Professor’s Preseason Notes
Carolina may have lost their preseason opener (22-19) to the Baltimore Ravens, we now have some real football to dissect in hopes of getting a better understanding of how Carolina’s roster will progress and their 2016 outlook. It’s early and the sample size is small, but it’s something. I jotted some notes of what I saw throughout the game. I actually went digitally dark during the game. Avoiding social media, here are my notes that started on an old legal pad.
Both Carolina’s first team offense and defense looked bigger and more athletic than anything the Baltimore Ravens had to offer. With Cam Newton at the helm, steadied by the dependable Greg Olsen, the Panthers offense did what it wanted. It looked routine and it looked effortless. As the field shortened, Carolina trotted out the big boys, Benjamin and Funchess. Benjamin hauled in a 5-yd catch on a defensive back who didn’t physically have a chance. The Panthers may have settled for a field goal on their opening drive, but they looked good. They moved the ball on the ground and Newton mixed it up with a few different receivers.
After seeing Devin Funchess post-up at the pylon for a 10-yd touchdown later in the first, it’s easy to see why Benjamin would describe the Panthers offensive as potentially “unstoppable.” Once they unpack the toolbox fully, Carolina’s offense may just be unstoppable.
If there is anything that can stop the Panthers it’s themselves. Epitomized by an interception return for a touchdown by Panther’s linebacker AJ Klein that was called back because of an “illegal substitution” penalty on #1, Carolina has to be careful not to fly too close to the sun. It was kind of an odd penalty to call on the NFL MVP, but everyone knows that Newton’s enthusiasm can boil over at times.
As the game progressed, Carolina’s play wasn’t all that clean. Missed tackles, penalties, and poor run containment all undermined what looked to be a strong preseason opener. Tre’ Boston missed a couple of tackles, but he wasn’t the only one. Safety Marcus Ball drew a late flag as he collided with the Raven’s out of bounds. Kevin Norwood drew a flag for interference on offense and Colin Jones looked confused in coverage.
Carolina ultimately fell to the Ravens, 22-19, after Damiere Byrd muffed a punt with two minutes left in the fourth quarter. Byrd’s fumble, however, didn’t lose Carolina the game. It was just one of several mental mistakes throughout the night, all which subtracted from Carolina’s preseason debut.
Byrd Watching is a Real Hobby:
The little Byrd from New Jersey has been flying high throughout training camp, and he soared in Carolina’s preseason opener. He impressed on both special teams and as a receiver, hauling in a spectacular one-handed downfield catch for a 35 yd. game. He looked dynamic as both a kick and punt returner as well. He did drop a tough ball diving to the ground, but he soared high for most of the night. Byrd flew the coup for a 49-yd kickoff return where he was only tackled because he slowed up behind a down-field blocker. Had it not been for the late-game fumble, Byrd would have had impressive punt return stats as well.
Not only should we see Byrd’s performance as validation of the training camp hype, we should also see Byrd’s integration into the game-plan as verification that Carolina is watching closely. They’re clearly trying to identify what type of rare Byrd they have spotted.
Questions in the Secondary:
There hasn’t been a bigger question about the Panthers than the secondary since Dave Gettleman drafted three cornerbacks and let go of Pro-Bowl cornerback, Josh Norman. The defensive backs looked pretty good for rookies. Baltimore tested 2nd round pick, James Bradberry, often. The rookie emerged unscathed luckily from his professional induction.
It’s at safety that the questions become more complex. Tre Boston didn’t play like a guy who had secured a starting position for the long-term, and there wasn’t much behind him when it came to guys like Marcus Ball, Trenton Robinson, or Colin Cole. Outside of Kurt Coleman, Carolina doesn’t have a proven player at safety.
Can Jeremy Cash Play Safety?
Carolina said they signed Jeremy Cash, an undrafted and undersized linebacker from Duke, to play linebacker. The Panthers played him at linebacker too, and he didn’t look bad. He held helped stop the Ravens on a critical 3rd down to give Carolina’s offense one last chance.
Cash, however, is buried in a positional group that is the best in the league. No matter how well Cash plays this preseason, or how much potential he displays, he’ll never crack this linebacker rotation that has some great depth with AJ Klein and David Mayo. Carolina doesn’t have the same problem at safety. Maybe the former Blue Devil can cash in faster by moving to strong safety. It would be a work in progress that took place on the practice squad to start, but it isn’t entirely far-fetched.
- (LB) David Mayo played well and will make the active roster.
- (WR) Stephen Hill looked juiced after breaking a tackle and picking up his first yards since returning from a gruesome knee injury. He also dropped an easy pass from Joe Webb because he waited instead of attacking the ball.
- (RB) Brandon Wegher had only 13 yds. on 10 carries. The fan favorite fell flat on his face on one play and struggled with the relentless defensive pursuit because of poor offensive line play by Carolina.
- (RB) Cameron Artis-Payne’s performance wasn’t all that memorable. 5 carries for 10 yds.
- (S) Marcus Ball’s dreads were more overwhelming than his play.
- (WR) Brenton Bersin won’t go away. He was the Keep Pounding player of the game with 5 receptions for 69 yds. He converted a big 3rd down across the middle at the expense of his health. He looked to have the wind knocked out of him.
- (DE) Ryan Delaire looked too little to play the left defensive end position. He struggled releasing from blocks and keeping the edge, which allowed for a cutback rushing touchdown by Baltimore.
- (CB) Teddy Williams looked better than people give him credit for.
- (WR) Kevin Norwood continues to fall short when his number is called. Norwood struggled when in the red zone and drew a costly interference penalty away from the ball.
By the Professor, aka Tony Dunn
Follow him on Twitter @Cat_Chronicles
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