Friday, December 31, 2010

Final thoughts for 2010

On the way out the door for the year....

The Panthers made it official on Friday, announcing in a release that John Fox and his staff won't be back next season. There. they finally said it. We knew it was coming, but now it's official. Interesting they did it:
1-on a holiday Friday,
2-immediately following the Meineke Car Care Bowl,
3-while the Bobcats were playing Golden State (with Charlotte native Steph Curry on the floor).

Couple ways to look at this. One way is, maybe they were trying to grab a headline or two in the midst of a busy sports day in Charlotte, or they were hoping it would be a minor footnote of the day, and get lost in the shuffle.

Well, it won't be lost in the shuffle, and as a result, the Panthers are on the clock for the first pick, but now to also hire a new head coach. Then there is the other clock. The labor deal clock, which Panthers owner Jerry Richardson is also on. Once the season ends, Richardson will be on of the key figures in trying to broker a deal between the NFL and the NFLPA on a new collective bargaining agreement. The off-season will be interesting to watch on a number of levels.

Bobcats brief win streak ended Friday in a 96-95 loss to the Warriors, Stephen Jackson missing a game winning 3 at the buzzer. I think he could have driven to the cup to try and draw a foul, but given the lack of calls Jackson has gotten this season, maybe he was a little gun shy about trying that. Regardless, the Bobcats get the Three Amigos from Miami on Monday (Lebron, D-Wade, and Bosh), which will be a good measuring stick as to where the Bobcats are. The Heat have figured things out, and had a monster December. Should be fun.

Sat through the Meineke Car Care Bowl on Friday afternoon. Sparse crowd on a great day, but hats off to the Raycom folks for putting on a decent game. Clemson lived up to their end in spurts, but overall, the show was what we've come to expect from the Charlotte bowl game.

Lastly, expect some changes in college football following the UNC finish in Nashville on Thursday. The Heels, out of timeouts, spiked the ball with :01 left in the game, and got flagged for too many men on the field. As a result, they had plenty of time to kick a tying field goal, force overtime, and then beat Tennessee by 3.

The change will likely come with that sort of penalty resulting in a clock run off. I don't think the Heels did this intentionally--they truly looked lost, and confused. Still, now that teams know this can happen to their advantage, I think the NCAA will bring in a rule change. Props to UNC for hanging tough, but I think they got lucky due to the rulebook.

Enough from me, here's to a great 2011 for all sports teams in our state, and even the ones you may root for elsewhere!

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What a week on tap!

From bowl games to basketball, to the end of the NFL regular season, to hockey, it's a huge week. Make sure you check out Sports Night every night at 10 to get caught up with all of it!

OK, Charlotte Bobcats made their debut under new interim coach Paul Silas on Monday, beating Detroit 105-100. It all sounds good until you realize, the Bobcats led by as many as 23, and saw that trimmed down to 3 in the closing seconds.

I'm not criticizing. For a team on a four-game slide, any win is pretty. They will get the errors cleaned up (all agreed there was no quick fix after Larry Brown's departure), but the thing that is most noticeable is the fact the team PLAYED the4 game, rather than worked through 48 minutes. I mean no disrespect to Larry Brown, but there was a huge difference in the way the Bobcats played Monday as opposed to the 28 previous games . They were relaxed, they were flying up and down the floor, they were above the rim, they were taking shots. They PLAYED the game. Certainly a welcome sight for those watching, and I'm guessing an even better feeling for the guys in uniform.

They still have work to do to get into the playoffs, but this was a giant step in the right direction, if for nothing else, than believing they can do it.

Carolina Panthers are officially on the clock. They hold the number 1 pick in next April's NFL Draft. We all know who the experts would take if he were available, and since there is no guarantee he will be, I'll not mention him by name. He has to declare his intentions before January 15th. No point in thinking about it until he makes up his mind.

I'll be in Atlanta this weekend for the season finale for the Panthers. If for nothing else, to see how this team plays in their final game of a 2-13 (to date) season. This has been fascinating to watch, and frustrating to cover. What amazes me the most is the way the players just don't stop. They haven't stopped giving effort. Good effort. It's astounding that in a game like baseball, if a team is eliminated from the playoff chase early (like the Chicago Cubs historically), the guys in uniform can just kinda mail it in. You never really know how hard a guy is trying in baseball, unless it's obvious. In football, there is nowhere to hide. The Panthers of 2010 will be remembered for a losing season, but they should also be remembered as a team they fought until the end, no matter what the standings said.

Lots going on with bowl games--4 games in 4 days involving North Carolina. Tuesday, NC State v. West Virginia in Orlando, Wednesday, ECU v. Maryland in Washington DC., Thursday, UNC v. Tennessee in Nashville, and Friday, the Meineke Car Care Bowl between Clemson and South Florida. We'll have you covered, so don't miss a thing on Sports Night!

Mike Solarte

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas....the Sports Poem

Serving up your Christmas gift on Christmas Eve. Hope you enjoy our version of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas.

'Twas the night before Christmas
and all through the land,
Teams are getting rested,
A tough schedule is at hand.

The Carolina Panthers
stuck in their rut.
Beaten by the Steelers,
24 points, a tough punch in the gut.

There will be big changes,
no need to ask.
John Fox will be gone,
for the next coach, a tough task.

On the NBA hardwood,
Paul Silas is back.
Larry Brown shown the door,
as recent play made us gack.

Only 2 days into the change
the players were all smiles.
Turning around a losing streak,
could make the switch worthwhile.

On the ice are the Hurricanes,
dropping their last two.
Players and coaches hoping,
pucks will find their way through.

All of the college hoops fans,
ready for their time.
It's the ACC season,
get ready to shine.

So on Roy, and Coach K,
Bzdelik and Sidney too.
The time for you is now,
to help March come into view.

From the 49ers to the Checkers,
and all teams in between.
We have but one wish,
simple as it will seem.

Continue your successes,
and always fight the good fight.
We'll do our best to cover you,
every day on Sports Night.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Missed opportunities

By the title, you may think this is another blog about the Carolina Panthers season gone wrong, but it's not. This is about the Charlotte Bobcats.

Wednesday, Larry Brown stepped down as Head Coach of the team, and within 3 hours, Paul Silas was tabbed as the interim Head Coach. Silas is a resident in the Charlotte area, but wasn't available for comment Wednesday. He will be available to media on Thursday following practice.
General Manager Rod Higgins was available for comment, and as some members of the local media were inside Time Warner Cable Arena for any potential announcements, and interviews, there were none to be had. Instead, the team announced Higgins was available via teleconference only. This while Higgins was also inside Time Warner Cable Arena.

This was a chance for the Bobcats, a team that the city of Charlotte has been slow to embrace, to eliminate the moat that separates them from the fan base. OK, maybe not eliminate it, but at least lower the drawbridge to allow the fans to feel closer to them. Opportunity missed.

Bobcats players were also out in the community Wednesday night, handing out Christmas gifts to kids that are less fortunate. They were at a Salvation Army center in the city. Those players were only allowed to talk about the event they were at, and not about the news that directly affected their jobs. Opportunity missed.

Sports fans in Charlotte have had to deal with a football team that has been dreadful in the standings. They try hard, but they don't have the same level of talent, top to bottom, as their opponents. 2-12 with 2 games to go is the result. The person who has taken the blame for that is team owner Jerry Richardson, and he has been unavailable to the media all season long, except for an appearance he made when the PGA of America announced the PGA Championship was coming to Quail Hollow Club. Other than that, it's been radio silence.

Fans in this town have already had to deal with one pro team putting distance between themselves and the fans, and now they have another operating under a veil of secrecy. This wasn't a decision made by Higgins. He said, in that teleconference, that team owner Michael Jordan met with Brown face-to-face, and they mutually agreed this was the best direction to go in. Jordan was unavailable for comment as he was "traveling," according to Higgins.

Basketball fans WANT to embrace the Bobcats. They really do, especially since Jordan became the majority owner. They want to be involved in the greatness that is the MJ brand. The Bobcats had a lay-up. Maybe even a break-away dunk to bring the fans closer to the team, on a day that the team needed to be held a little. Changing coaches is never an easy thing. They blew the lay up. The hammered the dunk off the back of the rim. They missed.

Too bad, because a little good PR goes a very long way.

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The streak ends....well, ended,

I came up 294 blogs short of matching Brett Favre's streak of consecutive starts, but since he plays once a week, technically the streak lives on. Just roughly 5 more years of blogging once a week. I'll let you know how that works out.

Panthers picked up win number 2, in what will likely be the final home game coached by John Fox for Carolina. Way too early to be talking about the next guy to lead the franchise, and frankly, Fox deserves better. I still maintain he deserved more support from the front office (read ownership), but as he would say, it is what it is.

Fox doesn't show a soft side all that often, but his underbelly was exposed after the 19-12 win over Arizona. If you saw his postgame comments on News 14 Carolina, you saw Fox reach for the bottle of water on the table when things were getting a little misty. Good for him. It's a 9-year run that will end with his worst record as a football coach. Not a Head Coach, but a football coach. He has NEVER gone through a season where he was a coach on a team that suffered double digit losses. It began in the off-season when the team gutted veteran players, guys Fox trusted. It will end badly, and that's the part that hurts the most.

A Thursday night meeting with Pittsburgh is on tap next for the Panthers. Just 2 to play, but if there is an up-side to playing Thursday, it is that the team will get Christmas off. I'll be with the Panthers when they close out the season against Atlanta on January 2.

The Charlotte Bobcats have shown flashes that they can be a good team. Problem is, those flashes have been overshadowed by stretches when they aren't playing so well. The latest display of that coming Monday night when they were blown out by the Washington Wizards (with a record of 7-19 after the win). The final of 108-75 marking the 3rd time in their last 5 games they fall by 30 or more points. Gerald Wallace was out of the lineup for the third straight game, but that doesn't make up for the blowouts. Something is missing here. There is an element with this team that wasn't here a year ago, when the Bobcats were winning games, setting the high-water mark for wins in a season, and making their first playoff appearance. Thing is, the personnel, hasn't changed very dramatically. It's puzzling, because Larry Brown didn't become a bad coach overnight. The players didn't become bad players overnight. Something is missing, and even though it's late December (already?), time is starting to get away from the Bobcats on this season. Having suffered through loss after loss with the Panthers, I'm hoping covering the Bobcats in the 2nd half of the year will be more fun that the fall was.

Congrats to Mike Krzyzewski for tying legendary coach Dean Smith with 879 wins. One of the highlights of my career was being in Winston-Salem when Dean surpassed Adolph Rudd for the top spot (Bobby Knight would surpass Dean later). A record like this means the coach has shown a wonderful ability to recruit, and then coach the talent. It is also a testament to staying committed to the program. In a day when coaches leap-frog from one job the the next, guys like K, Smith, Roy Williams (he counts as well), show just how important it is to be committed to the job, the university, the players, and the program.

Will try to hit the blog once more before Christmas, perhaps looking at the Panthers-Steelers, a Bobcats update, and maybe even a poem.

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sorry, but I'm not pumped about #1 pick

So you really want the number one overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft? You want that pick because that player will be the one to turn your franchise around? This reminder...

For every Toy Aikman (1989), there is a Tim Couch (1999). For every Peyton Manning (1998), there is a Jamarcus Russell (2007). For every Orlando Pace (1997), there is a Kenneth Sims (1982). For every Eli Manning (2004), there is a KiJana Carter (1995).

Basically, there are no guarantees that the number one overall pick in the draft will amount to anything.

There is plenty of reason to think that the potential number 1 pick next April, Andrew Luck from Stanford, will remain at Stanford for his junior season. He was runner-up in Heisman Trophy balloting, and there are the obvious 2-sides to the argument of staying in school, vs. going pro. He'll make the best decision for himself, be sure of that. But what is that best decision? Let's help him out.

Andrew, you'll be a senior, in command of a Stanford program that went 11-1 this year, with the only loss coming at the hands of national champion contender Oregon. You'll lead your team against Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. There are no guarantees that the Cardinal will enjoy the same success in 2011, but there is one certainty: the Cardinal WILL have a season, without a doubt in 2011. Being the senior starting QB at a PAC-10 school can't be all bad, especially in California. About the only drawbacks are going to classes, the occasional rainy day, and...well, I can't think of anything else. The biggest question mark hovering over you and your program is Head Coach Jim Harbaugh's status. Will he stay, or jump to either Michigan or the NFL?

Andrew, this is where it gets tricky. Going pro means you play football for a living. It means instead of going to class, you go to practice, then lift, then film study. Then, you repeat. It becomes a job, and it's one that you will love, I can tell. The payoff comes in the form of a contract, and it will be a biggie from whichever team selects you. You'll get a big signing bonus, guaranteeing that you will be financially secure. You'll get a multi-year contract as well, which will certainly go a long way around the holidays when picking out the perfect gift for someone special. There are drawbacks, though. There is the never ending scrutiny of being the top overall pick (which you will face whether you stay in school or come out early). There will be pressure for you to succeed quickly, because that is what's expected of the top overall pick. The general fan doesn't know how difficult it is to make that transition from college to pro. They will only see your price tag, and demand excellence from the second you step off the plane to your welcome-to-town press conference.

Oh yeah, one other thing. There may not even be a season for you in 2011, if the NFL and NFLPA don't reach a labor agreement.

That's a lot to think about for a guy that just turned 21, and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

The Carolina Panthers are in the running for the top overall pick, and based on how they gutted this roster of its leadership, and replaced those players with younger and cheaper options, it begs the question of would Luck even WANT to play in Carolina if taken by the Panthers?

To paraphrase The Clash, "Should he stay or should he go?"

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

NFL thoughts on a Tuesday

I know, hold back your excitement. It's blogs on consecutive days. Call me inspired by Brett Favre.

Yes, I have ripped Favre for his on again, off again, "am I playing, or retiring," fence-riding in the past, but the consecutive games played streak came to a halt in, of all places, Detroit, for a Vikings home game.

For posterity, I will point out that the Minnesota-NY Giants game scheduled for Sunday, Dec 12, 2010, was moved to Detroit after the roof at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, wilted under heavy snows and high winds. The building was unusable, and the NFL moved the game to Detroit, and rescheduled it for Monday, Dec. 13.

Even with the delay of over 30 hours, Favre still was unable to get his body well enough to take the field. He was inactive for the first time in 19 seasons, and possibly in his entire NFL career (couldn't find anything on his early playing days in Atlanta). So, Favre falls 3 games shy of 300 straight starts, but the 297 number will likely hold up for a very long time, if not all time.

Let's put this in perspective with a little timeline. When Favre's streak began, it was September 27th, 1992. Miley Cyrus hadn't been born yet, and Nick Jonas was 11 days old. "Unforgiven" won the Oscar for Best Film, and Jay Leno was just over 4 months into his first run as host of the "The Tonight Show" (I'm glad Conan is back on, by the way).

Recent college graduates have never known an NFL without Brett Favre. Those same people are likely unaware that Favre played 2 games for the Atlanta Falcons, before going to the Green Bay Packers, where it all began.

As Panther fans know, the QB position is not an easy one to play. They have seen their QB's struggle this season, and even Jake Delhomme struggled in 2009. Favre played at a very high level for much of his career, only tapering off in the last 5 years. His longevity is something that is hard to fathom. All we can do is appreciate it, and applaud it. Favre's career, this time, appears to be over. It would stand to reason he has nothing to come back and play for. But we'll be watching out for the drama next August, just in case.

Other NFL news, NY Jets strength coach Sal Alosi has been suspended for the remainder of the season, for tripping Miami Dolphins special teamer Nolan Carroll. To Alosi's credit, he owned up to it without hesitation. Video replays show the trip clearly, he couldn't refute it. Why did he do it? Even he doesn't know. In the end, the NFL and the Jets made the right move by suspending him, and not firing him (although that could come later). Alosi is a 9 year NFL coach, 8 of those spent with the Jets. Before this weekend, had you ever heard his name? I'm not sure he was even part of "Hard Knocks" this pre-season. My point is, the guy doesn't have a history of this. He's not a guy that causes trouble. He made a mistake, that luckily, didn't cost anyone their season due to injury. I understand the outcry, but they handled it. He's been punished, let's move on.

Speaking of moving on, the outrage over Michael Vick autographing a glove for Tashard Choice following heir Sunday night game in Dallas is mind boggling. Really? Let's point out, the signing of a glove is small potatoes to some of the things I have seen on the field after games. Jerseys have been exchanged (NFL authentic jerseys aren't cheap. If you have ever priced them out, you know). It happens. Whether it be for personal collections, or charitable donations, that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Choice told reporters the signed glove was for a family member. Pretty cool deal. I don't get why people were so upset by this whole thing. Is it that a player got a star player's autograph on the field? Is it because it looks like Choice was bowing down to the QB that beat his team? Or maybe it's this.

Maybe people are so upset that Michael Vick has a job in the NFL, that Vick signing anything but apology letters is a waste of ink.

Is that you? If so, I weep for you. Michael Vick has gone through several phases of his NFL journey. First, he was Vick the scrambling QB. Not much on accuracy, but he could break contain like no other. I once said he was a running back that took snaps. He was the blueprint for the Wildcat package.

Then Vick became the villain. The guy that ran with the wrong crowd, used his millions to finance an illegal dog fighting operation, even going so far as to kill dogs that didn't perform in the ring. Heinous crimes. Personally, I despise Vick for that phase of his life. His entire life would suffer as a result, as he went to prison. He served his time. He tried to rehabilitate.

The third phase of the Vick NFL experience is what we are watching now. A guy that has stayed out of trouble. A guy that tried to reach out to show those that despised him (like me), that he has changed. How much he has changed, only he knows. What I see is a guy trying to be a model citizen off the field, and a good football player on it. He's been better than good on the field. He has never thrown the ball this well in his career. My wife even commented Sunday that this isn't the Vick she saw before. He's gone from superb athlete playing quarterback, to pretty good quarterback. He's still a gifted athlete, but now he is playing the position about as well as he ever has.

I hate the middle portion of the journey, but I have to give credit where its due. Vick is making a believer out of me that some people deserve a second chance. Vick is taking full advantage of this one, as a player and as a person. Give the hate a rest.

Mike Solarte

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Monday rear-view Mirror

Let me start with the positives. Saturday was a wonderful (albeit cold and rainy) day at Carter-Finley Stadium for State Championship football. Congrats to Butler, West Rowan, and Northern Guilford on winning the 4-AA, 3-A and 3-AA titles in Raleigh respectfully. Butler and West Rowan won handily, but Northern Guilford edged Boiling Springs Crest 21-20. An exciting game, with a tough finish for the Chargers, thanks to a missed PAT in the final 15 seconds. I applaud all the players and coaches for their efforts, not just on Championship Saturday, but all season long. Thanks to each and every coach and player that allowed us on their sidelines this past season. We had a blast covering the year, and hope you enjoyed our coverage on the Discount Tire Friday Night Final.

Now, to the ugliness.

The Carolina Panthers loss 31-10 to the Atlanta Falcons dropped their record to 1-12, 3 games to go, the most winnable of them coming at Bank of America Stadium this Sunday when Arizona rolls in. Will they win? Who knows, but the is no disputing the frustration levels are now at an all-time high. Steve Smith isn't happy with Jimmy Clausen. Jordan Gross isn't happy with being told the team is "young, and they try really hard." John Fox isn't happy about losing. The media isn't happy about covering a team that is brutally overmatched each week, because the plan set in motion by ownership was to sacrifice the season in the name of the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement. Don't believe what I have been writing in this space all season long? John Lynch, TV analyst during Sunday's game, said, "I see a team that has been preparing for the lockout for the last couple of years."

I have tried to give ownership the benefit of the doubt, but the 60+ players that have worn the uniform for the Panthers this season, especially the guys that have been around for a while, deserved better. Jerry Richardson's letter to PSL owners was nice, but it's not enough. Richardson, not GM Marty Hurney, not Fox, not the players, is the one responsible for this mess. All folks underneath him are working on orders, and the orders come from above. This embarrassing season falls squarely on his shoulders. How the franchise bounces back from this will determine how he is remembered. Coming into 2010, Richardson was revered in the community. That perception has changed, in a very big way thanks to the events of this season. I have applauded him in the past for being a "behind-the-scenes" owners, but when times are tough, the right thing to do to face the music, and not hide in the shadows.

Panthers fans, PSL owners, and the like are certainly hoping that the sacrifices of the season in 2010 will pay off in 2011...or 2012.

The Charlotte Bobcats are looking more and more like a dysfunctional family. It's to the point that team owner Michael Jordan gave his team a verbal beating after a blowout loss to Boston on Saturday night. Bobcats back home to meet Toronto on Tuesday night, when MJ will be inducted into the NC Sports Hall of Fame at halftime. The Bobcats are at a critical point in the season. They can ill afford to continue to lose games, as they will lose ground in a very bad Eastern Conference. The Bobcats can be a playoff team, but they need to get things sorted out, and from the sound of it, it comes down to effort. Effort is something this franchise has been known for, from day one. Bobcats, be who you are, not what you think you are. Be the hard-working team that the city has come to expect. That's what they were last season.

You also have Cam Newton winning the Heisman Trophy. I have no problem with that. In fact, I voted for him. I got the order wrong, in sports 2-3, but I had Newton winning it. What I find disturbing is the fact that 105 of my fellow voters didn't vote for Newton in any spot (1-2-3). They omitted him from their ballots altogether. The Heisman goes to college football's most outstanding player. So according to the 105 voters, he was, at worst, the 4th best player in the country.

Sorry, but that's a joke.

As a Heisman voter, it's my duty to vote for the best players in America, regardless of my opinion of whether or not they broke a rule. If the player is in good standing with the NCAA, they are eligible to receive the Heisman. Cam Newton is in good standing with the NCAA. He was the best player in college football. Period. He got my vote.

Now, my personal belief is that Cam Newton knew all along that his father was up to no good, but SO FAR, there is no PROOF that Cam was involved. There is a chance that Newton won't hold onto that Heisman somewhere down the road, and that will be his shame to deal with if and when that happens. I used my ballot, and did so according to the ground rules laid out.

Mike Solarte

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Happy Tuesday

Have been getting e-mails about the Panthers coaching situation after this season. Who will be the coach, what happens to the staff, etc. I'm not smart enough to figure out who it will be, but there is talk about Jim Harbaugh from Stanford, or even Brian Schottenheimer being candidates. Those are rumors, of course, and the reality about rumors is this:they can get around the world twice in the morning, before the truth even opens its eyes.

I will say this, and I know it's not original, but John Fox won't be back next season. It's time for a split., and it's sad it has come to this. It's been a solid 9-year run, but all good things must come to an end. Fox and most of his staff will likely be elsewhere, and there are players that will likely finish 2010 as a Panther and not return. It's the nature of the game.

I do not, however, subscribe to the notion of tanking the season for the first overall pick in the draft. That's just dumb. It's bad enough the team was put in a tough spot to being the year, but to then tell those players that are grinding it every week, to lay down so the franchise can land the number 1 overall pick? Talk about setting a bad example for future potential players. This season can be chalked up to ownership going cheap and young to try and set and example for other owners in the league with the CBA expiring, and the threat of a lockout looming.

Heisman balloting is closed, I got my votes in, and I went with Cam Newton, then Kellen Moore, followed by Andrew Luck. Newton was far and away the best player in college football, and it wasn't even close. I based my vote on the body of work, and not the talk of wrong doing. Between the lines, he was the best player in the nation, period. I didn't hold Boise State's schedule against Kellen Moore. Bottom line, you have to produce to get results, and he did that for Boise. Andrew Luck is only scratching the surface of how good he can be. Problem for Stanford is he'll figure out the rest of it in the NFL.

FYI, 18 days until Christmas. 75 days until the Daytona 500.

Mike Solarte

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Clearing the Clutter

Spraying to all fields:

Carolina Panthers have endured a difficult season, sitting 1-10 with their next stop out west in Seattle. I won't go into my diatribe about how this team was set up for failure (lack of veteran leaders to show the young guys the ropes), but I will commend every guy that puts the pads on for the organization, as well as the coaches. They REFUSE to lay down their sword. John Fox won't say this out loud, because of their record, but this might be his best coaching work. Offensively, Brandon LaFell, David Gettis, Jimmy Clausen and others, are rookies on offense. Greg Hardy, Eric Norwood are rookies on defense, plus a host of new faces brought in to take on the season.

Youth is no excuse, but it is a very valid reason why this team is struggling, but to their credit, they are improving, and still playing hard. That's a testament to their strength and will, and it is also a testament to Fox and his staff. They are still working to win games, and most of all, the players are still on board with it. Sadly, it's almost as if the players are resigned to their fate (record-wise), but they still believe in their leader. As tough as this season has been, these players have made it as fun as possible with their attitude, and their effort.

Charlotte Bobcats forward Stephen Jackson will miss Wednesday night's game against New Orleans due to a 1-game suspension by the NBA. Jackson's crime: not leaving the court in a timely fashion after being ejected in Milwaukee. Once again, NBA referee's showing little to no respect for the players and coaches , now that they have the "no showing up the officials" card in their back pocket. The ref in question, Eli Roe, is young in terms of NBA experience. According to the site (it's basically a blog), Roe had over 50+ games of NBA experience at its last update (mid June of this year). Roe was also voted, according to the site, as the ref "to most likely to choke to death on his own whistle." Rave review, right?

The NBA has to revisit this policy. How is Dwight Howard among the league leaders in technical fouls? I understand how Jackson is, and there is not doubt in my mind, Jackson is a mark for refs. To me, they are looking for him to do something. Problem is, Jackson usually obliges them with some form of discussion, but that doesn't mean Jackson is wrong. Respect is a 2-way street. NBA referees, young or old, need to remember that.

Speaking of officials, I love the uproar over the fight between Andre Johnson and Cortland Finnegan over the weekend. Neither player was suspended, both were fined $25,000 for the altercation. Folks wanting them to be suspended are reaching. Let's remember, this is an emotional and very physical game. Johnson felt Finnegan was taking liberties, and finally retaliated (video shows that to be the case). Things happen in the heat of battle. The league stepped in, took action, that's it. Finnegan is actually lucky he wasn't suspended, considering he is a repeat offender.

Adding this at 8:25 pm tonight, want to mention a conversation I had with injured Panthers WR Wallace Wright on Wednesday, and he gave me something else to think about here. Earlier Wednesday, Panthers safety Sherrod Martin was fined $40,000 for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Cleveland TE Evan Moore on Sunday. Stiff penalty, based on Martin being a repeat offender of the head-to-head knocks. But is $40K justified when 2 players were actually fighting? According to Wallace, the fighting penalties should have been stiffer, to curb that behavior in the future. I agree, to an extent, with Wallace. The fine didn't fit the crime on Martin, especially when reviewing the game tape.

High school football nears an end, state semi-final Friday on tap this week, with championship games next weekend. Hope you check out the Discount Tire Friday Night Final to see all the action this week, and our state championship previews next week.

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Where to begin?

Tuesday was a HUGE day in NASCAR, thanks to a couple of things. First off, a major shake-up at Hendrick Motorsports. Follow along, there will be a quiz later.

Three of their four teams will have new a Crew Chief, moved from within the organization. Lance McGrew leaves the #88 team of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and slides into the same post for Mark Martin and the #5 team. Steve Letarte goes from Jeff Gordon and the #24 to the #88 for Earnhardt, Jr. Alan Gustafson is shifted from the #5 to the #24.

Why all the movement, considering the (untouched) #48 team of Jimmie Johnson just won his 5th straight championship? Basically, because the other 3 didn't come in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th respectively. In fact, only Gordon was a Chase contender when the playoffs began. Martin and Earnhardt, Jr. were on the outside, looking in.

It's not a move of desperation, it's pure Rick Hendrick. It's not being satisfied with success, it going after more of it. It's no secret the Earnhardt, Jr. hasn't produced the results in his time at HMS. This move is a chance for the #88 guys to make a difference. Are there guarantees it will work? Absolutely not. One thing Hendrick can't ever be called is conservative, when it comes to going after titles. This shake-up proves that on many levels.

Richard Petty Motorsports announced they are scaling back from a four-car team down to two. Makes loads of sense given the financial issues RPM dealt with towards the end of the season. Hopefully, the King will find the right money folks to back his efforts, but here's also hoping the King is more hands-on with this company. The arrangement with the Gillett family didn't offer Petty much say in the business side of things, and considering he's been around NASCAR his entire life, he knows how to get things done. NASCAR is better when the Petty name is successful. here's hoping it returns to prominence.

Last NASCAR thought, congrats to Kevin Conway, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., and Austin Dillon for earning Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors. Great stuff for these three drivers. Continued success in the future to all three.

Turning to the Panthers, they have a chance (again) to pick up win number 2 of the season when they take on the Cleveland Browns in Cleveland. Funny as it sounds, the stars may align to have Jake Delhomme start at QB for the Browns to face his former team. You know, the team whose fan base wanted him gone? Hindsight is 20-20, but at the time he was released, I hated the move. I understood, however, it was about saving money, cutting costs, and going younger. Those goals were somewhat achieved, considering the Panthers still owed Delhomme money. Still, the youth got their chance, and the biggest complaint of Head Coach John Fox this season has been the play of the offense, and the QB position. It's a group effort, mind you, but the QB play has been a sore spot all year.

I know Panthers fans are hoping that the "bad" Jake will play for the Browns on Sunday. Throw a bucketful of interceptions, allowing the Panthers the chance to win the game. Not me. If Delhomme does start, I'm hoping he has a good day. No doubt he will be motivated to beat his former team, much the same way he wanted to beat the New Orleans Saints anytime he played them. This, though, is much more personal. The Panthers franchise enjoyed their best years when Delhomme was under center. Disagree? Who were the other QB's to take the Panthers to the Super Bowl? Only one other got them to an NFC Championship game. Delhomme took them to two of those.

Yes, his time in Carolina ended badly. Interceptions, fumbles, bad play, it all added up to him being run out of town like a crooked politician. Lost in all the late mess by many was the stuff that had people snapping up #17 jerseys at the team store, and chanting "Jake" anytime he hit the field. You have to remember the entire body of work, not the closing chapters. Sadly, the last thing folks saw, is how they remember the Louisiana gunslinger.

Will try to hit the blog again before the weekend, but with the holiday it may be tough. There is, however, NO EXCUSE for not watching Sports Night this week! Your chance to win tickets to the ACC Championship game in Charlotte awaits! Make sure you tune in at 10 each night for your chance!

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Panthers, Bobcats, NASCAR...oh my!

Mathematically, they are still alive, but to me, the Panthers playoff hopes are gone. That's fine. I've spent enough time griping about how this team was put together, and the end result. I've accepted that fact. I applaud the efforts of the players, who have gone out week in and week out and done all they could to try and win games.

Seven games to go, starting this Sunday against Baltimore. Another tough assignment for the Panthers offense, considering they are concerned about Jimmy Clausen this week. The Panthers signed Brian St. Pierre off their practice squad on Tuesday. That tells me Clausen is not coming around well after suffering a concussion against Tampa Bay. Say hello to rookie QB Tony Pike as your starter this week, with St. Pierre the backup, and Armanti Edwards as the emergency QB (if Clausen is unable to play). And for all the Edwards fans out there, you have to understand, the Panthers aren't "overlooking" your guy. They have him slotted as a wide receiver, not a QB. They won't just throw him in at QB until he's been looking at the playbook as a QB, not a WR. He hasn't worked out full as a QB in nearly a year, and not at all as a professional.

They could see a running back return from injury, given the release of Andre Brown on Tuesday, but that's something we'll find out at practice on Wednesday morning. Hats off to Mike Goodson for his efforts against the Bucs on Sunday. He ran hard, and got some good up front work to become the team's first 100 yard rusher this season. Took them until game 9 with all that talent back there. Yes, it's been a long year.

Charlotte Bobcats got on the board with a home win on Monday, and now have a few days between games. They head to Miami to face the Heat on Friday. I'm of the opinion the Bobcats have found something, and could be in for a nice stretch. Not saying they are going undefeated or anything silly like that, but I like the way the team played, and there's a good indication that Head Coach Larry Brown liked what he saw too. During the first half, I saw the coach leave his bench seat once. Just once, and that was to calmly work the officials. Generally, when he's not happy, he's up and down, pacing and shouting. A calm Larry usually means a content Larry. Notice I didn't say happy.

Speaking of the officials, the NBA has given them too much power. I understand the league not wanting players to show up their refs, but when Stephen Jackson gets "T'd" up, and even fined for things like he has been nabbed for, it's time to re-evaluate the policy. More than that, sitting courtside on Monday, I heard one ref basically snapping at Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis, and speaking in less than courteous tones. It's a two-way street, Stripes. You can't demand respect from players and coaches, if you aren't willing to show some in their direction as well. Rambis wasn't even hot about a call. He was wanting an explanation about a call that was made, and was trying to point out that the call could have gone another way. The ref shouted (and yeah, I mean shouted), "you asked me what it was, and I told ya..." while turning away from him. Really? Commissioner Stern, please. Step in here, and give the players and coaches a chance to fight for themselves. 99.9% of the time, they won't win their case, but at least allow them to be heard. Give them back their voice.

NASCAR fans, longing for a change tot eh Chase format, may still get their wish, but a 3 -driver battle has taken shape heading into the final race this weekend in Homestead-Miami. Denny Hamlin leads Jimmie Johnson by 15 points, and Kevin Harvick by 46. It will make for an interesting 400 miles in Florida, to be sure. Will one of them try and run another contender into the fence? Will they race each other cleanly? One mistake by the driver, or their pit crew is game over for the season. The margin of error is razor thin. Great drama.

Earlier in the season, NASCAR boss Brian France said the format needed to provide great drama, and signature moments. Looks like it will deliver that this weekend.

Mike Solarte

Monday, November 8, 2010

So THIS is what bottom looks like?

Wow. Just wow.

Carolina Panthers got smoked 34-3 by the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, a game that was not nearly as close as the score might indicate.

The "plan" put in place by the organization before the season began, is coming to fruition. Jettison most of your veteran leadership, sign young players to fill those spots, hope for the best, pray for few injuries, and let the coaching staff coach 'em up. See how we'll finish.

That loud boom you just heard was that plan blowing up in owner Jerry Richardson's face.

I want to state, for the record, I have a tremendous amount of respect for Mr. Richardson. He is the first former NFL player to own a franchise in the league. He has always been accommodating to fans of the team, making the rounds to tailgates on gamedays, and his team is always out in the community, giving back.

All that being said, this plan stinks for the fans of this team. It is hard for them to justify paying NFL prices for a product that is turning out to be less than standard. Back on September 29th, in this very space, I wrote this:
"I am curious as to why the Panthers are in this pickle. Why they felt the need
to jettison so much of their experience. I know there were some sizable
contracts attached to that experience, but it's almost like the plot line from
the baseball movie "Major League." The team owner, Rachel Phelps,
instructs her baseball people (scouts, GM, etc), to bring in certain players to
training camp. The intent is for her team, the Cleveland Indians, to be so
horrendous on the field, that attendance figures will fall to the point she can
relocate the team to Florida.

Of course, the Panthers aren't talking about relocating, but they have so many guys on the roster that are young and inexperienced, it makes me wonder if ownership isn't simply playing out the season as they anticipate a very possible lockout next season. Next year, the Panthers will have some decisions to make about personnel, but as it stands now, no collective bargaining agreement exists. Is 2010 just a throw-away?"
I bring that quote back from a little over a month ago, to illustrate this point. There was very little depth on this team to begin with, and now that QB Matt Moore, RB's Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams and Tyrell Sutton, MLB Dan Connor and rookie DE Greg Hardy are dinged with injuries, the Panthers have been exposed as a team with very little in the cupboard. THIS was the plan?

It's a guarantee, now, not just speculation, that John Fox won't be back next season. This is his final contract year with the club, and his frustration with "the plan," is showing. He kicked aside personnel questions better than an NHL goaltender on Sunday, basically saying, "I didn't buy the groceries, I'm just the cook, and I did my best to make it taste good."

My friend and colleague Bill Voth from the ABC affiliate in Charlotte, used some of his sportscast on Sunday night to call out Richardson, basically telling the owner that an explanation from him is due, in fact long overdue. While I commend Bill for the way he executed it (good execution is the key), those pleas fall on deaf ears. Richardson seems to not care about the opinions of the fans or media in this instance. If he does care, he's not rushing to speak to anyone about it.

I am blessed to be associated with smart people, and I spoke with one of them before the game. In regards to Richardson's "plan," my buddy told me that Richardson sacrificed his own team for the good of the league. Basically, he has shown the rest of the league's owners, he is willing to take the hit at the gate, as well as in the court of popular opinion, in order to help the owners head into what is shaping up to be a nasty labor negotiation. What will his reward be? It might be the first pick in the April draft.

Question is, would the Panthers trade that pick away, too?

Mike Solarte

Monday, October 25, 2010

Winless no more

No, it is not time for ticker-tape parade down Tryon Street, but the fact remains, the Carolina Panthers won a football game on Sunday. A hard fought 23-20 win over a San Francisco 49er team that did all they could to not win.

They committed too many penalties, weren't as sharp offensively with backup quarterback David Carr filling in for the injured Alex Smith. Smith was playing well, but injured his shoulder when Charles Johnson sacked him. Carr was the same guy that Panthers fans loved to boo. he was timid, he was gun shy, and he was inaccurate. He is who the Panthers found out he is (paraphrasing the great rant of Dennis Green).

Carolina didn't luck into this win, mind you. They made their share of mistakes, too. For the first time, though, they weren't beaten by the bad breaks, or miscues. They overcame them. Matt Moore threw a horrendous interception, that was taken back for a touchdown. It was ugly. Then you have John Fox calling for Carolina to go for it on 4th and 9 from the 16, trailing by 7. About 5 minutes were left on the clock, and the 49ers had shown no signs of life once Carr came into the game. That was a tailor-made moment for Fox to boot the field goal, get the points, and sent the defense back out to hold Frisco (which they had been doing). Weirdness.

Full marks for the youth stepping up. Moore's return was solid. Brandon LaFell and David Gettis played bigger than big. Gettis with a pair of TD catches, LaFell with a monster catch on the game winning drive (aided by a picture-perfect throw from Moore). For once, the question of "who is gonna get it done," was answered.

Defensively, a couple of miscues led to some big plays in the first quarter, but for the most part, they did a nice job, Frank Gore got his yards, which you come to expect. Smith hit TE Vernon Davis on a long pass, and then a TD toss, but other than that, nothing much to speak of.

Panther offense can't crank up the running game the way they did last season. When DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are held under 100 yards a duo, it means one of two things. 1) The San Francisco defense is good against the run, or 2) Carolina's ground attack needs some work. Currently, San Fran is 15th against the run, allowing 106 yards per game. Carolina ran for 76 yards on 34 carries. I like the commitment to the run game, though. The Panthers need to be better in that part of the offense.

Special teams play was good, as return threat Ted Ginn averaged 8 yards per punt return, and about 23 on kickoffs. Rhys Lloyd did his job well, recording four touchbacks on his 6 attempts. Jason Baker averaged 40 yards per kick, which a bit pedestrian for him--his average is 43.6 yards. John Kasay was on his game, knocking through all of his field goal attempts from 37, 47 and a monstrous 55 yarder that would have been good from 60, based on where it hit the netting above my head.

The Panthers defense must have felt like it was on a vacation. They played, by my unofficial count, 54 snaps. Way down from the 70+ efforts they have put in during recent outings. They can thank the offense for winning the time of possession battle, 36:05 to 23:55.

In all, a win, is a win, is a win. Next up, a trip to St. Louis to meet the Rams, another team that is struggling, but dangerous. The Rams lost 18-17 to Tampa Bay on Sunday, and will be looking to get back into the win column to get back to 500. They sit 3-4 after the loss.

Quick note on NASCAR, I said in the previous blog post that the Sprint Cup Chase was "close to over," and that Denny Hamlin's team "has the chops to win a title, but (Jimmie) Johnson's bunch isn't allowing him to get close enough." Well, in Martinsville, Johnson's bunch didn't allow Hamlin to get close, Hamlin roasted the field winning for the third straight race there, and closing the points lead from 41 down to 6. Reason for the props for the 48 team, they finished 5th with a car that was off all day long. Bigger props to Hamlin and the #11 Fed Ex team. They have been getting it done all season long.

Next stop, Talladega. Buckle up.

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Moore in, NFL fines & NASCAR

Carolina Panthers will go with Matt Moore at quarterback on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers. The move comes as a shock to some, but not me.

The Panthers may have committed to a youth movement with their roster, but that doesn't mean the coaches want to lose games in the name of gaining experience. John Fox may be in the final year of his contract, but he still wants to win, and he believes Moore gives him the better chance this weekend against the 1-5 Niners.

That's not a slap at Jimmy Clausen. The guy is a rookie, and didn't play horribly. He has ball security issues, namely taking a snap from under center. He will learn, and he will be a good NFL quarterback. It will take time, and he will get plenty of opportunity.

As for going back to Moore, it's not desperation. It's about winning games. Ultimately, that will be the mark by which this team is judged, Never mind the lack of veteran leadership on the roster. Wins and losses are all that matter in the NFL.

And since we're o the subject of John Fox, if this is indeed his final season in Carolina (and all signs point to that being the case), this season's team won't be held against him. His body of work as a n NFL Head Coach far outshines what he has been dealt this season. Yes, it is the Panthers organizational plan, but stripping a coach of most, if not all, of his veterans and filling a roster with mostly young players who have to learn as they go, is not how Fox will be viewed by the next team that hires him. He will be viewed as a guy that took a franchise from 1-15 before his arrival to an NFC Title, and Super Bowl appearance. He didn't become horrible overnight, folks.

The NFL handed out $175,000 dollars in fines on Tuesday, slapping Pittsburgh's James Harrison, New England's Brandon Merriweather, and Atlanta's Dunta Robinson with fines for hits deemed to be helmet-to-helmet, and certainly dangerous. My take, the NFL got it right on 2 of those players. Robinson did nothing wrong. He hit DeSean Jackson with his shoulder, and he hit Jackson in the chest. Video supports it. Robinson says he's appealing, and I hope it's rescinded.

There is a difference between dangerous play, and playing hard. Dangerous play involves headhunting. Plain and simple. The onus is on he defenders. Tackling is just that-tackling. Not trying to deliver punishment with a major collision. That is hitting. Tackling involves wrapping the offensive play up, and bringing them to the ground. Tackling is a lost art in the NFL, but tackling doesn't sell tickets these days. Collisions do.

I applaud the NFL for this. Players need to respect each other on the field, which can be done, while still trying to win the game and playing hard, tough football. I'm glad they stepped in before someone gets seriously injured. Or worse.

NASCAR off to Martinsville this weekend, and things are still up in the air. Jimmie Johnson leads Denny Hamlin, and both of these guys race the heck out of Martinsville. Should be a great weekend. I told Charlotte Observer reporter Jim Utter I would declare the Chase over had Johnson won in Charlotte. He didn't win, and I didn't have to say it.

I sure do think it's close to over. If, and it's a big if, Johnson gets through Talladega with the lead, only bad luck will keep Johnson from a 5th title. The 48 team saw their driver spin out on lap 34, drop to 35th place, and yet they worked him through the field, and into contention before it was all said and done. Face facts: This was Johnson's Chase to lose. Either he was going to runaway with it, or someone has to step up and beat him. Hamlin's team has the chops to do it, but Johnson's bunch isn't allowing him to get close enough. It's great drama to watch, and the next 5 races will be too.

Mike Solarte

UPDATE--Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a memo to all the clubs regarding player safety, and playing within the rules. See it here.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Bye Week

Normally, I don't like the week 6 bye week, but for the Carolina Panthers, it comes at a good time. The Panthers are a lost bunch, no offensive direction, a defense that is wearing down faster than it should, and a fan base that is perilously close to folding the tents and going on its way.

The 23-6 loss to Chicago in week 5 was a bad loss, no doubt. Offensively, Carolina isn't even able to be one-dimensional. Their vaunted run game barely gets a shot to get out of neutral, because the opposition puts points on the board, taking a lead, forcing the Panthers into a passing mode.

For all of the work the Panthers put in on just the passing game in pre-season (and in training camp, as well as OTA's before that), the results just aren't there. True, five games is a somewhat small sample size, but still, the results in those five games has been consistent, and that hasn't been good. That also begs the question, was it really all Jake Delhomme last season?

What is the fix? At this point, that's anybody's guess. The reality is that Carolina has 11 games in which to try and salvage the season. The playoffs are a dream right now, as it will take Carolina going, at worst, 9-2 over their final 11 to have a chance, and even then, that may not be enough.

Hats off to the defense. They have had to play more snaps than any unit I can remember watching, and they do it well. The tank runs empty when you constantly hit the gas, and that is no different for the defense. I joked with LB James Anderson on Monday night saying the defense could sue the offense for lack of support, to which he simply smiled. He won't throw his teammates under the bus, and to me, that's a good sign. These guys are still in this thing together, no finger-pointing, no splinters in the locker room. How long it stays that way is something to watch.

Elsewhere, we saw the end of the Bobby Cox era with the Atlanta Braves Monday night. Atlanta was knocked out of the playoffs by San Francisco, and after the game, the old skipper took his bows at Turner Field. He came out of the dugout, saluting the fans, tipping his cap and waving. Tremendous moment by the Giants on the field, as they stopped their celebrating to turn to the Braves side of the field, and applaud Cox. You don't have to be a genius to recognize Cox will go down as one of baseball's all-time great managers, and it was nice that the players on both sides too a moment to recognize it as well.

NASCAR Hall of Fame selections coming on Wednesday, Be shocked if David Pearson is left off of this 2nd class of inductees. He should have gone in with the 2009 Class, but if he is left out of this one, you may have to call the Hall into question on their selection process. I won't begin to take a stab at the other 4 potential inductees, but considering 20 of the 25 names on this ballot were listed on last year's ballot, it is safe to say that this class will be just as deserving as the first.

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dwayne Jarrett Released

It's a day that Panther fans have been calling for over the past 2 years. They got their wish on Tuesday, but for all the wrong reasons.

Mind you, I have been wondering what Jarrett had done to earn the chance at a roster spot, as his potential has gone horribly unrealized. My reasons were simply football reasons. He wasn't doing enough in practice to merit a jersey on game day. Pretty telling stuff that, in his 4th season, being the 2nd tenured WR on the roster, Jarrett was inactive in week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals. That move signified the beginning of the end of his time with the Panthers.

His release however, does not come easily.

The Panthers have cut loose a guy that set a Pac-10 record for touchdown catches (41), and was a 2nd round draft choice. Many will affix the label "bust" to him, and when it comes to football, it would fit. The bigger worry for me, is the young man's future.

Jarrett being nabbed twice for DWI by the age of 24, is a warning sign. Jarrett may need some serious help. This is not a good thing for any person that age, not just football players. Maybe the pressures of the NFL were too much for him. Maybe he's not cut out for the NFL. Who knows. What we do know is this: Dwayne Jarrett struggled as an NFL receiver, both on and off the field.

In the game football, Jarrett's time may be up. In the game of life, he'll need to get back on track before something worse than being cut by an NFL team happens.

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Time to empty the clutter in my brain

It's been far too long, but after watching the Panthers loss to Cincinnati, in a poorly played game by both teams, I needed a day or two to reboot.

I am curious as to why the Panthers are in this pickle. Why they felt the need to jettison so much of their experience. I know there were some sizable contracts attached to that experience, but it's almost like the plot line from the baseball movie "Major League." The team owner, Rachel Phelps, instructs her baseball people (scouts, GM, etc), to bring in certain players to training camp. The intent is for her team, the Cleveland Indians, to be so horrendous on the field, that attendance figures will fall to the point she can relocate the team to Florida.

Of course, the Panthers aren't talking about relocating, but they have so many guys on the roster that are young and inexperienced, it makes me wonder if ownership isn't simply playing out the season as they anticipate a very possible lockout next season. Next year, the Panthers will have some decisions to make about personnel, but as it stands now, no collective bargaining agreement exists. Is 2010 just a throw-away?

For the record, I am not accusing the Panthers of tanking the 2010 season. I am definitely not accusing the players of not trying their best. I see it on the field each week. They are trying. They are busting on every play. It just feels like they brought a knife to a gun fight. Hard to be successful when you don't have the tools to get it done.

The Panthers are a 1/3 mess. At 0-3, much of the blame falls on the offense. They are woefully one-dimensional, which makes them a defensive coordinator's dream to scheme against.

"OK guys, here's what we are going to do. We're putting 8, maybe 9 in the box, and we'll force Carolina to beat us through the air. Their running backs are focus number 1, so if we contain the run, we win the game."

Since laying blame is easy (although most of the time unfair), the offense gets the dirty end of the stick pointed at them. Hard to blame the defense or special teams. By my count, the defense was on the field for 74 plays against Cincinnati (not including special teams plays). That is a ton of snaps for that unit to be on the field. Carolina needs something from the offense. Anything. Won't be easy as they meet New Orleans this weekend.

Off football for a second, the NBA season is on the horizon, with training camps opening league-wide this week. Charlotte Bobcats are in Wilmington, back after a 1 year break from their road camp. I like the optimism shown by the players, but I wonder how far behind the rest of the Eastern Conference they are. So many teams went out and did what they could to upgrade. The Bobcats were so tightly pressed to the luxury tax number, they really couldn't do anything. I think they are still a top 8 team, but they will be a in a bigger battle this season to find a playoff spot.

And speaking of the Eastern Conference, camps just opened, yet the good folks at ESPN (and basically everyone else in the NBA universe) seems to have gone all Dennis Green on us, and crowned the Miami Heat as champs. Why do I say this? Well, for starters, ESPN is camped out at Heat camp at a military base in Florida. And not camped out with a reporter, but with a travelling studio set, complete with an anchor, and a pair of analysts. To me, that is a bit much, and it also the reason there will be even more LeBron and Heat hate. It makes the Heat public enemy number 1 in the NBA fan world. So much attention paid to three guys that have never played together for an entire NBA season, ramps up the pressure on them to new heights. Not only do they have to win the title, but they will have to break records in the process. Way too much heat on the Heat. Flipside of that, imagine what joy the detractors will have if the Heat (gulp) fail.

I will credit LeBron with a good line from his interview with Rachel Nichols, when asked about being booed. Paraphrasing, he said people boo because of fear, not because they don't like them. He pointed out people booed Michael Jordan. Why? Because they hated his game? No, they were afraid of what Jordan was going to do to their team. I did agree with him about that.

Charlotte Checkers opened up training camp on Monday, and as a hockey guy, I am excited. The Checkers move into the American Hockey League this year, and fans will notice a difference in play. All due respect to the former ECHL Checkers, the AHL version is faster, and will be more skilled. The players on the ice are, in essence, one phone call away from the NHL. All the players know that as well, and they work their tails off to ensure their phone is the one that rings when the time comes. Head Coach Jeff Daniels is a former NHL forward who is a wonderful student of the game, and has done a nice job as a Head Coach within the Carolina Hurricanes system. This will be a fun team to watch, so make it a point to check them out.

Mike Solarte

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Wild week rolls along

Panthers taking on Cincinnati on Sunday, and Jimmy Clausen gets the start at QB, his first in the NFL. Don't know that will be the difference, but why not shake things up? If Clausen has a big day, the Panthers could roll from there. If he struggles, the Panthers will be in for a long afternoon. I'm not sure which way this one will go, but the smart money game plan says pound it on the ground with Stewart and Williams, a dash of Goodson for good measure. Sprinkle in the occasional toss to Smith, LaFell, Gettis, Jarrett (2 of those last 3 should play), and play keep-away with the football. The longer Carson Palmer and the Bengal offense stays on the sidelines, the better it is for Carolina.

Defensively, the Panthers have to find a way to get to Palmer. 19 sacks in the pre-season, but just 1 in their opening 2 games. That simply indicates the stakes are higher, and as such, teams are game-planning to protect their QB's. On the flipside of that, the Panthers have surrendered 8 sacks in their first 2 games. That would suggest that teams are finding weaknesses in the offensive line, and taking advantage.

The recipe: tighten up the offensive line, run the ball, make Palmer uncomfortable, and keep Clausen confident. If Carolina can cook that up, they could break into the win column.

NASCAR hammered Clint Bowyer with a 150 point penalty, after they found his car had issues in the way the body was married to the chassis, following the Loudon race--a race Bowyer won, and moved up to 2nd in the points. Stripping him of 150 points basically wipes out the race win, but is it fair? Points leader Denny Hamlin ran 2nd, and got 2nd place points, but since he finished 2nd to a car that was deemed illegal, shouldn't everyone move up a spot in the points? That is a discussion for another day. The point I want to make is this: take all 12 cars in the Chase back to the R&D center and look all of them over. Bowyer's case is different, as NASCAR warned that team they were close to breaking rules in Richmond, and there would be another inspection after Loudon. Isn't the Chase supposed to be the 10 race playoffs that determine the champion, and should be above board in all aspects?

I am not accusing any team of deliberate cheating. Far from it. I am calling on NASCAR to ensure that the champ will be the guy that has the best Chase, and not the est way of getting away with rules violations. For instance, Jimmie Johnson finished 25th at Loudon, but nobody wants to inspect his car. I'm not suggesting there is anything illegal on the 48, but how would anyone know? Keep the field level, look at all of the Chase cars, regardless of finish. Make all the teams play by the same rules.

OK, enough ranting for tonight. If anything strikes a nerve between now and Sunday, I'll light this candle again.

Mike Solarte

Monday, September 20, 2010

Panthers-Bucs, and The Aftermath

Not only did the Carolina Panthers lose20-7 to the Tampa Bay Bucs on Sunday, it also cost QB Matt Moore his starting job. Jimmy Clausen will start this Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.

I do not expect the Panthers offense to start churning out touchdowns as a result of the switch, but Head Coach John Fox had to try something. I believe him when he says the change was not an indictment of Matt Moore, but rather trying to spark Carolina's listless offense. Even though the ground game is averaging just under 4 yards per carry, they still seem to be missing a beat somewhere (my guess is RT Jeff Otah's absence has something to do with it). The Panthers have just 2 offensive touchdowns in the 2010 season, which includes preseason games. Something had to give.

I had to shake my head at the Twitterverse on Monday. Those calling out Moore as being a sub-standard NFL QB. It's real easy to say a guy doesn't belong in the NFL when he struggles. It's also easy to forget that Moore was the guy that beat the NY Giants and Minnesota Vikings last season, when both teams had something to play for. The Giants to get into the playoffs, the Vikes for home field advantage. I throw out the Saints win, with the Saints sitting 90% of their starters.

I also think it ridiculous that so many detractors wouldn't know how to hold a football, much less throw one to a wide receiver.

Did Moore struggle? Yes. Should a change have been made? Perhaps, likely yes. Consider, though, the job of quarterback isn't all glamour. It's a tough racket. I know it's his job to win games, and be productive. It's not as easy as it might look. Cut the guy a break. You may have to do the same for Clausen is he struggles, and the Panthers go 0-4.

Mike Solarte

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Panthers, racing, and more

Knocking out a couple quick thoughts on this lovely Thursday.

  • Look for the Carolina Panthers to hit the win column this week. Tampa Bay did not look impressive against Cleveland in week 1. Yes, they came back from a deficit, but they did it against a Cleveland team that simply doesn't know how to win, yet. They capitalized on a pick-6, and then wore down the Browns. The Panthers have more talent, and should bounce back from many correctable mistakes in all three phases. If the Panthers get run off the field, it might be time to think about panic on a season that could be over, long before it begins.
  • Derek Jeter is getting blasted for not being hit by a pitch, yet taking the awarded first base, because the home plate umpire thought he got hit by the pitch. Couple things in play here. 1) If Jeter played for your team, would you expect (or want) him to tell the ump he got the call wrong? If you answered yes, you would, then let me be the first to call you a liar. I believe in the spirit of fair play, don't get me wrong. Think of the situation. Yankees-Tampa. Two teams fighting for the divisional lead. Any and every advantage must be optimized, and that includes errors by officials. Baseball uses video replay very minimally--which I think is a good thing. 2) I have no idea how a ball hitting a wooden bat (on the butt-end or elsewhere) sounds like a ball hitting a human, however, the mistake was made. The umpire bought Jeter's acting job, and as a result, Jeter is being labeled as a cheater. Jeter is no different than any player. If the ump tells him to take his base, he's 90 feet up the line heading to first. Bottom line: if baseball wants to use video replay in a minimum fashion, and leave the on-field blue shirts to run the game, then the on-field guys simply have to be better.

Loads of high school football coming your way on the Discount Tire Friday Night Final at 11. I'll hit the blog Sunday (or Monday) after the Panthers and Bucs.

Mike Solarte

Monday, September 13, 2010

Panthers-Giants:The Fallout

Something I will attempt this season, is write the "day after" blog. The day after a Panthers game, win or lose. Generally, I have found that when I write something the day of the game, I am not seeing things clearly, so I go back, watch game tape, etc. So here goes.


Matt Moore struggled. Let's be honest. He threw three interceptions, all coming in the end zone. He has to make better decisions there. Even if it means throwing it into the seats, a throw-away is better than a turnover. Moore went 14-33 in the game, 182 yards, and a touchdown. His QB rating of 32.6 wasn't sparkling, so there is room for improvement.

The offensive line had its issues as well. Moore was sacked four times in the game, but one in the 4th quarter may be the reason Moore suffered a concussion. 3:50 left in the game. If you have it recorded, check it out, or just watch News 14 for our replays of it. The line has to be better in pass protection. As for running the ball, a little bit incomplete. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart combined for 21 carries. That number is WAY too low for that tandem, trailing 15 points or not. The Panthers success is predicated on the run. 21 attempts by your stud running backs doesn't cut it.


Some poor execution led to some big New York plays. Putting that into perspective, RB Ahmad Bradshaw finished the game with 20 carries for 76 yards. He picked up 39 yards on just one of those carries. Take that one out (have Carolina play some better defense on that one play), and Bradshaw ends up in the neighborhood of 40 yards for the game. Brandon Jacobs, the petulant backup RB, had 12 carries for 44 yards. He gained 22 on one carry. Again, better defense on that one play, and Jacobs is around 25 for the game. Carolina did their job against the run.

Against Eli Manning, Carolina wasn't bad, either, but breakdowns cost them dearly. Hakeem Nicks had a monster afternoon, with three touchdown catches. Giants receivers should have had a bigger day, though, as three times, Manning throws hit their hands, only to bounce skyward, and into the waiting arms of a Panther defender. Opportunistic interceptions, no doubt, but it wasn't like the Panthers jumped a route, and had a clean pick. They still count, don't get me wrong, but we're being honest here. I liked what I saw from the defense, for the most part. Room for improvement, no doubt.


Mike Goodson needs to keep doing what he's doing. He's showing more and more that he just might be the answer to their kickoff return problems. Captain Munnerlyn averaged 19 yards per punt return in the game, not horrible by any stretch.

J.J. Jansen makes his first appearance in the blog (I think), as we saw him commit an error as the long snapper. Jansen said after the game, it was a wet ball that played a part in the botched snap on a punt attempt, but he fell on the grenade, and said that wasn't an excuse. Jansen has been solid since his arrival, and no doubt this appeared to be a once-in-a-great-while thing. Even Jason Kyle (now with New Orleans) had screw-ups, but you'd have to look long and hard to find them, much less remember them.


During the game, I received a text message asking if this was the most disinterested I had ever seen John Fox during a game. I don't think he is disinterested. Fox is a professional. He will do his job to the best of his ability. I was led to wonder, though, why the Panthers were throwing the football so close to the end zone late in the game. Carolina trailed by 15 points, with 11:30 left in the game. They string together a 12 play, 51 yard drive, in just 3 minutes, and get to the New York 4 yard line. They then attempt three straight pass plays, rather than dance with the running backs that brought them. This is not about a lack of confidence in Moore, but more about why their best weapons remained holstered. 8:40 remained on the clock, when Moore was picked off by Terrell Thomas. Why throw it there?

Let me also say this: The Panthers coaches have forgotten more about football than I will ever know, but from an outsiders viewpoint, 8:30 was plenty of time to try and get a score (with the running backs being involved), get the defense back out there, only trailing by 8, and making a game of it.

Overall, this Carolina team might be better than a lot of people give them credit for, myself included. They need to clean up the issues, however, and that won't be easy. This is a young team, and generally, young NFL teams make mistakes. It's how young players learn. For this team to be successful, though, they will need to learn quickly.'

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Panthers-Giants and more

At long last, it's game week for the Carolina Panthers, and if you are feeling confident that this team can contend for an NFC title, I'd love to know why.

I'm not dissing the Panthers, I just want to know why you are confident. I have some doubts.

Defensively, the Panthers are young, but they are flying around (at least they did in the pre-season). They are so active, and swarm to the ball, it was fun to watch in the exhibitions. Special teams seems to be improving week to week, and that, too is a good thing.

Offensively, there are concerns, and there really shouldn't be. That unit went 4 games without an offensive touchdown. That is hard to do. Stats LLC says the Panthers are the first team in at least 14 years to accomplish that feat. This unit, however, is the most in tact of the football team. Three of the five starters from last year's offensive line are back, although Jeff Otah has yet to play after having arthroscopic knee surgery at the start of camp. Matt Moore finished the season at QB, and he's back. DeAngelo Williams returns, as will Jonathan Stewart, but like Otah, Stewart didn't see the field in pre-season. Steve Smith is back as well, but he missed the pre-season too. Lots of unknowns, but with all due respect to the work done by Stewart and Smith in their careers, Otah might be the most valuable missing piece. Moore doesn't have his usual pocket comfort, Smith may not be able to get open, and Stewart can't run around the right side of the line without Otah doing his thing. No word yet on if he'll play Sunday against the Giants.

The Giants were smashed in their home finale last season by Carolina, in what would be the final regular season game played at the old Giants Stadium. The same two teams will christen the new place (a gorgeous building located right next to where the old one stood). As if the Giants needed it, they have additional motivation for Sunday.

I like the Giants in this one, but not by much. It could be a 7 point game, but if the offense can't find its way, it will be much worse.

Want to throw in my .02 on the Ryder Cup. Can't wait to see if Team USA can retain the Cup./ Tuesday, Captain Corey Pavin picked Tiger Woods, Stewart Cink, Zach Johnson and Rickie Fowler to complete his 12 man team. I love the picks, even the Fowler selection. At 21, Fowler has yet to win on the PGA Tour. The same can be said for teammate Jeff Overton, who made the team based on points. Fowler has a 7-1 record in Walker Cup play, and his fearless style will serve him well in match play. This USA team is a nice blend of old and young, but don't count out the Europeans. I'm still picking the US to retain the Cup in what promises to be a wonderful weekend of golf from Celtic Manor, beginning on October 1st.

Thanks for checking out the blog, and if you are a drag racing fan, be sure to check out Sports Night at 10, as we go one-on-one with Top Fuel Driver Antron Brown!

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

TV Ads Portray Worst of NFL Fans

I haven't written anything in a long while because there hasn't been much on my sports radar that has grabbed my attention or raised my ire. Finally something has.

These NFL Direct TV ads bother me. Now before you jump to conclusions, it's not because I work for a cable company. In fact, it has nothing to do with what Direct TV is providing.

What has agitated me so much is the content of the ads. I'm sure you've seen them. It's the commercials where a neighbor or a waitress or a cab driver is complaining about how someone is rooting for an NFL squad other than the hometown team. Consequently said neighbor, waitress or cab driver does something mean-spirited in retaliation.

Sure at first you chuckle, but the truth is this kind of behavior goes on at NFL stadiums. Don't believe me, then why has HBO's "Real Sports" done more than one expose on the topic? What I want to know is when did it become criminal to root for your team of choice no matter what city you're living in? I know there are hundreds upon hundreds of stories where fans who are just at a game to root for their team, only to be accosted by the hometown fans because he or she is supposedly wearing the wrong jersey. In most instances, alcohol is a big reason for the bad behavior. It's something the NFL has tried to crack down on with its rude fan policy where folks can text security about unruly acts.

The sad truth is these NFL commercials from Direct TV only reflect our society; and while they may seem innocent enough, in some way it really only encourages bad behavior. The commercials may depict throwing snow on someone's walkway for wringing rag water into somebody's tea, but imagine the lengths someone could take it to after watching one of those ads. Hey, it's OK to have a healthy rivalry, but if I were the NFL I'd find a better way to depict it.

Jason Brown

Monday, August 30, 2010

Monday Musings

I am going to resist the temptation of writing out my Panthers 53 man roster for now. I made up my mock roster over the weekend, and came up with what I feel are 48 locks, leaving 5 spots open. My guess is the roster breakdown will include 4 specialists (Kasay, Baker, Carter, Jansen), 25 on offense, 24 on defense. Again, it's just a guess, but there are plenty of decisions to be made when it comes to filling out the team. Glad it's not my job to make those choices. Some could be unpopular.

As for the Panthers 15-7 win over Tennessee on Saturday night, two-thirds of their team is playing pretty well. Special teams improved from week 2, to week 3, and the defense has been quite good. Offensively, the Panthers are still trying to find their way. Problem with that is, the first team offense will see VERY limited work on Thursday night against Pittsburgh. I don't know that they will put up an offensive touchdown in the pre-season (they are 0-42 possessions in the exhibitions without a touchdown). I did see signs of promise in the 2-minute offense against Tennessee. Matt Moore and company ran a solid drive down the field, but a red zone fumble by Wallace Wright ended the threat, and subsequently, the half. They came up empty, but a touchdown there would have done wonders for their confidence. They just have to get that feeling back. Remember what it's like to get back into the end zone.

They are shorthanded. No Steve Smith. No Jonathan Stewart. Key guys. No Jeff Otah, either. Problematic when 3 key guys are not playing yet. As you would expect, Head Coach John Fox isn't tipping his hand about when those three will return to the lineup, but how much of a difference will they make upon return? For Stewart, he can change things--he's a punishing runner. For Otah, he can change things as well, providing that earth-moving ability to open holes for the run game.

Smith can be a difference maker as well, but his role relies on a quarterback to get him the football. If you think opposing defenses will load up against Carolina to stop the run, well, you would be correct. They will do that, and make the Panther passing attack beat them. If Moore and his receivers can be effective in the air, then the Panthers offense could be something to be reckoned with. So far, however, signs of lethality have been missing.

An NFL note to ponder, the league shifting the umpire to a new spot on the field is causing a bit of a stir. The Indianapolis Colts were flagged for false start penalties, because they were snapping the ball before the umpire had gotten into (his new) position. This is being worked out by the league, but I think it needs to be scrapped. It punishes teams that utilize the no-huddle offense, and in turn, aids the defenses that have to try and stop it.

I realize the league is trying to keep its officials safe--a tough job considering the 22-man mosh pit that is an NFL play. There are plenty of collisions that take place between players and officials. Still, there has to be a better way. Here's hoping the NFL comes up with it to keep its officials out of harms way (as much as they can), and to keep competitive balance on the field.

Looks like the PGA Championship is heading to Quail Hollow in 2017. An official announcement is believed to be coming Tuesday morning, with dignitaries such as Governor Bev Perdue, and Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx on hand. A major would be awesome for Charlotte, but I worry about the future of the (now) Wells Fargo Championship. Personally, I love that tournament. I love covering it. I played competitive golf through college, so being inside the ropes for that event every year is amazing. My concern is what happens to that event once the PGA comes in?

More later this week, as the Panthers make their cuts, face the Steelers, and I'll let you rate my fantasy football roster!

Mike Solarte

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Been awhile....

Back after a week away, and ready to get cranked up in the football season. Some thoughts on this Tuesday morning.

The Carolina Panthers aren't into panic mode just yet, but I understand why there is so much angst amongst the fans. Defensively, the Panthers have been better than anticipated. They are getting solid play from the unproven parts on that side of the ball. Defensive line play has been good, with Everette Brown showing he was worth Carolina trading up to take him. That's a good thing, since Julius Peppers has bolted for Chicago.

Incidentally, enjoyed reading the Chicago papers, and their evaluation of Peppers play in the exhibitions. We all know the pre-season games count for nothing, but the assessments haven't changed. They Bears writers are keeping a watchful eye on big number 90. Don't be surprised if they start getting on him early if he isn't producing. Weird sighting in Chicago while I was there: the Bears jerseys with "Peppers" on the back. Weird.

The Panthers offense is still trying to find itself, and Saturday will be their last best chance to do that before the regular season begins. Thru 8 quarters, no offensive touchdowns. Granted, OT Jeff Otah, WR Steve Smith and RB Jonathan Stewart have yet to play, and their returns should provide some spark, but still, there is no game-plan in place (most everything is kept very basic in the first 2 exhibitions). Blocking, catching, throwing. Simple execution has been lacking. This group has to make some serious strides against Tennessee Saturday night.

Charlotte Bobcats have a deal in place with center Kwame Brown. On the surface, it seems like the punchline to a bad joke. Look past the selection of Brown by then Washington Wizards President Michael Jordan. Yes, that was a mistake. The 2001 draft wasn't exactly a star-studded draft. Teams got very good professionals in that draft. Very few stars have come from that class. Interestingly, 6 of that years 1st round picks have worn (or still wear) Bobcats orange.

The fact remains the Bobcats are tight to the NBA salary cap, even though they likely will get some relief with the Eric Dampier contract at some point (via trade or releasing him and his non-guaranteed contract). Brown is just 28, even though he has 9 seasons under his belt. He has never been a big time scorer, and that won't be his role in Charlotte. He is what he is at this point, so don't set the bar too high. If he plays 15 minutes, and helps out defensively, he and Head Coach Larry Brown will get along just fine.

NASCAR gets a weekend off before going to Atlanta over Labor Day weekend. Some drivers are locked into the Chase, but a dandy battle for the 12th spot shaping up between Jamie McMurray and Clint Bowyer. Bowyer holds the spot by 100 points with 2 races until the Chase begins. Atlanta and Richmond remain before the final 10 races take place. Those are a pair of wild-card tracks, given Atlanta's unpredictability, and the short track nature of Richmond. Anything can happen, and with the way this season has gone, fans should be ready to see anything, and everything.

More as the week goes on!

Mike Solarte

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Panthers-Ravens Live Blog

Hey gang...just setting up the blog for kickoff. Lots to do before the ganme begins, but hope you'll watch along with me! Leave your comments, and I'll reply to you!

7:58 Kickoff fast approaching. Tying up loose ends for Sports Night, and will be ready to go once we get going!

8:09-Nice start for the offense. Doing what they do. DeAngelo finds a hole, breaks off a nice run.

8:11 Ravens load up left side, get one extra guy thru to sack Moore. Mack Bernadeau nicely covers fumble. Punt City, Maryland.

**Should point out, I will have to suspend the blog during Sports Night, but may chime in with thoughts in commercials.**

8:15 With Panthers missing some key faces, CB Chris Gamble among them, Flacco could enjoy some 1st quarter success. Panthers secondary is somewhat experienced. Nice work by linebackers on that blitz.

8:19 Defense with nice work by Tyler Brayton, gets the sack. Forces Baltimore into FG, which Shayne Graham knocks thru. 3-0 B-More.

8:25 Offense having some passing game issues. Not unexpected, given no Steve Smith, and a lot of guys vying for jobs behind him. May be pressing a bit. 7:42 to play in 1st qtr.

8:29 DE Tyler Brayton holding leg after his 2nd sack. Looked like an ankle tweak. Hope it's not serious. They need all the vets they have.

8:36 Must admit, it's neat seeing other teams flagged for offsides. Nice plays by both WR Brandon LaFell and FB Tony Fiametta catching passes. This drive looks like Panthers football. Grind it, eat the clock. Then Moore's best throw comes back on another penalty to LT Jordan Gross. Pass-pro is not having a good qtr.

8:38 3rd flag on Jordan Gross. This one negates another downfield completion, Dwayne Jarrett making a nice reach-behind catch. Crazy game, eh?

8:40 P Jason Baker with the "rugby" punt. Kills it on the Baltimore 4 yard line. One area the Panthers are ok in, the kicking game.

8:44 Panthers defense getting knocked around. 1st down pass to Boldin, then McCLain goes for a rushing first down. End quarter, B-More 3-0.

8:50 Flacco to Clayton. 30 yards. Captain Munnerlyn in coverage, never established position. About to be 10-0 Baltimore.

8:53 Starters likely done, and the #2 QB for Carolina is....revealed after the break.

8:54 per our buddy Darin Gantt, Jimmy Clausen comes out with 2nd offense.

8:57 Nice couple plays for RB Tyrell Sutton. You can follow him on Twitter @TSutt22 He;s been chomping to get on the field and play since he hurt his calf on day one of camp.

8:59 Per Panthers tweet @cpanthers Moore was 4-7, 32 yards. Great concentration play by WR Kenny Moore. Big pickup. Have to give the 2nd teamers a nod. They are playing hard, and unlikle the 1st team O-line, they are executing.

9:04 Kasay boots the FG, 10-3 Baltimore. If 1st team offense doesn't find a rhythm, we may hear that alot this season.

9:10 Defense with the fumble recovery, Sutton flying tonight. Red Zone for Clausen.

9:12 Like the notion of the jump-ball to LaFell. That was Jarrett's promise on draft day.

9:13 Tough break for Sutton. Clearly fumbles at the 1, Baltimore recovers. He's still having a nice night, but will want that one back.

9:17 CB/S C.J. Wilson with a nice pass break-up, but Bulger comes back with a first down completion on next play. Ravens in hurry-up.

9:21 Does Bulger think he's auditioning for the starter's job? He's slinging that thing around like it's the Greatest Show on Turf, B-More style....but he's not connecting. Until he hits Stallworth.

9:24 Ravens K Shayne Graham misses 50 yarder with 71 seconds left. Panthers get chance to run 2-min offense with 2nd unit.

9:27 Clausen with a bullet to TE Dante Rosario on 3rd and 11. Wait...I just wrote a pass play on 3rd and long for a Panthers offense. WOW. 1st down, Carolina. :52 left.

9:28 Gotta tell ya, folks, Clausen showing lots of poise in hurry-up offense. And then he gets sacked. Time out, Panthers. That;s their 3rd charged time out.

9:30 Clausen drives offense to field goal range, Kasay from 48 not gonna be kicked. Botched play. 10-3 Ravens at the break.

That is likely my last update for a while. Will try to do some after 10:30. Thanks for hanging.

9:36 OK, I fibbed. 1st half evaluations:

Matt Moore was not as bad as his numbers indicate. 3 double-digit yardage pass plays were negated by penalties. He was composed, and didn't turn the thing over. That's a point of emphasis, and Moore delivered. LT Jordan Gross will be better. He will. An ugly first quarter of football for him, as he made the game look like the late stages of a Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Defensively, I may have missed an update on DE Tyler Brayton, but hopefully his leg injury isn't serious. CB Captain Munnerlyn got schooled a little on the touchdown pass, as he thought he was pushed. He won't get that call against a veteran guy like Clayton, but to me, Munnerlyn looked like he had some footwork issues on that play. Certainly correctable. Not having Chris Gamble out there does expose a little drop off, but it's not a season-ender.

Hate to see Jason Baker bobble the snap at the end of the half on the FG attempt. Normally, that exchange is spot on. It will be worked on, and I'd be surprised to see it happen again. Don't know if a wet ball had anything to do with it, but it did rain in that first half.

10:40 Back in the blog chair. Lots happened since I last posted. Panthers scored a defensive TD, thanks to fumble returned for a TD by CJ Wilson. Ravens ranback a punt deep into Panther territory--some tackling issues. Led to TD run by the Baltimore QB. Then Fox challenged an incompleted pass. IT'S THE PRESEASON. STOP CHALLENGING, ESPECIALLY WHEN IT HAPPENED RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU! OK, sorry about that.

10:51 Basically garbage time now, but I feel bad for QB Tony Pike. His reps are down in practice, and he likely won't hit the field tonight.

10:57 Armanti Edwards still learning the WR position, but he is light years ahead of where he was during OTA's back in June. He's gifted athletically. Panthers will find a spot for him on the field.

10:58 I stand corrected, Pike on field with chance to get Panthers to a tie. Gruden gushing over Pike.

11:14 Hunter Cantwell trying to get Carolina the winning score, now that Pike got his series. 4th and over.

Hope you enjoyed the running blog tonight. I may get another shot when Carolina plays at Pittsburgh at the end of the month. Won't be live blogging during the home games. I'll knock out a recap in the morning.

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Changes in NASCAR coming

They won't be sweeping, but they will be noticeable.

NASCAR is in the process of nailing down its 2011 schedule, and the Twitterverse is blowing up with the revelations and announcements.

Say hello to Kentucky on the cup schedule, and say goodbye to 1 race at Auto Club Speedway in California (thankfully). Say goodbye to one Atlanta race date, and welcome Chicago into the final 10-race Chase format. Plenty of things happening here, but based on what I am seeing, it seems NASCAR could use a little geography lesson here.

For the life of me, I will never understand why NASCAR insists on going out west after the opening week of the season in Daytona. This year it was California, next year, it will be Phoenix. Sure it's warmer, but does it make sense for teams to spend 2 weeks in Florida, and then head back to the shops, and have the quick turnaround out to Arizona? Couldn't NASCAR decide to go to Atlanta after Daytona? As it is now, with nothing set in stone, the schedule looks to be shaping up like this.

Las Vegas

Those would be the first five races on the schedule, which would be using the 2010 final points standings to determine the top-35 for qualifying, if those get rained out (if that system is in place at all next season as well).

Forgive me for a moment, but I thought NASCAR was a "Southern" based series?

Another gaffe on this schedule is making Chicago a Chase race. NASCAR is big in Charlotte. NASCAR is not nearly as big in Chicago. Given the time of the year (the Chase beginning in September), the Sprint Cup series will be lucky to grab any kind of significant headlines in the Windy City. In September, my hometown of Chicago is completely immersed in a football team known as the Bears. Home or away, the Bears run Chicago in the fall. They run the city more at that time of year than a Cubs team on a pennant chase (as infrequent as that is). Chicago is a football city, not a NASCAR city. Having your "playoff" races begin there is an error of monumental proportions.

Kansas is getting a 2nd date is 2011, which will be good for them. Kansas becomes the new Pocono, with 2 races crammed together within a short span of time. Pocono gets 2 races in 2 months, Kansas with get 2 races within just over 3 months. Thing people are most excited about when it comes to Kansas? The casino that is there. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the racing facility, which is why the series will go there in the first place.

Ah, NASCAR. Thanks for giving us something to chat about, once again.

Mike Solarte