Monday, August 29, 2011

After Cincinnati, before Pittsburgh

Quick musings between games, as the Panthers get back after it on Thursday night.

I don't want to rail too much on this team, considering the body of work to this point has been done with a lot of guys in starting roles that are basically the 2's on the two-deep. Jon Beason, Jeff Otah, Geoff Schwartz and others have yet to play a down in the preseason. Beason just had a procedure on his achilles in the hopes he can be ready for the season opener on September 11 at Arizona. No guarantees on that, however. Otah has been back on the field for three straight days, which is a good sign. Looks like he may have to play through some knee pain this season (unless it's subsiding to where he doesn't notice it at all).

Are there mistakes? Yes, but they can be fixed. Some of them might disappear by plugging in the normal starter at the position in question. However, this team is running out of time to find a rhythm, especially on offense.

The defensive side of the ball has been tough to watch, and while some of it can be attributed to missing personnel, a lot of it comes down to fundamental errors. Again, mistakes that are correctable, but still being made. From my seat, I would agree with many of my colleagues that the Panthers will be looking for some veteran help at both DT and CB once teams begin cutting players (rosters down to 75 by Tuesday night, 53 by Saturday night).

Rivera said Monday he has yet to determine how long the starters will play on Thursday against the Steelers. My guess is one quarter max, but given the need for some continuity, they might go longer. In any event, the Panthers still have a long way to go, but a short time to get there.

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Panthers-Bengals thoughts

Days away from the Panthers-Bengals in week three of the preseason. Couple quick hits on that one.

CAM NEWTON should have a good night. Cincinnati is beginning to resemble what the Panthers looked like last year. That's not good. I would think the offense will enjoy a night of success, with Newton finding receivers down field, and the running game getting some good work done. IF this happens, Newton is the week 1 starter against the Arizona Cardinals. If not, then Ron Rivera has a decision to make with his quarterbacks.

Good to see Jeff Otah back on the field on Monday. Hard to look at him and say he isn't missed. Figures lie and liars figure, but hard to argue what Otah means to the running game. Two years ago, when healthy, the Panthers ran at will. Over 2300 yards on the ground. Last year, they were stuck in neutral, just over 1800 yards rushing. Otah didn't play a snap last season. The sooner he gets ready, and playing, the Panthers become a force in the ground game. Let's also not forget Geoff Schwartz is on the mend as well, and his absence has been noticeable this preseason.

Defensively, the Panthers have to do something to shore up the DT spot. Corvey Irvin, Sione Fua, and Terrell McClain work hard, but will that be enough? Tough spot for new Defensive Coordinator Sean McDermott to be in, but then again, with young guys come the chance for a coach to make a huge impression. After watching what Miami did last week, the feeling they can improve is very real. What would also help is the return of Jon Beason, who continues to deal with an achilles issue.

Overall, this team has been without some pretty big names through the exhibitions. Luckily, they haven't lost key contributors in those games (although losing DT Ron Edwards in camp certainly hurt). Here's hoping they get through Cincinnati in good shape. Plenty of tough decisions remain for the coaches.

Mike Solarte

Monday, August 15, 2011

Panthers - Giants, a review

A quick hit before heading to bed.

The Panthers showed lots of promise in their preseason opener with New York on Saturday night, but there are still things to be worked through. First the positives.


For a unit that went in without guys like Charles Johnson, Jon Beason, Thomas Davis, Chris Gamble and Captain Munnerlyn, the defense did well, allowing just 3 points to the Giants offense. They were active, the secondary did a nice job in coverage, and didn't allow Eli Manning a lot of time to throw the ball where he wanted to. It is the preseason, so teams aren't going to show a lot of their playbook, but on the surface, this was a solid outing. There are still questions about the depth at defensive tackle and in the secondary (locking down the right mix of cover corners), but overall, this unit performed well.


Throw out the ugly pick-six thrown by Jimmy Clausen (a mistake he owned up to in post-game), and this group was good. Clausen bounced back leading Carolina to their first offensive preseason touchdown in 2 years, and the running game didn't get as much work as some would have hoped, but again, this is the preseason. Have no fear that DeAngelo WIlliams, Jonathan Stewart and comp;any will get plenty of touches once the regular season rolls around. This unit was also without some star power, as Steve Smith did not play, along with Geoff Schwartz on offensive line. This group can be good, and as Ryan Kalil told me after the game, there are a lot of pages in the playbook yet to go in.

Cam Newton is slowly winning me over. I'm not ready to anoint him as the next great QB in the league, but he is showing he is able to pick up a much different offense than what he was used to at Auburn. I would venture a guess that he will start against Miami on Friday night, and play most of the first half (if not all of it). Clausen should see plenty of time in the 2nd half. Derek Anderson doesn't need a ton of work, but if he gets in a good number of reps to stay sharp, he will be ready to go. Anderson, so far, has been a solid mentor to the young guys. Certainly better than I anticipated he would be, and being wrong never felt so good to me. How long this can last is a mystery, because he wants to play, but so far seems like a good match for this group.


Not much to say with this group. Jason Baker did his job well, Olindo Mare boomed kickoffs, and didn't miss a field goal or extra point attempt. J.J. Jansen was rock solid on his delivery of the ball to Baker in kicking situations too. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Hat tip to Armanti Edwards. No doubt he was put in a tough spot last year, and he responded in the offseason with his work as a receiver and punt returner. He looks to be the guy in line for the PR detail, and he showed some flashes on Saturday. Of course, he's still a work in progress. Mike Goodson's kickoff return skills were on display as well, and he's a hard, downhill runner with the rock in that spot as well as his running back details. Spoke to him after the game, and he was a little don about committing a fumble, but he knows he can improve there. Not to worry.

We'll see if they can maintain this momentum against Miami, who knocked off Atlanta in their preseason opener. Thing is, though, their first team was getting thumped by Atlanta, and the 2nd and 3rd teamers won them the game. Speaking of Miami, don't be shocked if Matt Moore wins the starters job in Miami. He looked good against the Falcons, and if he gets reps with the first team, it will be hard for Tony Sporano (I am so tempted to write "Soprano" when typing his name), to keep Moore off the field.

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

4 days in, some observations

The Panthers wrapped up their lone workout on Tuesday, and are now off for 24 hours. Some quick thoughts on Panthers training camp so far.

1- It's really tough to assess just how good this team is going to be, because there are 20-plus players that are unable to take part in practices due to the new CBA rules. Guys like Thomas Davis, Jon Beason, Greg Olsen, Charles Johnson, etc., have yet to take part in system installs, and such because they either signed contract extensions, or were acquired in trade. Since they did that, they weren't allowed to begin workouts until August 4th. Davis tweeted out on Monday night "Having to sit back and watch everybody else practice is for the birds. We need to get this agreement done. So the rest of us can go to work." It's understandable why he's so antsy, considering he hasn't taken part in a meaningful workout with the team in nearly two years. Once the Panthers get their regulars back, things will begin to take better shape.

2-The QB battle hasn't been much of one so far. Cam Newton has looked better than Jimmy Clausen in the early going. That may change, but Newton is displaying a wide variety of tools in his toolbox. One of them, his ability to escape. On Monday night, our cameras saw him pick up the rush, find a seam, and explode through it. It's an intangible that Clausen simply doesn't have. Not criticizing Clausen on this, but there are noticeable differences between the two, which, in my eyes, puts Newton ahead of Clausen.

3-Derek Anderson signed with the team on Monday night, and won't be able to workout with them until Thursday. I wasn't fond of the signing, because I felt there were better "teaching QB's" out there. I wrote in this space that Jake Delhomme would be the perfect fit, but Anderson's experience with Offensive Coordinator Rob Chudzinski makes him a more natural fit, as his prior knowledge of the coach, and what the coach wants, will help Clausen and Newton in this very shortened window of training camp. Thing that scared me off of Anderson initially was his post-game blowup following a loss to San Francisco last season. I do, however, understand that we all have moments we wish we could have back. I'm guessing this is one such time for him.

No real thoughts on the defense just yet, as Beason, Davis and James Anderson (among others), have yet to hit the field. We'll know more after Thursday, and fans in Charlotte can get their first look (if they haven't gone to Spartanburg), on Saturday for Fan Fest at 4pm. Admission is free at Bank of America Stadium.

See you there!

Mike Solarte