Who: Kansas City Chiefs Vs Carolina Panthers
What: Preseason Game 2
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC
When: 8:00pm EST
This week, the Panthers will play their second pre-season game against the Kansas City Chiefs after coming off of a 20-18 loss in week one to the Buffalo Bills.
The Chiefs' pre-season team seems to be one that can score big against weaker defenses, but their own defense is not capable of holding off opposing teams. The Bengals recorded 39 points to the Chiefs' 41 during Kansas City's loss last week. With the Panthers' dominant defense and offense that seems to be well refined and working all throughout its depth chart, this could be an easy win for Carolina.
Cam Newton will return this week, allowing us to see how he is fairing on his recently surgically repaired ankle. Also, hopefully last week was the last time we will ever have to see Matt Blanchard play again, with Joe Webb jumping over him on the depth chart this week. I look forward to seeing Joe Webb’s electrifying play once again today.
Running back Kenjon Barner had a rough go of things last week. After coming to training camp with more muscle and a year of NFL experience, people were hoping to see Barner be more capable of running up the middle and see improvement in his overall development. But last week I saw no difference in the 2014 Kenjon Barner compared to the 2013 Kenjon. He will need to step it up quickly if he wants to fight off an impressive Fozzy Whittaker and Darrin Reaves for a possible roster spot.
After the game against the Bills, Cam Newton was recorded calling Kelvin Benjamin “Schmoo” for reasons I am not quite sure anyone knows. For whatever reason this nickname was put in place, Kelvin Benjamin and Cam Newton seems to be building a very strong relationship, which can certainly carry onto the field. Word from training camp is that both seem to be on the same page and work very well together.
Remember to keep an eye out for WRs Brenton Bersin and Tavarres King, as both are locked into a tight battle for the last receiver spot on the roster. I am honestly at the point where I hope the Panthers elect to keep six wide receivers for this year, because both deserve to be here.
Offensive tackle positions are still up in the air, as neither Byron Bell nor Nate Chandler did anything to separate them self from the other in last week's game. Overall, however, Nate Chandler is still my favorite, but Bell seems to have the inside track as it stands now.
On the defensive side of the ball, a quiet position battle is taking place between Chase Blackburn and A.J. Klein for an outside linebacker spot. Both played well last week with Blackburn remaining first on the depth chart, but Klein has expressed his strong desire to start, and has shown promise and talent to do so.
The Panthers' cornerback stable was not without its flaws last week. New starting corner Antoine Cason had several receptions made off of him and seemed to be having problems adjusting. Hopefully, he will find his footing this week. Charles Godfrey also struggled adapting to his new position at nickel corner, as he allowed several big plays over the middle of the field. However, Godfrey has played well at the nickel position in the past, so this is hopefully is just some rust he needs to shake off after missing the entire 2013 season due to injury.
Robert Lester was an undrafted rookie safety last year who had his flaws but overall played well in 2013. Unfortunately for him, these flaws did not appear to be fixed quite yet. He still has issues with bad angles, this was one of the main problems that was highlighted last year during the Panthers playoff game against the 49ers. With both Harper and DeCoud manning the safety spots, it is safe to say that Lester should not receive any significant amount of playing time compared to last year.
Who: Kansas City Chiefs Vs Carolina Panthers
Many by now have heard of the probable Panthers' third string tight end: Brandon Williams, or “Swole” due to his amazing physic. But, did you know his interesting path on his way to becoming a Carolina Panther?
On July 27th, Fozzy Whittaker was signed after rookie draft pick Tyler Gaffney went down with injury and was picked up off waivers by the Patriots. At first glance, Fozzy Whittaker (real name Foswhitt) was only a camp body, but after looking into him and some game tape of him at Texas, he seems more capable than I first realized.
Unlike their offensive counterparts, defensive lineman are more easily recognized, especially ones who get lots of tackles behind the line. Good D linemen are usually team leaders and, similarly to O linemen, are important to a team's success. This year the Panthers' D Line will be charged with stopping several high caliber quarterbacks and running backs, such as Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers. Here's a by-position breakdown of the guys who will be doing the dirty work on defense this year.
After coming all the way down to an end of the game drive, a pass from Joe Webb to Marcus Lucas was bobbled and intercepted, giving the Bills a 20-18 win in the Panthers' first preseason game.
Who: Buffalo Bills Vs Carolina Panthers
What: Preseason Game 1
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC
When: 7:30pm EST
The start of the Panthers' season is upon us, as Carolina will face off against the Buffalo Bills in their first pre-season game of the year.
It's not like the Carolina Panthers' quarterback situation is in a state of flux this year as it was in 2010. At that time, Jake Delhomme had just been released and the team was left with fourth-year player Matt Moore and rookie Jimmy Clausen. As the two QBs went back and forth for the starting job, the team spiraled to a 2-14 finish, good enough for the number one draft pick. With that pick, the Panthers took a reigning Heisman Trophy winner and BCS National Champion quarterback named Cam Newton, and, well, you know how it goes. With Moore (now with the Dolphins) and Clausen (now with the Bears) no longer on the roster, the Panthers have a new array of backups, who will get their fair share of action during the preseason.
Cam Newton (4th season, Auburn)
One of the most miserable seasons in franchise history turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the Panthers, as it brought them talent at quarterback unlike any the team had ever seen before. After putting up what could possibly be the best rookie season ever by a quarterback in which Cam broke more records than the average human being has fingers, Cam Newton suffered a bit of a sophomore slump before rebounding in 2013. As he recovers from offseason ankle surgery, he will look to guide the Panthers back to the playoffs and become the first team to repeat as NFC South champions since the division was formed in 2002. Getting used to an entirely new group of receivers would be a challenge for any quarterback, but Ron Rivera has said that Cam is bonding well with the new guys. These statements reflect well on his maturity, which had been criticized in previous seasons after he would often be seen sulking on the bench after a bad drive. Now that his leadership skills are now longer an issue, it looks like Cam Newton is poised to become one of the Panthers’ (and the NFL's) all time greats.
Derek Anderson (10th season, Oregon State)
Cam Newton's veteran backup once starred for the Cleveland Browns, throwing for 3,787 yards and 29 touchdowns in 2007 to lead the Browns to their best season since 1994 and earn himself a Pro Bowl appearance. However, over the next two years, he struggled due to injuries and was eventually phased out in favor of Ohio native Brady Quinn. He was then signed to a two-year contract by the Arizona Cardinals, and threw for 2,065 yards and seven touchdowns in his only season with the team. On July 28th, 2011, he was released by the Cardinals and signed with the Panthers three days later. Since then, he has appeared in eight games for Carolina, usually in the final minutes of a blowout or filling in for a few plays if Cam gets hurt.
Joe Webb (5th season, Alabama-Birmingham)
David Gettleman has a distinct philosophy when it comes to quarterbacks: two's enough. So why is there talk of this 2010 Vikings sixth-rounder (199th overall) potentially staying on the Panthers' 53-man roster as the third string quarterback? Because Joe Webb has a very unique set of skills, especially when it comes to running the read-option. As a senior at UAB in 2009, he threw for 2,299 yards and 21 touchdowns while rushing for 1,427 yards and eleven TD’s. In Minnesota, he played in 33 games over four seasons, passing for a total of 853 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for a total of 273 yards and four touchdowns. In January 2013, Webb was named the starter for the Vikings' Wild Card game against the Green Bay Packers after Christian Ponder sustained a shoulder injury in the team's regular season finale. He completed 11 of 30 passes for 180 yards and one touchdown as the Vikings lost 24-10.
Matt Blanchard (3rd season, Wisconsin-Whitewater)
The Panthers' probable practice squad quarterback won three national championships at D-III powerhouse Wisconsin-Whitewater before signing as an undrafted free agent with the Chicago Bears. After he was injured in a preseason game in 2013, the team parted ways with Blanchard, and he was signed by the Panthers a few months later.
Last year, through the Panthers' heroic turn around to their season after a 1-3 start, the vast improvement that the team has made over the past few years since firing John Fox were incredibly apparent. This was supposed to represent our long awaited rise into NFL significance, but looking at the team this year compared to last year, it makes me wonder if they have gotten better or worse since 2013. Here's a look at the Panthers' improvements and losses from last year on a position by position basis.
At quarterback, Carolina's personal looks identical to last season with Cam Newton at the helm and Derek Anderson as Cam's backup. However, with Newton coming off of ankle surgery, we have to wonder if he will be able to produce at the same level as last season. At the same time, there are some people saying that this injury is something that has tormented him since college, and that getting it fixed could improve his play. Cam Newton was already a fantastic player, but I wonder what he could do with a fully healthy ankle.
Running back is another position that will remain the same from 2013. Jonathan Stewart is once again injured so we will be without him for some time, and while DeAngelo is aging, he is still moving well. The real improvement that will come from the running back position will be if Kenjon Barner can start contributing. Reports from camp are that he has bulked up while losing little speed or athleticism.
Overall, the wide receiver position is a big question mark. Life without Steve Smith has been a hard transition for fans, especially when GM Dave Gettleman failed to make any significant splashes in free agency to fill Smitty's hole,as Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant, and Tiquan Underwood were brought in to replace him, Brandon LaFell, and Ted Ginn. It is hard to say which group is better right now, but hopefully the new group of three taller receivers will be a better fit for our 6’5" quarterback. Hopefully, Kelvin Benjamin's success in training camp will transition into a big season for the rookie.
Greg Olsen will continue to be Olsen and be a reliable target for Cam. Training camp has had a nice battle between new free agent Ed Dickson and second year undrafted free agent Brandon Williams, both are playing well and look good enough for that second tight end spot. Hopefully this means that the Panthers can go back to the two tight end system that they ran with Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey two season ago that was so effective.
I have had some conversations with fans about the Carolina offensive line, and most of these conversations end in laughter more times than not. Looking at the offensive line makes you really scared for the safety of Cam Newton. Both tackle positions will either have the underachieving Byron Bell or defensive tackle convert Nate Chandler at each end, along with inexperience filling the guard positions. However, luckily, pro-bowler Ryan Kalil will still be in a Panthers' uniform playing center next season.
In my opinion, Gettleman has constantly said the answer is on the roster at the lineman position, this being the reason he stubbornly added no free agency acquisitions to the position. I believe Gettleman is a smart man and a good general manager, but it was irresponsible of him to leave such an unproven line protecting his franchise quarterback. Maybe these younger players are going to shock us, but it is impossible to know for sure. If Cam Newton gets hurt at any point this season, my first finger will be pointed at Gettleman.
On the defensive line, little has changed outside of Charles Johnson’s weight loss and second round draft pick Kony Ealy joining the team. The Linebacker is on the same boat remaining the same as last year. Considering our front seven was arguably the best in the league in 2013, I don’t see any problem with not making any changes.
The secondary has made strides with upgrading the safety position with Thomas DeCoud and Roman Harper. While both are older players, they still have some good football left in them and will get to play behind one of the best front seven’s in football.
With the corner back position, the Panthers lost Captain Munnerlyn but replaced him with who I believe to be a superior player in Antoine Cason. In addition The development of Melvin White will also play big in the improving secondary, and Charles Godfrey will assume full time nickel corner duties after returning from a season long injury.
All in all, the defense is going to be much improved with the secondary being upgraded and able to help the team's front seven. Running backs will play the same role on the team as last season which is to do their job and take some pressure off Cam. The receivers and offensive lineman are the two positions that are going to have to prove that they can help this Panthers team earn a playoff position. The way I see it is the receivers will have play well enough for Cam to make plays like last year, the offensive line will be below league average but will not kill the team’s chances, and the defense is going to continue to be the best in the league and keep us in games. In my own opinion, while I do not think we will regress as much as some people believe, I do not think we will make any major improvement to our record from last year, but still at least make it into the wildcard spots.
The Panthers' wide receiver unit will look a lot different this fall as only two of its current members, Kealoha Pilares and Brenton Bersin, were on the roster at this point last year. Dave Gentleman's decision not to renew the contracts of several of the team's stars, including franchise cornerstone Steve Smith and talented young gun Brandon LaFell, caused a huge controversy in Charlotte and was a topic for discussion around the league. Never before has any team cleaned house so thoroughly at one position as the Panthers did this offseason, and the results of this action will no doubt set a precedent for any team that wishes to try this in the future. The front office did their best to bring in some talent through free agency and the draft to replace what was lost. Let's see how their efforts stack up.
Jerricho Cotchery (11th season, NC State)
Cotchery, who was drafted in 2004 by the New York Jets (4th round, 108th overall), experienced a sort of re-awakening last year in Pittsburgh as he made 46 receptions for 602 yards and caught a career-high ten touchdowns. All of these touchdowns came in the red zone, including three in one game against New England. As the receiving corps' new elder statesman, Cotchery will have to be a leader both on the field and in the locker room. He's dealt with high expectations before, though, as in 2009 after the Jets released Laveranues Coles and he was left to lead a mostly untested group of receivers. He responded by racking up 57 catches for 821 yards and three touchdowns, good enough to lead the team. After that, though, his production declined, and didn't pick up again until 2013. So is the resurgence of Jerricho Cotchery for real, or was last season a fluke? To me it seems like he's doing his best to prolong his career, and at that age the desire to stay in the NFL for a few more years can be a very powerful motivator. Still, it's looking like Jerricho Cotchery has passed the peak of his production. My advice to the Panthers would be to take advantage of what he brings to the table but don't expect to get too far with someone like him as your number one guy.
Kelvin Benjamin (Rookie, Florida State)
The Panthers' first round pick in this year's draft (28th overall) may not have made his mark in the NFL just yet, but he's already done plenty to be remembered back in Tallahassee. In his sophomore year at FSU, he had 54 receptions for 1,011 yards and 15 touchdowns, one of which was the game-winning touchdown in the National Championship. At 6'5" and 240 lbs, Benjamin is a fairly easy target and has already made a few jaw-dropping catches in training camp. However, as talented as he may be, the Panthers likely won't expect a rookie to take on the duties of a number one receiver, which means he'll probably be seen filling the number two or number three spots. I'd say that if the Panthers can find a way to integrate Kelvin Benjamin into the offense without rushing his development, they may have found the next Steve Smith.
Jason Avant (9th season, Michigan)
Jason Avant will probably have a lot to adjust to with his new team as he had been playing for the Philadelphia Eagles since being drafted by them in 2006 (4th round, 109th overall). However, one thing he won't have to adjust to is being the number three guy, which he was last year behind DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper. Throughout his career, Avant has mostly flown under the radar, however, in 2010, his teammates voted to give him the Ed Block Courage Award in recognition of the adversity he overcame during his youth. Stats wise, he's a steady contributor, averaging at least eleven yards per catch every season since his rookie year. However, although he started a career-high 13 games last year, his productivity was way down as he caught 38 passes for 447 yards and two touchdowns. In the two previous seasons Avant had caught a respective 53 passes for 648 yards and zero touchdowns (2012) and 52 passes for 679 yards and one touchdown (2011). This slump may have been because of the quarterback changes between Michael Vick and Nick Foles, and if that's the case, the Panthers need to make sure he has adequate time to adjust to his third different quarterback in two years.
Tiquan Underwood (6th season, Rutgers)
If you feel like you've heard this guy's name before but can't quite put a finger on it, you probably have. Underwood made news after he was released by the New England Patriots the day before Super Bowl XLVI so they could sign defensive end Alex Silvestro from the practice squad. The Pats would go on to lose the game 21-17 to the New York Giants. Under normal circumstances, the Panthers probably wouldn't have considered offering a contract to a bubble player like Underwood, but these are not normal circumstances. The Panthers needed depth, and that's what they got in the 2009 7th-rounder (253rd overall, Jacksonville) with six career touchdowns. So far, Underwood, who has gained a bit of notoriety among his teammates and the local media for his hi-top fade hairstyle, and looks like he could be a number four receiver on the Panthers’ roster. However, if he underperforms in training camp, (he has a tendency to drop passes) he could also be headed for the practice squad.
Brenton Bersin (3rd season, Wofford)
Brenton Bersin, who went undrafted out of Wofford in 2012, has come out of practically nowhere to become a dark horse for the fifth receiver spot. After spending all of 2013 on the practice squad, he hopes to impress Ron Rivera enough to crack a 53-man roster for the first time in his career. So far, the former Charlotte Latin star seems to be doing a pretty good job.
Kealoha Pilares (4th season, Hawaii)
Known in some circles as The Flyin' Hawaiian, Pilares spent all of 2013 on injured reserve with a torn knee ligament suffered during a preseason game against Baltimore. Before that, he was a force on kickoff returns, returning nine kickoffs for 216 yards in 2012 and 23 kickoffs for 590 yards in 2011. As the Panthers' fifth round pick in the 2010 draft (132nd overall), Pilares also set a new franchise record with a 101 yard return against the Detroit Lions. Now that he's healthy again, Pilares stands a good chance of making the final cut, and there's a good chance we could see him again on kickoff return in 2014.
Tavarres King (2nd Season, Georgia)
King, the Broncos' 5th round pick in 2013 (161st overall), will be trying to keep his spot on the 53- man roster, which looks to be a more difficult task than last year with the emergence of Bersin and Pilares' return. He has never appeared in any regular or postseason games.
Marvin McNutt (3rd season, Iowa)
McNutt, the Eagles' 6th round pick in 2012 (194th overall), spent time on the practice squad in both Philadelphia and Miami before coming to Carolina. He hasn't really done anything notable in training camp so far and is currently considered a stretch to make the roster.
Be sure to check back here at thecharlottesportsblog.com for all things Panthers and Hornets!
If you were to tell me two years ago that an undrafted defensive tackle named Nate Chandler was going to end up being the Carolina Panthers' starting left offensive tackle in 2014, I would have laughed at you. But as I sit here typing this article, Nate Chandler is impressing coaches in training camp, and seems to be running away with the left tackle spot. The job is currently up for grabs and it is down to Chandler and last year’s starter at right tackle, Byron Bell.
Byron Bell has turned into an enigma for Panthers' fans. He performed valiantly as an undrafted free-agent in 2011, but has not made any improvements since his rookie year outside of a few flashes with solid performances. Many Byron Bell jokes are made around Panthers' nation about Bell’s undeserved starting status, and to the ire of fans, he is still in contention for the blind side position.
Nate Chandler, on the other hand, has respected writers like Bill Voth of The Black & Blue Review predicting that Chandler will win the job before the first pre-season game.
Chandler also has a Hall of Fame endorsement from former Ram, Jackie Slater, whom the Panthers' lineman has spent the last couple summers working with. In addition, Slater had nothing but good things to say about Chan, stating “There’s no doubt in my mind he’s a top left tackle" to ESPN's David Newton. This news should make quite a few Carolina fans excited about the prospect of Chandler starting on the offensive line next season.
I have unfortunately not had the privilege of attending training camp this season and seeing for myself the growth Chandler has made. But, from what I have heard, he is showing all the athletic potential to handle elite opposing defenders. His obvious growth from year to year is making me very optimistic of him reaching the "top left tackle" status that Slater has set for Chandler. Considering just two years ago he was chasing quarterbacks instead of protecting them, his upside should be high. Overall, expect Nate Chandler to win the left tackle job with Byron Bell returning to the right tackle slot.
Projected Starting Offensive-Line:
LT: Nate Chandler
LG: Amini Silatolu
C: Ryan Kalil
RG: Trai Turner
RT: Byron Bell