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August 21, 2006

Observations following Exhibition No. 2

After a day of planes, trains and automobiles, it’s time for a little blogging.

Actually, there were no trains involved, but plenty of planes and automobiles. After flying from Jacksonville to Charlotte and, then, driving back to Spartanburg, it’s time for some observations on Saturday night’s preseason victory against Jacksonville and Monday’s end of training camp:

One of the biggest priorities of the offseason was to beef up the running game. So far, it hasn’t paid off. DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams haven’t done anything spectacular. But both of those guys can run. What they need is better blocking. Besides, it’s the preseason, which, for the most part, means absolutely nothing.

While the preseason isn’t a fair gauge on running backs, it is important for the offensive line. That’s a unit that’s trying to build chemistry and continuity with two new starters. So far, the line hasn’t looked all that good, and Jake Delhomme felt way too much pressure Saturday night. The line suddenly is the biggest concern and there are only two exhibition games left to get things cleaned up.

Speaking of the offensive line, there’s another potential problem. What if Jordan Gross or Travelle Wharton goes down with a long-term injury. The emergency plan is to move guard Mike Wahle outside and start Geoff Hangartner at guard. That doesn’t say much for backup tackles Rashad Butler, a rookie who essentially will get a red-shirt season as he tries to bulk up, and Todd Fordham, a veteran, who is at the end of the line. Why not just watch the waiver wire for a legitimate backup tackle?

He’s yet to play a preseason down and there’s been speculation that Steve Smith’s numbers will drop from last season. I disagree. Smith’s always been a competitor, and with the possibility of a contract extension looming, he’s going to step up even more than last year when he was the best receiver in the league.

Safety Colin Branch was brought along slowly early in camp as he recovered from a major knee injury. He’s been practicing more the past 10 days and played well against the Jaguars. Don’t be surprised if he soon moves ahead of veteran Shaun Williams at free safety.

Rookie Richard Marshall worked as the nickel back ahead of veteran Reggie Howard on Saturday night. You have to wonder if that’s a sign that Marshall’s picking things up quickly or if the Miami Dolphins were right when they parted ways with Howard.

Perhaps the best thing about the preseason games so far is that the Panthers haven’t had a significant injury.

Perhaps the best thing about training camp is that rain didn’t force the Panthers inside at all. But it is raining in Spartanburg tonight and that could jeopardize the final practice of camp Monday morning.

After covering the NFL since 1993, I’ve known that a road game is a major logistical operation. But I didn’t realize just how big until early Sunday morning as I left Alltel Stadium in a rental car and headed up Interstate 95 to my hotel near the Jacksonville airport. Suddenly, about eight motorcycle policeman flew by me. Then, came six buses, carrying the Panthers, their coaches and staff. Next, was a large truck carrying their equipment. Finally, about five police cars brought up the end of the caravan. Makes you wonder how much all that police presence cost the city of Jacksonville. But it was an impressive site to watch.

Posted by Observer Sports on August 21, 2006 at 01:44 AM | Permalink

Comments

Before you get all over the offensive line, take a look at the offensive coaching. Henning hasn't departed from his Buddy Ryan type running game (block hard and run up the middle), even when he has a back who can turn corners. Also, Williams has to get some more experience - face it, EVERY defensive player on the other side of the ball is at least as fast as the best and fastest he played against in college - that's how they got to the pros.

Posted by: John | Aug 21, 2006 7:53:46 AM

Remember that the first-string O-Line only played one drive against Buffalo and was up against one of the best defensive lines in the NFL last Saturday night. And I've since read some of the players had tired legs (hence Fox's decision to break camp early).

That said, I agree with the article that we need to watch the waiver wire. We have some money under the cap and we're in a world of hurt if one of the first-string tackles goes down.

John's comment is spot-on about Henning. This year's club has the best set of offensive skill players I can remember, but we're not a power running club. It remains to be seen if Henning and his staff can adapt the offensive system to suit the current personnel.

Posted by: FWH in Asheville | Aug 21, 2006 9:37:11 AM

Just to piggy back on John and my friend from Asheville, the Panthers in there 12 years in the league never had consistency on the "O" Line, only 2 1,000 yard runners in their history, I do believe they now have the right guys in place it will take a moment to gel and I anticipate by game 3 they will be on the roll, the defense and skill players will bail them out until. Another is its time for coach Henning to be more vesatile and less predictable, he has the talent use it to its max, mix it up and keep defenses on their heels, during the NFC Championship game, Seattle's linebacker Tatupu called every play the Panthers ran.

Posted by: Stephen | Aug 21, 2006 11:19:00 AM

Oh my goodness! An Observer writer expresses doubt in the ability of Reggie "Toast" Howard! No kidding he's not the best choice for nickelback. There is absolutely no way the Panthers signed Howard to be a major contributor at corner. They wanted a familiar good locker room guy/veteran to compete for the depth but mainly contribute on special teams.

Howard is taking over Dante Wesley's role... fast, hard hitting physical guy who can bomb the other team's return man and who -could- step in at 3rd or 4th corner position -if needed-. Remember, Wesley made a couple of good plays in the playoffs on special teams, Howard fits that role perfectly... not some guy you want on the field for a lot of key third down snaps.

Posted by: Stinger | Aug 23, 2006 11:42:21 PM

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