for first, to likely last in the NFC South.

Weighing in on college football, the UNC Tar Heels suffered a damaging blow, as Brandon Tate is out for the season with a knee injury. Can Carolina adsorb this one, and still win? I think so, but that means a guy like Hakeem Nicks may be asked to do more.

Clemson gassed Tommy Bowden on Monday....errrr...Bowden stepped down (whatever). 10 years, 75 wins, 8 bowl appearances. Seriously?

No, before the Clemson faithful start calling me names, let me say this: I get the notion of wanting your team to be a top 5 team in the polls, and playing for national championships. The last Clemson national title came WAY before the BCS (another joke) was concocted. It came when the final poll determined it, and not the mess we have today.

Let's also keep in mind, the ACC is not the football conference everyone (including Clemson fans) wants it to be. The best ACC team is maybe middle of the pack in the SEC. Basically, being dominant in the ACC is akin to being valedictorian of summer school. Just not a lot of respect that goes with it.

If the program keeps winning, keeps going to bowl games, keeps getting on TV, and keeps out of the papers for rules violations and the like, the program continues to be profitable--meaning more money comes in than goes out. Sorry, guys, but in the end, it's about the money. The fact that Bowden is gone after 10 years of success (you determine its level), tells me that Clemson still feels that they should be a national title contender. Fact is, that train left the station long ago, and that is not Clemson's fault. It's simply the way it is.

Mike Solarte

Friday, October 10, 2008

Working for the weekend

Who am I kidding, there's no such thing as a weekend in the fall! Surfing the landscape for what is on tap beginning on Friday:

The Discount Tire Friday Night Final! Loads of high school football action from across the state, with plenty of highlights and scores from Charlotte to the Coast. If you haven't watched it, I question your sanity. Ok, I'm kidding. If you are a fan of high school football, this show is for you. It all starts at 11pm. Of course, your normal 10pm Sports Night is on track as well. It's opening night for the Carolina Hurricanes, we'll have Panthers, NASCAR activities from Lowe's Motor Speedway, a look around the A-C-C, and much more. Friday's are a bear, but we knock it out with relative ease. Operative word--relative.

In addition to a ton of college football, it's race day at the speedway. The Bank of America 500 goes green at the track. Sports Night is live from the speedway following the race with highlights, post-race reaction and analysis.

Leading into Saturday's race, the big story is the garage shoving match between Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards. I didn't see it, but after hearing witnesses talk about it, I am trying to determine who is at fault. Harvick turned to remove himself from the situation, and (according to witnesses), Edwards grabbed Harvick and spun him around. It all stems from Harvick's post-crash comments during Sunday's race at Talladega. Harvick called Edwards a "pansy" during the interview, to which Edwards left a facetious "thank you " note for Harvick.

Should Edwards have been upset about what Harvick said? Maybe. Should he have grabbed Harvick Thursday in the garage? No. Edwards caused the wreck, and he has admitted as much. Sure, go talk to Harvick about popping off on TV, but talk it out. Grabbing him makes for great headlines, but it makes you look like an idiot, especially when he intentionally turned away to avoid a physical confrontation. Should be interesting to see how these 2 behave during Saturday's race.

Sunday, it's NFL time. Panthers visit Tampa Bay. Sounds like the Panthers are getting healthy again. Jeff Otah and Jordan Gross practiced on Thursday. Getting them back will help against a tough opponent. Ryan Kalil may not go, which means Geoff Hangartner would start at center. Dwayne Jarrett is just about a lock to play this week with D.J. Hackett's knee banged up. Would be nice for him to have a solid contribution. I like the way this one is shaping up for Carolina, but this is a rivalry game--one that both sides agree is the most intense for their respective team. The games are always a battle, but generally respectful. They'll try to knock each other's teeth out for 4 quarters, and then will look the other in the eye as they shake hands afterwards. I love games like that. Should be a dandy. Pick: Carolina 27-Tampa 21

That's all I have for now. Have a great weekend!

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Looking ahead to Thursday

1-Horrifying debut for the Bobcats under Larry Brown. Dusted by 30+ at Orlando. I will stand by my mantra of "exhibition anything is meaningless," but come on, guys. Either Orlando will win the East, or the Bobcats have regressed. I'll go right in the middle of all that. Orlando is better, and Charlotte isn't that bad. 7 more fake one's before it kicks off against Cleveland. Let's hope it gets better, and not worse.

2-Speedweek will kick off at Lowe's Motor Speedway on Thursday, however, it appears Mother Nature isn't cooperating. If the forecast holds (and this is one of the rare times I actually root against the Weather on the One's Gang), qualifying is looking more like a set the field on points day, rather than a speed day. We'll see, but Sports Night will be live at the track Thursday night for all the days happenings. Rain or shine.

3-Panthers may be minus some offensive linemen this week against Tampa Bay. Injuries kept OT's Jeff Otah and Jordan Gross, along with C Ryan Kalil on the sidelines during Wednesday's practice. It's a situation we'll watch thru the week, and if nothing improves, it will likely be the same 5 that finished the game against Kansas City starting against Tampa Bay. From left tackle to right: Frank Omiyale, Travelle Wharton, Geoff Hangartner, Keydrick Vincent and Jeremy Bridges. On Monday, Head Coach John Fox praised that unit, but cautioned there were things they needed to improve on. Going into Tampa, that group has to be as perfect as they can. The Bucs are light years better than Kansas City.

Also looks like Dwayne Jarrett will get a jersey this week. D.J. Hackett has a knee injury, and it could be something that keeps him sidelined for a couple weeks (although the Panthers won't declare his status until later in the week). Jarrett has worked hard in practice , earning the "Scout Team Player of the Week," award from the team last week. Now, he'll (likely) get the chance to be in the gameplan, something which hasn't happened since week 2, the final week of the Steve Smith suspension.

And (to steal a phrase from my pal Jason Spells), BIG UPS to the Panthers for signing WR Kenneth Moore. The former Butler H.S. Bulldog, turned Wake Forest Demon Deacon gets that rare chance to play bigtime football in his native city. Moore is a nice young man, and a solid player (he was the MVP of the 2007 Meineke Car Care Bowl at Bank of America Stadium last December). Here's to what I hope is a long, and successful stay with the Panthers for Kenny.

That's about all for now. I'll see you from the track, and I certainly hope to be dry!

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Couple items on a Tuesday

1- Congrats to Garinger High School for snapping a football losing streak that dates back to October 11, 2002. True, they were credited with wins when schools were deemed ineligible (after the fact), still, I would guess every player and coach since that Oct. 11 win over Myers Park would have preferred their emotions last night over the, "hey, you guys didn't go winless last season--here's 4 forfeits." The Wildcats beat West Mecklenburg 31-12, after trailing 12-0 at the half.

2-The Charlotte Bobcats wrap up their Wilmington trip and head off to Orlando to begin the pre-season this week. The Bobcats seemed to have a productive camp at UNC-Wilmington, and now it's time to see if Larry Brown's vision for this team will take shape over the course of the season. I certainly hope so, as it would make the post-NFL season a bit more fun if the Bobcats are actually competitive, and contending for a playoff spot.

3-Carolina Panthers taking Tuesday off, and get back to practice on Wednesday. Cats enjoying the view atop the NFC South a bit more, thanks to Minnesota's Monday Night Football win over New Orleans. The Vikings should send a fruit basket to Martin Grammatica. The former all-world kicker for Tampa Bay, is now nothing more than an after thought. He hit 2 FG's, one from 35 (one he should always make), and then pounded on through from beyond 50 yards (52 I believe), but then snapped one left from 45 yards that would have given the Saints the win (or at least the lead) in the final 2 minutes. Grammatica hasn't been the same since the Panthers basically punked him while with the Bucs. Think back to the 2003 season, when the Panthers won a tight game, thanks to a blocked extra point. Seems after that, he was never the consistent kicker he was when he first started in the NFL.

4-NASCAR comes back to Lowe's Motor Speedway this week for the Bank of America 500 on Saturday night. I love race weeks. Sure, it's a grind, but the end result is very satisfying (in terms of what we put out on TV). We have a great crew lined up, and we'll have all the race activity for you on Sports Night, live from the track on Thursday after qualifying, and then live at the track immediately following the race on Saturday night. We'll be out of the loop on the Nationwide Series race on Friday, due to high school football coverage and the Discount Tire Friday Night Final.

5-It is with a mixture of sadness and joy that I bid farewell to my personal interest in baseball for the season. My guys, the Chicago White Sox, were shown the door on Monday by the Tampa Bay Rays in game 4 of the ALDS. It was fitting that the Chicago crowd was dressed, primarily, in black. They were ready for the season funeral that took place in front of them. I give full marks to the Rays for winning (through gritted teeth), and look forward to the potential changes the Sox make this off-season. Their bats failed them at the worst possible time. It's one thing to lead the majors in home runs during the regular season. When the lumber goes quiet in the playoffs, you find yourself watching, rather than playing. *Sigh*

Couple Sports Night notes for this week: Wednesday, I'll visit with driver Jeff Gordon, to talk about his foundation and go-kart racing, plus Jim Connors will visit with Carolina Hurricanes winger Scott Walker in studio. Lots of great stuff happening at 10pm, so don't be late!

Mike Solarte

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Panthers-Chiefs Fallout

If you liked watching the Carolina Panthers beat an opponent into submission, then Sunday was for you.

Carolina, for the first time since 2006, faced a lesser opponent, and dominated them. You would have to go back to the home game with St. Louis, when Carolina blanked the Rams 15-0. Even in that game, Carolina wasn't as good as they were against KC.

The Panther offense worked efficiently, in spite of a slow down in the 3rd quarter. DeAngelo Williams had a nice break out game (and now, hopefully people will stop questioning if Jonathan Stewart should start--does it really matter?). Jake Delhomme was given good protection by a patchwork offensive line (nice work from Frank Omiyale and Jeremy Bridges replacing Jordan Gross and Jeff Otah who were down with injuries). Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad were very good as well.

And that is just half the story.

The Panther defense was superb. Loads of pressure on Damon Huard, locking up receivers, good push by the D-line, the linebackers were everywhere. Oh, and this little nugget. Larry Johnson. 7 carries, 2 yards. It was a performance that deserved the shutout they pitched.

More than the on-field performances, though, was the attitude. The Panthers showed they had a killer instinct against the Chiefs (not hard to do considering KC was about as bad as they could be). Still, the Panthers have shown the knack of playing to the level of the competition. Playing down to bad teams, and rising up to meet good ones. Sunday, Carolina showed themselves to be the dominant team, and never let KC up for air. That is the kind of game the Panthers should play all the time.

Again, KC is horrendous, but still, Carolina took one of the elite runners in the game, and didn't just shut him down. They turned him off. That's the 5th straight elite back the Panthers have faced, and the 5th one they held under 100 yards. Plus they got the 3 takeaways (2 INT's and the fumble recovery). This is a defense that is flat out nasty.

So what does that get them? Well, a 4-1 record, and a date with Tampa Bay on the road next week. The Bucs lost to Denver, so Carolina owns a lead in the NFC South, and a favorable schedule after the Bucs. They will have home games with New Orleans, and Arizona, hit the bye week, then go out to Oakland, home with Detroit, and then on the road to meet Atlanta and Green Bay. That's getting down the road a bit, but if the Panthers continue their current pace of play, Panther fans had better make sure their Sunday's are flexible--the Panthers could find themselves on national TV once flex scheduling takes hold.

Mike Solarte