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

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