Tag Archives: Olindo Mare

Carolina Panthers Camp Overview: Position battles and injuries

There are several position battles being fought in the Carolina Panthers preseason. And there are other positions that have question marks due to health. Linebackers Thomas Davis and Jon Beason, coming off season-ending injuries in 2011, are still hurting.

Davis, who has had three surgeries on his right knee, strained his right calf during the second practice. He has resumed individual drills and coach Ron Rivera hopes he can increase his workload next week.

Beason pulled a hamstring due to overcompensating for his surgically repaired Achilles.

Neither is expected to play Friday against Miami, but Beason hopes to return for the August 26 preseason game against the Jets.

Coach Rivera is a bit concerned about both Beason and Davis, but watching rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly gives him a bit of breathing room.

“I think Luke and James Anderson are both cornerstones for us right now as far as a linebacking crew,” Rivera said. “We do look forward to getting Jon back on the field and having Thomas contribute to what we want to become as a defense.”

I have written about some of the position battles, but before the Panthers take on Miami on Friday night, here are some thoughts:

KICKERS:

Incumbent placekicker Olindo Mare vs. former CFL star free-agent Justin Medlock.

Medlock botched one kickoff against Houston last Saturday and it was returned 90 yards. Other than that, he has shown a powerful leg and has been more accurate from further distance than the 39-year-old Mare.

Carolina Panthers veteran placekicker Olindo Mare is in a battle with free-agent Justin Medlock for a job.

Watching both at practice, I notice Mare’s kicks to the end zone are further than Medlock’s however, when kicking field goals in simulated game conditions, Medlock out-kicks Mare. He has a stronger leg and is more accurate. In making a final decision, Rivera said he would definitely like to have it done by the third preseason game, so both kickers have a very short window to win the job. Ideally, Rivera said, he would like to see each kicker get the opportunity to kick a field goal, under game conditions, at the end of each half against Miami. Whether or not that can be arranged is another story.

As for the punters, rookie Brad Nortman, the first kicker ever drafted by the Panthers (6th round), has looked very good. His kicks are long and with a lot of hang-time. He also has worked very hard in camp at his directional kicking. 12-year veteran Nick Harris, a free-agent signing by the Panthers during the off-season, is also battling Nortman for the position. At this time, it is definitely Nortman’s position, however.

PASS RUSH:

The Panthers need to put more pressure on quarterbacks than they did last season. In a division with Drew Brees (New Orleans) and Matt Ryan (Atlanta), this is a must. If they do not begin pressuring the opposing quarterbacks, their secondary could be very vulnerable. Rivera said they need more production from Charles Johnson (nine sacks in 2011). So far, the interior linemen have not been able to get much pressure on the offense, and the Miami game Friday night will be a good test. They will face a rookie quarterback (Ryan Tannehill) possibly making his first start as well as a familiar face in former Panther Matt Moore.

RECEIVERS:

Pro Bowler Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell are the top wideouts for the Panthers, but after that…well, there has to be someone the Panthers can count on.

Newcomer Lewis Murphy has dropped several passes in camp. The former Oakland Raider has all the ability, but needs to hold onto the ball. Kealoha Pilares and Seyi Ajirotutu look good running routes in practice, but are not stepping up to claim the third receiver spot yet.

As for the tight ends, Greg Olsen has run good routes, has fairly good hands, and, at 6’5″, 255 pounds, can be a force.

Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith said the offense is grasping more and more of the playbook this year.

Speaking with Smith yesterday at practice, he likes Murphy.”When we came in, he said, ‘I need this.’ And when you hear that from a guy, and then he comes out and does it, that’s the part where you realize we need more guys like that,” Smith said. “There are a lot of guys who come in and say they’re hungry and you get two weeks in and they get comfortable and you forget about them and you don’t even know they’re playing.”

ROOKIES:

First-round pick (No. 9 overall) Luke Kuechly has impressed everyone. He sees the game and reacts very well to the situation. He seems to be in the right place most all of the time (other than lining up on the wrong side on the opening snap Saturday night), and has a nose for the ball. He has intercepted several passes in camp and looks like he will be one of the best draft picks ever for the Panthers.

Drafted in the fifth round, unheralded cornerback Josh Norman is making a great impression. Coming out of a small school (Coastal Carolina), playing in a low Division I league (Big South Conference), Norman has turned heads with his play in camp. He had four picks on Tuesday, including one off Cam Newton.

“He’s definitely been a ball-hawk. I’ve watched Luke make some plays, too. … They’re going to try the rookie. And he’s made them pay,” veteran linebacker Jon Beason said. “And that’s what you’re supposed to do if you’re a game-changer or if you’re saying, ’I was a late draft pick, but I can play in this league.’ ”

QUARTERBACK:

No surprise here…Newton is solidifying his role as the team leader and most-beloved player by fans. Newton works hard at every practice and wants to improve his game. Last season, he surprised many people by playing so well. The AP Offensive Rookie of the Year passed for more than 4,000 yards and was responsible for 35 touchdowns (by throwing or running).

“He works on everything. He talks about what he wants to improve. The one thing you really watch – and he’s so hard on himself – is the mental aspect of the game,” Rivera said. “When he’s not making the right decisions he’s missing things, he’s going right to (offensive coordinator Rob) Chud(zinski), right to (quarterbacks coach Mike) Shula and they’re trying to get those things worked out.”

It has been very clear to me (and others, of course) that Jimmy Clausen will not be an NFL quarterback for long. Chosen by the Panthers in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft, Clausen was thrown to the wolves early and lost all confidence. His passes are very limited – the short ones are fair and he has nowhere near the arm strength to match Newton nor back-up quarterback Derek Anderson. In several practices, he has only thrown short passes and has not looked like someone you want to play quarterback in the regular season.

On the other hand, Anderson looks comfortable in the back-up role. When his turn comes up, he takes command of the offensive unit and is decisive with his throws. He is no Cam Newton, but as far as a back-up, you could do a lot worse in the league.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR FRIDAY NIGHT AGAINST THE MIAMI DOLPHINS:

Coach Rivera wants the team to avoid injuries and be consistent on both sides of the ball, especially on defense. “We can’t have the ups and downs. We have to make plays when we get the opportunity to. I think if I had to say defensively, I want to see us separate from blockers quicker and be better tacklers,” he said. “Obviously I want to see us make the plays we need to in critical situations. On third down, we need to be better on defense.”

MY OVERALL IMPRESSION OF THE PANTHERS:

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera and center Ryan Kalil – big words to live up to!

They have a long way to go to get to the elite level in the league. They are facing a tough schedule, but certainly have most of the tools to go far. It seems that every season brings a new team to the playoffs…a team no one really expected to go far – see San Francisco last year. The Panthers could be that team. Injuries will heal, and only time will tell if this team can do the unexpected. Maybe the full-page ad Ryan Kalil placed in the Charlotte Observer will motivate this team to win the Super Bowl. But right now, I don’t think so. Now, they are working on quickening their tempo…not dropping passes…getting healthy (linebackers)…and finding a quality third receiver.

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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.

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.