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May 31, 2013

Cam Newton ranked 46th overall on NFL Network's Top 100 players

Current players around the league voted Panthers QB Cam Newton as the 46th-best overall player in the National Football League.

In an NFL Network special revealing players 41-50, Newton fell from his 40th-overall spot in 2012 but is still ranked among the top-10 quarterbacks in the league.

The video features Tampa Bay DT Gerald McCoy talking about how elusive Newton is, and Denver CB Champ Bailey said Newton looks how you want your quarterback to look. 

Then they took a look at why Newton fell six spots rather than moving up. His numbers from his Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign were slightly worse in his second year while the oft-heard questions about his maturity were also raised. (Read here about how Newton wants to be one of Carolina's captains.)

Newton is the third, and likely final, Panther to be named on the list. Coming off his Defensive Rookie of the Year season, LB Luke Kuechly is ranked 79th and WR Steve Smith is 84th.

Among quarterbacks, Newton beat out San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick (81), Detroit's Matthew Stafford (76), Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger (61) and Seattle's Russell Wilson (51). New York's Eli Manning is ranked ahead of Newton at No. 42.

With Newton being in the top-10, and looking at the list of quarterbacks who haven't had their name called, it's likely that Newton is the 10th-ranked quarterback. 

--Jonathan Jones


Posted by Observer Sports on May 31, 2013 at 10:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (32)

May 30, 2013

Rivera: Offseason workout communication best it's been in three years

With a relatively healthy defense and no collective bargaining stalemates, the Panthers are enjoying the best communication they've had in offseason workouts since Ron Rivera became the head coach.

In 2011, the lockout meant no organized team activities for players and coaches. Last year, with Jon Beason injured at middle linebacker, the team had a rookie in the middle trying to communicate the calls.

But with Luke Kuechly coming off his Defensive Rookie of the Year season in 2012, Carolina's defense under Rivera is communicated better than ever. 

"That’s probably one thing we’ve lacked in the first two years," Rivera said of communication. "Last year it was a new middle linebacker. Now that Luke is much more comfortable and a lot more expressive in terms of the checks and calls he has to make. That’s been really good.

"Guys like (safeties) D.J. Campbell and Charles Godfrey have really stepped their game up in terms of what we’re trying to do. If you want to quantify it by learning, that’s what it’s about. These guys are getting more and more comfortable in the system."

The starting defense is relatively healthy, with Beason participating only in individual workouts due to shoulder and knee surgeries. 

On the offensive side of the ball, Rivera said he's seen better, more crisp routes by the receivers and better blocking schemes on the line. 

Of note, Jonathan Stewart continued to be very limited during OTAs, stretching with the team and then spending most of his day on the exercise bike alongside G Edmund Kugbila (leg), WR Lamont Bryant and CB Captain Munnerlyn (abdominal strain).

--Jonathan Jones


Posted by Observer Sports on May 30, 2013 at 02:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

May 29, 2013

Cam down 12 pounds after offseason challenge

There is less of Cam Newton this season, and perhaps more big plays as a result.

The Panthers' third-year quarterback said Wednesday he's dropped 12 pounds since the end of last season, going from 255 to 243 as of Tuesday.

“But we're going to see what I weigh in today because I had hot wings last night,” Newton said, drawing laughter at a post-OTA press conference.

The 6-foot-5 Newton, who has missed only a handful of plays during his first two seasons, said the weight loss was a personal challenge and not in response to his performance or health.

“It was just a personal goal that I set for myself. I'm not going to go into what it really meant because looking at my body from afar you really couldn't tell,” Newton said. “Being that I lost the weight, nobody really could tell, either. It's just me challenging myself to have an edge going into the season.”

Newton has been in good shape since the Panthers drafted him No. 1 overall in 2011.

Now he's in better shape.

As for the Panthers' offense, Newton said the verbiage has been simplified under new coordinator Mike Shula, who was elevated from QBs coach after Rob Chudzinski left to become Cleveland's head coach.

Other than some of the nomenclature, Newton said the offense would look much like it did under Chudzinski.

--Joseph Person



Posted by Observer Sports on May 29, 2013 at 01:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (33)

May 28, 2013

NFL sets dates for 2014 draft, free agency, combine

Get your calendars out.

The NFL has announced dates for the NFL draft, scouting combine and the start of free agency in 2014 after weeks of talks about moving the three-day draft.

The draft, which has for a long time been held at the end of April, will be on May 8-10. It will continue to be held at Radio City Music Hall in midtown Manhattan.

The NFL said there is no decision on the date or location of the 2015 NFl draft and beyond.

The scouting combine will be held Feb. 18-25 in Indianapolis. The start of free agency will be March 11, which also means all teams must be under the salary cap by then. 

Both the combine and start of free agency dates are similiar to the 2013 dates.

Earlier this week, we took a look at what the change in the draft date means for players, teams and even agents.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on May 28, 2013 at 12:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

May 23, 2013

Five impressions from Panthers OTAs

Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin had a great quote earlier this week. 

When asked if anything stood out to him at organized team activities, Tomlin said, "Not at all. Football in shorts."

Thursday marked the third day of OTAs for the Carolina Panthers, and the first day that was open to the media. No player really made a case to move up the depth chart today, but there were still some impressions to be had.

So, in list form, here are five impressions I have from the Panthers third day of OTAs.

1. Corners made plays: Veteran corner Drayton Florence made a nice over-the-shoulder interception on a heave from Cam Newton to Brandon LaFell. It wasn't really a live-action play since most everyone had already stopped before Newton chucked it, but it was still a nice grab. 

Later, on a pass intended for Ted Ginn Jr. down the sideline, second-year CB Josh Norman made a spectacular diving interception, hitting the ground hard without pads and getting the wind knocked out of him.

2. Beason participated: I figured LB Jon Beason would stretch and then be on the sideline for most of the time. Instead, the Pro Bowl linebacker participated in individual workouts before being replaced at strongside by newcomer Chase Blackburn. After practice, Beason ran 20 50-yard wind sprints. 

3. 89 still competitive: Ron Rivera said WR Steve Smith has looked like he's 25 again during OTAs. Rivera said the veteran wideout has been diving for balls--something the coaching staff isn't wild about. And even though we're more than three months from Week One, he still shows his frustration when the ball doesn't come his way.

4. Stewart very limited: Coming off ankle surgery this offseason, RB Jonathan Stewart was "very limited," per Rivera. He stretched, but then went to the other field and worked out on the bike alongside WR Lamont Bryant and CB Captain Munnerlyn, who was suffering from an abdominal strain.

5. Chandler switches sides: Last year, Nate Chandler came up from the practice squad late in the year to help on the defensive line. On Thursday, he was wearing a blue jersey, which is reserved for offense. With the additions to the defensive line, specifically the interior of the line, Chandler had to move to the other side of the ball. Rivera likes him, and Chandler was actually the team's emergency's offensive lineman last season after having played the position for a spell at UCLA.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on May 23, 2013 at 01:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (22)

May 22, 2013

Panthers sign Short to 4-year deal

The Panthers have half of their rookie defensive tackle tandem under contract.

Second-round pick Kawann Short has signed with Carolina, the team announced Wednesday. Short is the first of the Panthers' five picks to sign.

Terms of the deal were undisclosed, but all rookie contracts are four years under the collective bargaining agreement.

In his first draft as the Panthers' general manager, Dave Gettleman took Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and Short with the first two picks. Short started four years at Purdue, finishing with 19.5 sacks and a school-record eight blocked kicks.

“We are very pleased to have Kawann under contract,” Gettleman said in a release. “We felt he was the best pass-rushing defensive tackle in the draft, and we are excited about what he can bring to our defensive front.”

Lotulelei and Short will be part of a rotation that also includes veteran Dwan Edwards, who re-signed with the Panthers after finishing with a career-high six sacks in 2012.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on May 22, 2013 at 11:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)

Tolbert excited for Shula's rushing game plan

Mike Tolbert flashed a smile when he started talking about Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula's plan for the running game.

In an interview with Panthers.com, the fullback expressed his pleasure with the first-year Panthers offensive coordinator's desire to get back to a more traditional running game.

"I can't wait," Tolbert said. "Being a running back we rejoiced when he said we're going to run the ball. That's one thing we're going to do is run the ball, so it's something we're really looking for."

Quarterback Cam Newton led the team in rushing with 741 yards with the help of former OC Rob Chudzinski's reliance on zone-read rushing plays in the first half of the season. He was the first quarterback in the NFL to lead his team in rushing since Donovan McNabb a decade earlier. 

In his first year with the Panthers in 2012, Tolbert rushed for 183 yards on 54 carries and finished second on the team in rushing touchdowns with seven. He also had 268 receiving yards on 27 catches.

Tolbert told the team's website that both the offense and defense were up-tempo in the first day of organized team activities on Tuesday. 

We, the media, won't get to see OTAs until Thursday, and we'll have all your updates here and on Twitter on how these guys look in shorts and helmets then.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on May 22, 2013 at 10:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

May 21, 2013

Lots to look for as Panthers start OTAs

On “Schoolhouse Rock!” three is a magic number.

(The Chiefs do a very cool gameday video of former South Carolina kicker Ryan Succop, featuring the Blind Melon song, by the way.)

But it looks like five is the magic number when it comes to the Panthers' OTA practices.

Both the Observer and panthers.com put together lists of 5 issues/questions/themes facing the Panthers as they begin OTAs today.

Surprisingly, there was only one item that appeared on both lists – the competition in the Carolina secondary.

So between the two sites, you have nine things to watch (assuming OTA practices were open to the public, which they're not.)

Anyway, in keeping with the theme, here are five more:

1-The interaction between Mike Shula and Cam Newton. Yes, they've worked together for two years. But this is bigger. How big? Whether Newton continues his development under Shula or stalls will likely decide Ron Rivera's future.

2-Edmund Kugbila, speaking of big. If the fourth-round pick can pick up the offense after playing Division II football, he could challenge Geoff Hangartner at right guard. That seems like a big if.

3-First-year tight end Brandon Williams. I'm a softie for good stories, and Williams – who played basketball at a small Baptist school last winter – has one. Plus, the Panthers need another TE.

4-Morgan Lineberry. The Panthers have cycled through three kickers since cutting John Kasay. Could Lineberry, an undrafted rookie from Abilene Christian, be the fourth?

5-The return game. Newcomers Ted Ginn and Domenik Hixon are proven returners, and sixth-round pick Kenjon Barner has the speed and elusiveness to be an explosive returner, as well.

It's hard to see a spot for Armanti Edwards on this team.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on May 21, 2013 at 12:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

Rookie Lotulelei all grown up from high school days

At his introductory press conference at Bank of America Stadium last month, Star Lotulelei sat at the dais as a poised, humble, mature and (very) large man.

Both head coach Ron Rivera and general manager Dave Gettleman extolled the virtues of not only getting a quality defensive tackle with the 14th overall pick, but also getting a mature 23-year-old who wouldn't succumb to the normal pitfalls that NFL rookies do.

But the same Lotulelei that will take the field today on the first day of organized team activities is not the same one from Utah's Bingham High School, according to this account from the Salt Lake Tribune.

In a column by Kurt Kragthrope, Lotulelei was described by high school coach as being a "lazy student" at one point in high school. The school also instituted what's known as the "Star Rule," raising the minimum GPA needed to play football from 2.0 to 2.5 after he didn't make the cut for BYU.

We've documented Lotulelei's rise from a furniture mover to line mover at Utah in our paper before, but it's always interesting to get a different perspective from those who knew and covered him back then.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on May 21, 2013 at 09:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 20, 2013

Lists rank Cam Newton as a top-12 NFL QB

Writers from NFL.com and CBSSports.com have Panthers QB Cam Newton ranked among the best quarterbacks in the NFL.

CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco ranks Newton as the 10th-best QB and 67th-best overall NFL player. 

"He really came on strong in the second half when the Panthers used less of the read-option," Prisco writes. "I think he make huge steps last season. Some will say this is too high. Watch."

Sessler ranks Newton as the 12th-best signal caller, putting him in a group labeled "The Future, Part II." Sessler puts Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III in the first group and has Newton with Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson in part two.

"Newton -- entering a huge year three -- sits at No. 12 because his physical tools are insane," Sessler writes. "So much pure ability. Cam can chart his fate, for better or worse."

Both lists rank Aaron Rodgers as the top quarterback in the league, and both have Drew Brees and Matt Ryan--two NFC South foes--ahead of Newton. 

Is Newton ranked too high? Too low? Agree or disagree with what the writers have to say? Comment below. 

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on May 20, 2013 at 10:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (41)