Monthly Archives: July 2012

Carolina Panthers Camp Notes: Practicing in the rain

Spartanburg, SC – The Carolina Panthers worked out in the rain this morning. But the big story of the day was that Jeff Otah, the injury-plagued offensive tackle is returning to the team after his trade to the New York Jets was voided when Otah failed his physical with New York.

Now that offensive tackle Jeff Otah has failed his physical with the New York Jets thus nullifying the trade between the two teams, he will be returning to the Panthers Wednesday. What will happen next is up to general manager Marty Hurney and the team.

The Panthers can keep Otah on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, activate him, cut him or try to trade him.

Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said he expects to meet with Otah Wednesday in Spartanburg, where Otah will undergo a physical. Can a new trade be worked out? Hurney said there were other teams interested before the trade to New York. “There were (teams interested) before, so I don’t know. But I don’t want to talk much about that. We’ll just see.”

Panthers coach Ron Rivera is taking a similar attitude. “It’s the way it is. We tried to make a deal. Unfortunately, they didn’t want it. So now we’re back with Jeff. We’ll see him tomorrow. Marty and I will sit down and we’ll visit and we’ll go from there.”

There is a roster spot available for Otah as defensive end/linebacker Jyles Tucker was cut after leaving camp last weekend.  Otah is due to make nearly $1.1 million this year.

Oh, did I mention it rained this morning? Truth be told, on my drive from Asheville to Spartanburg, there were several moments where I could not see the road, but as I approached camp, it cleared up. When I got to the field, however, it began to rain harder and harder. Thunder boomed in the background as I watched the kickers early-on to see how the rain might affect their game. Not much, I’m happy to report. In fact, rookie punter Brad Nortman was kicking very well today. He was about 5 to 10 yards longer than backup Nick Harris. And for the first time in camp, there was no wind on the field. Nortman punted nearly 65 yards at times. Free agent placekicker Justin Medlock worked on his field goal kicking, easily picking from 45 yards – in a downpour.

The team spent a lot of time working on the kicking game, and, unfortunately for the fans who came out – in droves – to watch this morning’s practice, the team scheduled practice for the far back fields. There was much less interaction with the fans this morning than in the past three days, something coach Rivera was sorry about, but the practice session was already scheduled and the Panthers do not deviate from it.

Offense vs. defense in the rain at Panthers camp on July 31.

The offense worked on Red Zone plays for a while, as Cam Newton worked with receivers Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell and tight ends Greg Olsen and Gary Barnidge. Mike Tolbert was used effectively in the rain at fullback and DeAngelo Williams ran several nice plays also. Tolbert made a nice move on a catch over the middle to get into the end zone. The big men up front gave Newton time to throw and he was able to connect with receivers easily. Newton was accurate in this drill.

Moving from the Red Zone offense to a mid-field offense was a little different. Newton was picked off by defensive end Charles Johnson who put his arms up at the right time. A few plays later, Newton tried a long bomb intended for LaFell, but it was intercepted by cornerback Chris Gamble, as he and the other cornerback, Captain Munnerlyn were all over the receiver.

Running back Jonathan Stewart was hit hard in a team drill and was slow to get up, but he returned to practice quickly.

Early in practice the team staged what looked like a mock fight in the end zone with someone yelling, “It’s a bounty.” Coach Rivera was glad to see the team fooling around a little because, “You want to see energy, it’s a huge thing….it they are having fun, enjoying themselves,  they’re competing. They had great tempo.”

Rivera was asked if he was pleased with the play of the offensive tackles, and he said he was very happy. Not a good sign for Otah.

The players are now in the league-mandated 24-hour rest period and will return to action Wednesday evening at 6:00 p.m.

QUOTES FROM THE TOP BRASS:

Hurney: On his overall impressions of the first four days of training camp: “It’s been a good camp all the way around.”

Rivera: On practicing in the rain: “This is all part of the game. We practice in the elements; we play in the elements. I thought we handled it pretty well. It got a little chippy today – good and bad – but, we want to see guys fighting and competing and at the same time I want to be smart and take care of the football…(On the weather) There’s nothing we can do about it. These reps are valuable because we will play in the rain at some point of time during the season. We tried to keep the practice as normal as possible.”

On fans:“It was pretty exciting to have them out here again. We really do appreciate them coming out and showing their support, especially in the rain. This type of weather it’s kind of neat to have a big crowd of people.”

On discussing the tackles: “I thought what our four primary tackles have done for us is excellent. Very happy and excited about what they’re doing. Looking forward to our guys getting back on the practice field tomorrow afternoon.”

On a question specifically about offensive tackle Byron Bell: Byron has done a great job. Jordan (Gross) is our left tackle, Byron is our right tackle. I think Garry Williams and Bruce Campbell give us a very good group of guys!”

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Carolina Panthers camp: Chosen as 5th best by si.com’s Peter King today

The Carolina Panthers camp has been chosen as the fifth-best camp to visit by Peter King, si.com‘s outstanding football writer. And King would know something about them. Annually he visits as many camps as possible, usually taking just one day off a week at the most. As his number five pick, he went with the Panthers camp in Spartanburg. Here’s what he said in Monday’s edition of Monday Morning Quarterback: “I’ve always loved the feel of this place, in part because of the way the Panthers treat the fans who attend. Ten or 12 players sign until the last autograph, and you can walk around the Wofford College campus and see players if you pick the right time. Oppressively hot most of the time, but a postcard of a place.”

Yes, it can be really hot in Spartanburg, but so far, the 2012 training camp weather has cooperated…humidity has been down and having later practices ensures fans of shade!

Steve Smith – tough football player…but a generous man

And King’s praise of the Panthers continued later in the article when he singled out WR Steve Smith‘s very generous gesture in his “Ten Things I Think I Think” part of the column. ” I think my Hero of the Week is Steve Smith, the Carolina receiver who donated $100,000 to victims of the Aurora shootings — a tremendous and selfless move by a complicated man with, apparently, a very big heart. Smith said in a statement: “As a father and husband, I cannot imagine the pain and suffering the victims are going through. I hope this contribution might assist in paying some of the medical bills that will help allow these families to move forward in this tragic circumstance.”

Carolina Panthers: Work begins at training camp

Spartanburg, SC – The Carolina Panthers worked hard on Sunday and for an especially long time – two hours and 45 minutes. And while Saturday was more like a celebration that football is back, Sunday was a work day. Fans lined the walkway from the locker room to the practice fields searching for autographs or maybe just a few words from players. But when practice started at 6:00 p.m., it was all work.

Strip Drill! LB Kion Wilson (42) strips the ball from “running back” LB Jon Beason as the Panthers worked on individual unit drills Sunday night.

The team practiced without pads again, but beginning Monday night, they will be in full gear. Sunday night was spent working on a lot of individual drills within units, as well as running plays. Over the course of the evening, the Panthers worked on fumble recoveries, linebackers stripping the ball from runners and recovering the ball afterwards, high-stepping drills followed by simulated interceptions (came in handy later in practice) and, of course, kicking.

During the scrimmaging portion, RB Jonathan Stewart and CB Captain Munnerlyn got into a brief shoving match, but that’s just part of camp. Expect more as the offense and defense get tired of practicing against each other.

Free-agent Justin Medlock, with CFL experience behind him, was 4-of-4 kicking field goals last night…all from 46 yards and longer.

PK Justin Medlock, a free-agent with experience in the Canadian Football League, had a nice evening, hitting 4-of-4 field goals from 46 yards and longer. Incumbent Olindo Mare did not attempt any field goals on Sunday.

I know it’s early, but QB Cam Newton struggled early on Sunday evening with his long passes. He overthrew receivers several times, and when he did hit them, passes were dropped. When it was not his turn to run the offense, Newton was studying play sheets and keeping his arm warm by throwing on the sidelines. Must have worked because as the night grew darker, he seemed to find his range and he was the Cam of last year…accurate and commanding. And, once again, towards the end of practice, he tossed a ball into a small group of fans in the end zone.

Cam Newton (red jersey) worked hard on the sidelines during practice. Here he is studying the playsheet for Sunday’s session.

Back-up QB Derek Anderson look professional and competent in running the second team, but Newton is THE man.

WE Seji Ajirotutu dropped a pass beautifully thrown by third-string QB Jimmy Clausen as he was wide open. The Panthers need to get this right.

New OT Bruce Campbell (73) and WR Brandon LaFell stretch before practice. Each had a good showing Sunday evening.

New Panthers OT Bruce Campbell is adjusting to his new team. “Things are different here…they are much more organized  here.” Campbell was with the Oakland Raiders during the past two seasons after coming out early from the University of Maryland in 2009.

WR Brandon LaFell made a couple of nice catches over the middle in traffic and made a great “football move” after catching a ball on an out pattern to extend the yardage.

WR Steve Smith made several sliding catches along the sidelines as the evening wore on.

LB Thomas Davis was favoring his right leg and only practiced for one play. He is recovering from his third ACL surgery. He was walking around during the rest of practice, and he was taking part in Monday morning’s walk-through.

LB James Anderson made a nice interception over the middle against Newton early in practice.

I think the Panthers have a real placekicking battle on their hands. While incumbent Mare missed on Saturday night, Medlock did not…and Medlock’s kicks looked to be longer as well. This is one of the big stories that will play out during camp. Only one will stay…kind of like the U.S. Gymnastics individual’s situation Sunday night in London when the reigning world champion, Jordan Wieber, did NOT get into the individual championship bracket. It’s not fair, but that’s the way it is.

 

Carolina Panthers Open Training Camp

Spartanburg, SC – The Carolina Panthers officially opened training camp Saturday evening in front of 12,000 friends, family and fans at Gibbs Stadium on the Wofford College campus. On what was dubbed Back to Football night, complete with rock bands, the Top Caps cheerleaders, Sir Purr and plenty of concessions, everyone seemed pleased with the practice.

QB Cam Newton (red jersey) throws to TE Greg Olsen as the Carolina Panthers opened training camp

Last season’s Rookie of the Year, QB Cam Newton pleased the crowd, passing and running easily. Just walking onto the field brought a tremendous roar from the fans. No doubt, he is the face of this team and, with the success he had last year as a rookie, the fans are 100% sold on him. But he really made their night by throwing a ball into the stands late in practice.

Third-string QB Jimmy Clausen threw some very nice deep balls and Newton’s back-up, Derek Anderson ran the offense like a veteran.

Rookie LB Luke Kuechly (59) talking to the defense on the sideline

Rookie linebacker (first round pick) Luke Kuechly made an interception…and showed a nose for the ball. Second round pick Amini Silatolu takes up a lot of space on the offensive line, something that can only make Newton very happy.

Rookie punter Brad Nortman

I spent time with the kickers, since this is one area the Panthers really need to improve upon. Rookie punter Brad Nortman boomed some punts and showed why he had a reputation as a terrific directional kicker. Working on the back practice fields before heading to the stadium, Nortman worked against the wind, kicking to spots. The ball rockets off his foot and gains altitude very quickly.

Veteran placekicker Olindo Mare

The placekicking part of the game could be improved…and veteran Olindo Mare knows this.  Justin Medlock was brought into camp to give Mare competition and with Medlock’s reputation gained working in the Canadian Football League, this will be one to watch.

It didn’t help when Mare missed a 43 yard field goal, hitting the right upright. The fans booed. Brutal…it’s the first practice…but they remember last season’s crucial misses.

Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson was very happy to sign for the fans

It was great spending time with Jerry Richardson, the Panthers owner. He is beloved by the fans who begged him to sign a huge copy of the Super Bowl Promise ad (as I will call it) run in the Charlotte Observer last week. The ad, paid for and written by center Ryan Kalil, has everyone talking. “I Believe” is what people are calling it…and Richardson was more than happy to sign it.

Panthers owner Jerry Richardson talks to WR Steve Smith as Smith stretches

WR Steve Smith, sporting a beard, was in good spirits. He was even playful when catching a ball over the middle in front of Captain Munnerlyn, then getting run out-of-bounds by Munnerlyn and giving the Captain a shot at the end…which was returned.  All in good fun.

TE Greg Olsen should be the main target now that Jeremy Shockey is no longer a Panther. And he will be a great target for balls thrown his way. He showed nice, soft hands.

On the defensive side of the ball, it was good seeing LB Jon Beason back in action. Kuechly looked very good and seemed to be enjoying himself. The defense made four interceptions during practice and Kuechly, showing versatility, even ran a few plays on the punt team.

The coaches felt it was a great atmosphere and were very pleased with Olsen’s showing, as well as the running backs ability to slip past the defensive line. I was standing next to Coach Ron Rivera for much of the practice and he and I were just shaking our heads over the defensive line being offside, just barely, on many plays. Trying to get an edge on Cam, I guess. He said the young guys need to develop quickly and step up.

Nortman told me he was glad the first practice was behind him and felt it was a good one (it was). He is looking forward to continuing to work hard, taking one step at a time, to improve upon his excellent collegiate numbers he amassed while at Wisconsin.

CELEBRITIES IN ATTENDANCE: I was able to catch up with Stephen and Seth Curry, the basketball players who grew up in the Charlotte area. Stephen and I talked about the NBA and the San Francisco Bay area experience, trading restaurant tips. He said the Warriors are getting a new arena and they should move into it for the 2017-18 season…but the NBA being what it is, he is not getting too excited about playing there. “You never know what will happen…the NBA moves quickly and players move around so much.” Seth will be a senior at Duke this coming season, and is looking forward to the year.

Carolina Panthers: Notes from training camp

Spartanburg, SC – July 26: Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera has not shied away from Ryan Kalil’s public promise of a Super Bowl victory this season. In fact, he has embraced it!

Coach Ron Rivera and center Ryan Kalil walk to the practice field on Wednesday. Photo by: David T. Foster III-dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Kalil, the Panthers’ Pro Bowl center, took out a full-page ad in Wednesday’s Charlotte Observer telling fans their loyalty would be rewarded with a championship.

 In past years, former Panthers coach John Fox (now with Denver) would have cringed at this. Rivera, however, loves it.

 “If we don’t have 53 guys with that same attitude walking in that building, we’ve got to find 53 guys that do,” he said. “And what he did, he put how he feels out there. I think that’s great!”

 Kalil’s teammates also felt that same way.  Linebacker Jon Beason said the Super Bowl has been a team goal since February.

 “That’s the first part of it – confidence. You’ve got to believe in the goal. First you set the goal, and then what you do day-to-day to work for it is what makes it come true,” the Panthers’ defensive captain stated.

All players will have been checked into camp by tomorrow morning and I will be attending the first official practices (Saturday and Sunday) at Wofford College, and do not expect any more statements about this. Once is enough…everyone understands how Coach Rivera, Kalil and Beason feel. Every team has the same goal in July…get to the Super Bowl in February.  Between now and then, injuries will happen. Teams we expect to compete will not. There will be sleeper teams that catch fire and will be in the playoffs.

 The Panthers will NOT be a surprise team this season. Led by quarterback Cam Newton, everyone has high expectations for the team this year. Maybe a bit TOO high.  But I am very glad to see the optimism for wanting to get to the championship game rather than saying they just want to improve upon last year’s record.

 Now, the target on their back has been intensified. Defensive end Charles Johnson said, “People are going to be out to get us, just like we’re out to get everybody else. We’re hungry just like everybody else. We haven’t won nothing, really. So we’re trying to get everything we can.

 “A lot of things have to come together for us to win a Super Bowl,” Johnson pointed out. “A lot of stuff has to happen. Everything has to be on point. Defense has to be on point, offense has to be on point. We need a big boost from special teams. Other than that, I’m all with it.”

And I think every player entering Gibbs Stadium Saturday evening will be “all with it” as well…or they will soon find themselves on the outside looking in.

Local fans can celebrate the start of training camp Saturday afternoon at Gibbs Stadium Plaza from 4:30-6:30 p.m. and following the Panthers’ practice from 8:30-9:30 p.m.. Festivities include live entertainment from the band Back Nine, performances by the TopCats, Sir Purr and Purrcussion, face painting, food, giveaways and more. Admission is free.

 

Penn State NCAA Sanctions: Near-Death Experience

Penn State football was crippled this morning when NCAA president Mark Emmert announced sanctions against the university.  “Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people,” Emmert said as he announced the penalties at a news conference in Indianapolis.  While stopping short of  the “death penalty”, the football program is on life-support…at least for the next few years.

The sanctions are as follows:

  • $60 million in fines
  • A ban on postseason play for four years
  • Capping scholarships at 20 below the normal limit for four years
  • Vacating 112 Penn State victories from 1998-2011, costing former head coach Joe Paterno 111 wins
  • Penn State put on probation for five years

In my opinion, the NCAA did things right.  While you may not agree, I believe the loss of scholarships (20 below the normal limit for four years) will hurt the most.  In comparison, the harsh NCAA sanctions placed upon USC several years ago left the Trojans with only 75 scholarships per year over a three-year period.  USC appealed the ruling to the NCAA for two years, thus allowing them (and their new staff at the time) the ability to recruit and to “stockpile” personnel.  But Penn State will not appeal the ruling and basically will be looking at a loss of personnel.

One thing I really liked about the sanctions is that it allows ANY current or incoming football players are free to transfer and be immediately eligible to compete at another school.  They had nothing to do with the Sandusky situation and to let them go to another school that is eligible for championships is the right thing.  Also, should these players decide to stay at Penn State, the school must honor their scholarships even if they do not play sports.

The $60 million in fines provides money that must go directly to endow external programs preventing child sexual abuse or assisting victims and many not be used to fund such programs at Penn State.  Emmert said the $60 million fine is equivalent to the annual gross revenue of the football program.

Not only has Penn State been cut out of the post-season bowls for the next four seasons, the Big Ten Conference announced they will not be allowed to share in the conference’s bowl revenue during the NCAA’s postseason ban, an estimated loss of about $13 million.  And the NCAA reserved the right to add additional penalties.

And to add further hurt to the school, every win from 1998-2011 will be vacated.  This means Joe Paterno’s 111 wins (of the 112 during that period) are stricken from the record, and former Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden will now hold the top spot in the NCAA record book with 377 major-college wins.  Paterno will be credited with 298 wins.

“The sanctions needed to reflect our goals of providing cultural change,” Emmert said.  The postseason ban is the longest handed out by the NCAA since it gave a four-year ban to Indiana football in 1960.

NCAA president Mark Emmert speaking Monday morning at the press conference annoucing the sanctions against the Penn State football program

Emmert was asked why the NCAA did not do their own investigation, but relied on information gathered by former FBI Director Louis Freeh.  He stated that Freeh’s report was far more thorough than anything the NCAA could have done, including over 450 personal interviews and over 3 million documents including e-mails and personal notes.  Emmert also stated that the trial in which Jerry Sandusky was convicted provided more evidence.

“This case is obviously incredibly unprecedented in every aspect of it,” Emmert said, “as are these actions that we’re taking today.”

And I totally agree with them.

Carolina Panthers Commit to Special Teams in 2012

During the busy off-season, the Carolina Panthers have been working to improve parts of their game that were not as good as they hoped, but will it be enough make the playoffs? They certainly have the offensive firepower to do it utilizing quarterback Cam Newton’s arm and legs. The Panthers can score with anyone in the league.

It was when the offense was stopped that things did not go so well at times last season. Carolina ranked last in the league in net punting and 30th out of 32 teams in punt return average in 2011. They were ranked in the bottom 10 in average field position after kicking off and fielding kickoffs. Addressing these needs were priorities in the off-season.

Placekicker Olindo Mare will face stiff competition when camp opens as the Panthers signed Canadian Football League star Justin Medlock in the off-season

Two players important to the kicking game last season and will be counted upon in 2012 to improve. Now in his 16th NFL season, placekicker Olindo Mare ranked second with 53 touchbacks and converted 22 of 28 field goals while making 44 PATs. Rookie Kealoah Pilares was fifth in the NFC with a 25.7-yard kickoff average, including a team record 101-yard return.

Improving the kicking game means bringing in competition for Mare, so the Panthers signed Justin Medlock, a former Canadian Football League kicker.  Medlock, coming off a terrific season for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, hit 49-of-55 field goals, including a 57-yarder. Over his three year CFL career, he  converted 96-of-111 field goals (86.5 percent) .

Joe Adams, a very exciting punt returner from Arkansas, was drafted in the fourth round, and should give the Panthers yet another weapon.

Brad Nortman is the first punter ever drafted by the Panthers. He will address a huge need for the special teams!

To address the punting problem, Carolina drafted Brad Nortman from Wisconsin in the sixth round, and signed a proven veteran, Nick Harris. Nortman is the first punter ever drafted by the Panthers and should make an immediate difference.

Averaging 42.1 yards (gross average) as a four-year starter for the Badgers, he is not only an excellent directional kicker, landing 69 of his 199 punts inside the 20 versus 19 touchbacks, but was known for his hang time (53 punts resulted in fair catches).

Harris will begin his 12th NFL season in 2012. He spent eight years as the starting punter for the Detroit Lions and punted for the Jacksonville Jaguars last season.  He ranks 30th in NFL history in punts (876) and yards (37,213).

Signing long snapper J.J. Jensen to a four-year contract extension wasn’t sexy, but a dependable, consistent player in that position is a key to the kicking game.

Another signing may not be glamorous, but having a quality, dependable long snapper on your roster is a key component to the special teams.  After handling  the long-snapping duties for every Panthers game in the previous three seasons, J.J. Jansen signed a four-year contract extension in March. He snapped more than 400 punts, field goals and extra points during those 48 games.

In addition to these signings, the Panthers also drafted or signed (via free agency) players they thought had the ability to play on special teams. D.J. Campbell (drafted in the seventh round) as well as free agent signees Kenny Onatolu, Haruki Nakamura, Reggie Smith and Mike Tolbert could play invaluable roles in improving the team this season.

Carolina’s commitment to improving special teams was not limited to players. They also hired Richard Rodgers as an assistant special teams coach to help coordinator Brian Murphy.

When Panthers training camp opens July 28 at Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC, they will have enough players to put together nearly three full squads.  Competition will be fierce, as it is in all 32 camps, but if the Panthers want to get to the playoffs, the best players will shine day-in and day-out.