Since the Super Bowl Fifty fiasco and the NFL's deck stacked against them with Peyton Manning's "storybook" career winding down, the NFL wanted a nice, neat bow tied around the half-century mark of Super Bowl history, and a few key "missed calls" *AHEM* certainly helped the Broncos accomplish that feat. However, it's still a fact that the Panthers' offense never could get untracked as they went up against a defense that was every bit as good as their own.
Carolina out-gained Denver, but simply could not solve the fierce speed-rushers off the edges, exposing the exterior offensive line as average at best. Add that to some missed assignments, and you're fighting an uphill battle against the AFC's best.
Panthers Need to Replace Mike Remmers
Afterwards, most fans were cursing our "endbook" tackles. The Panthers had been struggling to find a tackle to pair with Jordan Gross, but after he retired and Michael Oher was finally signed a season after the STUPID Byron Bell/left tackle experiment, the team still hasn't gotten a decent starter to replace now-exposed serial holder/right tackle Mike Remmers.
Or have they?
Last year, the team drafted a kid out of Oklahoma named Daryl Williams who, at first glance, appeared to be an NFL guard. I say this because he doesn't have great feet to quickly slide out and protect against the Von Millers of the NFL.
However, he showed a lot of promise in the pre-season and quickly made himself known as a "technician," which in his case is the best label he could possibly snag so early in his young career. It means he was showing quite some potential despite his lack of elite athleticism.
While I don't think Williams will ever be a left tackle, he certainly has ability to replace Mike Remmers. While I've always liked Remmers' effort, I have seen him flagged WAY too many times for holding because he also lacks athleticism to handle the speedy outside rush. Williams may have taken to coaching much better and appears to be penciled-in now as the club's starting right tackle in September if he can stay healthy this pre-season and put what he's learned in the past year to good use.
GM Dave Gettleman didn't draft any offensive tackles, but that doesn't mean there won't be some competition. He's made a reputation for finding UFAs and this year is no different, as several fellow writers here at CarolinaCatChronicles.com have pointed out in recent days. The team signed both the top-two rated UFAs in football...Duke safety Jeremy Cash being one. He was a 3rd-4th round projection that nobody took, but Gettleman didn't waste any time in snagging him and the idea is to make him into an outside linebacker. I'm thinking the long-term idea is to have Cash and Shaq Thompson starting on the outside once the great Thomas Davis hangs up his cleats. Don't forget that the All-Pro LB was a safety at Georgia.
Cam Needs more sure-handed Receivers
The same could be said about most NFL teams these days, frankly, but Gettleman and Rivera both have a different idea about the "vertical" passing game. Vertical in Carolina's case means "above the rim" like a basketball team, not always so much deep passes.
Sure, they call them because of veteran Ted Ginn, Jr.'s career resurgence in Charlotte. However, only two guys on the entire squad last season were considered to have soft hands; those guys would be TE Greg Olsen and WR Jerricho Cotchery. Ginn, Philly Brown, and Devin Funchess all had some bad issues with "the dropsies" last season. Funchess got better down the stretch run and should continue to improve into his sophomore campaign. Brown isn't quite so obvious with his drops, but they're there...especially early on in the season. Even Kelvin Benjamin has fought the issue.
No, the "vertical" part I'm talking about, as I said above the rim, is evident. We all know when Cam misses, he misses high, and big WRs are in vogue in the NFL these days, playing right into Carolina's situation. Benjamin is 6'5", Funchess is 6'4", and no tight ends in the NFL are much under 6'2" or 6'3". Olsen's no exception there.
Sure, every team could use a roster full of guys with natural stickum on their hands, but that's just not how real life is. Some have 'em, many don't, and teams simply have to live with the fact WRs are fallible Human beings.
That said, the Panthers were #1 in the NFL in scoring offense without their #1 WR last year. The offense will improve simply by adding back Kelvin Benjamin. His presence has to be accounted for by enemy defensive coordinators and Greg Olsen is still Cam's blankie. Can't double-cover two guys all game especially while Cam can run it and truck your entire defense. Ask Atlanta about that one.
The Cupboard is Nearly Bare in the Secondary
Eh, after Josh Norman was released, the secondary did appear to be "the gaping hole" of the defense at first look. Gettleman knew quite well of the need for defensive backs well before the Norman situation came to a head, and he drafted three corners. Hello.
Others have written more detailed info about the draftees, so I'll just say Gettleman went with 2 big "zone-style" corners that have good ball skills and are known as ball hawks. A much higher premium is placed in the draft on cover-corners who can go one-on-one against the elite NFL WRs. Ron Rivera (and Gettleman too) know that this just isn't possible with today's offense-friendly rules. If you're a defensive back and don't hold your lip right during a play, you're getting flagged. It's that simple.
The Carolina Tampa-2 zone scheme helps take some of the pressure off of the corners by not forcing them to cover a Julio Jones man-to-man on every play. The emphasis is on defensive backs who can track the ball well and have a nose for the interception or at least break-up.
It's a bit early to really know just yet, especially with the UFAs in the mix, but I'm thinking the idea is to possibly convert one of those first two corners chosen into a strong safety...again, depending on what we do with Jeremy Cash. If he moves to OLB, it's likely one of the bigger rookie CBs drafted will get a great opportunity to play strong safety and possibly even start there. The third CB Gettleman drafted is a smaller, quicker guy who has "Nickelback" written all over him; someone the team certainly could use if the Fed Chief, Bene Benwikere, stays outside after the team made it known last year that's where he was going to move.
Gettleman's draft strategy was to re-stock the defensive backfield in order to give the team a lot of directions to go in case Roman Harper and/or Charles "Peanut" Tillman call it quits. The secondary will be much younger, but a lot more talented and deeper this season as a result.
We Needed a DE and Chose a DT First?
Yes, that's Gettleman's style. This "BPA" drafting business is only true to an extent...many teams in the past have admitted, after some 10-20 years for instance, that they passed up particular highly-rated players because they were set at the position. The New England Deflatriots finally pulled the trigger on Tom Brady at #199 because he was not only the "BPA" on their board but had been for several rounds!
They had one Drew Bledsoe in the ranks, however, and didn't draft Brady because of other needs. This happens all the time.
I had said I wouldn't be surprised if the team drafted a DT in the first three rounds; I just wasn't expecting it in the first. I do see why, because Gettleman's done it before with Kony Ealy and Greg Hardy.
What Vernon Butler, the 1st-round DT pick, does for the organization is twofold: Once, he gives the team the ability to go two-deep at both DT spots, allowing Star and Kawann some ability to rest during the game. Paul Soliai should sub for Star 15-20 plays a game and Butler has the ability to sub-in for either starter.
What Gettleman is thinking, however, is more about money. Since both Star and Kawann are entering contract years and Kawann Short especially seems to be set up for a massive payday for 2017, Butler's presence gives Gettleman and the Panthers some options. Gettleman has already shown his willingness to let a "star" walk as he did with Josh Norman a few short weeks ago over salary demands that were, frankly, too much above normal market value for the team to shell out.
You can be certain that Star and Kawann both have noticed this. If they ask for way too much money, they'll hit the road, Jack. So Butler's selection is every bit about saving money and keeping the cap under control as it is helping out the team.
Lastly, the team saved money in releasing "Big Money" Charles Johnson and re-signing him for a lot more cap-friendly figure than he was slated to make while Kony Ealy had the best Super Bowl of ANY Panther and appears to have finally arrived as a blind-side pass-rusher.
I was actually thinking the team might target Emmanuel Ogbah with that late first-round pick, but Gettleman runs the show. With the overall trajectory the team has taken since Rivera arrived first then Gettleman a year later, I'll defer to their judgement until they show us otherwise.
So far, neither has let the fans down.
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