Tag Archives: Brad Nortman

Carolina Panthers: Season Outlook and Opener in Tampa

The Carolina Panthers open the 2012 regular season with an NFC South divisional rival as they travel to Tampa Bay to play the Buccaneers on Sunday. This marks the first time the two teams have opened the season against each other.

Because of the Democratic National Convention taking place in Charlotte, the Panthers began preparations for the game on Tuesday in Bradenton, FL at the IMG campus.

Will Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton suffer from the sophomore slump? I doubt it!

Quarterback Cam Newton, last season’s offensive rookie of the year, heads a potent offense that finished fifth in the League in points, and most of his offensive teammates also return.

Guard Travelle Wharton and tight end Jeremy Shockey have left the team, but the team is very confident that second-round draft pick Amini Silatolu (replacing Wharton) and former back-up tight end Greg Olson will pick up the slack.  Offseason acquisition fullback Mike Tolbert also replaces Shockey.

In addition to Newton’s terrific season (accounting for 35 touchdowns – 21 scoring passes and an NFL quarterback record 14 rushing touchdowns), veteran wide receiver Steve Smith returns. Smith has moved to the top 36 career receivers in receptions and receiving yardage, caught 79 balls and had 1,394 receiving yards in 2011. Smith will look to extend his streak of 75 consecutive games with a reception, which began in 2006. He has played in 151 career games and with six games played, he will rank second in team history, passing Brad Hoover and Muhsin Muhammad.

Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil, the author of a full page ad that ran in the Charlotte Observer in July declaring the Panthers will win the Super Bowl this year, heads the offensive line that returns four of five starters.

Coach Ron Rivera feels this year’s team will be better than last year when the team was the first to have three 700 yard rushers and saw their passing game jump from 32nd in 2010 to 13th last year. “I think we have the potential to be better. Cam is now in his second season and has gone through offseason OTA’s for the first time. We have good continuity throughout our starters and some young players who I believe are prepared to take another step up.”

Rivera is speaking of receiver Brandon LaFell, who had an excellent preseason, tackle Byron Bell and the big fella, Newton. LaFell, now in his third season, started the final six games last year and Bell started 12 as a rookie after moving into the lineup due to injuries.

On the defensive side of the ball, there are more changes, but good ones. Linebacker Jon Beason returns after missing the entire 2011 season with a torn Achilles suffered in the opening game at Arizona. He missed much of the preseason with a pulled hamstring, however. Thomas Davis, who has been attempting to come back from three ACL surgeries after missing the last 2-1/2 years, played in only one preseason game (against the New York Jets), but looked good. Rookie Luke Kuechly, the team’s No. 1 draft choice, had a strong preseason and will be a starter at linebacker on Sunday.

After backing up All-Pro safety Ed Reed in Baltimore, newcomer Haruki Nakamura will also begin the season as a starter. One of five potential new defensive starters, he was impressive in the preseason and knows what it takes to get to the championship game, as he did with the Ravens. Other potential starters are defensive end Charles Johnson, linebacker James Anderson, cornerback Chris Gamble and safety Charles Godfrey, all back from last year, will try to improve upon the 28th ranked defense (in yards allowed) last year.

“We saw some good signs of progress in the preseason and now have to  transfer that into the regular season while continuing to improve,” said Rivera.

Carolina Panthers’ rookie kicker Brad Nortman won the punting job beating out veteran Nick Harris.
Carolina Panthers placekicker Justin Medlock beat out incumbent veteran Olindo Mare during camp this year. .

One area the Panthers worked during the offseason to improve upon were the special teams.  Carolina drafted its first punter, Brad Nortman, and he averaged 48.2 yards per kick in the preseason. Placekicker Justin Medlock, with just one NFL game under his belt, but with three solid years of CFL experience behind him, beat out incumbent veteran Olindo Mare for the position. His strong leg was the difference. Kick returner Joe Adams, is a quick (and fast) player who has the potential to change games in a hurry. These three specialists should give the Cats a big improvement over last season’s dreadful special teams.

The Panthers and Bucs have met 23 times previously, with the Panthers holding a 14-9 edge. The game will mark head coach Greg Schiano’s debut in the NFL. He is the ninth head coach in Buccaneers’ history, and was the head coach for Rutgers University for the past 12 seasons.

Every season is a fresh start, but…on December 24, 2011, the Panthers came of age, beating Tampa Bay 48-16 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. This year every team begins anew, but on paper, the Panthers look to be much stronger.  The Panthers made two new additions to their roster as the team reached the NFL’s 53-man active roster limit for the regular season.

The team acquired safety Colin Jones from the San Francisco 49ers on Friday, August 31, in exchange for an undisclosed draft choice and signed defensive tackle Dwan Edwards on Sunday, Sept. 2.

Jones is a second-year player from TCU, who played 13 games for the 49ers last season, seeing action primarily on special teams (a glaring weakness on the Panthers part last year).

Edwards is in his ninth NFL season, having played the last two in Buffalo, where he started 24 of 27 games for the Bills. His career began in Baltimore where he played six seasons for the Ravens after being selected by the team in the second round (51st overall) in the 2004 NFL Draft.

Having seen this team play four (okay, three…we all know the fourth preseason game is a joke) games and having watched many practices, the Panthers are going to be much improved from last year. The only problem…their division rivals, the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons are also improved. The Saints, in fact, just got a whole lot better, as their previously-suspended players were granted amnesty and all of them, including All-Pro Jonathan Vilma, are eligible to play beginning Sunday. The Panthers improved to 6-10 last season (they had nowhere to go but up) and Cam Newton’s level of play shocked nearly everyone. Newton is poised to be even better this season, and has the weapons he needs to lead this team to the top. Looking at their schedule when it first came out, I said the team would win 10 or 11 games. I am sticking with 10 wins this season, but even that could be a stretch. The opener is one of those games they must win, because the next three games (New Orleans, New York Giants, at Atlanta) could all be losses. Their fate in the NFC South Division could be sealed by the end of September, but, should they win two of those three games, the Panthers will have put their divisional rivals on notice…as well as the rest of the league.

I am confident the Panthers will prevail, 24-10, in the opener.

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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.