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January 31, 2012

Ex-Niners coach: Cam Newton in "fast lane" to greatness

INDIANAPOLIS

As his Pro Bowl performance showed – albeit in an exhibition where the intensity level ebbed and flowed like the Pacific tides – Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is not yet a finished product.

But a former NFL coach believes Newton is well on his way to greatness.

Ex-San Francisco coach Steve Mariucci, now an NFL Network analyst, raved about Newton's rookie season and predicted big things for last year's first overall pick.

“I think Cam surprised all of us,” Mariucci said Tuesday at Super Bowl media day. “Yeah, he's the No. 1 pick in the draft. But often times when you go to a team that needs to be rebuilt, that guy just has a real sub-par year.

“But boy oh boy, did he take the league by storm. It's really fun to see. And Cam is growing up fast. He is in the fast lane to being a heck of a quarterback. So that's really going to stir it up in the NFC South.”

Mariucci also liked the way offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski incorporated the option to take advantage of Newton's talents. Mariucci believes Chudzinski, who interviewed for three head-coaching positions this year, could get hired next year if the Panthers continue to improve.

I thought he'd be a little more in play this year. He will. His name was out there,” Mariucci said. “And if he has another good offensive year, finding a way for more wins – not just passing yards – but more wins, I think he's going to get a shot next year.”

--Joseph Person

 

Posted by Observer Sports on January 31, 2012 at 04:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (49)

January 30, 2012

Cam Newton featured on ESPN special this week

With his rookie season over, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton apparently is doing more national media.

Newton, who limited his media availability during his first NFL season, will be among four of the league's biggest personalities featured on SportsCenter Special: NFL Face to Face with Hannah Storm at 9 p.m. Tuesday  on ESPN2.

The one-hour special will include interviews with Newton, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and Colts owner Jim Irsay.

In the segment with Newton, Storm visits the Welcome All Park outside of Atlanta where Newton began his football career as a youth. An ESPN release says Newton apologizes during the piece for his behavior after the Panthers' loss at Atlanta -- where Newton left the field without shaking hands with anyone -- and discusses the criticism he faced prior to last year's draft.

Storm also broaches the subject of Cecil Newton's pay-for-play scheme when Newton was leaving junior college, according to the release.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on January 30, 2012 at 03:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (27)

January 29, 2012

Cam Newton Pro Bowl performance: Ugh

Cam Newton won't lose the Rookie of the Year Award based on his Pro Bowl performance in the AFC's 59-41 win, but he didn't win over any of his critics, either.

Playing the entire second half Sunday in relief of Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, Newton completed just 9-of-27 passes for 186 yards, with three interceptions -- including one that was returned for a touchdown.

Newton was plagued by overthrows -- a problem area even as he re-wrote the rookie passing records after the Panthers drafted him No. 1 overall last year.

Newton often failed to set his feet Sunday and saw the ball sail on him. He did throw two touchdowns -- to teammate Steve Smith and Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald -- in the highest-scoring Pro Bowl in history.

The good news for Newton: He will leave Honolulu in good health. Avoiding injury is something worth celebrating -- Brees hurt his elbow in the Pro Bowl five years ago.

It appeared the AFC defense turned up the intensity when Newton was in the game -- perhaps eyeing the extra $25,000 that went to the winners. Denver Broncos rookie Von Miller twice sacked Newton, who was knocked down a couple of other times.

You'll recall that Newton struggled in the preseason, completing 42.4 percent of his passes in four exhibitions. The Pro Bowl sort of had that seem look and feel for the former Auburn star.

But Newton turned it up in the games that counted. And isn't that what you'd rather have from your franchise quarterback?

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on January 29, 2012 at 11:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (75)

January 26, 2012

Kellen Winslow wanted Chud in Tampa

Most Carolina Panthers' fans -- not to mention the front office -- breathed a sigh of relief Thursday when Tampa Bay hired former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano.

That means Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski -- affectionately known as 'Chud' -- likely will be staying in Charlotte for at least one more season. Chudzinski interviewed for the Bucs' job -- one of three head-coaching vacancies he was considered for this offseason.

While the Panthers are happy to keep Chudzinski, who transformed the league's worst offense in 2010 into a top-10 unit, at least one member of the Bucs was disappointed to learn Chud would not be steering the ship at Raymond James Stadium.

Kellen Winslow Jr. -- who has played for Chud in college and in the NFL --at least three times said he was pulling for Chudzinski to get the job during a Thursday interview with Rich Gannon and Adam Schein of Sirius NFL Radio, according to Pro Football Talk.

“I was really hoping for coach Chudzinski, who I was with at Miami and Cleveland,” Winslow said of his former position coach.

Instead, Chud will stay with Carolina and keep the Charlotte Alumni Chapter of Miami Tight Ends intact. Chudzinski, Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey, who is a free agent, all played TE for the U.

So did Winslow, who perhaps can become an associate member twice a year when Tampa Bay plays the Panthers.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on January 26, 2012 at 07:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (22)

January 25, 2012

Could Russell Wilson back up Cam Newton?

MOBILE, Ala.

The Panthers obviously are set with their starting quarterback, who is enjoying the fruits of a record-setting rookie season in Hawaii this week.

But what about the backup to Cam Newton?

Derek Anderson, who handled that role last season, is an unrestricted free agent. Though Anderson has said he'd like to return to Carolina, the Panthers appear to be exploring the possibility of adding a No. 2 quarterback who would be more suitable in Rob Chudzinski's offense.

Anderson has proven he can handle the passing portion of the scheme, earning a Pro Bowl berth in 2007 when Chudzinski was the Browns' offensive coordinator. But when Anderson finally saw his first action in the fourth quarter against Tampa Bay in Week 16, the offense looked a lot different with him under center.

Besides the vertical passes, Chudzinski has added an option wrinkle to the attack to take advantage of Newton's skills.

“You have to look at in those terms and say, 'How much does the offense change if he's in or if he's not in?'” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said this week. “It's one of those things that you're going to discuss and talk about as we go forward.”

Wisconsin's Russell Wilson is a dual-threat quarterback, and the former N.C. State quarterback met with the Panthers this week in Mobile. Wilson said he had “good conversations” with the Panthers, and is confident he could quickly learn the system after his adjusting-on-the-fly transition last season at Wisconsin.

“They did a lot of different stuff,” Wilson said of the Panthers. “They've got a lot of talent obviously on the offensive side of the ball. A lot of explosive players, including Cam. They're exciting.”

Wilson is projected as a fifth- to sixth-round pick by most analysts.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on January 25, 2012 at 02:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (59)

January 24, 2012

Captain Munnerlyn "sick of" talk Panthers need a corner

MOBILE, Ala. – There was an impromptu defensive staff meeting for the Carolina Panthers today following the early Senior Bowl practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.

Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, linebackers coach Warren Belin and new secondary coach Steve Wilks spent about 15 minutes visiting with cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who lives in Mobile in the offseason.

It was Munnerlyn's first opportunity to meet Wilks, the Charlotte native who was hired last week from San Diego in what amounted to a trade with the Chargers. Former Panthers defensive backs coach Ron Meeks is taking Wilks' spot in San Diego.

Wilks, who worked with Ron Rivera in Chicago and San Diego, said he was glad to be joining a “great organization” while returning to his hometown, where all his family still lives.

“To come back home is really just the icing on the cake. It's definitely great,” said Wilks, who graduated from West Charlotte in 1988. “I have a lot of love and passion for the city of Charlotte, being born and raised there.”

Some draft analysts believe the Panthers could take a cornerback with their first-round pick. Wilks said he likes the determination of the diminutive Munnerlyn, who started the first 14 games last season before injuring his hamstring.

“Just seeing him on film, I love the way he plays with the passion and heart,” Wilks said. “Those are the kind of guys I love being around.”

Munnerlyn said he's tired of hearing about how the Panthers need another corner.

“I'm sick of it. But if they do, the cornerback they draft has a rude awakening coming. I'm not just going to give you my position,” Munnerlyn said.

“Or if they try to push him in front of me, I'm going to make some plays to make him go sit down. I'm a competitor. Everyone knows I'm going to compete.”

--Joseph Person

 

Posted by Observer Sports on January 24, 2012 at 02:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (34)

January 22, 2012

Cam Newton is Pro Bowl-bound

The Carolina Panthers confirmed Monday that Cam Newton is headed to Hawaii.

With Eli Manning and the New York Giants punching their Super Bowl ticket Sunday with a win at San Francisco in the NFC championship game, Newton is taking Manning's spot on the NFC team in the Pro Bowl on Jan. 29 in Honolulu.

Newton, who broke Peyton Manning's rookie passing record, was the NFC's first alternate at quarterback behind Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, New Orleans' Drew Brees and Manning, who were voted in.

Newton, the former Auburn QB who was the No. 1 overall pick in last year's draft, will join two Panthers teammates in Hawaii -- receiver Steve Smith and center Ryan Kalil.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on January 22, 2012 at 11:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (132)

January 20, 2012

Panthers not locked on defensive player with 1st pick

Panthers coach Ron Rivera will take his entire staff to Mobile, Ala., next week to scout the Senior Bowl practices.

And contrary to popular belief, the Panthers will not be limiting their focus to the defensive fields while evaluating possible prospects for their first-round pick.

The Panthers, who will pick 8th or 9th based on the outcome of a coin flip with Miami, have needs on both sides of the ball, according to general manager Marty Hurney.

"I don't think you lock yourself in to offense or defense as far as that first pick goes, and really any pick," Hurney said this week. "You have to go by your board. And we've done that and I think we've done well by doing that."

The Panthers' most pressing needs are on the defensive side. They could use another pass-rushing end, a cornerback and even a linebacker with starters Jon Beason and Thomas Davis both coming off surgeries.

But rather than address a need with the first pick, it's not inconceivable the Panthers could look to further fortify a strength by taking a wideout or an offensive tackle a year after landing a franchise quarterback in Cam Newton with the first overall pick.

"The first pick is the same year to year," Hurney added. "I think you have to pick an impact player there and you have to hit on the first-round pick."

(Look for more from Hurney and possible targets for the Panthers in Sunday's editions of the Observer.)

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on January 20, 2012 at 05:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (56)

January 19, 2012

Mel Kiper: Dre Kirkpatrick a fit for Panthers

Like most NFL observers, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper looks at the Carolina Panthers and sees that their biggest needs are on defense.

The Panthers have a number of holes they could look to plug on a defense that gave up more points and yards than any team in franchise history. Kiper thinks the Panthers could use a pass-rushing defensive end or a big-time defensive tackle.

But in his first mock draft on ESPN.com, Kiper predicts the Panthers will take Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick with the No. 8 pick (the Panthers and Miami will have a coin flip to determine the 8th and 9th picks).

If you think about corner opposite (Chris) Gamble, you need it. And Kirkpatrick, that's where he was projected to go in that range,” Kiper said today on a conference call with reporters.

Kiper said the Panthers could be interested in North Carolina DE Quinton Coples if he's still available at 8/9, but thinks taking South Carolina DE Melvin Ingram that high might be a bit of a reach.

At defensive tackle, Kiper said LSU's Michael Brockers and Memphis' Dontari Poe are two players who could become top-10 picks based on their workouts and performances at the combine.

You could see a Poe or Brockers” go to the Panthers, Kiper said. “But I went with Kirkpatrick at this stage because it's a key need area opposite Gamble. And that's the range in the draft where he figures to go.”

Kiper said it's too early to know how Kirkpatrick's arrest this week on marijuana possession will affect his draft status, adding teams will make their own determinations on his character based on their background work and interviews with him.

Kiper said he's not as high on Kirkpatrick as other draft experts. Kiper does not believe Kirkpatrick is a shut-down corner, but is very good in run support.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on January 19, 2012 at 02:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (39)

January 18, 2012

Will pot charge hurt Dre Kirkpatrick in draft?

Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who has shown up next to the Panthers' name on a couple of early mock drafts, was arrested in Florida early Tuesday on a marijuana possession charge.

Kirkpatrick, who left Alabama after his junior season, is considered by most analysts a top-10 pick. The Panthers will pick 8th or 9th, based on a coin flip with Miami next month.

How will this week's arrest affect Kirkpatrick's draft status or the Panthers' possible interest in him?

Not much, unless NFL teams determine it's just one of several red flags for Kirkpatrick.

The Panthers showed last year they are more willing to take chances on players with checkered pasts than they were previously. Besides Cam Newton – said to have character issues because of his actions at Florida and those of his father related to Newton's recruitment leaving junior college – the Panthers drafted Brandon Hogan in the fourth round, despite a series of off-the-field problems for the West Virginia corner.

General manager Marty Hurney said at the time the decisions did reflect a “a little bit” of a change in philosophy for the Panthers, who in the past had steered clear of players with baggage.

The Panthers did their homework – a lot of it – on Newton and believed a lot of the character questions had been overblown. They did not do as much background work on Hogan as a fourth-round pick.

But Ron Rivera met with Hogan and told him it wouldn't be a three-strikes policy in Charlotte.

If the Panthers decide Kirkpatrick is their guy, Rivera, Hurney and the team's scouting department will do the research and decide if the second-team All-American is worth the risk.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on January 18, 2012 at 12:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (54)

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