SPARTANBURG, S.C. — If you live in and around Spartanburg long enough, you will surely experience two things every August: a seething heat index, and a powerful thunderstorm. Monday night greeted the Carolina Panthers at the intersection of both elements, as a violent storm system moved evening practice into Wofford’s Benjamin Johnson Arena.
As some viewed this as a wasted evening, the Panthers appeared focused and productive for over two hours of indoor work. The parquet floor limited head coach Ron Rivera from working his team at full speed, one reason why Rivera decided, quickly, to push Tuesday’s full practice session up to 10:30 am.
Many questions still loom about the 2011 Panthers as they prepare for their first preseason game under Rivera on Saturday, a home affair against the New York Giants. Of course, everyone wants to know who will be the starting quarterback. It’s a good question, and a very important one. I believe it’s been decided, and I will elaborate later in this article.
Cornerback, an area of some concern to Rivera and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott for the past week, continues to be a head-scratcher. Both Rivera and McDermott understand and emphasize the premium of having a pair, or even a trio, or physical corners with good vision to both play the run and jam up receivers at the line. Without those elements in play, you can call blitzes all day, and quarterbacks will be looking at quick slants and crossing routes all day if your CB’s are inadequately suited to hold up.
Monday did not see the return of Chris Gamble to the lineup, as he continues to recover from a stomach illness sustained as camp opened last week. Captain Munnerlyn, the 3rd year veteran, was inactive as well. Featured at CB with the first unit were C.J. Wilson and R.J. Stanford. In passing situations, McDermott mixed things up, bringing SS Sherrod Martin down to the line in an effort to jam up the slot receiver or TE, and left FS Charles Godfrey roaming in the deep middle. Rivera said following FanFest on Saturday that Martin could be an option at NB, and sure enough, we saw it this evening.
Brandon Hogan, the team’s 4th round pick in the 2011 draft, has yet to see action and could be heading to the PUP list, if not IR. Without Gamble and Munnerlyn for now, continue to keep an eye on veteran acquisitions Cletis Gordon and Chevis Jackson. Neither are close to elite, but both have seen the field with frequency and Gordon in particular, with his history in San Diego under Rivera, could wind up as the team’s #3 CB.
The defensive line is beginning to take shape, despite the recent loss of NT Ron Edwards to a torn triceps. As reported this afternoon, Edwards is expected to have surgery and miss considerable time, if not the entire season. That loss has been Sione Fua’s gain–such is the business of football. A 3rd round pick from Stanford, Fua fits the ”two-gap” DT mold nicely, and has become a staple in McDermott’s first team line, along with DT Corvey Irvin, who has overcome injury and scrutiny from the previous regime to potentially gain a starting role.
At defensive end, we discussed yesterday the emergence of Eric Norwood. We appear to be thinking properly on this one, as Norwood got all the snaps with the first team at RDE on Monday. Charles Johnson, who recorded 11.5 sacks in 2010, is the clear starter at LDE. Everette Brown, penciled in by many as the starter at LE, does not appear poised for a starting role at the moment. At least, the amount of reps would not indicate it.
Rookie DT Terrell McClain has shot the gap several times in camp and shown playmaking ability. Yet, on Monday, McClain was 5th in line at DT, as Andre Neblett and Nick Hayden were the two backup DT’s. It would be premature to call McClain a “bubble-player”. The team invested a 3rd round pick on McClain in April, and after letting go of past DT prospects Tony Brown and Jovan Haye, general manager Marty Hurney may be more inclined to save a spot for McClain, a talented 3-technique tackle that has a good nose for the backfired.
We’ll keep it as brief as possible on the QB front: Cam Newton should start Saturday against New York, and henceforth.
Rivera and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski have, quite simply, installed a very diverse set of pass and run plays/formations specifically for Newton’s skill set. Almost 80% of Monday night’s snaps to Newton resulted in a one-read, play action concept. At times, he would read the defense, and run a lead draw to the back. Other times, he would lead draw with the back, tuck the ball back, step back and set to throw–with accuracy.
A fair critique of Newton–and it goes for every rookie QB–is the learning curve involved in working from under center and reading his progressions. It takes time for that to become natural, so while they teach the #1 overall pick how to do it, they’ve–in our view–decided to be flexible with their installation, designing plays that make sense for Newton’s experience at Auburn.
Jimmy Clausen has done little wrong in camp. It’s just that he’s done very little that makes you say, “wow”.
Ron Rivera, when asked about Cam Newton a week ago, led with one word.