February 25, 2015

Panthers interested in Ginn, recently visited with Oher

The Carolina Panthers are interested in bringing back return specialist Ted Ginn, although they're not the only team eyeing him.

A league source said the Panthers plan to reach out to Ginn, who also is drawing interest from his home-state Cleveland Browns.

Ginn enjoyed a career resurgence with the Panthers in 2013 after three disappointing years in San Francisco. He left in free agency last offseason for Arizona, which cut him Monday after Ginn posted some of the worst return numbers of his career.

Carolina's return game struggled last season without Ginn, who will turn 30 in April.

Another potential Panthers' target hit the market Wednesday when Baltimore cut receiver/returner Jacoby Jones.

Carolina tried to sign Jones in 2012 before he signed with Baltimore. Jones was one of the Ravens' postseason heroes that season, scoring on a 108-yard kickoff return that was the longest in Super Bowl history.

The Panthers also need a left tackle, and recently visited with one of the most famous ones in recent history.

Former Baltimore and Tennessee tackle Michael Oher, who was the inspiration for the movie, "The Blind Side," recently visited the Panthers, the Baltimore Sun reported Wednesday.

Oher's rise from the streets of Memphis to a full ride at Mississippi was chronicled in the 2009 film. Oher arrived in the NFL with much fanfare as a first-round pick of the Ravens in 2009.

And while he's never been to a Pro Bowl and is coming off a toe injury that ended his 2014 season early, Oher could be a solution for a Panthers team that is not re-signing enigmatic left tackle Byron Bell.

Oher, 28, started 80 consecutive games in his five seasons with Baltimore, where he played both right and left tackle.

But Oher was ranked among the 10 worst tackles in the league last year by Pro Football Focus in his only season with the Titans.

Tennessee released him on Feb. 5 with a waived-injured designation, less than a year after signing a five-year, $20 million contract with the Titans. He played 11 games at right tackle for Tennessee before going on injured reserve after hurting his toe.

Oher is believed to be almost completely recovered, according to the Sun's report.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on February 25, 2015 at 06:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

February 24, 2015

Williams upset at Panthers' lack of support following mother's death

It wasn't the "blood and guts" franchise receiver leader Steve Smith wished upon the Panthers following his release last year, but longtime running back DeAngelo Williams had his own parting shot while revealing to Charlotte's WBTV the Panthers plan to release him.

Williams, the Panthers' all-time rushing leader, told WBTV he was angry at the Panthers' lack of response following the death of his mother last spring following a long battle with breast cancer.

"To know that a place of business that you've worked for and that you've bled, you've played through injuries, you did everything you possibly can for this organization to be successful, and then upon your darkest hour they let you handle it by yourself," Williams said in the interview that aired Monday night.

After his mother, Sandra Hill, died last May, Williams said he spoke by phone with coach Ron Rivera and GM Dave Gettleman, each of whom expressed their regrets.

WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

But only one person from the organization attended the funeral in Arkansas -- embattled defensive end Greg Hardy.

Williams said he received a note from owner Jerry Richardson, but only after Williams had written a piece about his mom for Sports Illustrated's Monday Morning QB, which was published two weeks after her death.

Williams told WBTV's Molly Grantham that Richardson apologized to him in July, and that the franchise has since adopted a policy to improve their response when a player has a death in the family.

But Williams said he was stung by the lack of sympathy from the Panthers when he lost his mother, who was the impetus for the NFL's breast cancer awareness efforts during October games.

"I was so upset with Carolina because for the last five or six years during October she was celebrated. But then when she's no longer here, let's move on."

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on February 24, 2015 at 07:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (48)

February 23, 2015

Thomas Davis to receive key to the city Monday night

Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, who last month was awarded the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award, will receive the key to the city at Monday night’s Charlotte City Council meeting.

The honor will take place at the 6:15 p.m. meeting where Charlotte mayor Dan Clodfelter will present the veteran linebacker with the honor.

“The Key to the City is presented to an esteemed citizen and trusted friend of the city’s residents,” Clodfelter said in a statement. “Through his foundation and other charitable acts, Mr. Davis has proven his commitment to empowering young Charlotteans as they pursue their dreams.”

Davis, 31, has established an after-school learning academy, works with the Levine’s Children's Hospital and does an annual Christmas shopping spree with local children through his Thomas Davis Defending Dreams Foundation.

Last month before the Super Bowl, Davis was honored as the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year for his work off the field.

“There’s so much negativity that’s going on in this league and so much that’s being reported. I just feel like we’re in a position where we can make a difference,” Davis said that night. “We can do so much with the platform and the voice that we have right now. It’s up to us to take advantage of it.”

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on February 23, 2015 at 11:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

February 19, 2015

Rivera, Gettleman talk Newton, Hardy and tackles

Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman and coach Ron Rivera both addressed the media Thursday at the scouting combine in Indianapolis.

Five quick takeaways:

1-The writing is on the wall for Greg Hardy.

Both Rivera and Gettleman declined to comment specifically about Hardy, who remains on the exempt list while the league investigates his domestic violence case.

But it was telling that Gettleman said he hasn't spoken with Hardy since mid-September when he went on the exempt list, and has had only minimal contact with Drew Rosenhaus, Hardy's agent.

And when discussing drafting players with character issues, Gettleman said: "Who wants a ticking time bomb?"

2-Don't dismiss DeAngelo Williams, yet.

There has been a lot of speculation the Panthers might cut Williams, who is coming off an injury-plagued season and turns 32 in April.

Gettleman and Rivera recently sat down with Williams, and Rivera called it a good meeting.

The only time Gettleman met with Steve Smith last year was when he told him he was cutting him.

3-The Panthers will explore all their options at left tackle.

Neither Gettleman nor Rivera ruled out bringing Byron Bell back, although Gettleman said this year's tackle class is deeper than last year's top-heavy group.

Rivera said the Panthers would look at free agent tackles and college tackles -- as well as Bell, who will be an unrestricted free agent next month -- as part of their evaluation process.

4-Cam Newton is feeling good.

Newton, who is expected to finish his degree at Auburn this semester, was in Charlotte recently and told Rivera he's as healthy as he's been in a long time.

Gettleman wouldn't discuss Newton's contract status, but said -- again -- that Newton is the team's long-term quarterback.

5-The need for speed.

Watching the playoff loss to Seattle only reinforced Rivera's belief that the Panthers need to get faster -- and not just at skill positions.

The Panthers' injection of youth and speed late in the season helped spur the December run into the playoffs. But Rivera said there are still areas where the Panthers can get faster.

Given No. 1 on this list, expect the Panthers' scouts and coaches to keep a close eye on the edge rushers here this week.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on February 19, 2015 at 02:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

February 17, 2015

Panthers cut Thomas DeCoud after one season

The Panthers have started taking small steps toward the March 12 start of free agency.

The team announced Tuesday afternoon it released safety Thomas DeCoud after signing the seven-year veteran to a two-year contract last offseason.

DeCoud, who inked a two-year deal worth $3.525 million last year, didn’t have the speed the Panthers needed in the defensive backfield in 2014 and was replaced late in the season with rookie Tre Boston.

It’s the second cut for DeCoud in as many years. He signed a five-year, $17.5 million contract before the 2012 season. He went on to play in the Pro Bowl after that season.

But Atlanta cut him following the 2013 season and the Panthers picked him up as they retooled their secondary.

He had just one interception and two passes defensed for Carolina in 2014. When Boston returned to the lineup from a groin strain, the rookie surpassed DeCoud on the depth chart.

By cutting DeCoud, the Panthers should save almost $1.9 million in cap space for 2015.

The Panthers also confirmed they signed offensive guard Chris Scott to a one-year deal. Scott was set to be a restricted free agent.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on February 17, 2015 at 01:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

February 08, 2015

Rivera hires Turner to assist with Panthers receivers

Panthers coach Ron Rivera continues to tweak his coaching staff, adding an entry-level offensive assistant from a family Rivera has worked with previously.

Cameron Turner is expected to join the Panthers this week as the assistant receivers coach, a source close to Turner said Sunday.

The Panthers have not announced Turner's hire.

Turner spent the past two seasons at Florida International working for his father, Ron Turner, the former Illinois coach and NFL assistant. Cameron Turner, who played at The Citadel, is the nephew of Vikings offensive coordinator and former NFL head coach Norv Turner.

Rivera coached under Norv Turner in San Diego, while Scott Turner -- Norv's son and Cameron's cousin -- was on Rivera's staff in Carolina.

Cameron Turner will assist Panthers receivers coach Ricky Proehl. Rivera had an opening following the retirement of senior offensive assistant John Ramsdell.

The biggest shakeup in Rivera's staff this offseason involved the special teams' duties. Bruce DeHaven was promoted to coordinator and former special teams chief Richard Rodgers was reassigned to defense.

Rodgers will help secondary coach Steve Wilks in the defensive backfield.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on February 8, 2015 at 04:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

February 06, 2015

Panthers No. 13 in early NFL power rankings

If you like way-too-early power rankings, you’ll be pleased to know the Carolina Panthers will three-peat as NFC South champions and make the playoffs following the 2015 season.

NFL.com’s Elliot Harrison put the Panthers at No. 13 in his post-Super Bowl NFL power rankings in what expects will be a down year for the NFC South.

The Falcons (18), Saints (21) and Bucs (30) all trail the Panthers.

“Like the Chiefs [ranked one spot behind Carolina], the Panthers could use help at the wide receiver spot,” Harrison writes. “They also could use a full 16 games from running back Jonathan Stewart, who ran like Jerome Bettis circa 1996 over the back stretch of 2014. Carolina will only hit the skids if the defense regresses into the dysfunctional unit it was early on this past season.”

Harrison goes on to write that the Panthers don’t have to rebuild, but retool, to win a third consecutive division title.

All of this is well and good and should make Panthers fans feel happy, but there’s a lot of time between now and when the division crown will be decided. Free agency is still a month away and we’ll see if Dave Gettleman sticks to his word about upgrading from the dollar store.

The draft is just less than three months away, and there’s no clear idea what direction the Panthers will look at No. 25 until well after they’ve made their free agency pickups.

There’s no argument that the Patriots and Seahawks are 1-2 in the rankings. But the Lions are at No. 9 with the up-and-down Matt Stafford, and the Broncos are surprisingly low at No. 10. The main issue may come with the Texans sitting at No. 12 ahead of Carolina despite not having franchise quarterback.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on February 6, 2015 at 06:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (23)

February 03, 2015

Rivera reassigns special teams coach Rodgers, promotes DeHaven

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera has reassigned special teams coordinator Richard Rodgers after the Panthers' special teams finished at or near the bottom in a number of major special teams categories this past season, league sources said Tuesday.

According to the sources, Rivera will promote Rodgers' assistant, Bruce DeHaven, who came to Carolina in 2013 with 26 years of NFL coaching experience. Rodgers is expected to have a role on the Panthers' defensive staff.

DeHaven arrived in Charlotte from Buffalo, where he had two stints totaling 16 years as the Bills' special teams coach.

In 2012 during DeHaven's last season with Buffalo, the Bills led the league with a 17.1-yard punt return average, and were fourth with a 27-yard kick return average. Both marks were franchise records.

The Panthers struggled mightily on special teams in 2014. They allowed four special teams touchdowns, including two on blocked punts in a Nov. 30 loss at Minnesota.

It was the first time in more than a quarter-century a team had allowed two punts to be blocked and returned for scores.

Rodgers, Rivera's teammate at Cal, had no NFL coaching experience when he was hired as the special teams assistant in 2012. He took over near midseason after Rivera fired specials team coordinator Brian Murphy.

The special team units improved under Rodgers in 2013, jumping from last place to 13th in the Dallas Morning News' annual special teams rankings.

But they plummeted to 31st among 32 teams in the newspapers' ranking this past season.

Carolina was last in three categories -- punt coverage (15.5 yards allowed per return), net punting (36.5 yards) and points allowed (24).

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on February 3, 2015 at 05:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)

February 02, 2015

DeAngelo Williams: Seahawks played chess instead of checkers

Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams joined the chorus of football fans, observers, players and essentially everyone in the country in expressing dismay at Seattle’s final play call in Sunday night’s Super Bowl.

In an interview with CNN on Monday afternoon, Williams repeatedly said he would have given the ball to running back Marshawn Lynch rather than attempt a pass at the 1-yard line that ultimately was intercepted to seal the game for the Patriots.

“They played chess when they should have played checkers,” Williams told Brooke Baldwin.

“There’s no doubt in my mind if they give the ball to Marshawn, it’s a different outcome in this Super Bowl.”

It should come as no surprise Williams is siding for his fellow running back. Williams said he had not yet spoken to Lynch, whom he referred to throughout the interview as “Beastmode.”

Williams pointed to the “devaluation” of the running back in today’s NFL. The league has been trending to more pass-heavy offenses, and last year a running back wasn’t drafted until the 54th overall selection—the latest in the draft’s history.

Williams’ contract and role with the Panthers have been minimized in the past two years. The Panthers restructured his contract in 2013 and he’s set to count $6.3 million against the cap in 2015, the final year of his deal with Carolina. He battled through injuries this season but could only muster 219 rushing yards in six games in 2014.

Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said last month he will have a talk with Williams before the start of free agency in March about Williams’ future in Carolina. 

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on February 2, 2015 at 04:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

January 28, 2015

Fozzy Whittaker gets cameo in 'Key & Peele' skit

For the third straight year, comic duo Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key have tag-teamed to produce a hilarious Super Bowl skit, and this time they included a member of the Panthers.

The stars of Comedy's Central 'Key & Peele' sketch comedy show made a national splash two years ago with this "East West Bowl" skit that pokes fun at some of the more unique names around college and pro football.

Panthers running back Fozzy Whittaker got in on the action this year. Whittaker, who rushed for 145 yards and a touchdown this season for the Panthers, received attention this season because of his name. Whittaker's full name is Foswhitt Jer’ald Whittaker, as explained to the Observer last month.

Video is below. Be sure to stick around for the twist at the end.

 

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on January 28, 2015 at 04:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

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