Posted 15 June 2012 - 02:56 PM
A WHOLE PIE!
Keep in mind, only so much can really be made of a practice like this. Plenty of guys look great in helmets and shorts but then don’t look so great in full pads and full contact. Yes, there are general things to be learned, but all observations this early on should be taken with a healthy dose of NaCl.
To the notes…
First thing I noticed: Way more people here today than I would have expected. Expected a crowd maybe in the tens, but what I saw when I arrived looked more like hundreds. Wasn’t sure I’d get inside in time, but happily did.
Initially, the team had only opened up one of the end zone sections for the public (VIPs got the 50 yard line) but as the time grew later, they found the need to open up more and more sections. Even saw one or two folks brought signs, and keep in mind all this is for a non-contact practice in June.
The level of fan enthusiasm is definitely way up from prior years. And credit the team for making the effort to do things up right for them. They had the big screen and the side screens going, Mick Mixon announcing over the PA and Danny Morrison out mingling with the crowd. Concessions were open too, though I just wasn't in the mood to buy a ten dollar hot dog.
Saw DT Terrell McClain getting in some early work with DL Coach Eric Washington. Greg Hardy was nearby, standing around looking contemplative. He’s stated that he’s up to near 300, and looking at him, it’s believable. Still looks quick though. Watched him doing some hand movements that looked pretty fast.
Once things got started…
I’ll lead off here with some of the more memorable moments of the day.
During the warmups, heard a bit of commotion coming from the area where the Big Uglys were stretching. The source was Byron Bell, who was doing a little more than stretching. Bell was dancing up a storm, jumping around with one leg in the air. His teammates were cheering him on, and the crowd was loving it. Give him an ‘A’ for being unafraid. Technique though? Well, I don’t think ABC will be calling him for a spot on ‘Dancing with the Stars’ anytime soon
Fans of gadget plays take note: you might enjoy this year, and not just from the offense. The special teams ran two fake field goals yesterday, with the first being the best. Holder Nick Harris rolled out to the right and hit Geoff Hangartner with a solid pass in the end zone. Give him credit. Harris actually looked like a quarterback, right down to holding the ball properly on the run. On the flipside, Nortman looked like a punter trying to throw a pass. I looked up Harris’ bio to see if he’d ever played QB (a lot of college players at other spots were QBs in high school by default because they were the best athlete). No QB experience, but was an all state linebacker in high school while also playing receiver and runningback. Regardless, he pleased the crowd with his throw yesterday.
On the topic of crowd pleasers, a fair number of footballs got thrown into the crowd yesterday. The first, if I remember correctly, from Hangartner after his TD catch (not dead certain on that). Every time someone made a big catch, the crowd was calling for the ball. Brandon LaFell obliged on one play, sort of. He attempted to throw the ball into the crowd, but it hit the field goal net and bounced back. It drew a pretty big laugh (stick to receiver, Brandon).
Ironically enough, one of the moments that drew the most crowd response was post practice. "Cam Newton" became "Camera Newton" when he grabbed a shutterbug's camera and started taking pics of the fans. The crowd ate it up, and Newton looked to be having a blast. Kudos to him for that. The fans are, after all, what it's all about
And then of course, there was the moment that probably got loads of tongues wagging.
During seven-on-seven, rookie LB Luke Kuechly jumped a route and picked off Jimmy Clausen. For anyone other than Clausen, that play was a thing of beauty to behold. Kuechly anticipated the pass perfectly, and once he got his hands on it he took off like a bullet. Of course, he faced an unexpected challenge when he was chased by QB Cam Newton, unexpected given that Newton wasn’t actually in on the play. The whole spectacle of last year’s top pick chasing this year’s top pick delighted the crowd, and it was - for me and probably many others - the highlight of the day.
Moving to the rest of the practice notes…
First up for the day: punt practice. Rookie Brad Nortman and veteran Nick Harris kicking. Joe Adams, Josh Norman and Michael Avila catching. Saw Armanti Edwards out there too, and he got a decent cheer from the crowd when he caught a punt and Mixon called his name. Also saw Jordan Pugh and Sherrod Marin running down on coverage.
Fans of hang time should enjoy young punter Brad Nortman. Nortman kicks the ball somewhere into the lower troposphere. Also seems to be at least decent at placement. As far as directional punting though, vet Nick Harris probably has the edge. I get the impression from watching how they practiced yesterday that directional punting is an area the team wants to see more of this season.
Switching to field goals, first team group was Olindo Mare kicking, Nick Harris holding. Second, Justin Medlock with Brad Nortman. No misses, and that’s no great surprise given the lack of real rush. For each attempt though, ST Coach Brian Murphy had Josh Norman running from side to side behind the line. As I recall, Norman has a blocked field goal or two in his college credits. Don’t be surprised if the team tries to use him in that capacity this season.
As far as distance, they only lined up as far back as the 30. Catman72 advised me that before things started, Medlock was warming up by kicking (successfully) from 60 yards out. I can tell you from my own observation that whether or not Medlock kicks better, he definitely kicks higher, and harder. When Mare kicks the ball, you hear a thud. With Medlock kicking, you hear a BOOM followed shortly thereafter by the sound of a football screaming in pain
Medlock did some additional practice on his own later on. Perhaps he realizes he needs to buckle down and get a better handle on his career rather than bouncing around.
Speaking of booms, that’s the sound you hear when Greg Hardy swats a tackling dummy doing “gauntlet” type drills (running in-between various tackling dummies, swatting them down from both sides). Ditto for rookie Frank Alexander and second year man Terrell McCain. Some of the other guys just had a light swat, but Hardy, Alexander and McClain were taking swings worthy of Mike Tyson.
Hardy and Alexander looked like the fastest of the bunch as well. I’d add that Alexander looks like he has really good balance and change of direction skills. On the flipside, Antwan Applewhite looked a little off balance at times, and Frank Kearse slipped and fell doing the gauntlet. Kearse did do better when they were practicing swim moves against the goal post though.
No Charles Johnson yesterday. Starting lineup was Hardy, Fua, McClain and Applewhite. I know everyone’s looking for (hoping for) changes on the interior, but “everyone” may not necessarily include Ron Rivera (we’ll see).
Other Notes: Rookie Ryan Van Bergen got a decent pressure on Derek Anderson that forced an incomplete. Saw some nice work from Thomas Keiser too. If Ron Edwards was out there, I didn’t notice him.
THE BIG UGLYS
Certain positions don’t really lend themselves to evaluation in non-contact or light-contact practices. O-Line is probably the chief example of this.
Not much to see here other than that the starting lineup of the moment appears to be (left to right) Gross, Silatolu, Kalil, Hangartner and Bell. Backups: Garry Williams, Bryant Browning, Mike Pollak, Will Blackwell and Lee Ziemba. Zack Williams and Matt Reynolds also got some work at center and left tackle, respectively Bruce Campbell was there also (at right tackle, I think). Otah didn’t practice.
Watching what they did for drills, I’d say OL Coach John Matsko is going to put some emphasis on agility this season. That’s probably a good idea when you have a mobile quarterback, but could bode well for the runningback stable too.
Other Notes: Campbell trucked DB Josh Norman on one play, probably not enough to make the league say anything though. Kalil took a little time to say hi to some fans in-between drills.
At the second level of defense, all eyes were on Jon Beason and Thomas Davis. Of the two, I saw more of Beason, who looked like his old self (again, just in shorts). Davis I saw less frequently which made me wonder if they were limiting his reps. What I did see of him though looked at least okay.
As you might expect, plenty of attention was also being paid to Luke Kuechly who had the aforementioned highlight reel pick of Clausen. The word “intense” is a good descriptor for Kuechly. He comes off as the kind of guy who’d go all out to win a game of checkers. I’ve begun to believe that Rivera wants him to be our version of Brian Urlacher. Will he ultimately be that good? Don’t know, but I definitely can see the potential. He even came fairly close to chasing down Newton on one play yesterday (as mentioned, Newton returned the favor later)
Starting LB lineup yesterday was Beason in the middle, Kuechly and James Anderson on the outside. Davis subbed in for Anderson some, and as has been discussed before I get the impression that his future with us may well be as a backup or situational guy rather than a starter. He’s a competitor, so that may be tough to swallow, but I believe he’s a team player first, which is why I think he’ll stick around. That might not qualify as a “miraculous comeback” but it’s something.
Other Notes: Saw a decent pass rush on one play by Kion Wilson. Jason Williams showed up on the radar a time or two as well. Jordan Senn had one of a couple of near picks of Derek Anderson in hand, but lost it.
Watching the receiving corps, the guy who stood out the most yesterday (other than, obviously, 89) was Brandon LaFell. LaFell had several nice catches, including one where he outfought Chris Gamble and one from Newton over the middle that looked like it was shot out of a rifle. LaFell is another who's looked good minus pads before, but even so, I choose to be optimistic.
Other good signs yesterday from Seyi Ajirotutu (saw a lot of him), Kealoha Pilares (had some good catches - including one sliding to the ground - and a nice run on an end around) and yes, Armanti Edwards, who appears for the moment to be the third receiver (Ajirotutu may have a chance there too). Even saw an encouraging sight via a catch or two from David Gettis, who unsurprisingly had on a knee brace.
To expand a little on Edwards, yes he had a good day. Not many major mistakes that I saw (one drop on a middle pass) a few decent catches, no dropped punts and a nice leaping catch on a short out route and another across the middle (from Anderson). Cool right? It would be, except Armanti looking good during non-contact “helmets and shorts” practices is nothing new. There’s always the chance he gets better of course, but I wouldn’t be holding my breath.
Also among the notables: rookie Joe Adams. It’s no shock to see Steve Smith make insane looking jukes and cuts, but Adams had a flash or two as well, including a fantastic looking catch and turn that left CB Josh Thomas grasping for air. He’s fast, ridiculously elusive and seems unafraid. Again, he’s just in shorts right now, but it definitely looks like he’s got all the right moves.
Adams looking good is likely expected, at least by some. The less expected rookie standout was scarecrow looking undrafted player Lamont Bryant. Bryant’s listed height of 6-5 looks right, though I wonder if the 229 weight might be a little padded. Performance wise, he might have something to show. Bryant had a beautiful falling catch in the end zone (think it came from Anderson, but I could be wrong) and showed well in some other drills as well. I’d say he has an early shot at being this year’s undrafted sensation.
Another contender for that title would be Jared Green (whose father, Catman72 advised me, was in attendance yesterday; wish I could’ve met him too). The younger Green was the target of what was probably Newton’s worst pass yesterday (a ground ball) but caught a few others including a nice reception where he got position on Brandon Hogan. I’ll grant that his real chances are slim, but he’s someone I’ll be rooting for come camp.
Among the tight ends, Greg Olsen looked solid. Put a pretty good move on Kuechly on one play, and saw him having what looked like a technical conversation with Newton between drills. In two TE sets , I saw Ben Hartsock getting some work. New (full sized) pickup Joe Jon Finley had a nice reception down the deep middle from Anderson. Have to admit, would like to see Shockey back out there, but the prospects of that seem to be fading.
Although I’m sure this’ll come as a disappointment to many, if you can judge anything by yesterday’s workouts, then no real changes have been made to the starting lineup in the secondary just yet. First team looked to be Gamble and Munnerlyn at corner, Martin and Godfrey at safety. Yes, that can change, but doesn’t look like it has to this point.
Though judging DBs in this type of practice isn’t all that easy, I will say that Gamble still looks good while Munnerlyn still (sadly) looks iffy. He was outfought for a catch yesterday by Darvin Adams. Not a good sign looking at some of the receivers he’ll be facing this season. You’d hope that’s an aberration, but last year tells me that it probably isn’t
The guy who probably has the best chance of making a change in the depth chart is rookie Josh Norman. He was all over the field yesterday and did a pretty fair job of covering Steve Smith. Early on, he was giving a little too much cushion, but I’d guess that someone (maybe even Smith himself, who gabbed with Norman a time or two) advised him to stick a little closer. As practice rolled on, he did, and got better results. He managed to strip a ball away from DeAngelo on a run too, though in fairness I think Williams was probably not paying attention (the play was largely over). Keep an eye on this guy.
Brandon Hogan, on the other hand? If he did anything all that special yesterday, I missed it. Did see him get beat a few times though, including once each by Jared Green and Armanti Edwards, both of whom managed to get inside position on him. There’s been a hint or two that Hogan may not have the world’s greatest work ethic. If he wants to stick around, he’d better change that.
While I’ll grant that this format, at least to a degree, favors receivers over DBs, I still noticed what I thought was a little unnecessary chippyness from the secondary guys once or twice. Gamble had an absolutely blatant jersey pull on LaFell. One of the others (might have been rookie safety D J Campbell) apparently drew a “throw the flag” gesture from one of the younger receivers on an end zone attempt. If you want a positive spin on that, I guess you could say that at least they’re feisty and competitive.
Other Notes: Darius Butler was one of a couple of guys with near picks of Clausen. On another play, a ball intended for Ajirotutu was tipped first by Jordan Pugh, than Butler, but ultimately hit the ground. Josh Thomas did a good job of stepping inside Jared Green to break up a pass from Clausen (Green will have to learn to try and prevent that).
Watching yesterday’s rushers, it’s a fairly safe bet that “Double Trouble” becomes “Triple Threat” this year. The ‘tres’ in that group would be Mike Tolbert, a guy who runs with good power and better speed and elusiveness than you’d expect from someone carrying a fullback’s weight (243). Tolbert had plenty of ‘highlight reel’ moments yesterday and I’d guess that’s exactly what Ron Rivera wanted to see when he went after him. He’s definitely another one to watch come camp and preseason time.
The other thing I found notable? If you can make anything out of the order yesterday, Jonathan Stewart was in before DeAngelo Williams. Both saw plenty of action though, and both looked fast, shifty and tough. Lord knows many thought the run game was anemic last season, but there might be good reason to hope for much better results this year (especially when you factor in Tolbert, and Newton).
Other Notes: Nice moments yesterday too for Josh Vaughan and Tauren Poole. One or the other of those two probably makes the practice squad. Good chance Richie Brockel gets slotted in as a fullback too though the site has him listed at TE.
So what about the signal callers?
Obviously, the best of the bunch was Cam Newton. His passes have so much zip on them I’m afraid if I tried to catch one it’d take me for a ride. His passes are crisp, tight and generally on target. Now, true to his form last year, there were a few that sailed a little on him or just looked a tad off-target, and his deep pass is still better than his short one. I honestly don’t ever expect those occasional misfires to go away (every QB has at least a few of them) but I do think they’ll be minimized over time. And even the off passes are generally off “in the right way”. Pretty sure Newton was the only QB that didn’t get picked at least once yesterday.
Derek Anderson? He looked like a backup. Decent, but not great. He and Newton got the lion’s share of the passing reps yesterday. Anderson had some good shots (including a perfect strike to Edwards in the front left corner of the end zone) and a few he’d probably like to take back (like a near pick by CB Josh Thomas when he was off target to Lamont Bryant). Overall average, but to his credit, he definitely looked better than the number three.
Now for the bad part...
What can I say about Jimmy Clausen yesterday other than that he looked borderline awful. His best work was on checkdowns. Long passes were generally off target and he had as many near picks as he had receptions, and this is just a non-contact practice for pete’s sake. To tell the truth, Clausen looks like a guy who’s lost his confidence. At Notre Dame, Clausen always looked like he knew he was the man. Now, he looks like someone who needs to make the best of a limited opportunity, and isn’t doing it. If he doesn’t look better by training camp, I see him being out of a job. Sad, but true. Maybe a team running a West Coast Offense will give him a shot. He's definitely better suited to that.
Let’s go back to Newton for a moment, and more specifically to his post-practice hijinks.
Clowning around after practice might not seem like something “scout worthy” but take a moment and think back to the reports from last year. Newton was said by many to be looking tired, drained and a bit befuddled after camp workouts. Yesterday, he looked nothing like that. He was happy, energetic and enthusiastic. Newton appears not only to have fully embraced “face of the franchise” status, but (perhaps) to have fully graduated from his college to pro transition. And yeah, that’s good news.
One disappointment: Although fans were asking for it, no "Superman" pose yesterday (at least that I saw).
Rivera runs a tight ship, down to the times. The opening airhorn went off right at 11:30am. Practice ended on time too.
If they don’t make it in football, Joe Adams and Lamont Bryant have plenty of potential to work as stick figures. These guys are ridiculously thin.
When Newton’s name was called out to the crowd, there was a pretty thunderous cheer (as you’d expect) but one crowd smart aleck followed up the cheer by yelling “Roll Tide”.
Guys I wanted to see but didn’t really notice much yesterday: Haruki Nakamura, Sione Fua, Reggie Smith, Gary Barnidge, Kenny Onatolu and Eric Norwood. Of the bunch, Nakamura and Fua were the only ones I actually saw at all. If the others were even there, I couldn't testify to it. That could just be on me, though.
Made a mental note of seeing a nice completion from Jimmy Clausen to Armanti Edwards at one point. Unsure either makes the team, though. They tried again on the very next play and it was an incomplete.
Had my first encounter with Sir Purr yesterday. He patted me on the back. I wondered who it was, turned around and was face to face. Looked like he was doing a good job in general keeping the kids entertained.
Catman72 said hello afterward. He mentioned meeting Darrell Green and pointed out Keary Colbert in the audience. I had seen Smith go over and say hello to him mid-practice but didn’t see him well enough to know who he was.
And lastly, good news for those who noticed something amiss in the past: Sam Mills statue has been cleaned.
See ya at training camp
Posted 15 June 2012 - 03:20 PM
Thanks a lot... Seriously
Pie and "like this" are insufficient rewards for that type of write up.
Edit: I also hope that you are going to TC this year. I'd love more of this.
Posted 15 June 2012 - 03:29 PM
thanks for answering my gary barnidge question before i asked it.
glad the DBs look like they're ready to fight. we need them to be quick and tough this year.
Posted 15 June 2012 - 03:58 PM
Posted 15 June 2012 - 04:02 PM
Speaking of Cam, we need to sign the ball boy he throws passes to in-between drills... he was throwing heat at this kid from about 15-20 yards away and the kid caught every one of them with almost perfect form, bare handed. LOL
JR has been known to do these type things... A la Wofford kid
That would make a great story in a few yrs...
Posted 15 June 2012 - 04:26 PM
Posted 15 June 2012 - 05:17 PM
Posted 15 June 2012 - 05:18 PM
Good stuff. Thank you for sharing.
It'll be interesting to contrast this with when the pads go on. I love the buzz about Norman, but I'd love it if we saw something from Hogan. Everything I'm reading has me feeling good about the front 7. I don't have full confidence in the secondary.
I expect another great season out of Gamble; however, with Norman touted as a gambler, I'd feel a whole lot better with him starting if I had faith in our Safeties. A risk taking rookie CB plus questionable safety play in a division with quality receivers is a nerve inducing scenario.
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