Thursday, July 30, 2009

Thumbnailing the Panthers

The Panthers report to training camp this Sunday in Spartanburg, S.C. Yes, already. Here's a quick overview of the team from my perspective.


Quality at the skill positions. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart make up a great 1-2 combo in the backfield. There will be competition for the starting FB spot between Brad Hoover and rookie Tony Fiametta. Jake Delhomme is the starting QB (stop pining for Michael Vick, he's not coming to Charlotte), and WR's Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad along with a thrust into the 3rd spot Dwayne Jarrett give the Panthers some solid targets.

Biggest question mark is offensive line depth. Starting 5 are all quality, but the reserves from a year ago have basically gotten starting gigs elsewhere. Geoff Hangartner and Frank Omiyale signed free agent deal, and the Panthers saved some money by cutting Jeremy Bridges. Bridges is now in Washington with the Redskins. The backups are battling for jobs, so expect to see plenty of new faces at that position in the final 53.


How well received Julius Peppers is by the team will go a long way in determining how good this unit can be. I would expect the players to put the "Summer of the Franchise Tag" behind them, and move forward. They did that last year after the Smith-Ken Lucas fight that could have divided the team in half. The D-Line depth is mildly questionable these days. Sure, there is Peppers, Charles Johnson, Tyler Brayton, and rookie Everette Brown at the DE spots. Maake Kemoeatu and Damione Lewis are the anchors at DT, but there is some depth question there. Rookie Corvey Irvin should contribute, so it's not as bad as one might think. A couple injuries to Kemo and Lewis, and it could get bad fast.

The LB corps is the strength of the defense. Jon Beason anchors this group that should get a look at Dan Conor this season. His rookie year was ended with a knee injury, and Na'il Diggs continues to be the consummate pro. In the secondary, Lucas is gone, meaning Richard Marshall steps in full time to help Chris Gamble. Chris Harris remains the lead safety on the defense, keeping the secondary in good hands.


Jason Baker, John Kasay and Rhys Lloyd remain the legs for this team. Kasay scoring the points, Lloyd handling kickoffs, and Baker punting the ball away. Biggest void on special teams is long snapper Jason Kyle going to New Orleans. You never heard his name, which was a good thing. Steady, and reliable, Kyle was the key in the special teams engine. Without a good snap, nothing else can happen. replacing him is the chore for the Panthers in this area.

Overall, 2009 has the makings of being a good season, or a miserable one. Even if the Panthers play above what they did last year, they could still end up 7-9, due to their brutal schedule (rated 2nd toughest in the league). How quickly this team addresses roster weaknesses will go a long way in determining what kind of success they will have.

Mike Solarte

PS-notice there was no mention of the playoff loss to Arizona. I've moved on. You should too.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Okafor dealt to Hornets

It became official around noon--the only starting center the Charlotte Bobcats have known has been traded to the New Orleans Hornets.

Emeka Okafor bids farewell to the city and franchise he helped build. In exchange, the Bobcats receive Tyson Chandler, a 7-1 center that brings a higher price tag for a shorter period of time.

On the surface, this looks like a good deal for Charlotte. Chandler is a little more athletic and fluid. Okafor was a solid contributor, but not the flashy kind of guy that puts fans in the seats.

Dig a little deeper, and the picture blurs. Okafor's contributions on both ends of the floor will be missed. A career double-double average, plus his ability to defend the basket made him an above average big man. Chandler was nearly dealt to Oklahoma City last year, before the deal was nixed due to concerns over a lingering toe injury.

To me, this deal is a basic wash to a loss for the Bobcats. Okafor is the more accomplished player, more polished, poised and complete. Chandler doesn't make you jump off the couch and say wow that often, but he can. The challenge for Chandler is defending guys like Dwight Howard--and he'll get plenty of chances to do that, considering Orlando's spot in the division with Charlotte.

Okafor is a classy player, and a classy person. I wish him the best in New Orleans, where he is already steps closer to the playoffs than the Bobcats are at the moment.

Mike Solarte

Monday, July 27, 2009

Vick conditionally reinstated

The whole world will have an opinion on Michael Vick being "conditionally reinstated," so here's mine.

Good for him.

Seriously. 23 months served for his role in the dog fighting/gambling ring is a long time. It cost him more than just 2 years of his career. It was 2 years of his life, the financial troubles, etc. He'll never shake the stigma of being a convicted felon. That just doesn't go away.

Now, he has been given the go-ahead to try and regain his status as one of the NFL's elite players. As mentioned in this blog before, Vick is a tremendous athlete, and he becomes a threat to the opposition with the ball in his hands. His work as a quarterback can be called into question (statistically speaking), but if a team takes a chance on him, and his off-the-field baggage, who knows what he can do.

Commissioner Roger Goodell has given Vick the green light to sign with a team, report for practices, and he can play in the final 2 pre-season games. After that, Vick can do everything but play in the games until week 6. On the surface, it sounds like a 5 game suspension, 7 if you count the first 2 pre-season games he won't be allowed to play in.

There will be those that wonder why Vick won't be allowed to play until week 6 of the regular season. I think the word "conditionally," is vital in this decision. In my opinion, that gives the Commissioner the option to allow Vick back sooner, provided Vick doesn't break the rules (which I don't think he will).

Vick released a statement Monday afternoon, which read "I would like to express my sincere gratitude and appreciation to commissioner Goodell for allowing me to be readmitted to the National Football League. I fully understand that playing football in the NFL is a privilege, not a right, and I am truly thankful for the opportunity I have been given.
"As you can imagine, the last two years have given me time to re-evaluate my life, mature as an individual and fully understand the terrible mistakes I have made in the past and what type of life I must lead moving forward."

This doesn't sound like the Michael Vick of old. This sounds like someone who realizes that he's made mistakes, paid for them, and is wanting to start fresh.

All he needs now is a chance.

Mike Solarte

Reader Mailbag

For future reference, there is a comment box at the bottom of each blogpost.

This reader apparently didn't see it:

"Mike, you talk as if you actually know Michael Vick, I doubt it.

But if it good for the goose it's good for the gander. The gander says, I don't like you as a person and I don't personally know you.

I guess I am as stupid as you.



Thanks for the reply Joe. I didn't realize I was supposed to be a fan of the person that was charged, tried, and convicted for his part in a dogfighting/gambling ring.

My bad.


Friday, July 24, 2009

Jeremy spoke in.....

The title is only for my bud Brad Broders, the biggest Pearl Jam fan I've ever met.

Jeremy Mayfield is suspended again after NASCAR won its appeal of the original decision to lift his indefinite ban for failing a random drug test. That ruling came on July 1st from U.S. District Court Judge Graham Mullen. Today's ruling from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals means Mayfield is once again suspended for failing a May 1 random drug test. Mayfield is not entered to race this weekend in Indianapolis. Someday this will all stop. Hopefully.

Forget to mention this in the earlier post, but the Carolina Hurricanes traded Patrick Eaves and a draft pick to the Boston Bruins for defenseman Aaron Ward.

That name should sound familiar to Hurricanes fans, as Ward was a long-time blueliner for the team. He was a member of the Stanley Cup finalist squad in 2002, and the Cup champs in 2006. He was also the guy that Scott Walker belted in the 2009 playoffs. that should be an interesting locker room when those two come together. Granted, it was the heat of the moment, and Walker was reacting to what he perceived was a threat (during the game). Still, Walker popped Ward pretty well in a move that many outsiders called a sucker-punch. Here's hoping these two can be pros about it, shake hands and move on. The common good of the team outweighs the ancillary stuff.

Mike Solarte

Friday musings

Spraying to all fields on a Friday....
  • Mark Buerhle pitched baseball's 18th perfect game on Thursday, aided by some former Charlotte Knights. Josh Fields belted a grand slam, but Dewayne Wise was the hero, making a ridiculous catch that saved...the shutout, no-hitter, and perfect game. He took away a Gabe Kapler home run, and nearly dropped the ball on his way to the ground. Sick catch, but those are the plays that appear during perfect games. Awesome stuff, and yes, I am also a White Sox fan. That's why it got top billing.
  • Lance Armstrong will ride the Tour De France in 2010 with Radio Shack as his team's sponsor. Good news for him, but how effective will Armstrong be at the age of 38? He has shown signs that he's not the dominant rider he was just 3 short years ago in this year's Tour, but he remains in 3rd place overall (heading into Friday's 19th stage). Armstrong has had a very good Tour, and who knows if he could have won it without the reported internal strife among his team (rivals Alberto Contador and Andreas Kloden being very good cyclists). He'll get a fresh start, much like his US Postal days, in 2010, and he teammate selection will be interesting to watch. Lance is good for cycling, for as long as he can keep going.
  • One other TDF there any REAL reason that the route can't be roped off, or fenced off? How about wider finishing streets, too. It amazes me every year that there aren't more crashes involving riders and fans.
  • Several reports out there that Michael Vick and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell have already met. The league not confirming that as of Thursday, but now there are reports that Vick will get a 4 game suspension before being allowed to return to action. This sounds like an additional punishment to Vick, but it really isn't. Keep in mind, Pacman Jones was out of football for an entire year, and had only been charged with breaking the law. Vick was charged, tried, convicted, and sentenced. I'm no fan of Vick, the player or the person, but if the Commissioner is willing to hand down a 4 game suspension to him, and there is a team willing to roll the dice on him, good luck to all parties.
  • Carolina Panthers report to training camp next Sunday, which is really weird). Normally, this is the week they report, and get going. They have an additional week of preparation/vacation thanks to the NFL starting the season so late. I question why the league is doing that. Football season begins the first weekend in September. Just like baseball season starts the first Monday in April (historically). Starting the seasons later and later means the seasons finish later and later. In keeping with schedule changes, the NFL is changing its Draft from a 2 day deal to a 3-day affair, with the opening round starting on a Thursday night. Huh? I weep for Mel Kiper's hair stylist.
  • Had the chance to meet Tucker Dupree on Thursday. 20 year-old swimmer that finished 4th in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics. He has lost nearly 80% of his vision since 2006, making him legally blind. He's the fastest American swimmer. Ever. You can see his story at Not only is he a wonderful swimmer, he is a nice young man that has faced adversity, and turned it into a motivator. Props to him.
  • NASCAR off to Indianapolis this week. Book it now--Tony Stewart wins there again, but this one will be more special for him with this being his first year as team owner.

Enjoy the weekend!

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Back in the saddle

2 weeks away from the world of sports (for the most part), was just what the doctor ordered for me. Don't get me wrong, I love my job, but sometimes I need to unplug. Now that we have reconnected, let's blog, shall we?

  • Michael Vick is a free man, and the process of his NFL reinstatement is ongoing. Commissioner Roger Goodell saying on Tuesday that he expects to have a decision in the near future. I'm not thinking Vick won't get reinstated-I think he will. The bigger question is which NFL team will take a chance on signing him? I don't believe Vick will fall into dogfighting again, or run afoul of the law. Still, the PR nightmare that is Vick right now would be a huge obstacle for any team to overcome. The man served 23 months on federal charges. It's not like he had an unpaid parking ticket. Then you have the reality that Vick, as a QB, just isn't very good. He's certainly a gifted athlete, but his QB numbers just don't add up to the right kind of risk/reward that a team looking for a QB would want to throw a contract at. Finish the thought with this--he is 2 years removed from the game. While still young, 2 years away from football could have 1 of 2 outcomes: he's fresh and ready to play, or he's rusty and lost some of his ability. Gladly, I'm not a GM to have to weigh all those factors.
  • Heard a sports talker host say that if Tom Watson had won the Open Championship at Turnberry last weekend, that golf would have taken a shot to the gut. HUH? Only pure ignorance makes that comment. Face facts: Tiger Woods missed just his 2nd cut in a major as a pro, and as a result, there would be a different cast of characters writing that Open script. Why does a 59 year old man winning golf's oldest major HURT the game? Watson will be remembered as being one of the greatest British Open golfers of all time *(he's won 5 Claret Jugs). Unlike Greg Norman a year ago, Watson was in it until the 72nd hole, and even after missing that 8 footer, he still had a shot in the playoff against Stewart Cink. Golf benefited big from Watson's near-miss. Congrats to Stewart Cink on his first major title. Nice guy, great game, wonderful ambassador, and a hoot to follow on twitter.
  • The Charlotte Bobcats are still working to sign guard Raymond Felton to a contract. It's a matter of getting things done to make both sides happy, in my opinion. Felton wants to be with the Bobcats, the Bobcats want him. Quit bickering, find common ground and make something happen. The Bobcats still need pieces to become a contender for a playoff spot, but losing Felton sets them back a ton. Also, Sean May tells News 14 Carolina that he will likely be a Sacramento King in the next 24-48 hours. Good for him, and I wish him well. Here's hoping he stays healthy.
  • Jeremy Mayfield and NASCAR - Please make it stop. The Cup series races at Indianapolis this week. Perhaps we could talk about racing, instead of methamphetamines, doctored drug tests, and a step-mother that the driver has referred to in less-than-glowing terms.
  • Ozzie Guillen has been called a racist by White Sox fans for the team's roster move which sent OF Brian Anderson to the Charlotte Knights on the same day the team activated Carlos Quentin. Really? Quentin has been rehabbing a foot injury, and was believed to be a pre-season candidate for American League MVP. Anderson has never found his stride in the majors, and is currently just above the Mendoza line. He has 2 homers this season, and for 2009, is hitting a "robust" .236 in 65 games. Guillen is apparently a racist because he sent a white player down, but kept African-American Dewayne Wise with the big club. By way of comparison, Wise was also injured for much of the first half. He is hitting .196 in 44 games played for the pale hose. Guillen can be called a lot of things, but racist isn't one of them.

Blog at ya later!

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

All-Star Memories... or Lack Thereof

I didn't watch a single swing of Major League Baseball's Home Run Derby. Work interfered. Sure I could have DVR'd it (doesn't hurt to plug the company), and I saw the highlights this morning, but I really had no interest. Much like the NBA's Slam Dunk Contest, the bloom is off the rose. It's just too long. I'm not fascinated by how far these players can hit a batting practice fastball. Turn around a 96 MPH heater during a game and then you'll catch my attention. Besides, in light of the multitude of players who have admitted or been linked to performance enhancing drugs, how do I know who's legit or not?

I do love the All-Star game, though. Have ever since I was a kid. However I was taken aback when I looked up the game's recent history and saw where the National League hasn't won since '96! The game was in Philadelphia that year and I think Mike Piazza was named the game's Most Valuable Player. I say "think" because that's around the time I began my broadcasting career; and like last night--work kept me from watching the game. I know what you're thinking, You work in sports. How could you NOT watch the game? Well, believe it or not we don't get to sit around in the office and watch sports all night.

It's only been recently that I've been able to sit at home and watch the game. That's probably why my memories of the Mid-Summer Classic have been vague at best for the last decade or so. Of course it hasn't helped the American League has dominated. I grew up during the National League's domance in the '70s & '80s; and being from an NL city, that's who I pull for. I tend to think the All-Star game was better then, and not just because the NL won most of the time. Thanks to the MLB Network I've re-watched some of those games over the past weekend and it's only confirmed my memories. The past generations of players wanted to win--badly. Somewhere along the way the game became more of an exhibition. Even now despite having World Series home-field advantage on the line, managers are more worried about getting everybody in and players swing for the fences or throw as hard as they can. It's sad really to me. The advent of Interleague play (which I detest) certainly has hurt.

Won't be able to watch tonight, either... gotta work. I did remember to set the DVR, so I'll watch later. And why I'll be pulling for the National League to break its 12-year winless streak, more importantly I be pulling for a game like last year. One full of great plays and drama and competitiveness. Just like the ones I witnessed all those years ago as a kid growing up.
-Jason Brown

Monday, July 6, 2009

Thoughts on Federer, McNair and All-Stars

Sunday's thrilling Wimbledon Men's final put Roger Federer in a class all by himself. Capturing his record-breaking 15th grand slam title was truly something to watch and captivated even the casual sports fan. No it wasn't as good as last year's final in which Federer fell to Rafael Nadal, but the losses to Nadal coupled with Sunday's match, proved Federer is deserving of being in the conversation of best tennis player ever. Think about it, not only has Federer won the most majors, but he is one of two players (Andre Agassi the other) to have won a career grand slam on three different surfaces (grass, clay, and hardcourt). Plus, his rivalry with Nadal (coupled with Andy Roddick's terrific performance Sunday) showed that Federer had to beat tough competition, something missing from his first 10 or so major titles. During that time Federer was so clearly better than his peers that, I for one, questioned how great he really was. Having to rise above the adversity thrown in his way by Nadal only confirms to me Federer's greatness. Here's hoping Nadal can get healthy and we can see a first-ever showdown between the two at the U.S. Open.


In the wake of the death of former NFL quarterback Steve McNair, I'm reminded that none of us in the media truly know what a player is like. We can only chronicle an athletes performance on the field of play. I will always remember McNair for his ability to fight through injuries and perform at a high level. He was one of the toughest football players of his generation. It certainly seemed like he set the right example on and off the field, but the circumstances surrounding McNair's death should serve as another reminder that we are only able to admire what athletes do on the field.


I don't want to take away baseball fans right to vote, but year after year they continue to get the starting lineup wrong for the All-Star game.

AMERICAN LEAGUE-- I can't argue over first base, third base, catcher or one of the outfield spots. But Aaron Hill of the Blue Jays deserves the nod over Boston's Dustin Pedroia and Tampa Bay's Jason Bartlett has had a far better year than--GASP--the Yankees' Derek Jeter. Not saying Pedroia and Jeter don't deserve to be All-Stars, just no starters. And, I'm sorry, but North Carolina's own Josh Hamilton hasn't earned a trip to St. Louis as he's been hurt most of the year; and while Ichiro Suzuki is always solid, check out the numbers for the Angels Tori Hunter and the Orioles Adam Jones and tell me they don't deserve to start.

NATIONAL LEAGUE-- Not much to quibble about except the Braves' Brian McCann over Yadier Molina. Way to get the hometown guy in Cardinal fans.

--Jason Brown

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

NASCAR Hall of Fame Class

The nominee list will be announced Thursday, but just off the top of my head, here are just 3 picks for the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010.

1-Bill France, Sr. This is a no-brainer. There is no NASCAR without Bill France, Sr. If he doesn't go in with the first class, this Hall is a sham. Period.

2-Richard Petty. Won 200 races as a driver, and has a few more as an owner. Petty has been the face of NASCAR for some 40 years. Most wins, that signature cowboy hat, the country boy smile, and one of the nicest people you will ever meet. The Petty name is synonymous with NASCAR. Again, no King, no credibility.

3-Dale Earnhardt, Sr. 7-time champion, and had maybe the largest legion of fans in all of motorsports. His driving style set him apart from the others, and his ability to become a household name when NASCAR was just beginning its meteoric climb into the national mainstream did more to give NASCAR that image that people could identify with, and ultimately, corporate America could support. Yes, he was rough around the edges--that sold sponsorships.

NASCAR also released Richard Childress and Glen Wood as part of their nominee list. Wood has been one of NASCAR's legendary owners, and deserves consideration. There have been other drivers that have contributed to the fabric of NASCAR. Guys like Bobby Allison, Junior Johnson, Fireball Roberts, Lee Petty, Tim Flock, and so on. Selecting just 5 will be a difficult task.

The series heads off to Daytona for the 2nd time this season for the race formerly known as the Firecracker 400--now known as the Coke Zero 400. Should be a great night under the lights on the 4th of July.

Winston-Salem Dash skipper Joe McEwing visited with us earlier today, and you'll see that interview tonight on Sports Night at 10.

Mike Solarte