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April 29, 2012

Undrafted Wallace making big jump to NFL

Rico Wallace grew up in Maryland, but rooted for Tampa Bay as a kid – mainly because he liked the Buccaneers' colors when he would play Tecmo Bowl on Nintendo with his older brothers.

Wallace will have a chance to face his boyhood team in the NFC South after joining the Panthers as an undrafted free agent out of Division III Shenandoah in Winchester, Va. Wallace, a 6-3, 210-pound wideout, posted back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons to get the attention of Panthers area scout Jeff Beathard.

After agreeing to terms with the Panthers on Saturday night, Wallace spoke to Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, who likes big, physical receivers.

Wallace, one of 11 known undrafted free agents who have agreed to terms with the Panthers, hopes to crack the receiving rotation.

“I'm going to try to work as hard as I can and learn as fast as I can because I know it's a big leap from D-III to the NFL,” Wallace said Sunday. “I definitely play physical but I think the best part of my game is my instincts and my ability to track the ball down.”

Wallace worked out at JMU's pro day in front of scouts from three teams – Carolina, Atlanta and Baltimore. He said Cleveland also showed interest.

Wallace received a $7,500 signing bonus from the Panthers, which he can use to pay off part of his student loans. Division III schools do not offer athletic scholarships.

“I got loans like everybody else, along with financial aid,” Wallace said. “So it got me through.”

Panthers Undrafted Free Agents

Brenton Bersin, WR, Wofford

Will Blackwell, G, LSU

Nate Chandler, DL, UCLA

Jared Green, WR, Southern

Wes Kemp, WR, Missouri

Princeton McCarty, RB, Idaho

Tauren Poole, RB, Tennessee

Matt Reynolds, OL, BYU

Lyndon Rowells, RB, Humboldt State

Ryan Van Bergen, DE, Michigan

Rico Wallace, WR, Shenandoah

Source: Players' Twitter feeds, announcements from schools.

(Panthers will release the official list when contracts are signed early this week.)

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on April 29, 2012 at 05:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

April 28, 2012

Panthers draft Coastal Carolina CB Josh Norman

   The Panthers stayed fairly close to home with their fifth-round pick in the NFL draft Saturday, using it on Coastal Carolina cornerback Josh Norman.

   Norman, a 6-3, 203-pounder from Greenwood, S.C., is expected to compete for playing time in a defensive secondary that struggled last season. Norman will likely battle Captain Munnerlyn and Brandon Hogan for the starting cornerback position opposite Chris Gamble.

   A finalist in 2011 for the Buck Buchanan award, given annually to the top defensive back in the Football Championship Subdivision, Norman finished his career with 13 interceptions and 35 pass breakups. He led the Chanticleers with 62 tackles last season.


Posted by Observer Sports on April 28, 2012 at 02:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (27)

Panthers pick up Alexander, Adams in 4th round

With back-to-back picks in the fourth round, the Panthers addressed their need for a pass rusher and picked up a punt returner in a move that could spell the end of Armanti Edwards' time in Charlotte.

The Panthers traded one of their two sixth-round picks and next year's third-round selection to San Francisco to move up and take Oklahoma defensive end Frank Alexander with the 103rd overall pick.

A couple minutes later with the 104th selection, the Panthers drafted Arkansas wide receiver/punt returner Joe Adams, the SEC Special Teams Player of the Year last season after leading the nation with four punt returns for touchdowns.

Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said Adams had “special” return skills and was drafted to be the primary punt returner. Adams, 5-11 and 179 pounds, averaged 16.9 yards per return last season for the Razorbacks, but had 11 career fumbles.

The Panthers gave up a second-round pick to take Edwards in the third round of the 2010 draft. He played little as a rookie under John Fox, and averaged just 5.5 yards per punt return last season.

Alexander, 6-4 and 270 pounds, combined for 15 ½ sacks his last two seasons at Oklahoma. As a senior last fall, Alexander had 8 ½ sacks, with eight passes batted down, an interception and three forced fumbles.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the Panthers were looking at video of other Oklahoma defenders when Alexander caught their eye. Rivera said Alexander can player either side and will have a shot to join the rotation at defensive end as a rookie.

Alexander did not work out at the combine in February after a doctor diagnosed him with a hole in his heart. Alexander passed a stress test at the combine, and subsequently was cleared by doctors from four other teams, as well as his father's cardiologist.

Alexander said his father had a quadruple bypass two years ago when he was 53, and thinks his family history led to him getting red-flagged in Indianapolis.

“I wasn't worried about the heart situation. I just wanted to compete on that level because I had worked so hard to get to that point,” Alexander said. “This was my first time ever hearing anything about a heart condition. Come to find out I didn't have one.”

Alexander had a big game last year against Baylor quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III in the Bears' 45-38 win. Alexander sacked Griffin once and had another tackle for loss against him, and just missed sacking him when Griffin threw a game-winning touchdown pass with 8 seconds left.

Alexander said he enjoyed playing against Griffin, who was drafted No. 2 overall by Washington on Thursday.

“We're going to see each other again,” Alexander said, referring to the Panthers' Nov. 4 game at Washington.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on April 28, 2012 at 02:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (25)

April 27, 2012

A look ahead to Day 3 for Panthers

Panthers remaining picks: 4th round-104th overall; 5-143; 6-180; 6-207; 7-216

Panthers still need: WR/PR; DB; DL; P; LB

Possible targets: Arkansas WR/PR Joe Adams; Georgia CB Brandon Boykin; Georgia P Drew Butler; Boise State safety George Iloka; South Carolina S Antonio Allen; Nevada LB James-Michael Johnson; Texas LB Keenan Robinson; Nebraska DE Jared Crick

What to look for: Armanti Edwards got his shot to return punts last season, and averaged 5.5 yards per return. The Edwards experiment could be ending if Adams is still available when the Panthers pick ninth in the fourth round. Adams was the SEC's Special Teams Player of the Year in 2011 after leading the country with four returns for touchdowns.

In addition to a punt returner, the Panthers also need a punter after cutting Jason Baker. In a bit of a surprise, the Jaguars took Cal punter Bryan Anger in the third round, leaving Butler and Florida State's Shawn Powell as the top punters still on the board. Butler is the son of former Chicago kicker Kevin Butler, who played with Panthers coach Ron Rivera on the Bears' Super Bowl-winning team in 1985.

Though the Panthers drafted Luke Kuechly in the first round, they could stand to add another linebacker – for special teams and protection in the event Jon Beason or Thomas Davis have setbacks in their return from surgeries. A couple of linebackers the Panthers had in for visits – Johnson and Robinson – are still available.

Carolina signed a couple of safeties in free agency, but that's another position that can fortify special teams.

He said it: “As you look at the board and look at what we've done, there are still several positions where we feel there are some quality guys. We're not going to pick a player for the sake of picking and say, 'This is a need.' We're going to pick a player because he's going to fit us best, whether it's on the offensive or defensive side. There are some positions we'd like to see if we can shore up (with) another player or two. But we've got to look at the board,” – Panthers coach Ron Rivera.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on April 27, 2012 at 11:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (20)

Kuechly arrives in Charlotte after sleepless night

Luke Kuechly didn't get much sleep after the Panthers drafted him Thursday night – until his flight from Cincinnati to Charlotte Friday morning.

“I think people started clearing out of my house a lot later than I anticipated,” Kuechly said. “But I was able to get a little sleep on the plane, so I'm good to go.”

The Panthers took Kuechly 9th overall, bringing the Boston College linebacker to a team that has two starting linebackers coming off major surgeries.

Kuechly met with Panthers owner Jerry Richardson on Friday and members of the coaching staff. He received a congratulatory phone call Thursday night from Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who trained with Kuechly at IMG Academy in Florida during the offseason.

“I talked to him a little bit (Thursday) night. He said he's excited,” Kuechly said. “He said he might be around a little bit (Friday).”

Kuechly said he's not sure which linebacker spot he'll play. That will depend on the health of Jon Beason, who is coming off Achilles surgery, and Thomas Davis, who last fall underwent his third ACL surgery in a two-year span.

“Right now we're just trying to see. I'm going in with an open mindset. We've got to figure out what's going to happen,” Kuechly said. “But all three positions are going to be a challenge moving forward. I've got to pick up on some new things. But I'm excited to see what happens.”

Kuechly said he was not often asked to blitz or play man coverage at Boston College. But Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who attended Kuechly's press conference, said afterward one of the first highlights he saw was of Kuechly blitzing up the middle and getting to the quarterback.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on April 27, 2012 at 02:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (42)

Possible second-round targets for Panthers

With Luke Kuechly on his way to Charlotte this morning to meet his new team, The Observer examines some of the potential second-round targets for the Panthers tonight when they pick at 40.

From the Observer's list of the top 100 prospects, there are 11 players who ranked among the top 40 still available following Thursday's first round.

A look at each and how he might fit.

Alabama LB Courtney Upshaw (No. 17 on Observer's top 100) – The Panthers already got their linebacker; plus, Upshaw a better fit for a 3-4 team.

N. Alabama CB Janoris Jenkins (23) – Tempting, but don't think the Panthers want to deal with his baggage.

Stanford TE Coby Fleener (27) – Too early to take a tight end.

Stanford T Jonathan Martin (28) – Tackle not a high priority.

Michigan State DT Jerel Worthy (31) – Strong possibility if he's still around at 40; visited Panthers in March.

Georgia Tech WR Stephen Hill (32) – Big and fast; would be nice complement to Steve Smith. Visited Panthers.

Midwestern State G Amini Silatolu (35) – A need position for Panthers after cutting Travelle Wharton; among the Panthers' visits.

Marshall DE Vinny Curry (36) – Arguably the best edge rusher left on the board. Getting Kuechly and Curry would be a coup.

S. Carolina WR Alshon Jeffery (38) – Big target with good hands, but Panthers appear to like other wideouts better.

Penn State DT Devon Still (39) – Injury-prone early in his career; was productive as a senior.

Wisconsin C Peter Konz (40) – Panthers don't need a center.

From this list, keep an eye on Worthy, Hill, Silatolu and Curry.

Jenkins is a high-risk, high-reward player, not unlike Brandon Hogan. The Panthers took Hogan, the former West Virginia CB, in the fourth round last year and want to give him a look this year after he was injured most of his rookie season.

Two others who visited the Panthers and could be a fit at No. 40 – Montana CB Trumaine Johnson and LSU receiver Rueben Randle.

The Panthers don't have a third-round pick, having traded to Chicago in the Greg Olsen deal. They could try to trade into the third tonight.

--Joseph Person



Posted by Observer Sports on April 27, 2012 at 11:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (29)

Video: Fowler on Luke Kuechly's potential

Can Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly, the Carolina Panthers' pick at No. 9 in the NFL draft, have instant impact on the team's leaky defense? Scott Fowler discusses that and more with Cinesport's Noah Coslov:

Posted by Observer Sports on April 27, 2012 at 07:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

April 26, 2012

Thomas Davis says knee feels good

A line of fans stretching 100 yards waited for autographs from Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis on Thursday at the draft party at Bank of America Stadium. Davis, positioned behind a folding table under a tent, stood as he signed.

Apparently, his right knee is holding up well.

I feel good,” said Davis, who is attempting to become the first player in NFL history to return from three ACL surgeries on the same knee.

Davis has started running and is participating in the Panthers' offseason conditioning program. He is not expected to take part in the on-field portion of OTAs – the second time he tore his ACL was while backpedaling during an OTA practice two years ago.

But Davis plans to be on Wofford's practice field when training camp begins in July.

I'm doing everything everybody else is doing right now. No limitations,” Davis said. “I'm definitely excited about where the rehab process is right now. I've got a lot to prove this year.”

Davis went down in Week 2 against Green Bay last season and had surgery about a week later. He was injured a week after middle linebacker Jon Beason ruptured his Achilles and was lost for the season.

Davis said he's encouraged by the turnout at the offseason workouts.

I think this is the first time in my seven years that I've been here that we had 100 percent participation in the offseason conditioning program,” Davis said. “I think that speaks a lot for this team and what we're trying to accomplish around here. So we're definitely looking forward to the season.”

--Joseph Person



Posted by Observer Sports on April 26, 2012 at 08:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Who will Panthers target in draft?

Panthers picks: 7.

Round-by-round: 1st round-9th overall; 2nd-40; 4th-104; 5th-143; 6th-180, 207 (supplemental); 7th-216.

Needs: DL, CB, LB, WR, P, PR.

Potential first-round targets: Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon; North Carolina DE Quinton Coples; Boston College LB Luke Kuechly; Mississippi State DT Fletcher Cox.

Potential second-round targets: Wisconsin G Kevin Zeitler; West Virginia DE Bruce Irvin; Montana CB Trumaine Johnson; Nebraska LB Lavonte David.

Potential mid- to late-round targets: Arkansas WR/PR Joe Adams; Memphis G Ron Leary; Cal P Byran Anger; Georgia P Drew Butler.

With the 9th pick, Panthers select: Coples. The safe choice might be Kuechly, who could start immediately for Thomas Davis or Jon Beason, both coming off major surgeries. But the Panthers play in a pass-happy division, and need someone to get to the quarterback more than they need another linebacker.

Longshot scenario: Blackmon falls to No. 9, the Panthers take him and give Cam Newton another target to line up opposite Pro Bowl wideout Steve Smith. Panthers then take the highest-rated defensive lineman or linebacker with their second-round pick.

Trade scenarios: Cleveland, with the fourth pick, and Miami (8th) pass on Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill, and Kansas City (11th) or Seattle (12th) trade up with Panthers before Buffalo can take Tannehill at 10. OR Jets trade up from 16th to take South Carolina DE Melvin Ingram.

--Joseph Person


Posted by Observer Sports on April 26, 2012 at 08:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (21)

April 24, 2012

Panthers visit ex-UNC DE Quinton Coples

KS4oj.St.138Panthers coach Ron Rivera and general manager Marty Hurney were in Chapel Hill on Monday to meet with former North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples, a league source said Tuesday.

The Panthers own the ninth overall pick in this week's draft and have a number of needs, the majority of them on defense.

The Panthers could be interested in Coples at 9, or possibly later in the first round if they trade the pick. The Panthers remain open to trading back to acquire additional picks.

Last year when the Panthers had the No. 1 overall pick, Rivera traveled to Atlanta to visit Cam Newton and his family days before the draft. Rivera said he wanted one more face-to-face meeting with Newton before the Panthers decided to draft him.

But with the ninth pick, the Panthers have to be flexible and can't zero in on one particular player. They had all of the top prospects in Charlotte for visits, including Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon, Mississippi State DT Fletcher Cox, Boston College LB Luke Kuechly and Coples.

Hurney and Rivera have talked about the importance of pass rushers and defensive backs in a league and division featuring elite quarterbacks.

The Panthers had 31 sacks in 2011 – the same total as 2010. Defensive end Charles Johnson had nine sacks, but no other player had more than four.

Coples, a 6-6, 290-pounder from Kinston, is projected anywhere from No. 7 to Jacksonville to the middle of the first round in most recent mock drafts.

Coples became the first UNC defensive end to earn consecutive all-ACC honors since Julius Peppers in 2000-01. But Coples' sack total dropped last season when critics say he took plays off and was more concerned about staying healthy for the draft.

Coples said the drop in production stemmed from moving to the right side, where he faced opponents' left tackle, traditionally a team's best pass-blocker.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on April 24, 2012 at 11:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (60)