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May 31, 2011

UPDATED: Locked-out Panthers begin private workouts

The Carolina Panthers' locked-out players began informal team workouts today at Charlotte Christian.

They worked out for two hours -- running, doing drills and catching passes -- on a hot artificial turf field on a morning when temperatures were pushing 90 degrees.

No media members were present to chronicle the proceedings -- which is exactly how the organizers wanted it.

"I think when you win two games, you don't have any business worrying about publicity or exposure," left tackle Jordan Gross said after the workout. "We want to focus on getting to know our teammates, the new guys. To focus without distractions.

"Not worry about completion percentages being taken note of or who was in shape, who wasn't. What guys were there and weren't. We had an outstanding attendance and it went real well."

Gross said more than 50 players showed up for the first of eight scheduled sessions over the next two weeks. No. 1 draft choice Cam Newton was there, as was every rookie except one who was finishing classes, according to Gross.

Gross called it one of the best-attended workouts among teams that have held the player-run sessions during the lockout. Players plan to let the media in for part of the final workout June 9.

"We see that we've got guys that want to win," Gross said. "And to pay your own ticket to fly out here and be a part of this event shows that guys are willing to work and get better."

Gross would not say whether veteran wideout Steve Smith, who has indicated he wants to be traded, was in attendance. But a source said Smith was not there.

Gross indicated there were potential free agents who came out. That group did not include tailback DeAngelo Williams or defensive end Charles Johnson, according to the source.

Gross and veteran offensive lineman Travelle Wharton are footing the bill for the workouts. Their costs included paying a Charlotte-Mecklenburg County police officer stationed in the parking lot to keep media away.

The media lockout prompted several on Twitter, including Sports Illustrated's Michael Silver, to blast the players.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on May 31, 2011 at 01:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (26)

May 27, 2011

Shockey: 'No games will be missed'

Caught up with Panthers first-year TE Jeremy Shockey this week for a story that will appear in Sunday's editions.

Shockey's had an eventful offseason. He was released by the Saints in February, signed with the Panthers about a week before the lockout started, and recently returned from Great Britain, where he competed in an adventure race in the Scottish Highlands and vacationed in Ireland.

Shockey said the 100-mile race -- he was part of a four-man team that included three endurance runners from Texas -- was a unique challenge. Shockey did some longer runs to prepare for the 2-day race, but skipped the mountain-climbing portion of the event.

Shockey is back training at home in Miami, where he works out with a number of former University of Miami players. He said he's seen more results from his offseason program this year than he did during the three years he stayed in New Orleans during the winter to work out.

Shockey won't make it to Charlotte next week for the start of the informal workouts that Panthers' offensive linemen Jordan Gross and Travelle Wharton are organizing. But he plans to be there for at least some of the seven scheduled sessions at Charlotte Christian.

Shockey understands the importance of getting familiar with his new teammates. He already is well-versed in the system of Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, who was Shockey's position coach and offensive coordinator at Miami.

"It's really important for this lockout to end so we can start installation," said Shockey, who made four Pro Bowls in six seasons with the Giants. "But again, it's not such a complex offense like coming from New York to the New Orleans Saints. Sean Payton's offense is very complex."

Shockey said "a lot of people are panicking" about the work stoppage resulting in lost games. But he's convinced a deal will get done before any games are scratched.

"Both sides want a deal. They want a football season. I know the players want a football season. I know the owners want a football season," Shockey said. "We'll come to an agreement. There's not a doubt in mind that no games will be missed at all."

Shockey, 30, was diplomatic on the Panthers' quarterback situation. He said he's spoken to both Cam Newton and Jimmy Clausen on the phone, and expects a good competition.

"I know (Newton) is ready to compete with Jimmy," Shockey said. "I know Jimmy's a competitive person, as well."

Much more from Shockey on Sunday.

--Joseph Person


Posted by Observer Sports on May 27, 2011 at 02:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (21)

May 25, 2011

Good move by Newton to attend workouts

Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross -- the man responsible for protecting Cam Newton's blind side -- was pleased when Newton showed up for Gross' charity kickball event last month a day after the Panthers took him with the No. 1 overall pick.

Newton played only a half-inning and left the kickball game early. But Gross said it was telling Newton came out at all.

"He doesn't even know what the event's about. But to come out because he wants to be a part of the team, a part of the guys, means a lot," Gross said at the time. "I appreciate him doing it. It means a lot."

It also means a lot that Newton will be joining his new teammates next week for informal workouts at Charlotte Christian that Gross and veteran offensive lineman Travelle Wharton have organized.

Newton has been training at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., with former Panthers QB Chris Weinke and Ken Dorsey, another ex-NFL QB who played in Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski's system.

Bus Cook, one of Newton's agents, had expressed some concern about the risk of injury at these player-run workouts during the lockout. But Newton won't be doing anything more strenuous than he's been doing for weeks leading up to and after the draft.

The throwing sessions will help Newton begin to develop a little timing with the Panthers' receivers.

More importantly, Newton's presence will help his rapport in the locker room.

Tony Paige, Newton's other agent, said he and Cook are conscious of the potential for injury next week.

"But his teammates have reached out to him and he's going to attend," Paige said.

--Joseph Person


Posted by Observer Sports on May 25, 2011 at 12:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (27)

May 23, 2011

Newton sings, D-Will grunts

You're hungry for football.

There is no football.

There is labor discord and a lockout now in its 11th week.

So take a break from updates from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis and check out Cam Newton covering Justin Bieber.

The video comes from the Panini football card photo shoot, which Newton attended during a break in his training at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., with former NFL QBs Chris Weinke and Ken Dorsey.

Panthers center Ryan Kalil should have some fun with this footage.

Newton might never reach "icon and entertainer" status. But it's clear he is a natural performer who is not afraid having some fun (and there's a certain humility required to sing along with Justin Bieber).

Incidentally, a Google search for Bieber yielded 297 million results; Googling Newton resulted in 5.46 million results. It will take time -- and victories -- to become an entertainer and icon.


Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams and rookie OL Lee Ziemba are among 21 NFL players participating in a new mobile application called Gridiron Grunts.

The app, available free in the App Store for iPhone, iPad or iPod, is sort of a spoken word version of Twitter. Fans subscribe to a player's channel -- at an introductory rate of 99 cents a month per channel -- and receive real-time verbal updates, aka 'grunts.'

A press release from the company, founded by ex-Tampa Bay Buccaneers teammates Ryan Nece and Jeb Terry (who played at UNC), the grunts are "unfiltered, authentic" musings from players offering behind-the-scenes snippets during the season (assuming there is one) and offseason.

Other grunters besides the Panthers' duo include Philip Rivers, Chris Johnson, Julio Jones, Charlotte native Mohamed Massaquoi, Jason Witten, Sean Witherspoon, Barrett Ruud and Christian Ponder.

The channel subscription is handled through iTunes; an Android-based app is expected this fall.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on May 23, 2011 at 06:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

May 19, 2011

Shocker! John Fox declines 'Hard Knocks'

Despite the Denver Broncos' openness in the John Fox era, the ultra-secretive former Panthers coach isn't ready to be TOO open. The team has declined an opportunity to be the subject of HBO's "Hard Knocks," which profiles an NFL team with total access during training camp. Last season's show featured the New York Jets.

The Tampa Bay Bucs and New Orleans Saints have also reportedly declined.

Somebody call Ron Rivera and Marty Hurney.

Posted by Observer Sports on May 19, 2011 at 11:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (26)

Who is No. 2? Baker says, who cares?

Jason Baker was assigned the No. 7 when he was traded from Denver to the Panthers in 2005.

The number has no special meaning to the Panthers' punter, but he intends to keep it.

It's not a big deal to Baker – and he hopes the team's quarterbacks feel the same way.

There was a little subplot that developed a few weeks ago after the Panthers selected former Auburn QB Cam Newton with the first overall pick. Newton said hoped to keep the No. 2 he wore at Auburn, which currently belongs to Panthers second-year QB Jimmy Clausen.

Clausen said No. 2 was his “right now,” and smiled when asked if he had set an asking price for it.

We'll see what happens,” Clausen said.

Newton told WFNZ recently that the number was meaningful to him because he is the second of three sons. When Clausen was drafted in the second round last year, he wanted to keep No. 7, which he wore at Notre Dame.

Baker wasn't interested in giving up No. 7 – then or now.

I have no intent to change jerseys and haven't been approached to do so,” he said this week in a text message.

Baker, one of the team's NFLPA reps, thinks too much has been made of the situation.

I certainly hope that the guy who takes the snaps this fall at quarterback is more interested in the playbook and running an offense than he is the shirt that he wears over his pads,” he said.

I'd like to win some games this fall,” Baker added. “It's more fun that way.”

But given Newton's high-profile stature, there are money and marketing issues in play. His jersey figures to be one of the league's top sellers, and the NFL doesn't want to put it on store racks with a question mark where the number should be.

But the league has a few more pressing issues to deal with at the moment. And until a new CBA is reached or the lockout is lifted, Newton's jersey – like free agency and trades – will have to wait.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on May 19, 2011 at 10:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (22)

May 16, 2011

Appeals court keeps lockout in place

The NFL lockout is staying in place ... and figures to stretch at least into June.

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis ruled today that the league's lockout of its players should remain in effect at least until June 3 when the same court hears an appeal on whether the lockout, now in its 10th week, is legal.

The appellate court had the same 2-1 vote as it did last month in granting a temporary stay.

It was a setback for the players after an earlier federal court victory in Minneapolis.

Panthers punter Jason Baker, one of the team's NFLPA representatives, said players would stay the course, despite Monday's ruling.

“It's unfortunate for the people who want the players on the field. But it seems that we have to wait a bit longer to get back to normal work,” Baker said in a text message.

“In the meantime, the players will just continue to stay our course and prepare as well as we can for the time when we can go back to work, continue to be fiscally responsible and trust our leadership to continue to work toward the quickest resolution.”

Panthers tight end Dante Rosario, a potential free agent, wanted to hear from Baker and the team's other NFLPA leaders before commenting on the appellate court's decision.

“We'll probably get an email from our reps informing us where we stand right now,” Rosario said Monday night. “I'm assuming we'll get that (today).”

The Eighth Circuit determined the league "likely will suffer some degree of irreparable harm without a stay" of the April 25 decision by U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson to lift the lockout.

The ruling came hours after players and owners, including Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, resumed court-ordered mediation for the first time since April 20. The two sides are scheduled to talk again today.

But with the June 3 appeal on the horizon, most observers -- as well as Steelers president Art Rooney II -- were not optimistic that a new CBA would be reached before then.

The NFLPA, now operating as a trade association, issued the following statement:

“The NFL’s request for a stay of the lockout that was granted today means no football. The players are in mediation and are working to try to save the 2011 season. The court will hear the full appeal on June 3.”

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on May 16, 2011 at 07:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (27)

May 14, 2011

Dorsey's work with Newton key

There was a lot of talk last week about whether Brett Favre would be willing to work with Cam Newton, who already has a long list of mentors.

Favre and Newton share the same agent in Bus Cook. When the idea of Favre mentoring Newton was first floated by former Panthers defensive tackle Brentson Buckner last week in a story in USA Today, Cook said Favre would be up for it.

It certainly wouldn't hurt Newton to spend a few days listening to what Favre has to say about reading defenses, preparing for an opponent -- even balancing the off-field demands such as media obligations and marketing opportunities without sacrificing his on-field performance.

But isn't this the same guy who never warmed to the idea of mentoring a young Aaron Rodgers after the Packers drafted Rodgers out of Cal?

Granted, the situation with Newton would be different because the former Auburn QB and 2010 Heisman Trophy winner would not be trying to take Favre's job (Favre insists his retirement this time will stick).

But Newton already has been receiving advice from former NFL greats Deion Sanders and Warren Moon.

And since the Panthers drafted him No. 1 overall, Newton has been working at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., with former NFL quarterbacks Chris Weinke and Ken Dorsey.

While Weinke and Dorsey did not have near the level of success as Moon in the NFL, both have a lot they can teach Newton. Weinke, of course, played for the Panthers for four seasons and knows plenty about Charlotte and the Panthers' organization.

But Dorsey figures to be even more helpful, having played for Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski at Miami from 2000-2003.

While in New Orleans on Friday to accept the Manning Award, Newton told reporters he's been putting in 12-hour days at the IMG campus to try to offset the time he's missing at Bank of America Stadium because of the lockout.

Newton has a copy of the Panthers' playbook. He has a coach in Dorsey who is familiar with the formations and calls in that playbook.

He has, whether Favre works with him or not, an able group of mentors.

--Joseph Person


Posted by Observer Sports on May 14, 2011 at 08:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (34)

May 12, 2011

Thursday lunchtime links

A couple of Panthers' items on Day 63 of the lockout (Day 62 counting the one-day reprieve last month).

Testimony began Wednesday in the civil trial of Panthers linebacker Jon Beason, who is accused of punching a patron at a Charlotte strip club in November 2009.

Gregory Frye alleges Beason hit him in the face, crushing his nasal cavity, after Frye told Panthers TE Dante Rosario he saw Beason snorting cocaine at a party on Lake Norman. Beason has denied punching Frye, as well as the drug-use allegations.

I spoke to Beason briefly Monday before jury selection began. He'd been training in Miami during the lockout before returning to Charlotte for the trial, which he said would come down to whose version of events the jury believed.

Frye is expected to testify today. Beason could take the stand Friday. ...

Panthers' PSL owners had a chance to chat with commissioner Roger Goodell and team officials during a 'fan forum' conference call Tuesday night.

The 6,800 fans on the call were the most among the dozen or so forums Goodell has held in recent weeks.

Panthers' PSL owners have more of a financial stake than fans of most other teams. This is the third such call the Panthers have organized in recent months. It's a good way to let fans ask questions of the Panthers' brass, sort of like an annual shareholders meeting for a publicly-traded company -- only PSL owners don't get a vote. ...

Lastly, a little football nugget while the weeks continue to pass with no OTAs or minicamps:

Eric Norwood, who played linebacker and defensive end as a rookie, will play defensive end exclusively for Ron Rivera's staff. It's not a big change -- most of Norwood's game snaps last year came at DE -- but it does get Norwood back to his best position.

"At the end of the day, I'm a pass-rusher. That's who I am," said Norwood, South Carolina's all-time leader in sacks and tackles for loss.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on May 12, 2011 at 11:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (20)

May 10, 2011

Rivera: Newton has what it takes to lead

The NFL Network caught up with Panthers first-year coach Ron Rivera recently. (The league-owned channel keeps a camera in the broadcast area at Bank of America Stadium.)

Rivera did not reveal anything newsy during the 5-minute video. As he has been in other recent public comments, Rivera was enthusiastic about rookie quarterback Cam Newton and noncommital on the future of disgruntled, veteran wideout Steve Smith.

Rivera said he met with Newton five times before the Panthers picked him No. 1 overall, while GM Marty Hurney, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and QB coach Mike Shula had several sit-downs with the former Auburn QB and last year's Heisman Trophy winner.

Rivera said the Panthers will be careful in making sure Chudzinski's vertical-stretch offense has plenty of elements that play to Newton's strengths, which include making plays with his feet.

"We're trying to get him to fit in our offense, but get our offense to fit around him, as well," Rivera said.

Rivera said he has faith in Newton's leadership skills -- "We think he's got what it take to lead an offense" -- and believes critics have overlooked Newton's decision-making ability.

Rivera said he went back and watched each of Newton's throws and runs to see how he reacted to certain situations, and came away impressed.

As for Smith, Rivera indicated the Panthers would try to do what's right for both him and the team.

Smith, who has 2 years and about $15 million left on his contract, has told owner Jerry Richardson he wants to be traded. Dealing Smith for a player or pick will be one of the first priorities after the lockout ends.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on May 10, 2011 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (129)