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

Monday, August 9, 2010

The first of 20 game weeks

Forget what took place in Canton, Ohio Sunday night. The NFL's Hall of Fame game never produces much of anything. Then again, neither does the entire NFL pre-season. I found myself clicking away from the Bengals and Cowboys once the starters were out of the game. While I won't be doing that on Thursday night for the Panthers-Ravens game, the one thing that makes the pre-season good, is that we are watching football again.

That in mind, let me repeat my mantra for those who get so wrapped up in the pre-season records.

Exhibition ANYTHING is meaningless.

It's not to say watching it isn't intriguing, and that the play of those on the field is meaningless. For those fighting for jobs, or getting ready for the regular season, these games mean a lot. The coaches need to evaluate game tape in order to pick the roster. The players need live game action to apply what they have learned, and to try and improve. For players and coaches, it's not meaningless.

Fans, just watch the games, and don't get caught up in results (as in final scores). Nothing from the pre-season means anything once the regular season begins, so just throw it away.

Why do I say this? Well, for starters, the Panthers will be looking at so many young players, and very few veterans, that it will be hard to gauge just how good this team really is, even if they went 4-0 in the fake games. Who won't be playing? Let's start with WR Steve Smith and RB Jonathan Stewart. Neither has taken part in a practice during camp, and won't before Thursday. RB DeAngelo Williams likely won't play very much on Thursday night, nor should he. NFL coaches have to walk a very thin line, when it comes to balancing the needs of preparation with protecting star players. Williams qualifies as a star, so don't look to see him carry too much of the load until things start to count.

What am I looking for on Thursday? Well, more from the offense than they showed on Saturday during Fan Fest. However, I'm not looking for trick plays, or anything too intricate. I'm simply looking for guys who can execute. Pass, catch, run, and block. The Panthers likely won't do too many things that are exotic on the exterior. They simply don't game plan for teams in the exhibitions. For them, it's more about lining up, and executing the simple game plan, just to make sure guys are able to do that.

Defensively, the Panthers have that youthful jump, or at least had, during the full team period on Saturday. That's good to see, as they will need every ounce of energy from their young guys, and those young guys will have to learn quickly, and contribute even faster. The D-line is low on experience, the linebackers are the same, and the secondary will have to be as good as they can be. Still, there is something with that unit that has me feeling just better than confident (whatever that word is). They aren't world beaters, but they could be more than serviceable.

Notice, I left out special teams. John Kasay and Jason Baker know how to kick. I'm not worried about them. The only intrigue for that unit is who will handle kickoffs. Jason Baker, or a specialist to replace Rhys Lloyd (signed as a free agent with Minnesota). Not much to get excited about.

I am holding off my prediction on how good this team can be until I have seen them actually play someone. I will say, though, I kinda like the vibe, but vibes don't win games.

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Panthers, Favre, A-Rod .....

Lots of things cluttering the brain of late. Time to clean things up.


Have been noticing this year's Panthers Camp Wofford has been remarkably quiet. That's a good thing. There are a lot of questions surrounding this team: They have been hit with injuries, and that has kept some key contributors (WR Steve Smith, RB Jonathan Stewart just to name a few), on the sidelines. If there is any concern about the rather low decibel level coming from Spartanburg, it might be that with all the questions, there have come very few answers. Yes, I know it's been just 1 full week of practices, and still so much has yet to be determined. Still, the fact that things remain mostly sedate is a bit, well, strange.

On Wednesday, RT Jeff Otah was in Charlotte for arthroscopic knee surgery--basically a clean-up procedure. Head Coach John Fox seemed (by all accounts), fine in this development, and he is hopeful Otah can be ready to go by the season opener. Injuries have been a headline in this camp, and as such, the team finally went full speed in a goal-line drill on Wednesday. Their first live action of camp. Fox has had to be especially careful with his projected starters, and there is no sense in burning them up if he doesn't have to. Fans will get a shot to see more full speed drills on Saturday at Fan Fest at Bank of America Stadium.


Yes, it's Favre-A-Palooza time once again, but unlike last year, I am actually on the side of the aging quarterback. This time, I actually believe him. I actually think he's contemplating retirement. I don't think his career is over, but I do think he is giving it some serious thought, but only because of a slow-to-heal ankle. If he can play, he will. His comments made on Wednesday from Hattiesburg, MS were quite telling. He was concise in his answers, yet not rebellious. He was straight to the point, unlike the wishy-washy Favre we have seen twice before. Maybe he's as tired of the circus as we are. Or maybe, just maybe, he is seeing and NFL season without him in it. Again, it may not be this year, but even he has to realize that day is much closer than it was, just 24 hours ago.


A-Rod became the 7th member of the 600 Career Home Run Club on Wednesday afternoon, hitting a 2 run shot to straightaway center field at Yankees Stadium. Fairly impressive accomplishment, as he joins Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr. and Sammy Sosa in that exclusive group. A-Rod, though, is the youngest to do it at 35 years, and 8 days.

Couple things about this accomplishment. Many will say that Rodriguez, Sosa, and Bonds were a part of baseball's "steroids" era, and that would be accurate. Rodriguez, himself, admitted that he had taken performance enhancers, but discontinued that use. Does that usage taint his accomplishment? Depends on your stance on steroids. To me, steroids made players stronger, and gave them the ability to recover faster from workouts, games, etc. Steroids have no influence on being able to put the bat on the ball. I am a little torn on this one, because I'm not foolish enough to think that steroids didn't help A-Rod, Sosa or Bonds hit homers that would have been long fly-ball outs if they weren't using. No doubt, being just a little stronger helped some of those homers that ended up in the first or second row, rather than being caught on the warning track. Still, hitting a baseball is one of the hardest athletic disciplines there is. That's hand-eye coordination, not strength.

For me, A-Rod deserves credit for getting to 600, but it's one of those things that I will wait to see if he reaches the 700 mark. If he does that, he may be able to shake the connection to the juice. Still, 100 more homers is a lot to ask of a guy that is 35 years old. Time, as they say, will tell.

Mike Solarte