Tag Archives: Steve Smith

Carolina Panthers win 7th in a row; beat Miami 20-16

MIAMI – “Seven! Seven wins in a row for the Carolina Panthers! MWA! HA! HA!” (Count Von Count on the Panthers). The Panthers (8-3) are on a roll and have tied their franchise regular-season win streak (with the 1996 team) at seven games following another close win – this time at Miami (5-6). Quarterback Cam Newton led the black-clad visitors down the field on an 80-yard drive as time was running out, and the Panthers came away with a 20-16 victory. It was his second signature drive in seven days after having none in his first 41 games.

Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera was not pleased with the team's effort in the first half of the game at Miami.
Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera was not pleased with the team’s effort in the first half of the game at Miami.

The Panthers went into halftime trailing 16-6, and it could have been worse. Head coach Ron Rivera was furious at halftime because he felt, in his words, that the Panthers had “disrespected” the Dolphins by not playing hard enough. When the team came back onto the field at Sun Life Stadium, it was a different bunch of guys. Focused, physical and determined. Yet it took another gamble by “Riverboat Ron” to put the Cats in position to win the game.

Facing a fourth-and-10 at their own 20 with 2:33 left on the clock, the Panthers trailed Miami 16-13. Rivera, who said he prefers “Calculated Risk-Taker” to “Riverboat Ron,” played the odds.

According to an advanced NFL statistics website’s win-probability calculator, the Panthers had a 14 percent chance of winning before the fourth-down snap. Had Carolina punted, and using the average Brad Nortman punt from Sunday, the Dolphins would have gotten the ball back with an 88 percent chance to win, and the Panthers would be left with one timeout and the 2-minute warning.

“We got to do it,” Rivera said of his decision. “We only had one timeout left. You know this (Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill) is a very elusive quarterback. He showed it.”

A 19-yard completion to Smith got the Panthers a first down, and a 9-yard pass to tight end Greg Olsen got them near midfield at the 2-minute warning.

Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen caught Cam Newton's one-yard touchdown pass to give the Panthers a 20-16 win in Miami.
Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen caught Cam Newton’s one-yard touchdown pass to give the Panthers a 20-16 win in Miami.

Driving down the field while working the clock down, Newton found tight end Greg Olsen open on a 1-yard touchdown pass with 43 seconds left.  The touchdown gave the Panthers their first lead of the game, as well as the victory in front of a crowd of 60,156 and a lot of empty orange seats at Sun Life Stadium.

The game did not really feature the back-and-forth scoring as in last week against New England…yet it did come down to the opponent trying to score a last-second touchdown via the pass to take the victory from the Panthers. This time, there would be no controversial ending. Instead, second-year Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw a Hail Mary pass to the one-yard line, hoping receiver Mike Wallace would come up with the miracle catch. He almost did. Wallace was a thorn in the side of the Panthers defensive backs, who collectively had a horrible day. On the game’s final play, Panthers free safety Mike Mitchell somehow let Wallace get behind him near the goal line, but this time Wallace was unable to make the catch and the game ended.

GAME NOTES:

  • On the first series of the game, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who does not wear a mouth guard because he tends to get cotton-mouth, was hit by Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake after releasing the ball, and the force caused him to bite his tongue. “I bit my tongue and it was numb for a minute, but it didn’t have any effect on me as far as game play. I wanted to make sure my tongue was still intact,” Newton said. “I had to feel around for it for a minute and I felt it so I was good.”
  • Tannehill completed 28 of 42 passes for 310 yards – the first time the Panthers allowed a 300-yard passer since Seattle’s Russell Wilson threw for 320 in Week 1.
  • A third of Tannehill’s yardage came on two completions to Wallace, the $60 million free agent acquisition who had not been the deep threat Miami envisioned through the first 10 games. But Wallace found his way against Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, beating his twice for receptions of 53 and 57 yards.
  • The 53-yarder was the first touchdown allowed by the Panthers in the first quarter in 15 games, dating to a loss at Kansas City last December.
  • The game was the third fourth-quarter comeback win in a row for the Panthers, who now will get ready to play a revitalized Tampa Bay squad Sunday in Charlotte.
  • Week 14 game at New Orleans has been moved to an 8:30 p.m. start on Dec. 8 at the Superdome. The game was originally scheduled to kick off at 1 p.m.
  • The Panthers (8-3) remain a game behind the Saints (9-2) in the NFC South by virtue of their win at Miami on Sunday. The Saints beat Atlanta on Thursday night. Carolina and New Orleans will play twice in a 15-day span in December, in games that likely will determine the division winner.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING:

Panthers head coach Ron Rivera on Cam Newton:  “He’s been playing with a lot of confidence the last six, seven, eight weeks. I know this much, it gives everybody else confidence. I think that’s the biggest thing, not just for him, but for us as a team.”

Rivera on Miami:  “They’re a much better football team than we gave them credit for. I kind of felt like a couple of times that we were going through the motions like they’re supposed to lay down. This is the NFL and at any point in time anybody can beat anybody. It doesn’t matter what the record is. This was not an easy victory. This was a hard victory. This victory tested us.”

Rivera on the play of Newton following the big hit where he came up spitting blood:  “It took him a little bit to get refocused. Sometimes that does that, it spooks the quarterback a little bit. And I think our offensive line was spooked a little bit too. And they got a little concerned after that and they didn’t play well.”

Wide receiver Steve Smith said he thought the Panthers were lazy before halftime.  “We underestimated that team, They’re a good team, they’ve got a good defense. We had to improve and improve quickly, because it was getting ugly.”

Wideout Smith, as usual, had something more to say:  “We would’ve been getting dog-cussed and (there’d be) talk about how bad we are and we’re pretenders. I think we’ll still hear a little bit of flak from people and fans, naysayers – ‘This team’s not for real. We’ll see next week.’ Because obviously this week has passed and we survived.”

Smith, on the Panthers, a team that lost seven times by seven points of fewer last season: “Unfortunately, we had experience with two-minute drives a lot last year in our losses, so we’ve had a lot of practice. As they say, practice makes perfect.”

Carolina Panthers wideout Steve Smith makes a reception on 4th down late in the game as Miami Dolphins defenders Brent Grimes (21) and Chris Clemons (30) try to take him down.
Carolina Panthers wideout Steve Smith makes a reception on 4th down late in the game as Miami Dolphins defenders Brent Grimes (21) and Chris Clemons (30) try to take him down.

Smith on what he told Cam Newton regarding passes over the middle: “I always tell Cam, hit me in the chest and I’ll deal with the consequences.(Clemons) eyed me, so I knew he was coming. The hardest job is catching the ball. I’m going to get hit.”

Wideout and punt returner Ted Ginn, Jr. on the difference between the Panthers play in each half:  “We all came out, we’re looking at (the Dolphins) and it ain’t no real hoorah. We went out and played to their level. We came in and our leaders stepped up and talked. Coach came in and spoke. We went out and tried to play a complete half, and that’s what we did.”

Panthers defensive tackle Dwan Edwards on the difference between this year’s team and last year’s:  “Last year’s team would have found a way to lose this game. This year’s team found a way to win it.”

Panthers center Ryan Kalil, he of the infamous Super Bowl guarantee ad that ran LAST season:  “This team does an incredible job of keeping its composure. In past years, we’ve been all over the place.”

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Carolina Panthers even record with win over Rams; What they’re saying

CHARLOTTE – The Carolina Panthers (3-3) didn’t take the bait. They kept their cool. Instead, they matched physical play with the frustrated St. Louis Rams (3-4) at Bank of American Stadium Sunday, winning 30-15. After a penalty-free first quarter, the Rams tried to flex their muscle and tried to intimidate the Panthers. But the home team played smarter…baiting the Rams into several costly penalties in the second-half. Some observers said they felt like they were sitting ringside for a fight. Bottles were thrown…tempers flared…and who really knows what happened under the piles?

Carolina won for the second week in a row – the first time they’ve had back-to-back wins in September or October since 2009. They are at .500 for the first time since Week 2 last season and can climb above it Thursday night with a victory at winless Tampa Bay.

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had a career-best 136.3 quarterback rating Sunday in the 30-15 win over the St. Louis Rams
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had a career-best 136.3 quarterback rating Sunday in the 30-15 win over the St. Louis Rams

Playing before an announced crowd of 72,686, quarterback Cam Newton led the Panthers offense with his arm and his timely running. Newton had nearly a perfect first-half, missing only one pass and he had one other dropped. Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn, Jr. and Greg Olsen led the receivers.

St. Louis came into the game with one of the league’s worst run defenses, but seemed to bottle up the Panthers backs at times. Frustrated in his inability to get into the end zone from the one-yard line twice, fullback Mike Tolbert was called for a penalty when “something” happened under the pile. The penalty cost the Panthers a touchdown, but Graham Gano, who was a perfect 3-for-3 in field goals today, connected to limit the damage.

But the Panthers controlled this game from the beginning. On the first offensive play of the game, Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn returned St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford’s first pass 45 yards for a touchdown. This was Munnerlyn’s fourth interception returned for a touchdown in his career.

Carolina Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (41) intercepted St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford's first pass of the game 45 yards for a touchdown.
Carolina Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (41) intercepted St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford’s first pass of the game 45 yards for a touchdown.

St. Louis answered, sort of, ten minutes later, tackling Tolbert in the end zone for a safety. The Rams did have a time of possession lead for the quarter, but the tone had been set by the Panthers defense.

In the second quarter, Gano hit a 37-yard field goal, and the Panthers took a 10-2 lead. The Rams came right back, on a 15-play, 70-yard drive culminating with a 28-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein, cutting the Panthers lead to 5 points.

Not to be outdone, Carolina responded with a quick drive of their own – an 8-play, 80- yard drive ending with a Tolbert touchdown, bringing the halftime score to 17-5 in favor of the blue-clad home team. (Incidentally, this was the first time all season the Panthers have worn their alternate uniforms. They will wear them again in Week 9 against Atlanta.)

The Panthers received the second-half kick and ate 8 minutes and 14 seconds off the clock on a 13 play, 61 yard drive, ending with a 31-yard field goal by Gano. At this time, the Rams looked to be done…but they weren’t.

Following the kickoff, which resulted in another touchback, St. Louis went on a quick strike drive…3 plays, 80 yards resulting in a Bradford touchdown pass to Zac Stacy. And it seemed like the Rams were back in the game.

But the Panthers showed what they were all about, driving 72 yards on 8 plays ending with Newton passing to Smith for the best touchdown of the day. The veteran wide receiver caught the pass several yards short of the goal line, juked twice and faked two defensive backs out to score. It was his 800th career reception.

Carolina Panthers right tackle Byron Bell points at St. Louis Rams defensive end Eugene Sims during one of several "heated" moments in Sunday's 30-15 Panthers win.
Carolina Panthers right tackle Byron Bell points at St. Louis Rams defensive end Eugene Sims during one of several “heated” moments in Sunday’s 30-15 Panthers win.

Going into the final quarter, the Panthers showed they would be physical and would not be intimidated by the Rams. They led 27-12, and dominated the time of possession in the third quarter. They controlled the ball for 13:17 of that quarter and set the tone for the rest of the game.

Overall, this was one of the best games played by the Panthers. They dominated many aspects – line play, quarterback play and defensively. They were able to get into the Rams’ heads a bit, drawing penalties against St. Louis that disrupted several offensive sequences. They knocked Rams quarterback Sam Bradford out of the game (report: torn ACL; done for the season) and defensive end Chris Long was ejected for punching Panthers right guard Chris Scott in the third quarter. As he was leaving, a fan toss an aluminum bottle at him on his way to the tunnel. And, they out-coached the Rams. And that’s saying something. Jeff Fisher is known as a smart coach who enjoys the physical aspect of the game.

The Panthers expected the kind of chippy play from the Rams, the league’s most penalized team in 2012. They did complain about cheap shots taken at middle linebacker Luke Kuechly and at Newton.

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was injured on this play, but returned after missing one snap. The hit on Newton, by Rams defensive end Robert Quinn, just heated the action up more...
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was injured on this play, but returned after missing one snap. The hit on Newton, by Rams defensive end Robert Quinn, just heated the action up more…

On the second drive of the second half, Newton took a real shot from defensive end Robert Quinn, and was taken out of the game for one play. When he returned, left tackle Jordan Gross locked up with Quinn, triggering a melee that ended with Long taking a swing at Scott.

“My job is to protect the quarterback. I felt like he took a shot at him,” Gross said of Quinn. “It was legal, but I didn’t think it was the right thing to do.”

Newton said Quinn also had some “explicit” words for him after the hit, which angered the Panthers. Long suggested he happened to be the player in the scrum who got caught.

St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long was ejected after taking a swing at Carolina Panthers right guard Chris Scott on the play when Cam Newton returned after being hit hard and knocked out of the game.
St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long was ejected after taking a swing at Carolina Panthers right guard Chris Scott on the play when Cam Newton returned after being hit hard and knocked out of the game.

“You know how that goes. They’re always going to get the second guy, so I need to be smarter than that,” Long said. “I play this game with a lot of emotion. I won’t change that, but there has to be a point where I can reel it in and I can’t let people provoke me.”

Offensively, Newton ended up with his best game of the season. He was 15-of-17 passing for 204 yards and had a 136.3 quarterback rating. Smitty caught 5 passes for 69 yards and 1 touchdown. Olsen caught 4 for 47 and LaFell was 3 for 35. Ted Ginn, Jr., who continues to impress, caught 2 for 34 yards and running back DeAngelo Williams caught a screen pass out of the backfield for 19 yards…just when you thought the Panthers did not know what a screen pass was.

Defensively, Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis again had an outstanding game. He had 3 tackles and 6 assists. Free safety Mike Mitchell had 8 tackles. Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei contributed 4 tackles and 2 assists, and Captain had 2 tackles, 3 assists, one interception for a touchdown and recovered a fumble.

The Panthers will play Thursday night at Tampa Bay, and coming off this physical game, they seem to be in good shape. A short turnaround, though, is always tough…on everyone. Several coaches said they would not be going home Sunday night, as they need to continue to game-plan for Thursday’s contest.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING:

Panthers head coach Ron Rivera: “The play calling on both sides of the ball was outstanding. (Offensively) we’re taking the pressure off the quarterback and giving him time to make plays. Cam had a 136.3 quarterback rating. I was very impressed with our guys up there today. (Kawann) Short and Star Lotulelei both played a heck of a football game. Those two young guys are really coming along, and because of that you see that (linebacker) Luke Kuechly isn’t making as many plays. It’s to Luke’s detriment but to our benefit. I believe Luke would take that any day of the week. This was a very physical bunch we played against and I was happy with the way we played.”

The coach said he thought his team kept its cool for the most part, but “at the same time you only want to take so much.”

Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross on one word to describe the game and what it meant: Relevance. We could actually be relevant.” He continued, talking about the physical play during the game: “Coincidentally, every time I’ve played one of (Jeff Fisher’s) teams, they’ve been like that. They show that on film. Especially defensively, they’ve got good young players and a lot of times when you face good young players, comes that certain chippiness.”

Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn on his first-play-of-the-game interception: “I can’t take credit for it. Quintin Mikell made that play. He hit the arm of Sam Bradford and it was like a punt return to me. It was floating in the air, I ended up catching it, picking it up and taking it to the house.”

Panthers free safety Mike Mitchell: “We’re not out here to do anything else besides play hard football. If you don’t want to play hard, physical football, don’t come out here. That’s what we’re here to do. If you’ve got the ball, we’re going to hit you within the confines and rules of the game. I thought they lost their composure.” Mitchell, avoided getting a penalty Sunday, but did get into repeated confrontations with St. Louis offensive guard Harvey Dahl, who got two of them: “They wanted to try to pick a fight with us. But they had four quarters to do that so waiting until the last couple of minutes – it’s a little late for that. … When he (Dahl) came back at me again, for the third time, that’s when I was like, ‘C’mon, dude, you’re a joke. We’re blowing your team out. Get out of our face.’”

Panthers tight end Ben Hartsock: “I played on Jeff Fisher’s teams in Tennessee. He’s a tough guy. That’s what his teams do. I played for Ohio State, and this felt like an old Ohio State-Michigan game – a backyard brawl.”

Panthers receiver Steve Smith was furious at St. Louis cornerback Janoris Jenkins, whom he said had learned his wife’s name and repeatedly talked about her: “He thinks he’s Deion (Sanders). He’s not.” And Smith had a lot more to say…

Below is the transcript from Smith’s post-game interview:

Take us through the touchdown, looks like you made some guys missed. “I’ll let Janoris Jenkins go over it on film on Monday.”

Did you point to him? “Yes, I directly pointed to him.”

Did you think you’d get a taunting penalty? “Don’t give a damn.”

What was the dance you did? “Well he thinks he’s Deion (Sanders). He’s not.”

To get your 800th catch against him… “He’s just another notch on the bedpost. That’s 800. He ain’t no different.”

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith made his 800th career reception special - he turned it into a touchdown Sunday against the St. Louis Rams...and had a lot to say about the game also!
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith made his 800th career reception special – he turned it into a touchdown Sunday against the St. Louis Rams…and had a lot to say about the game also!

For your 800th to be a touchdown, what’s that mean to you? “Just another dude.”

Did you have any run-ins with him before? “No. What I don’t like is a young guy, comes in, obviously his first time ever using the internet and Google, and he Googles information about me, talks about my wife and stuff like that. That’s kind of some of the (B.S). I just don’t play with.”

What specifically was he saying? “That’s all I’m going to say. I don’t play them games. When you try to take it personal like that, I don’t have any great humbling things to say. So he can take his (butt) back to St. Louis and watch the (expletive) film because I don’t play them games. And if I see him in the streets I’m going to bust him in his (expletive) mouth.

On your touchdown celebration, was that a little bit extra? “When you embarrass people you rub it in their face. When your dog (urinates) on the carpet, you rub it in his face.”

Carolina Panthers blank New York Giants 38-0; What they’re saying

CHARLOTTE – The Carolina Panthers answered a lot of questions with their 38-0 shellacking of the visiting New York Giants. Namely, would Ron Rivera still be the head coach following next week’s bye? Simply put, of course he will. Early in the game, a source within the organization said even if the Panthers had lost to the Giants, Rivera would not be replaced during the season.

But, getting the team’s first shutout since 2008 certainly erased those rumors.

It was the largest margin of victory in the Panthers’ 19-year history. It also was the Giants’ worst loss under head coach Tom Coughlin.

Carolina Panthers' wide receiver Ted Ginn caught this 47-yard touchdown pass from Cam Newton.
Carolina Panthers’ wide receiver Ted Ginn caught this 47-yard touchdown pass from Cam Newton.

Offensively for the Panthers, Cam Newton threw touchdown passes of 16 and 20 yards to Brandon LaFell, and completed a 47-yard pass to the speedster, Ted Ginn, for the Panthers’ final score. DeAngelo Williams rushed for 120 yards on 23 carries.

The defense was outstanding…or maybe it was just simply the ineptitude of the Giants’ offense making the Panthers look so good. An emotional Rivera nearly came to tears twice during the post-game presser. “This makes life easier. The last two weeks have been tough.”

The Panthers’ front four were led by defensive end Greg Hardy, who had three sacks in the first half alone. He repeatedly beat Giants left tackle Will Beatty to put pressure on Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning.

Carolina Panthers undrafted rookie Robert Lester recovered this fumble in the 38-0 win over the New York Giants.
Carolina Panthers undrafted rookie Robert Lester recovered this fumble in the 38-0 win over the New York Giants.

The convincing win brings the Panthers record to 1-2 and drops the Giants to 0-3. The Panthers defense came into the game a beat-up group. The secondary was decimated, with just one starter playing. But they helped themselves out a lot today. Given the chance, this motley crew came through with three takeaways. Undrafted rookies Robert Lester and Melvin White accounted for all three.

The Panthers’ defensive front line sacked Manning seven times, which tied a franchise mark set six previous times, most recently in a loss last season in Atlanta.

What I liked about this game:

  • The way Rivera finally opened up offensively. He went for it on an early fourth-and-one from the Giants’ 2-yard line. Fullback Mike Tolbert scored standing up and the rout was on.
  • Cam Newton looked like the Cam from the final six games of the 2012 season. Following an early interception, he ran the ball effectively when needed, and threw three touchdown passes.
  • Brandon LaFell finally looking like the receiver the Panthers thought he could be. Two touchdown receptions and he made a tackle at the Carolina 17-yard line following an interception thrown by Newton. His tackle allowed the Panthers’ defense back on the field where they stuck it to the Giants, not allowing any points.

HERE’S WHAT THEY’RE SAYING:

Panthers’ offensive tackle Jordan Gross on the impact of this win: “It’s huge on a lot of different levels. It might silence a little bit of the murmurs about our organization, give our players a ton of confidence, and lend validity to what we’ve been doing. To be able to come out and get a 38-point win against the Giants, who did almost the exact opposite to us last year, really means a lot.”

“I was so nervous before the game,” Gross said. “I was as nervous as I’ve been in years. I knew how much this game meant and how bad I wanted the guys in the locker room to feel a victory.”

Gross talked about the play that everyone thinks changed the perception of the Panthers. Fourth-and-one from the 2 yard line, and Rivera went for it, in a scoreless tie:

“That was huge. Very symbolic. That’s been criticized for seven days now (since Rivera didn’t go for a fourth-and-1 in a loss to Buffalo). … So on the sideline afterward I told (center Ryan) Kalil, ‘Dude, that was awesome! We got that on fourth and 1!’ And Kalil says, ‘It was fourth and 1? I thought it was third and one!’”

Panthers’ linebacker Chase Blackburn (a former Giant) on the defensive effort Sunday: “We’ve got a great front four. In my career, I have been a part of some great defensive lines. To have those guys hunt (the quarterback), especially when we stop the run and make them one-dimensional, is a great feeling.”

Carolina Panthers linebacker Chase Blackburn tackles David Wilson. The former Giant played well in the Panthers' 38-0 win.
Carolina Panthers linebacker Chase Blackburn tackles David Wilson. The former Giant played well in the Panthers’ 38-0 win.

Panthers’ wide receiver Steve Smith talking about Cam Newton: “He was the better quarterback out there. That’s all we need. That’s all we ask. We just need him to be Cam Newton.”

Carolina Panthers' quarterback Cam Newton ran effectively for the first time this season and threw for three touchdowns leading the Panthers to a 38-0 win over the visiting New York Giants Sunday.
Carolina Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton ran effectively for the first time this season and threw for three touchdowns leading the Panthers to a 38-0 win over the visiting New York Giants Sunday.

Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton on the win: “A win like this boosts our ego, but not in a negative way. It just gives us that swagger we will need.”

Victorious for the first time this season, Carolina Panthers' head coach Ron Rivera walks off the field following the 38-0 win over the New York Giants.
Victorious for the first time this season, Carolina Panthers’ head coach Ron Rivera walks off the field following the 38-0 win over the New York Giants.

Panthers’ head coach Ron Rivera on the win: “You look at our guys and some of the things they do and the fact that they really want to win. And to win games like this, it’s because they deserve that opportunity. These guys have gone through a lot in the last three seasons, and I think to win a game like this, especially a team coached by Tom Coughlin, says something about who they are. And these guys have persevered, and hopefully this is the catalyst for us to get rolling.”

Carolina Panthers' rookie defensive lineman Kawann Short sacked Eli Manning...one of seven Panthers' sacks on Sunday's 38-0 win over the New York Giants.
Carolina Panthers’ rookie defensive lineman Kawann Short sacked Eli Manning…one of seven Panthers’ sacks on Sunday’s 38-0 win over the New York Giants.

Giants head coach Tom Coughlin on the Panthers’ defense and one big reason his team lost: “I’ll bet the quarterback got hit 20 times today.”

The Panthers are off this week with a bye and return to action at Arizona on Sunday, October 6.

Carolina Panthers drop opener to Seattle Seahawks: What they’re saying

CHARLOTTE – The Carolina Panthers went back to a tried and true formula from last year in their 12-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks Sunday. Stay close and lose. Let me repeat that – stay close and lose. And, the Panthers are not happy about it. This team needs to get off to a quick start – the last two seasons they have started 2-8, and that will be unacceptable for this year’s team.

Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams (34) dives back for the ball after fumbling as Seattle Seahawks Richard Sherman (25) stretches out for the ball. Seattle recovered the ball, ending the Panthers' chances to win on Sunday.
Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams (34) dives back for the ball after fumbling as Seattle Seahawks Richard Sherman (25) stretches out for the ball. Seattle recovered the ball, ending the Panthers’ chances to win on Sunday.

The Panthers were driving for a potential go-ahead score when running back DeAngelo Williams fumbled at the end of a 16-yard run inside the Seattle 10. Cornerback Richard Sherman hit Williams from the front, safety Earl Thomas popped the ball loose from behind, and defensive Tony McDaniel recovered at the Seahawks’ 8 with 5:25 left. Stay close and lose.

The announced Bank of America Stadium attendance was 73,294…and none of them came to see a replay of the last two seasons.

Here’s a round-up of quotes from players and coaches following the game:

DeAngelo Williams (76 yards on 16 carries): “It ultimately came down to that fumble, let’s just get that out of the way. It was my fault. In that situation, I’ve watched countless film on them and I know that’s what they do, they strip and go for the ball. But I’m a fighter. I’m going to fight for every yard that I can get and help my team win. When the ball came out, no one else was more (upset) than I was,” Williams said. “The hopes and dreams of the 11 guys on offense resided in that ball.”

Panthers head coach Ron Rivera: “You know I’d like to believe we have an opportunity to change (the memories of last season),” he said. “I’d like to believe that definitely we can get these things worked out and get it rolling. Again it’s a good football team we played against but we had opportunity … to beat a team that a lot of people are crowing right now. And you know it should be a wake-up call for us that hey, we can play with anybody and we are most certainly capable, and we’re going to win some football games.”

Rivera on what HE has to do to get over such a disheartening loss: “Go right back to work. I mean there’s really nothing you can do. … Just try to find the answer. I mean that’s what I’ll continue to do. And we found it last year late and it’s time to find it early. It really is. We can’t wait and I understand that and we will certainly find that answer and get rolling.”

Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith making a catch Sunday in a losing effort against the Seattle Seahawks in the Panthers' home opener.
Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith making a catch Sunday in a losing effort against the Seattle Seahawks in the Panthers’ home opener.

Panthers wide receiver (and most vocal of all Charlotte players) Steve Smith: “I think we’re going to see them again deep in January. For us to have played that team that’s considered by all accounts the best team in the NFL … I think if that’s who’s the best team, it came down to the last (minutes) and it was a well-fought game. Our season is not over.

“All the reports say we have to start fast or the season’s over,” Smith said. “If (Sunday’s game) means the season’s over, I’m not sure what kind of football y’all are used to around here. Because that’s not a quitting team.”

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton: “Let’s not panic now. We’re going to be all right. It’s just the first game. We played an unbelievable team and my hat goes off to Russell Wilson and those guys with Seattle. But I just feel like it was nothing that they did to stop us. It was just us that weren’t making the plays.”

Seahawks cornerback (and vocal team leader) Richard Sherman: “Great defenses find a way. And that’s what we try to do.”

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) being harassed by Panthers Defensive Tackle Colin Cole (91) who is being blocked by Seattle's J.R. Sweezy (64).
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) being harassed by Panthers Defensive Tackle Colin Cole (91) who is being blocked by Seattle’s J.R. Sweezy (64).

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (who finished with a regular-season career-high 320 passing yards, completing 25 of 33 pass attempts): “We just kept it alive,” speaking of overcoming the slow start offensively. “I think that attitude, that mentality, that coach (Pete) Carroll instills in us really gives us a chance to keep battling no matter what the circumstances are.”

Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll: “The way we started, we were backed up and they got after us pretty good,” speaking of Wilson, who finished with a quarterback rating of 115.7. “He didn’t start real well — it wasn’t necessarily him, but we didn’t get the completions.”

Carolina Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (41) and linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) fight to make a tackle on Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin (89). The defense played tough, although they allowed Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to have a record-setting day.
Carolina Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (41) and linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) fight to make a tackle on Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin (89). The defense played tough, although they allowed Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to have a record-setting day.

“I thought he did a great job against a very active pass rush,” Carroll said. “He’s more in command of everything that we are doing in every phase. We don’t have to hold anything back. We can do everything we can think of and he can handle it.”

The Panthers return to action next Sunday when they travel to Buffalo to meet the resurgent Bills (who should have beaten New England yesterday) in a critical game.

 

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.

Carolina Panthers look sharp in win over Miami

The Carolina Panthers proved they are more ready for prime time than the stars of HBO‘s “Hard Knocks” series, the Miami Dolphins. Bouncing back from an uninteresting effort last week, the Panthers beat the Dolphins 23-17 at Bank of America Stadium in both teams’ second preseason game.

Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton hands the ball off to running back Jonathan Stewart in Friday’s game.

Quarterback Cam Newton looked very sharp, completing 8 of 11 passes for 119 yards and a touchdown in his short time on the field Friday night. His offensive line gave him plenty of time to find open receivers, something they failed to do last week against Houston’s blitzing defense. “Last week I felt kind of rushed,” Newton said. “Today, I knew I had a lot more time to work, and when you know you are in there for longer than a couple series, you let the game come to you. I think it showed tonight.”

“I thought Cam played very well – three very solid drives,” coach Ron Rivera said. “I thought the big thing he did as far as running the show, he was very efficient. Believe me, I was disappointed last week that we didn’t win. Very happy that we won this week. I want to believe this is something we can build on. We did some really good things.”

Newton’s longest completion was a 27-yarder to tight end Greg Olson – which came after Newton remained in the pocket and took a big hit from defensive tackle Paul Soloiai after throwing the pass.

Newton said, “there was a big difference between this week and last week,” crediting the line for giving him time to throw. And, known for his running as much as his passing, Newton did not need to resort to his legs at all in his short time playing.

“(Offensive line coach John) Matsko coached us to protect what’s ours and what’s most valuable to us, and that’s the quarterback,” second-year tackle Byron Bell said. “That’s Cam, that’s (Derek Anderson) and that’s Jimmy (Clausen). We had the attitude and effort tonight, and we got the job done.”

“These guys take pride in what they do and I appreciate everything they do,” said Newton, who added he felt rushed last week. “It starts with them. Without those guys, this offense would stall out each and every time.”

Bell and rookie left guard Amini Silatolu remained in the game as the veteran linemen took a seat after the first quarter. The extra time on the field gave the younger players the opportunity to get in a few more hits and blocks, while working with the second-string.

“Coach Matsko keeps me out there. He told me to lead them all and continue my game,” Bell said. “You never know. If someone got hurt, I would have to go in. I’m still a young guy and I’m learning from (veteran tackle Jordan) Gross and all those guys so I need all the reps I can get.”

“You can prepare every week more and more in the preseason, and I think we were more ready for these guys this week,” Gross said. “The whole line gave up eight sacks last week, and that was certainly something we wanted to cut down. We didn’t give up any in the first quarter.”

The Panthers’ running back tandem of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart combined for two touchdowns. Stewart ran one in from two yards out and Williams caught a pass from Newton in the flat and scored a 9-yard TD.

Stewart left the game with a calf injury in the first quarter, but it was nothing serious. The injury occurred when Stew caught a short pass from Newton for a one-yard gain.

On the flip side, Miami’s first round draft choice (the 8th overall), quarterback Ryan Tannehill, from Texas A&M, made his first preseason start for the Dolphins and played the entire first half. His six possessions – four of which ended in three-and-outs – didn’t go as he had hoped, but he was playing against a Panthers defense that has a lot to prove. He found himself under heavy duress for most of the game as the Panthers sacked him three times and batted down three balls at the line of scrimmage.

He finished 11 of 23 for 100 yards passing.

While the Panthers’ first-team was in the game, they outgained Miami 152 to 23 in total yardage and had a 12 to 1 edge in first downs.

Panthers’ defensive end Frank Alexander sacks Dolphins’ quarterback Ryan Tannehill during Friday’s game.

Defensively, the Panthers were playing with abandon. Defensive end Charles Johnson played an outstanding game, pressuring Tannehill and sacking him viciously, as did Frank Alexander and Thomas Keiser. Each pressured Tannehill, welcoming the rookie to the NFL.

“It was a big leap from what we did last week, ” Johnson said. “It really didn’t matter who was back there, we just wanted to work on our things and get better off what we did. It’s a good game to build on, see what we did wrong, what we did right. But we had a good start.”

Panthers’ defensive end Charles Johnson puts a move on Miami’s Jonathan Martin on his way to sacking quarterback Ryan Tannehill

The first-team defense did not allow a first down until the final play of the opening quarter. They forced back-to-back three-and-outs to start the game, allowing Newton and the offense to control the tempo and grab the early momentum.

Newton was replaced by back-up Derek Anderson in the second quarter, and Anderson was followed by Jimmy Clausen by the end of the third quarter. Former Panthers’ quarterback Matt Moore replaced Tannehill in the second half, returning to Bank of America Stadium for the first time since 2010.

Panthers’ wide receiver Steve Smith should get some air time on “Hard Knocks” in Wednesday’s show. He battled with  the Dolphins’ Vontae Davis twice and ended up pushing the defensive back out of the way a couple of times. Smith had one catch for 15 yards against the Fins, but was pleased with the progress made by the offense.

Miami Dolphins’ Richard Marshall (31) works to separate teammate Vontae Davis (21) from Carolina Panthers’ Steve Smith (89)

“Last week was kind of difficult getting in a rhythm. We didn’t play too many plays. That’s as excuse we can make. But we just didn’t show out very good in the short time that we had, ” Smith said. “We came out with a different mentality and we’re getting closer and closer to getting in the swing of things as the season progresses.”

The kicking battle continued for the Panthers, with placekickers Olindo Mare (incumbent) and Justin Medlock (CFL veteran free agent) going toe-to-toe. Medlock kicked a 49-yard field goal in the first quarter, a 43-yard field goal in the fourth quarter and kicked an extra point. Mare hit a 44-yard field goal in the second quarter along with an extra point in the first. Each handled kicking off nicely, with Mare having a slight edge in length. One of Medlock’s kickoffs was returned nearly 30 yards in the first quarter, the result of kicking to the goal line and not into the end zone.

Panthers No. 2 receiver, Brandon LaFell in pregame mode.

And the battle for the number three receiver may be getting some clarity. With Steve Smith (No. 1) and Brandon LaFell (No. 2), newcomer Louis Murphy appears to be winning out for the No. 3 position.

Panthers’ Louis Murphy (83) appears to have the inside shot at the No. 3 receiver position.

The Panthers now have a week to get ready for a nationally televised game on NBC against the New York Jets on August 26. The starters are expected to play most of the game, which will be Newton’s first one in New York.

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.

Carolina Panthers break camp; get set for Dolphins

SPARTANBURG, SC – The Carolina Panthers concluded their training camp at Wofford College Wednesday morning with a well-paced practice. Work continued on red zone plays, kickoffs, returns and, in the last hour, the team scrimmaged. While dropped passes continue to be a factor during practices, take nothing away from the defensive play of the Panthers.

There were several interceptions thrown during the scrimmage, but the offense did manage to complete several long pass plays.

Four Carolina Panthers not participating in Wednesday’s practice (LB Jon Beason, TE Nelson Rosario, DE Eric Norwood and CB Brandon Hogan) but did get their cardio work in.

Noticeably absent from the drills were linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis. Both players are coming off season-ending injuries in 2011 and both suffered setbacks keeping them out of camp for most practices.

Beason pulled a hamstring – an injury he says resulted from overcompensating for his surgically repaired Achilles.

Davis, coming off three ACL surgeries on his right knee, strained his left calf. He has resumed individual drills, and coach Ron Rivera hopes he can make a full return next week.

Beason is trying to get ready for the August 26 preseason game at the Meadowlands against the New York Jets.

“That was the timetable we set when I first did it. Obviously, if I don’t feel 100 percent, 90 percent’s not going to get me on the field for that (Jets) game,” Beason said.

But Beason said he would definitely be back for the regular season opener at Tampa Bay. “For sure,” he said.

In another health development, Rivera said DT Andre Neblett has an undisclosed medical condition. Neblett, who worked as a starter the first part of camp, is suspended for the first four regular-season games after testing positive for a banned substance.

Players make themselves available to the media and fans after practice. We caught up with wide receiver Steve Smith who said the offense is retaining much more of the playbook this year as compared to last season.

Carolina Panthers WR Steve Smith spoke to the media at the end of practice.

Speaking about the differences in training in Charlotte versus training at camp at Wofford College, Smith said, “There are no distractions (here). You get to see how the guy next to you is. You see how deep-rooted he is. At home, there are distractions. Here, you get the opportunity to focus on football with no distractions. The in-laws come in town and it has nothing to do with you. You know, the baby wakes up, you can’t deal with it, you have to be at work, so that’s the good part (of being sequestered in camp).

“Now you go back to that (home) environment. Training camp is where they (the coaches) break you down…during the season they build you back up. And, hopefully in the playoffs, you have that opportunity to put everything you’ve learned in the last four months in there and you’re on full go, so hopefully we’ll have that opportunity. We’ve set that foundation here in training camp and we have the opportunity to get it going during the regular season and then hit on all cylinders in the playoffs and that’s how you make a statement that your teammate (center Ryan Kalil took out a full-page ad in the Charlotte Observer just before camp opened where he promised the fans the Panthers would win the Super Bowl) has made into fruition.

Smith on how the team is dealing with the high expectations for the upcoming season: “Every team lines up in training camp and every team believes they will be the team holding the Lombardi Trophy and…there’s only one winner. The best team is only at the end and if you’re not holding that trophy everything else you did you pretty much fell short.”

Smith on the difference between last year’s camp and this year’s camp: “The offense is retaining information better than in 2011 when the team was force-fed Rob Chudzinski‘s playbook (after the lockout).”

Smith on new receiver Louis Murphy: “I think he did real good. He showed that he has some big play ability and I think he’s going to be good for us. I think he’s also going to push some other guys, you know, and he’s hungry. This is an opportunity for him. He came in and said ‘I need this” and when you hear that from a guy and then he comes out and does it, well, we need more guys like that.”

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (red jersey) leads the first team offense against the starting defense in a short scrimmage at the end of Wednesday’s practice at Wofford College.

The Panthers will host the Miami Dolphins on Friday night at Bank of America Stadium. It appears they will be facing rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who may be given the start. They are also game-planning a defense to face former Panthers quarterback Matt Moore, who is expected to play at least a quarter. I would believe the Panthers defense is chomping at the bit to welcome Tannehill to the NFL.

The HBO crew filming “Hard Knocks” will be in Charlotte to document the game. If Tannehill does indeed start, you can look forward to a lot of him in next week’s show.

Carolina Panthers: Preseason opens Saturday vs. Texans

The Carolina Panthers open the 2012 NFL Preseason at home Saturday night against the Houston Texans. The first exhibition game usually features starters in for a series or two, but mostly, it gives teams a chance to hit someone new (see: New York Jets fights on Monday and Tuesday this week).

Cam Newton, 2011 NFL Rookie of the Year, is poised to lead the Panthers to a better season in 2012.

Looking to build on their strong finish in the 2011 season, Carolina (6-10 in 2011) wants to get Rookie-of-the Year Cam Newton off to a great start. Wide receiver Steve Smith enjoyed one of his most productive years of his career in 2011 and should be Newton’s favorite target again, along with tight end Greg Olson, who is enjoying a very productive camp.

The offense, ranked in the top ten last year in both yardage and scoring, included three 700-yard rushers (Newton, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart) for the first time in NFL history…and four of five starters on the offensive line will be returning as well.

Second-year head coach Ron Rivera has a staff that returns virtually intact, and that staff had the entire offseason to work together – something they did not have in 2011 due to the work stoppage in the NFL.

This first game will showcase several of the outstanding rookies drafted by the Panthers including first-round pick Luke Kuechly (Boston College) at linebacker; Midwestern State’s huge offensive guard Amini Silatolu and cornerback Josh Norman each fighting for a starting spot on the team.

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

The kicking game is going to continue to be interesting to watch. At punter, sixth-round pick Brad Nortman(Wisconsin) has been competing with 12-year veteran Nick Harris. Both have looked good in workouts, with Nortman seemingly having the bigger leg. The incumbent placekicker, Olindo Mare is in a battle with former CFL star Justin Medlock. And the return spots are being hotly contested between rookie Joe Adams (Arkansas) and veterans Kealoha Pilares and Armanti Edwards.

“It’s been a good camp and we are excited about playing a game,” said Rivera. “The Texans were in the playoffs last year and are a team people talk about when predicting possible AFC champions so this will be a good test for our football team.”

Several players will be returning from injuries that sidelined them last year, and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott is counting on their presence to make a big difference this season. Linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis, along with tackles Ron Edwards, Terrell McClain and Sione Fua can’t wait to get the season underway.

Defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy and a backfield that includes four returning starters in cornerbacks Chris Gamble and Captain Munnerlyn and safeties Charles Godfrey and Sherrod Martin plus linebacker James Anderson, who set a team single season record last year with 174 stops gives the injured returners and draftees players they can look up to and learn from. The coaching staff is looking to improve the defense and like the fact that players have been competing hard from day one in camp.

“Because of the injuries last year, we were able to get playing time for a lot of different players and we hope that will pay off this season,” Rivera stated. “We have liked the tempo we have seen from our defense in training camp and it will be interesting to see how they respond against a playoff team like Houston.”

PANTHERS NOTES:

    * This will be the first preseason meeting between the two teams. In the regular season, the Texans hold a 2-1 lead in the series, with the Panthers’ lone win coming last season, 28-13, in Houston.

* As of now, the ONLY rookie UNOFFICIALLY on the first team is Silatolu (LG). Kuechly (LB) and Nortman (P) are listed on the second team, along with newcomer Medlock (PK). But that’s just after a few days in camp.

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.”