Friday, April 27, 2012

Panthers take Kuechly

Quick hit on the Panthers selection of Boston College LB Luke Kuechly.

I like it.

At the 9 spot, Carolina would have been hard pressed to find a player with the skills, athleticism, and football smarts of Kuechly.  He will be a good fit to the Panthers linebacking corps.   Sure, there are questions about whether Kuechly will start, but in the NFL, to me anyway, starts are immaterial.  The 11 guys who start on defense do not play every single defensive snap.  Kuechly has versatility to move from the weakside to the strong, and of course has the middle in his repertoire as well. 

The Panthers questions are more about how soon Jon Beason will be back up to speed (last week, he pronounced himself 80% back), and if Thomas Davis will be able to stay on he field.  Davis is coming off of his 3rd ACL surgery on the same knee, so the odds are long that he will be able to contribute.  Davis had a solid pre-season as well as season opener in 2011.  He re-injured the knee in week 2 against Green Bay, but if he looks anything like he did before the Packers game, Davis will be a factor in the LB corps.

Two more days of the draft remain for Carolina, and it will be interesting to see which way they go to plug some areas of need on their roster.

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Madness of the NFL Draft

First off, let me remind you, I am Mike Solarte, not Mel Kiper.

His job is to study the draft, and all things connected to it.  Me?  I try and worry about everything from football to hoops to golf....well, you get the idea.

I will admit, right off the bat, I have no clue who the Carolina Panthers will select with their first round pick (9th overall).  As of this blog, I am pretty sure even they don't really KNOW.  They have ideas and scenarios, but to think they are locked in on one specific player would be inaccurate.

Who do I THINK they will take?  BC linebacker Luke Keuchly or UNC DE Quinton Coples.  Those are the guys I THINK they would select.  And it would take two different scenarios for each of them.  Keuchly at 9, if the Panthers don't trade down.  Coples at 16 if they work a deal with the NY Jets.  Keuchly's resume is solid, and Carolina could use a guy like him as both depth and insurance.  The Panthers are watching for Jon Beason and Thomas Davis to return from season-ending injuries in 2011.

As for Coples, there is the now-famous knock on him, that he takes plays off.  He doesn't try hard all the time.  I would like to remind the Court of Public Opinion, the same was said of Julius Peppers when he came out of college.  He was so terrible with the Panthers, that many fans hated him when he left after spending 7 seasons in Carolina, and refused to sign a long-term deal.  Yes, I know he wasn't terrible.

The NFL Draft is as inexact a science that you will find.  For every 6th or 7th round gem, there are 1st and 2nd round washouts.  Tom Brady, Terrell Davis come to mind as late round gems.  Ryan Leaf and Eric Shelton come to mind as early pick washouts.

My advice:  on draft night, whether you watch at home, or at a sports bar with buddies, enjoy the ride, and the night.  The Draft signifies one thing:  the new season is rapidly approaching.

Had to add this in.  Former Charlotte Bobcats Head Coach Larry Brown took to the airwaves of the Dan Patrick Show on Wednesday and basically told anyone listening that while Michael Jordan was brilliant, he is surrounded by idiots.  The idiots are also "yes" men who can not tell His Airness "no."

OK, so if that is the case, why is it Bobcats fans had to wait for Brown to be fired before seeing Gerald Henderson get quality minutes?  Not saying Henderson is a star, but how do you know what you have if you don't play him?

Why did Brown lobby so hard for Tyrus Thomas to get the big contract he got?  Thomas has proven nothing in this first year of the big deal, other than a reported altercation with Head Coach Paul Silas.  Maybe Brown was hoping for a tussle with Thomas himself.  Who knows.

For every gripe of Brown's, there are questions that can be fired back in his direction about his run in Charlotte.  In the end, Brown sounds like a jilted girlfriend.  While his knowledge of the game is tremendous (he's forgotten more about the game than I will ever know), this instance makes him look petty, which is sad.  Brown is the ONLY coach to win both the NBA Title and an NCAA Championship.

You can add Travelling Whiner to that list as well.  Is there one spot that Brown left in better shape than when he got there?

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Panthers schedule and Pucks

First things first, Carolina Panthers schedule was released at 7pm Tuesday night, and here's how it looks:

Sun. Sept. 9 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Raymond James Stadium 4:15 p.m. FOX
Sun. Sept. 16 vs. New Orleans Saints Bank of America Stadium 1:00 p.m. FOX
Thu. Sept. 20 vs. New York Giants Bank of America Stadium 8:20 p.m. NFLN
Sun. Sept. 30 at Atlanta Falcons Georgia Dome 1:00 p.m. FOX
Sun. Oct. 7 vs. Seattle Seahawks Bank of America Stadium 4:05 p.m. FOX
Sun. Oct. 14 Bye
Sun. Oct. 21 vs. Dallas Cowboys Bank of America Stadium 1:00 p.m. FOX
Sun. Oct. 28 at Chicago Bears Soldier Field 1:00 p.m. FOX
Sun. Nov. 4 at Washington Redskins FedEx Field 1:00 p.m. FOX
Sun. Nov. 11 vs. Denver Broncos Bank of America Stadium 1:00 p.m. CBS
Sun. Nov. 18 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Bank of America Stadium 1:00 p.m. * FOX
Mon. Nov. 26 at Philadelphia Eagles Lincoln Financial Field 8:30 p.m. ESPN
Sun. Dec. 2 at Kansas City Chiefs Arrowhead Stadium 1:00 p.m. * FOX
Sun. Dec. 9 vs. Atlanta Falcons Bank of America Stadium 1:00 p.m. * FOX
Sun. Dec. 16 at San Diego Chargers Qualcomm Stadium 4:05 p.m. * FOX
Sun. Dec. 23 vs. Oakland Raiders Bank of America Stadium 1:00 p.m. * CBS
Sun. Dec. 30 at New Orleans Saints Mercedes-Benz Superdome 1:00 p.m. * FOX
* - Subject to flexible scheduling.

Two national TV games, one at home, one on the road. And those only the guaranteed ones. A hot start would make Carolina eligible for the flex scheduling in the back end of the campaign. Two divisional games highlight the final month of the season, which means the Panthers will have to make hay early on in the NFC South. Also of note, the 4:15 start times while on the east coast, one against Tampa on Sept. 9, and one at home against Seattle (of course that is for the west coast audience benefit).

Next, the Stanley Cup playoffs have been riveting, and making headlines, but not for the hockey. The headlines are being made for the after-the-whistle stuff. Read, the fights.

Folks, I'm here to tell you, this is the round that this sort of thing takes place. It will happen like this every year. This year, it is amped up because there is a rivalry series in Pittsburgh v. Philadelphia, and there are a couple of teams trying to assert themselves against members of the NHL's Original Six (Nashville v. Detroit, and Ottawa v. NY Rangers).

Winning a championship isn't supposed to be easy. It is supposed to be difficult, and in hockey, a game where emotions are on the razor's edge every second of the game, it is going to boil over. Having been on both sides of the on-ice equation, as both a player and referee, I get it. I understand what it means to be playing in those games, and understand what it means to be officiating those kinds of games (not at the NHL level, but to hockey players, the stage doesn't matter).

For those folks complaining about it, I offer you this: give it a week. The rough stuff will go away, as teams are a step closer to winning a title. Fighting becomes more of a hindrance than a help for teams chasing the ultimate prize. It will stop.

For me, I'll watch whether they duke it out, or skate it out. It's just hard for me to sit and listen to people who have NEVER played that game (or any other in some cases), constantly trash it. If only they could experience the joys of teamwork, and camaraderie. What it is like to know the player next to you on the bench is with you, working for the common goal. Sometimes, especially in hockey, it gets rough and it gets messy. It's just part of the gig.

Mike Solarte

Monday, April 9, 2012

Augusta National. My first trip.


Having only seen the Augusta National track on TV, I was amazed at how much television makes the course bigger than it really is. The fairway on 18 on my TV looks to be some 90 yards wide. In person, it was far narrower. The 18th green? Not nearly as big as it appears in the coverage.

The beauty? Well, TV doesn't do that justice either. The place is incredible. It is the perfect mix of man and nature. The way that the golf course is manicured, and maintained, is hard to believe. The practice areas are in better condition than the course I grew up playing on. Everything about the golf at Augusta is first class. Everything.

If you follow me on twitter ( then you know I am attached to my iPhone. I tweet a lot. However, phones aren't allowed outside the walls of the media center. Makes it tough to tweet. I was forced to unplug. A little unnerving at first, but after a while, it was rather liberating. It forced me to look around and fall in love with the game of golf all over again. And I was only there for the weekend.

Bubba Watson's win of the Masters is one for the ages. Watson's run of birdies on the back nine created a new set of roars, ones which are reserved for Georgia's favorite sons. And by way of his college days, he is a Georgia son. Bubba is the every man golfer, that the every man wants to be. He swings for the fences, he wears his hair long all over (a rather impressive salad if you enjoy long hair), but most of all, he wears his heart and his emotions on his sleeve. Wide open, for all the world to see, Bubba Watson is exactly who you see on TV. He is fun, funny, a self-proclaimed 33-year-old child. He is a devoted husband, a doting new father of an adopted son, and a man deeply rooted in his faith.

Bubba represents a lot of good in the game of golf, and it hard not to root for him. You don't have to, of course, but you would be forgiven if you got a little choked up watching him after he realized he had won his first major championship.

I had the honor and privilege to see that drama unfold, and I was about 30 feet away from Watson as Charl Schwartzel slipped that green blazer over Watson's shoulders. As a journalist, I got to witness Watson realize his dream.

As a golfer, I got choked up wishing it were me.

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Masters Week...and more

A tradition unlike any other...The Masters.

You'll be hearing that phrase a bunch over the next four days. The Masters tees it up on Thursday, and Phil Mickelson predicts a "birdie-fest," if rains continue to soak the golf course. Still, the first major of the year always seem to bring out the very best play, from the very best players on the planet.

Tiger Woods is the pre-tournament favorite, but there are about 30 other players in this field that can be slipping on a green blazer at the end of the week. Rory Mcllroy likely feels like Augusta owes him one, Hunter Mahan won last week in Houston, Webb Simpson, Bill Haas, and others could be the ones taking advantage of soft greens, thanks to the rains that have fallen there already.

On a personal note, I'll be making my first ever trip to Augusta for this event. Will try to capture my visit with words, as photos are not allowed to be taken on tournament days.

NASCAR gets this weekend off for Easter, and that's a good thing, since so many drivers were unhappy with David Reutimann in Martinsville. It's a tough spot to be in. Reutimann is driving the Cup series ride on weeks when Danica Patrick is not, so keeping that car in the top 35 in points is vital to keep it locked into each week's field. Reutimann was doing all he could to nurse a wounded car around the 1/2 mile track, but it finally gave out. Should he have been sent to the garage for not maintaining minimum speed? Absolutely, but he tried to make it. His breakdown (the car just stopped on the track) ended a dream scenario for Hendrick Motorsports, as 3 of their 4 cars were in the top 3 with just a few laps left.

Ultimately, NASCAR should have stopped Reutimann when he wasn't maintaining minimum speed. Period. It's not NASCAR's job to keep a car in the top 35, that falls on the team and driver. To an outsider, it would look like NASCAR bent as much as they could to try and help Reutimann stay on the track, but not for himself, but for the chance to keep Patrick locked into the field when she runs in Cup again. NASCAR knows the bang Patrick brings to racing. They realize the coverage NASCAR gets when Patrick is there, and her missing the race is bad for business. Business, however, should never overtake the competition side of NASCAR. I can understand why someone would accuse NASCAR of trying to keep Patrick's in the field. I don't think that's what happened here, but only NASCAR knows for sure.

A couple observations on the baseball season:

1-It started last week in Japan. Yeah, I know you missed it too. Sadly, the start of a professional league season went completely unnoticed by everyone except the two teams that played. It was Seattle and Oakland, by the way.

2-The Miami Marlins unveiled their new ballpark Wednesday night in the stateside MLB opener. What a building. Absolutely gorgeous on TV. I didn't like the pre-game though. Here's why.

Muhammad Ali was brought out in pre-game in a golf cart. The champ's health has been in decline for years. Seeing him sitting there, shaking uncontrollably is not the way I wish to see one of America's greatest sports icons. I was sad watching him. I don't want him to be put away or anything, but teams trying to capitalize on their big events by bringing Ali out just seems wrong to me. I remember Ali as the original trash talker, and as one of the most amazing heavyweights ever. He'll always be The Greatest.

Another thing that "struck out" with me, the National Anthem, as performed by Jose Feliciano. Wonderful artist, but the song wasn't written like that. Same goes for "The Fray" at the NCAA final. C'mon people, ya gotta have some respect for the song that represents the country in which you live. I know I have railed on this in the past, but two bad ones in a week? There is only one, and I mean ONE artist that is exempt from my criticism of Anthem performing.

Jimi Hendrix. Period.

Mike Solarte