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January 28, 2015

Fozzy Whittaker gets cameo in 'Key & Peele' skit

For the third straight year, comic duo Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key have tag-teamed to produce a hilarious Super Bowl skit, and this time they included a member of the Panthers.

The stars of Comedy's Central 'Key & Peele' sketch comedy show made a national splash two years ago with this "East West Bowl" skit that pokes fun at some of the more unique names around college and pro football.

Panthers running back Fozzy Whittaker got in on the action this year. Whittaker, who rushed for 145 yards and a touchdown this season for the Panthers, received attention this season because of his name. Whittaker's full name is Foswhitt Jer’ald Whittaker, as explained to the Observer last month.

Video is below. Be sure to stick around for the twist at the end.


--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on January 28, 2015 at 04:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

January 27, 2015

Brandon LaFell: 'Shocking' how Panthers blew up 2013 playoff team

PHOENIX -- New England Patriots wideout Brandon LaFell said it was "shocking" to see how quickly the Panthers blew up a team that won 12 games and the NFC South in 2013.

LaFell was part of an offseason purge last year that saw the Panthers cut franchise receiving leader Steve Smith and let their other top three receivers leave in free agency. General manager Dave Gettleman also overhauled the secondary.

"The last meeting we had as a team, it was all the guys, all the coaches, and we were talking about how great teams win and win consistently. They build from the year they had before," LaFell said Tuesday during Super Bowl media day. "To break up the team the way they did, it was shocking."

LaFell signed with New England, where -- after a slow start he attributed in part to learning a new offense -- he finished as the Patriots' third-leading receiver (74 catches for 953 yards and 7 TDs) behind Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman.

LaFell followed the Panthers from afar as they made a late-season surge to win the South again. And while he doesn't understand why Gettleman rebuilt the roster, LaFell says he has no hard feelings.

"They didn't give me an explanation for why they did it. They didn't owe me one," he said. "I appreciate those guys drafting me and giving me an opportunity to play ball. I love those guys and wish them the best."

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on January 27, 2015 at 04:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (21)

January 23, 2015

Panthers next to last in special teams rankings

The Dallas Morning News' annual special teams rankings that were released Friday confirmed what many Carolina Panthers' fans already knew: The Panthers' special teams units were among the worst in the NFL in 2014.

The Panthers finished 31st -- ahead of only Green Bay -- in the rankings compiled by the Morning News' Rick Gosselin, who rates teams in 22 kicking game categories.

Carolina was last in three categories -- punt coverage (15.5 yards allowed per return), net punting (36.5 yards) and points allowed (24). The Panthers gave up four special teams touchdowns, including two blocked punts that were returned for scores at Minnesota.

They were the first team in a quarter century to have two punts blocked and returned for touchdowns in the same game.

The across-the-board failures have put public pressure on Panthers special teams coordinator Richard Rodgers, Ron Rivera's college teammate and close friend who had no NFL experience before Rivera hired him in 2012.

The Panthers were 13th in the Morning News' rankings in 2013 during Rodgers' first full season overseeing the special teams. Rodgers was promoted when Rivera fired Brian Murphy with seven games left in 2012, when the Panthers were last in the special teams rankings.

Rivera has defended Rodgers, saying the Panthers were better on special teams the last month of the season after struggling the first 13 weeks.

Rivera is expected to evaluate his staff next week before deciding on any possible changes.

Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said Rivera would have the final say on his staff. But Gettleman said the Panthers might change their approach on special teams, keeping a handful of players on the roster whose responsibilities are only special teams.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on January 23, 2015 at 04:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (17)

January 21, 2015

Kiper likes OT Peat for Panthers

The Panthers didn't think they could find the long-term successor to Jordan Gross at left tackle picking late in the first round last year.

A year later, the Panthers are picking late again and still have a need at the position after an inconsistent season by Byron Bell.

If they decide to address left tackle in the first round this year, ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper believes Andrus Peat could be a value pick for the Panthers at 25.

Peat, 6-7 and 316 pounds, announced this month he was forgoing his senior season to enter the draft, despite some scouts recommending he remain in school.

But Peat's size and background -- he's the son of former Arizona and Oakland offensive lineman Todd Peat -- give him a lot of upside, according to Kiper.

"He had an inconsistent, up-and-down year. But he looked to be a top-5, top-10 pick when the season began," Kiper said Wednesday during a conference call.

"He's coming out early. With another year, if he could've rounded it off and become more consistent, he'd be a high pick. You get him at 25 and coach him up a bit, Andrus Peat's got a lot of talent coming out of Stanford. So maybe (the Panthers) do that."

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on January 21, 2015 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

January 13, 2015

Gettleman talks Newton, Hardy and more

Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman prefaced his post-season press briefing Tuesday by saying he wasn't going to talk about contract matters or specific players.

But Gettleman had some interesting insights during the 30-minute presser, and did, in fact, address a few key players who might not be back next season.

A few quick takeaways:

--The Panthers are no longer cap-strapped, but that doesn't mean they're going to target a high-priced free agent such as San Diego offensive tackle King Dunlap.

"Last year we were shopping in the dollar store. I think this year we might be able to move up in class a little bit," Gettleman said.

But then he followed with this: "I said we're going to move up in class, I didn't say we're going to go out and spend big money on a player."

--He did not sound enamored with the play of left tackle Byron Bell this season. And in answering a question about Bell, Gettleman dove-tailed into a brief discussion about improving a team through free agency.

"Byron showed flashes. It's about consistency. I give him a little bit of the benefit of the doubt, it was his first year playing there," Gettleman said. "But I think we've shown if a player shows up that we think is going to make us better, we're going to go get him."

--Gettleman wants to sit down with DeAngelo Williams, before saying anything publicly about the status of the franchise's all-time rushing leader.

This is a departure from last offseason, when Gettleman was widely criticized for discussing the future of Steve Smith before talking to the Panthers' popular, all-time receiving leader.

"I need to talk to DeAngelo, I really do. He's a pro's pro, and he had a tough season," Gettleman said. "The obvious loss of his mom was very, very difficult. He only played six games this year, and it was tough for him. Before I say anything, just know he's a pro's pro. And the way he finished the season, he finished it like a man."

--Gettleman still believes Newton is the franchise quarterback and wants to lock him up with a long-term deal. But Gettleman refused to be pulled into a discussion on this one.

"I believe he’s a franchise quarterback," he said. "I just told you that."

--Gettleman wouldn't tip his hand on Greg Hardy's situation, saying until the domestic violence trial is adjudicated there's nothing to discuss.

But when he was asked whether a player's history of violence against women would keep the Panthers from signing him, Gettleman said: "It would be something that you’d have to really think about. How’s that?"

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on January 13, 2015 at 12:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (35)

January 12, 2015

Local TV ratings for Panthers' games dipped in '14

The Carolina Panthers and the Charlotte TV market experienced a 10.3 percent drop in ratings in the 2014 NFL season compared to last year, and the market was again below the league average in ratings for at least the fourth consecutive year.

According to data from the SportsBusiness Daily, the Panthers brought in a 23.6 local rating to the Charlotte market. That's down from the 26.3 rating from the 2013 season in which the Panthers went 12-4 and earned the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs.

The Charlotte market ranked 21st out of the 32 teams. The NFL team average was 28.2 for the 2014 season. Charlotte's 23.6 rating was nearly doubled by the Green Bay Packers' market, which turned in a 45.2.

The 10.3 percent drop in ratings was the sixth-worst drop among all teams. Only the Saints, Bears, Chiefs, Titans and Washington experienced a worse drop in local market ratings.

Though the Panthers made the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history, Carolina also experienced a two-month winless streak. The Panthers went 0-3 in primetime games in 2014, losing to the Saints, Steelers and Eagles by a combined margin of 60 points.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on January 12, 2015 at 04:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

January 11, 2015

Norman wants Hardy back with the Panthers

Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy came by Bank of America Stadium long enough Sunday morning to visit with several teammates and apparently leave an odd message signed with his "Kraken" nickname on a locker-room whiteboard.

At least one teammate hopes it wasn't good-bye.

"I really personally hope that it's not because a guy of that caliber, man, we need that," said cornerback Josh Norman, who spoke with Hardy Sunday. "Hands down, I would welcome that and relish the chance to play with that guy again."

But that scenario is highly unlikely.

Hardy faces a jury trial on domestic violence charges -- expected to start Feb. 9 -- after a judge found him guilty of the same charges in July.

Hardy made $13.1 million this season and played only one game -- the opener at Tampa Bay. He was deactivated in Week 2 and spent the rest of the season on the commissioner's exempt list.

Hardy is eligible for free agency in March, and his market value will almost certainly be affected by the outcome of the trial.

Even if Hardy is acquitted, team sources do not expect him to be back with the Panthers. But Norman made his feelings clear about Hardy, who had 15 sacks during his Pro Bowl season in 2013.

"Either way, I want the man back," Norman said. "I want G. Hardy, the Kraken, back in this locker room."

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on January 11, 2015 at 03:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Free agent Dickson: I'd love to remain a Panther

Panthers tight end Ed Dickson doesn’t know what the future holds in terms of his tenure with the Panthers, but he made it clear Saturday night he wants to stay in Charlotte.

The fifth-year tight end who just finished his one-year, $795,000 contract in Carolina told the Observer unequivocally he wants to stay with the Panthers.

“I’d love to be a Panther. I’m on the record to say that I’d love to be a Panther,” said Dickson, who will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. “I love everything about the program—from the top to the bottom. The business part takes over right now, and hopefully I’m back playing with Cam.”

Those words come after Dickson’s least productive season in the NFL. Even in his rookie season, Dickson finished with more catches and yards than his 2014 season in Carolina that churned out 10 catches for 115 yards in the regular season.

Dickson came to Carolina as an unrestricted free agent from Baltimore. His signing promised the Panthers would do more two tight end sets like in 2011 when Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey teamed up to give Cam Newton multiple big, versatile targets.

But Dickson’s opportunities in the passing game were seldom at the start of the season, and when fullback Mike Tolbert went on the temporary injured reserve with a knee injury, the tight ends were asked to do a lot more blocking.

Dickson had just four catches for 36 yards through the first 10 games. But as Tolbert returned to health and Carolina was able to do more with their two tight ends, Newton started finding Dickson more. He closed the season with six catches for 79 yards in the final six games, and he added three grabs for 37 yards in the postseason.

“At the end of the season it started to look like what we wanted to,” Dickson said. “We don’t want to wait until next season to say turn it on at the end of the season.

“The sky’s the limit for this group. This tight end group is one of the best in the league.”

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on January 11, 2015 at 12:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Sherman: Seahawks made Newton pay for bad decisions

Say this for Cam Newton: He went down swinging.

A few days before the Panthers' divisional-round matchup at Seattle, Newton said he wouldn't shy away from challenging Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman.

It wasn't trash talk from Newton, who correctly said he'd throw where his reads took him.

And in the first quarter of a scoreless game, Newton threw deep down the right sideline for Philly Brown.

Not deep enough.

Sherman came down with his first playoff interception. He later jumped a slant route but couldn't hold on to the ball.

After the Seahawks' 31-17 win Saturday, Sherman crowed a bit to NFL Network, saying he should have had two or three picks. He also brought up Newton's comments.

"I didn't think he'd throw that go ball, but obviously he decided to make that decision," Sherman told the network. "I heard earlier in the week he was going to try me. He didn't care what side he threw it to, and you've got to make him pay for those bad decisions."

(Link to Sherman's interview with NFL Network, Newton comments come around 1:40 mark.)

The pick by Sherman proved to be the least costly of Newton's three turnovers. It was basically a punt and led to no Seattle points.

Newton gave Sherman credit afterward, but defended his approach.

"We know who Richard Sherman is, but yet I said that I am not going to not throw to his side as if it dictates our pass scheme," Newton said. "We can't just eliminate that side of the field. Don't get me wrong, he is a great player on top of a lot of great players on that defense."

Newton's fumble on a bad zone-read exchange with running back Jonathan Stewart gave Seattle a short (28-yard) field and set up the Seahawks' first touchdown.

There was confusion during and after the game about how defensive end Michael Bennett came through the left side of the line unblocked to disrupt the play. Newton indicated the crowd noise prevented all the linemen from getting the call.

"That was a read play. I don't think it was blocked right, but that's what happens when you play in a hostile environment," Newton said. "A lot of people heard one thing, and others heard something else."

Newton's worst giveaway was his last one: Kam Chancellor's pick-six in the fourth quarter that sealed it for the Seahawks.

That play was designed to go away from Sherman's side. But first-year receiver Brenton Bersin, the first read, slipped in his route.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Newton was a little late coming back to the right side, allowing Chancellor to break in front of tight end Ed Dickson and deliver the dagger.

"The difference was just missed opportunities," Newton said. "I did a bad job of protecting the football, and when you're playing a great defense you just have to take what they give you."

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on January 11, 2015 at 08:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (18)

January 10, 2015

WR Philly Brown active vs. Seahawks

SEATTLE Wide receiver Philly Brown is active for Carolina's playoff game against Seattle on Saturday night.

Brown injured his shoulder against the Cardinals in last week's playoff victory and was listed as questionable this week. 

The Panthers are apparently confident enough in Brown's ability to block to make him active. Carolina did bring practice squad receiver Stephen Hill to Seattle in case the team needed to make a roster move.

Brown's availability for the game gives the Panthers' offense a speed option they desperately need.

Backup safety Thomas DeCoud (hamstring) and backup cornerback Melvin White (ankle) are also active.

Along with defensive tackle Star Lotulelei (foot), six other Panthers are inactive. Cornerback James Dockery, safety Robert Lester, linebacker A.J. Klein, tackle David Foucault, guard Amini Silatolu and defensive end Frank Alexander will not dress in uniform.

--Jonathan Jones


(Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com)

Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman, left, and wide receiver
Philly Brown watch the team run through drills during practice at
Bank of America Stadium on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015.

Posted by Observer Sports on January 10, 2015 at 06:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)