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June 29, 2011

Roger Goodell, DeMaurice Smith meet rookies

BRADENTON, Fla. -- A golf cart pulled up near the batting cages at the IMG Academies on Wednesday carrying NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

A few minutes later, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith showed up after his own tour of the renowned training facility.

And then Goodell and Smith were off, whisked away to the airport to fly to Minneapolis to resume labor negotiations. That the two adversaries in the 105-day lockout have become traveling companions can only be taken as a sign the two sides are progressing toward a new collective bargaining agreement.

"We're working at it," Goodell told the Observer.

Could there be a deal in principle before the start of the holiday weekend?

"We're going to work to do it as fast as possible," Goodell said.

Earlier in the day, Goodell and Smith addressed the 155 first-year players attending the rookie symposium organized by the NFLPA. Goodell attended at Smith's request, and the two spoke with and fielded questions from the rookies for nearly an hour at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota.

"It was a great opportunity for us to be able to sit with the rookies. They obviously have a lot of questions. We answered the questions the best we could," Goodell said.

"We were taking a break (from negotiations) because we felt it was important to be down here with the players. This is an important few days. We're going to get back to work." The NFLPA decided to put on the symposium after the league canceled its annual rookie event due to the lockout. Smith said he was pleased Goodell agreed to join him.

"We're continuing to work hard (on a deal)," Smith said. "Both of us thought it was important to come down for this event.

"This event was important to ensure our young men appreciated how important we think these few days are. I'm thrilled Roger could come down with us and talk to the rookies in a very good, direct way."

Smith and Goodell also met with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, whose players are holding a three-day minicamp at IMG.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on June 29, 2011 at 12:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

June 28, 2011

Freeman thrives in leadership role

BRADENTON, Fla. -- For the past couple of weeks Josh Freeman set up the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' minicamp, which forced the third-year quarterback into roles as diverse as coach to caterer.

The Bucs had the youngest team in the NFL last season, so it shouldn't be surprising the duties of organizing the camp fell to the 23-year-old Freeman.

And listening to his Buc teammates talk, Freeman's leadership qualities come as naturally to him as his smooth throwing motion and long, fluid running style.

"I think we've got one of the better (quarterbacks)," Tampa Bay DT Gerald McCoy said Tuesday after the Bucs' first workout. "Clearly, you can see it with him organizing this, bringing the team together. When you see us group up as a team on the field, Free's the one talking. So it's great to have a leader like him who can step up and bring us together."

McCoy said teams with young or unproven quarterbacks such as the Panthers are going to have a tougher time preparing for the season after missing out on OTAs and minicamps because of the lockout.

But Freeman said the Panthers "have enough leaders in their locker room" to support Newton, whom Freeman worked out with at IMG Academies here in the spring before Newton's pro day at Auburn.

Freeman said Newton is clearly talented, but is a different type of athlete than Freeman. For one, Freeman said Newton is faster than he is.

Time will tell whether Newton will be as fast a study as Freeman in developing into a team leader.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on June 28, 2011 at 05:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

June 27, 2011

Clausen featured on ESPN "Sunday Conversation"

Jimmy Clausen isn't going away.

Not yet anyway.

Last night the Panthers' second-year quarterback was on ESPN's Sunday Conversation on SportsCenter with Colleen Dominguez.

Clausen, as is his custom, stayed away from anything controversial during the interview.

Despite being thrown to the fire as a rookie (1-9 as a starter) behind an injured line with a receiving corps featuring two rookies, Clausen expressed no regrets about being forced into the lineup after Matt Moore struggled and later was lost with a season-ending shoulder injury.

"Under those circumstances we were in last year, the coaches needed me to go out and play and try to go out and do everything I could to help the team win. And obviously, it wasn't good enough," Clausen said. "That's why I'm out here working each and every day to get better and do everything I can to help the team win this year."

One of the more interesting things Clausen said related to Ron Rivera and Rob Chudzinski's offensive system, which has been billed as a departure from the conservative schemes employed by John Fox and Jeff Davidson.

But Clausen said that's not necessarily the case.

"To be honest, it's the same concepts, just different terminology," he said. "So you have to get the terminology down. But the concepts are pretty much similar to every system."

As for the competition with Cam Newton, Clausen said it would be up to the coaches to decide his role. Clausen said he enjoyed working out and going over the playbook with Newton earlier this month at the player-organized OTAs in Charlotte.

"This guy, Cam Newton, I can't wait to work with him during camp," Clausen said. "I was just out there in Carolina with the team two weeks ago for a two-week period. It was great working with Cam. He's a great talent. He's just going to help our team."

And if Clausen has an idea how the No. 2 jersey situation will play out, he wasn't saying. Newton wore No. 2 at Auburn and said he'd like to keep it.

So far Clausen isn't budging.

"It's my number right now, and we'll see what happens," he said. "But as of now, it's my number."

The other thing I took away from the interview -- and from talking with Clausen in April at Jordan Gross' charity kickball event -- was his improved physical condition. Clausen looked a little soft as a rookie, but he appears to be much more toned this year.

The ESPN piece featured a couple of clips of Clausen training in his native California. It was a Rocky IV-type regimen, minus the snow.

Clausen was shown pulling a tire, throwing one, and doing deep knee-bends while balancing a long pole.

Now he just has to start hitting the deep ball.

--Joseph Person



Posted by Observer Sports on June 27, 2011 at 12:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (40)

June 26, 2011

The list: Free agent QBs

In Sunday's editions, the Observer examined the five biggest priorities facing the Panthers after the lockout ends.

One of the items on the to-do list: Bringing in a veteran quarterback, something both Marty Hurney and Ron Rivera have indicated the team plans to seriously consider.

The Panthers didn't draft Cam Newton No. 1 to sit him for very long. But given the fact that Newton will head into his first training camp without the benefit of minicamps or OTAs -- at least not any run by his coaches -- finding an experienced QB who can learn Rob Chudzinski's system quickly while serving as a bridge to Newton seems a sensible approach.

Here's the list (courtesy of ESPN) of quarterbacks expected to be unrestricted free agents under the terms of the proposed CBA (players with four accrued years or more):

Six-plus seasons: Marc Bulger, Kerry Collins, Rex Grossman, Matt Hasselbeck, Chad Pennington, Patrick Ramsey, Alex Smith, Billy Volek.

Four or five seasons: Kellen Clemens, Brodie Croyle, Trent Edwards, Bruce Gradkowski, Tarvaris Jackson, Matt Leinart, Matt Moore, Troy Smith, Tyler Thigpen.

If he doesn't re-sign with Seattle, Hasselbeck will want to go somewhere he can start for several seasons. So he's not a fit.

And cross Pennington off the list: The former Jets and Dolphins QB will take 2011 off while working as an analyst for Fox and recovering from a knee injury.

Bulger's past success with the Rams -- and reports he'd like to stay on the East Coast and does not have to be a full-time starter -- make him an intriguing possibility.

Volek is familiar with Rivera and Chudzinski after playing the past four seasons in San Diego. But the 35-year-old attempted only 44 passes during those four seasons.

There has been local support for former Panthers Collins and Jake Delhomme, expected to be released by Cleveland after the lockout. But a Panthers official called Collins and Delhomme longshots to return to Charlotte.

Rivera recently mentioned Moore as a candidate. Moore, recovering from shoulder surgery in the fall, has performed best for the Panthers when the expectations weren't squarely on him.

Put yourself in Hurney's shoes: Who do you go after?

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on June 26, 2011 at 12:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (34)

June 23, 2011

Newton shows off new stripes

Screen shot 2011-06-23 at 2.44.14 PM Cam Newton
-- football player, entertainer and icon.

Make that, fashion icon.

Newton, the Panthers' No. 1 pick in the April draft, backed away from his "entertainer and icon" comment at the NFL combine, saying football was his priority. But with no minicamps and just one two-week player-organized workouts during the lockout, the rookie QB has had time for other pursuits.

Newton is featured in a photo spread in the July edition of GQ, sporting a collection of preppy "bold-striped sweaters" and straight leg pants.

In an interview that accompanies the photos on GQ's Web site, Newton dismissed a question that pre-draft criticism of his passing ability might have been rooted in racism.

"Sir, it all comes down to whether a person wins or loses," Newton told GQ. "I don't bring race into the game, 'cause then you're talking about excuses. I. Hate. Excuses. Excuses are a disease."

Newton already has filmed a couple of commericals for Under Armour, which have yet to air.

He is scheduled to attend next week's NFLPA rookie symposium at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where he has trained with former Panthers QB Chris Weinke.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on June 23, 2011 at 01:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (38)

June 21, 2011

What proposed CBA means to Panthers

Details are leaking out today from discussions just outside Chicago between NFL owners and players about a new collective bargaining agreement.

A new deal, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press, could include a straight split of total revenues that would give players just less than half.

Expense credits (about $1 billion last year) that the league takes off the top would disappear, the AP is reporting.

The bottom line is players would share all revenues, which would mean far more money than they got under the previous agreement, meaning the salary cap would be higher. A new CBA is expected to run anywhere from six to 10 years.

Players would get up to 48 percent of the total revenues, and their share could never dip below 46.5 percent.

And there's this: A salary "floor" would keep lower-revenue market teams from spending less than 90 percent of the cap.

Other details of the proposed deal:

-- Players with four, five or six years of NFL service who are not under contract would be unrestricted free agents. There would be 19 Carolina Panthers in that situation, including RB DeAngelo Williams, LB James Anderson, DE Charles Johnson, TE Dante Rosario, CB Richard Marshall, QB Matt Moore and C Ryan Kalil (who has been franchise tagged by the team and couldn't leave without compensation if that tag, as expected, remains in the CBA).

-- Talk of an 18-game regular season is dead, according to CBS Sportsline's Mike Freeman.

-- A 16-game Thursday night television package will be a source of new revenue, according to ESPN's Chris Mortensen.

-- Other items, such as a rookie wage scale and health benefits, have been discussed in those owner-player meetings, but won't be settled until the revenue split is determined, AP reported.

   What does all this mean to the Panthers? In theory, it means the team that fans accused of going cheap in a woeful 2-14 season in 2010, could be in great shape. A large payout to former quarterback Jake Delhomme is off the books, and the team is far below the salary cap, meaning when free agency opens -- with a large number of players in that 4-5-6 unrestricted category on the market -- Carolina has lots of money to spend.
When a deal gets done, the shopping would begin.

Posted by Observer Sports on June 21, 2011 at 04:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (32)

June 13, 2011

Newton teaming up with Smith

It appears Cam Newton and Steve Smith will be on the field together at least one more time.

Organizers of Smith's fourth annual football camp -- which will take place Thursday and Friday at Ardrey Kell High -- say Newton is scheduled to appear at the camp one of those two days.

Asked about attending Smith's camp, Newton said he would "work something out."

Newton, the No. 1 overall pick, threw passes to Smith last week at Charlotte Christian when Smith made a surprise visit to the Panthers' optional player-organized workouts. It was the only workout Smith attended.

Newton was complimentary of Smith, a four-time Pro Bowler who has hinted that he wants out of Charlotte after the lockout ends.

"Steve is a person I really admire," Newton said before the Panthers' final workout. "I've heard a lot of things about Steve and only half of them are true. But one thing everybody knows is Steve Smith is a playmaker -- a bona fide playmaker."

"I've talked to Steve numerous times and he's always encouraging me to not settle," Newton added. "And anybody that goes as far to do that is a special person."

Smith told the Observer last week he wants to play for a team committed to winning immediately, but would not say whether the Panthers fall into that category.

Smith said he wants football to be fun again after suffering through last season's 2-14 disaster. Smith is looking forward to this week's camp, in part because he said he gets to be a kid.

Smith, with an assist from the Garth Brooks Foundation, plans to pay the $150 entry fee for about half of the campers.

For more information about the camp, visit www.SteveSmithCamp.com.

--Joseph Person


Posted by Observer Sports on June 13, 2011 at 11:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (29)

June 11, 2011

Panthers have not heard from "Hard Knocks"

If "Hard Knocks" is interested in coming to the Carolinas, it's news to the Panthers.

The Panthers have not been contacted by HBO about its popular training camp series, and one team official said Saturday it would be “highly unlikely” the Panthers would agree to let HBO film the first camp of coach Ron Rivera and quarterback Cam Newton.

Center Ryan Kalil got Panthers' fans buzzing with a Twitter post Thursday that read: “Reliable source telling me possible reality sports doc TV series coming to NC after today’s media presence covering Panther POTA’s.”

Kalil's next tweet is an apparent mockup of the “Hard Knocks” logo, along with the words, 'Training Camp with the Carolina Panthers.' Kalil also lobbied on Twitter for the Panthers to bring back quarterback Jake Delhomme, who is reported to be on his way out after one season in Cleveland.

Panthers spokesman Charlie Dayton said he had no knowledge of the Panthers being approached by the producers of "Hard Knocks," which followed the New York Jets last summer.

Despite a 2-14 finish in 2010, the Panthers have several interesting storylines – headlined by the arrival of Newton, the controversial Heisman Trophy winner from Auburn who was the No. 1 pick in the April draft.

But it is doubtful Panthers owner Jerry Richardson or general manager Marty Hurney would want the distractions of a 30- to 40-person film crew recording every move while Rivera installs his systems in what could be an abbreviated training camp.

The Denver Broncos – and former Panthers coach John Fox – already have turned down an invitation to appear on “Hard Knocks,” as have the Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

--Joseph Person



Posted by Observer Sports on June 11, 2011 at 07:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

June 09, 2011

Five things learned at Panthers' workout

The Panthers opened up the gates at Charlotte Christian this morning for the media to watch the first 30 minutes of the players' eighth and final informal workout.

Five things we learned:

1) Cam Newton means business.

The No. 1 overall pick was at the White House on Wednesday with his former Auburn teammates as President Obama honored last season's national champions. Newton was back in Charlotte in time for today's 8 a.m. session.

His teammates noticed.

OT Jordan Gross thought it was cool that Newton joined the offensive linemen in flipping tires during one conditioning drill. Heck, Newton's arms are as big as some of the linemen's.

TE Jeremy Shockey said it was obvious Newton had been poring over the Panthers' playbook at the IMG Academy, where Newton has been working out with former NFL QBs Chris Weinke and Ken Dorsey.

For a guy ripped before the draft by some analysts for being a selfish player, Newton seems to have set the right tone with his new teammates.

2) Gross' attendance numbers were not inflated.

Gross said more than 50 players showed up last week for the first workout. There were at least 40 there today, including several free agents who aren't sure whether they'll be back with the Panthers after the lockout (Moore, TE Dante Rosario, LB Thomas Davis).

Other potential free agents -- RB DeAngelo Williams, DE Charles Johnson, CB Richard Marshall -- were not spotted during the time the media was allowed to watch.

3) Steve Smith remains a mystery.

That was not learned for the first time today, but it was reinforced when Newton said Smith had been at Charlotte Christian earlier this week (Smith was not there today). On Monday night Smith indicated he had not yet attended the workouts.

Smith has cleaned out his belongings from Bank of America Stadium and indicated he wants to be traded. And he still likely will be moved after the lockout.

But his recent praise of Newton and first-year coach Ron Rivera -- and the fact that he was out catching passes from Newton this week -- suggest he might at least be considering staying put.

4) Newton is not the only player committed to working.

While sharing his thoughts on the labor situation, Panthers punter Jason Baker revealed an interesting nugget: A few players have taken part-time jobs during the lockout.

Baker, one of the team's NFLPA reps, would not reveal who the players were or what they're doing. But he said several players have had to cut out of the workouts early the past two weeks to go to their other jobs.

5) Newton makes the Panthers a more interesting team.

ESPN and the NFL Network both showed up for a 15-minute interview session before an informal workout in early June. They were not there to chronicle Dan Connor's recovery from hip surgery.

Newton, who was criticized for his "icon and entertainer" comment before the draft, was engaging this morning as he shared a story about his trip to the White House and his brief meeting with President Obama.

The national media outlets will quit showing up if the Panthers are 2-10 in December. But before he even signs a contract, Newton is this city's first major team sports star since the early Hornets' days.

--Joseph Person


Posted by Observer Sports on June 9, 2011 at 11:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (29)

June 06, 2011

Steve Smith talks about skipping workouts

FORT MILL – Steve Smith has not attended any of the Panthers players' workouts this week or last.

But the disgruntled wideout showed up Monday to take batting practice with seven of his teammates before the Charlotte Knights' game against the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.

Smith, who has indicated he wants to be traded after the lockout, said a health issue involving his wife, Angie, has prevented him from taking part in the informal workouts.

“Right now there's a lot of things on my plate with my wife and her health. My family needs me at home, and that's the most important thing,” said Smith, whose wife and three children accompanied him to the Knights' game. “Football right now is the last thing on my mind when it comes to some of the things in the last month that we've been dealing with as a family.”

Smith did not divulge any particulars about his wife's condition, but said she was OK.

Smith was noncommittal about his future, saying he was “not sure what's going to happen.”

He was visibly frustrated at the end of the 2010 season, the least productive of his 10-year career.

But he spoke highly Monday of new coach Ron Rivera and No. 1 overall draft pick Cam Newton, the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner who led Auburn to the BCS title last season.

But he also referred to the Panthers as “they” – not “we,” which might have been a slip of the tongue. Or not.

“I think the fundamental things the Carolina Panthers are doing right now are huge. I think anybody to say they're not making any moves would be unfair and biased. They're making great changes,” Smith said. “The acquisition of drafting Cam is outstanding. Met with him a few times and (was) impressed – very much impressed by Cam.”

Impressed enough to reverse his stance? Smith wasn't saying on this night.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on June 6, 2011 at 07:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (17)