Tag Archives: Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers 2015 Season

The Carolina Panthers may have won their division last year, but finishing with an 8-9-1 record means that there is still massive room for improvement.  Head coach Ron Rivera has had a .500 record in four seasons with the Panthers and is always on the “hot seat.”

Not many teams can lose a player of Greg Hardy’s talent and still be one of the league’s most respected defensive units, but that’s what keeps Rivera employed.  They have youth on this line with defensive tackle Star Lotullelei and defensive end Kony Ealy but it’s Charles Johnson, who needs to continue to be the veteran leader.  By doing so, he needs to lead by example and although his pass rushing isn’t what it used to be, his work ethic hasn’t missed a step, which will be key in keeping this line motivated.

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The line backing group in Carolina should be exciting to watch.  Luke Kuechly is arguably the best linebacker in football while 11 year pro Thomas Davis is one of those guys who has found the Fountain of Youth, because he is just as fast and alert now as he was seven years ago.  Rookie Shaq Thompson came into this draft as one of it’s better athletes.  At Washington, he played linebacker as well as safety and running back.  His versatility will keep him on the field as much as the other two linebackers and his speed will keep offensive lines in check as he can cause a lot of damaged in delayed blitz packages.

Veteran Charles Tillman, was one of the toughest and intelligent corner backs in the league, in his prime – but his injuries have limited his playing time, and although it was hard for the Chicago Bears to part ways with the fan favorite, the move had to be done.  Rivera brought Tillman on to be the voice of leadership in a secondary that needs the help, but Tillman’s voice won’t be heard if he can’t be on that field.  Josh Norman can’t be trusted across from Tillman and safety Roman Harper has lost a few steps.   If the front seven of this defense turns out to be a monster – expect the Panthers to play with the possibility of putting rookie linebacker Shaq Thompson in at safety to help balance things out.

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Ron Rivera likes to keep his offenses simple but this year he will need a lot of help from his offensive line that enters this season with a lot of questions.  Last year they Panthers had an undrafted rookie and practice squad-lifer start on their line and this year they are expecting third round pick Trai Turner.  Rob Rang of CBS Sports said of Turner: “Powerful run blocking will get Turner a chance in the NFL, but struggles in pass protection may make Turner’s conversion to the quickness and precision of the NFL difficult. ”  Luckily for Turner the Panthers like to run a lot – the flip side of that is: “Who is running the ball?”

James Stewart has been on Carolina for his whole career and if people were to speak honestly on the career of Stewart – “unimpressive” would be the word to describe it.  He’s a basic running back with basic abilities who never seemed to want to be the guy.   Rookie running back Cameron Artis-Payne has some explosiveness to his game and will most likely steal carries away from Stewart.  Payne is an Auburn alum like Cam Newton and is used to run heavy offenses.  Payne may be one of those players that “sneak up” on teams in the mid-season.

The issue with Carolina and quarterback Cam Newton is that, Newton was never given weapons at his disposal.  Last year Carolina took Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin in the first-round of the draft and he quickly gave them results.  The big wide out, proved to be a hassle to corner backs and his strength made him a match-up nightmare.   Teams seemed to catch up to Benjamin later in the year though, so keep an eye on him in the early going of 2015.  The Panthers took Michigan wide receiver Devin Funchess in this year’s draft.  Funchess does a lot of what Benjamin does and provides another big target for Newton.  Much like Benjamin, people are not sure of the kind of “motor” Funchess brings week to week though.

For all things considered, tight end Greg Olsen is the team’s best receiving option and is their best player on offense – period.  His number of receptions and targets have gone up in each of his four seasons in Carolina and last year had his first 1000 yard season.  With a healthy Cam Newton this season, expect those numbers to continue to increase as long as Benjamin proves he is worthy of being a number-one receiver.

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Quarterback Cam Newton, was hampered by injuries all season long and even had a nasty car accident last season, that injured his back.  Through it all, Cam Newton only missed two games last season and although it was a disappointing season from a statistical point of view, he gained the trust in his locker room and respect amongst his teammates, which was always an issue in Carolina.

There are so many “ifs” in this Carolina offense that it doesn’t quite stir confidence in the stomachs of Panthers fans.  A healthy Cam Newton is one of the NFL’s dangerous weapons and his maturity has come a long way from his rookie campaign.  Ron Rivera has pushed his luck before and he’ll try to do it again.  Carolina should still be in competition for the division at least.

Predicted Record: 7-9

Predicted Pro Bowlers: Cam Newton, Greg Olson, Luke Kuechly

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

Panthers Packing A Peanut Punch in 2015

Charles Tillman was born, not raised in Chicago, but one could never tell by the way her wore that city’s name.  Tillman was the personification of the term class act.  He played the game with the class, was a leader on the field and was also known for his charity work in and around the city of Chicago.  Tillman, a Walter Payton Man of the Year award recipient,  was known for his “Peanut Punch” technique in Chicago, in which he would create turnovers by literally punching the football out of an opposing ball carrier’s hands.   Now at 34 years of age, and with his last two seasons being cut short due to triceps injuries, Tillman now finds himself out of Chicago and now in Carolina.

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Some thought that if Tillman was not to return to Chicago, it would be to play in Tampa Bay with his former head coach Lovie Smith, but Tillman opted to play for his former defensive coach, Ron Rivera who is now the head coach of the Carolina Panthers.

Defensively, Tillman finds himself in a position  better than that of Chicago’s.  Although they weren’t as dominant a defense as they were in 2013, the 2014 Panthers defense kept them close in games where their offense sputtered.  They are led by the best linebacker in the league in Luke Kuechly and a defensive line anchored by the likes of Star Lotulelei and  Charles Johnson.  The Panthers decided to part ways with Greg Hardy leaving a huge hole to fill in their pass rush efforts which they really didn’t address in free agency.  What they did address was their secondary by signing Teddy Williams, Kurt Coleman and Thomas DeCoud.  Okay they addressed it – they didn’t necessarily drop the world on it’s head with those signings. . .

Their latest addition was that of Charles Tillman, who brings an understanding of Ron Rivera’s schemes and the savvy of a veteran, who may not be the athlete he was 10 years ago, but is still a very serviceable piece when healthy.  Look at how good Bears rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller looked when Tillman was playing and compare that to when Tillman was out with injury.  Things became harder for the rookie because he lacked the instinct, “know-how” and physicality that Tillman brings on every snap.

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ProFootballTalk.Com reported that Tillman’s arrival to Carolina had more to do than just Ron Rivera: “Tillman said that defensive backs coach Steve Wilks was one of his closest confidantes when his daughter Tiana was having heart problems which led to a transplant. .. that’s similar to the role Till holds with Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, whose young son had to undergo multiple heart surgeries as well.”

The NFC South was a laughing stock last season.  The Panthers finished the season as the NFC South champions with a record of 7-8-1.   Considering who he’d line up against in this division, Tillman, even at 34, can be a valuable asset to this Panthers team.

Considering each team, let’s start with the Saints:  After last season, it’s apparent that Drew Brees’ reputation far exceeds his actual ability to play at an elite level anymore and as far as receivers, Tillman can keep the likes of Colston bottled up quite easily.  The Buccaneers will have a rookie quarterback under the very conservative watch of head coach Lovie Smith, so he won’t ask his rookie to do much and no matter the receiver lined up against Tillman – if it’s Vincent Jackson or Mike Evans – it will be more of a physical battle than a battle of speed, which plays right into Tillman’s hands.  Let’s not forget that while the whole world was scared of Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, Tillman frustrated Megatron more than any other corner did in the league – and it was because Tillman loves physical play – even against the likes of Calvin Johnson.  The team that may pose the biggest threat to Tillman and this Panthers secondary are the Atlanta Falcons, who come equipped with a quarterback in Matt Ryan who may very well be approaching that next level of quarterback.  Their wideout tandem of Julio Jones and Roddy White , when healthy, can still be the most difficult duo in the league.  Julio Jones proves time and time again that he is un-coverable while Roddy White, doesn’t mind physical play or going over the middle.

The truth about Charles Tillman going to the Panthers is this:  He is more a loss to the Bears than he is a gain for the Panthers.  The Bears needed Tillman to help in the growth of their young corner Kyle Fuller – and now with new faces up and down the organization there is nobody there for the fans to relate to anymore.  Tillman was the last true piece of that NFC Champion Bears team, Tillman was the reminder of what this Bears team is years from becoming.   It was tough enough for Bears fans when they realized that the end had come for Brian Urlacher to be wearing a Bears jersey – and now, not once – but twice this year – the fan base was hit with the departures of two fan favorites : Brandon Marshall and Charles Tillman.

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Tough times lay ahead for the Bears and in truth, Charles Tillman doesn’t deserve to have to sit through it.  He’s done his time in Chicago and gave 100% every time out on the field.  He deserves to go out with the familiarity and comfort that he now has in Carolina – and he deserves to at least play on a team with playoff hopes – not one in the middle of rebuilding.

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

Cam Newton’s Future: Your Move Panthers

In 2011 Cam Newton was drafted with the first overall pick by the Carolina Panthers and was given  a four year contract worth $22 million (with a signing bonus of $14 million).    In his rookie season, he made the Panthers “must watch TV” as he became the single most entertaining player in the league.  His larger than life personality, rare athletic attributes for someone his size and his versatility captivated fans young and old.   His sophomore season came with the ever infamous “slump” word propped at the back-end of it and even more than that, Cam was developing a reputation for being a diva, who cared more about SuperMan poses and advertisements than things that mattered in the game of football.

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In his final two seasons though, Cam has worked more in the film room, reads defenses better and has become more of a leader on this Panthers team.  He has been under center for the Panthers for two consecutive division titles and playoff runs.  Sure, he still loves the camera and at times flashes some obnoxious antics on the field but the guy just enjoys what he’s doing.  That shouldn’t be a problem. Right?

The Carolina Panthers have never said outright that Cam was their “future” or their “franchise” quarterback.  Rumor mills start up every so often that management and / or coaches don’t see Cam as the guy who can elevate his play or be deserving of franchise QB money.

The pay scale for quarterbacks today is out of control.  Even nonsensical at times, but one thing is certain : If you want to build an offense – you better make sure you have a quarterback that fits it.  Cam brings a unique skill set, but has shown development in the departments that are needed in being a starting quarterback in the NFL.   Some teams have been looking for their quarterback forever – Carolina has a guy who can play another 6 or 7 years in this league and at best be a top-10 talent.

With one more year on his rookie contract, a year that will be up in the $14 million range – time is ticking for Carolina and Cam Newton.  Decisions have to be made.

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If Carolina truly doesn’t believe that Cam Newton is their guy, they’d be smart to find a suitor for him, instead of letting him just walk away.  Here are three teams that might find it in their best interest to acquire Cam’s services.

1. New York Jets:  The Jets have a knack for having a top pick in a draft full of uncertainty in the first round.  With the sixth overall pick this year, the Jets have the option of being one of the teams in play for either Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston.  Here we go again.  If recent history has showed us anything, it’s that the Jets have not been lucky when drafting their “quarterback of the future.”  Instead of taking another blind gamble, why not acquire the services of a playoff quarterback like Cam Newton.   Even trading the sixth overall pick for Cam (as long as he intends on signing long term with the Jets) is a smarter move than the aforementioned gamble.   If Cam is Super-Man, New York would definitely serve as his Metropolis.  After losing a personality like Rex Ryan’s, Cam Newton can fill the void and be the face of a franchise that desperately needs one.

2. Houston Texans: Maybe what Cam needs is a little southern comfort.  The Texans roster as a whole is better than the Indianapolis Colts’ yet what the Colts have that the Texans don’t is a quarterback. That’s the difference between first place and second in the AFC South right now.  The Texans are coached by Bill O’Brien who was so good in Penn State, even under heavy sanctions and a limited roster – he made quarterback Matt McGloin serviceable – and even developed him to be a back up QB in the NFL.  O’Brien works an offense that is run heavy to set up the big play – which fits right into Cam’s bag of tricks.  O’Brien is a disciplinary type of coach though and who knows if Cam is ready to shed his child-like antics yet. . .

3. St. Louis Rams:  Jeff Fisher can talk all he wants about Sam Bradford being his guy, but the truth is : Enough is enough with Sam Bradford.  Four years of being a starter has shown two seasons shortened by injury and two full seasons of a guy putting up average to okay numbers.  Bless the Rams souls for trying to work through Shaun Hill and Austin Davis as starting quarterbacks but the truth is, they need someone now.  Their defense is ready to go, they have Cam’s old Auburn teammate Tre Mason as the clear #1 running back on the depth chart and an offensive line that is far from the makeshift line in Carolina.  With the right quarterback this team can be a wildcard or division contender by next year.

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Other teams that come to mind but with doubt are the Tampa Bay Bucs and the Chicago Bears.  These two make sense – football wise –  but won’t happen simply because Carolina wouldn’t trade Cam within their division; and Chicago simply has catastrophic cap issues especially when dealing with the contract of their own quarterback Jay Cutler. Even if Chicago found a trade partner – they would definitely not be able to wash their hands free of the whole contract.

Cam Newton’s future should be in Carolina – no where else.  Maybe if Carolina added to the pieces like Kelvin Benjamin and Gregg Olson – the development will come easier.  He’s got all the tools, it’s just time for Carolina to go “all-in” on Cam.

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio