NFL Team Report - Carolina Panthers - INSIDE SLANT
In 2010, when the Panthers became the first team in 14 years to not score an offensive touchdown in the preseason, players and coaches essentially said, "Don't worry, we'll score plenty when games count." Carolina's offense went on to be historically anemic that regular season, scoring just 16 touchdowns.
And while it's still way too early to be all that concerned about the Panthers offense heading into this season, their performance the past couple weeks hasn't done much to create a huge sense of optimism.
Through two preseason games, the first-string offense has been on the field for eight series. Half of those series ended with punts, two produced field goals, one finished with an interception and one resulted in a touchdown. That lone score came after the defense handed over a short field (18-yard line) after intercepting Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler.
Breaking the preseason numbers down even further: the Panthers' first-team offense has played in what amounts to about three quarters, they've taken 45 snaps, gained only 202 yards and scored just 13 points.
Of course, unlike what happened in 2010, preseason results don't exactly mirror what happens during the regular season, and the Panthers are confident they will be able to flip a switch for the Sept. 8 opener vs. the Seahawks.
"(Fans and media) really blow preseason games out of proportion when the fact of the matter is, nobody's opening their playbook. The defenses aren't exotic. They're regular run defenses -- stop the run. They're regular pass defenses," running back DeAngelo Williams said.
"Nobody is showing their hand because they know who's watching. The other teams are, so it's harder to game plan Week 1, 2."
In their defense, the Panthers have been about as vanilla as they can be this preseason. New offensive coordinator Mike Shula has been playing it very close to the vest. Play calls have been absent of read-options, installed runs for quarterback Cam Newton, and play-action.
The dumbed-down offense has certainly had an adverse effect on Newton, who hasn't looked sharp, completing just 11 of his 23 pass attempts for 128 yards. But it's not like he's gotten much help from his line, a unit that no matter what positive spin the players and coaches put on it, will likely be a problem even once the regular season starts.
"We did miss a couple throws," head coach Ron Rivera said after Thursday night's game in Philadelphia. "But (Newton) was running for his life twice, and both times he overthrew the ball. I'm not sure you put that on the quarterback alone."
The offense has also been hampered by injuries to running backs Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert. Stewart is still on the Physically Unable to Perform list after undergoing surgeries to both his ankles, and it's hard to imagine he'll be ready for Week 1. But Tolbert's hamstring injury isn't believed to be serious, so adding him back into the mix should be a boon to the Panthers' run game.
With preseason game No. 3 coming up Thursday in Baltimore, a more productive offensive showing would help many people feel much better going into the opener against Seattle. Even if that's something most don't want to admit publicly.
"Sometimes you can make too much of a preseason game," tight end Greg Olsen said. "It is a big deal anytime you take the field -- you want to play well, you want to win. But at the same time, it is a learning experience against teams you haven't really been game-planning for.
"This is the time that you want to find out what your weaknesses are so you can correct them. That's what the preseason is all about."
NFL Team Report - Carolina Panthers - NOTES, QUOTES
The Panthers welcomed back a familiar face on Sunday when linebacker Jon Beason practiced for the first time since minicamp. Beason, who played just five games the past two seasons, is coming back from shoulder and knee surgeries.
The microfracture surgery he had on his knee in October is what has made Beason and the Panthers cautious. They don't want to rush the three-time Pro Bowler back, fearful another setback could make him miss another significant amount of time.
Beason didn't talk to reporters after his return Sunday, and head coach Ron Rivera was noncommittal about his linebacker's status for Thursday's game in Baltimore.
"We'll see how the week goes," Rivera said. "We've got to see how he responds (Monday) morning. That's always the big question. Hopefully, it'll be a good response and we can just keep rolling from here."
--Throughout OTAs, minicamp and the first couple weeks of training camp, wide receiver David Gettis was in danger of being on the outside looking in at a roster spot. But he has come on lately, leading the Panthers in receptions for both of their preseason games.
After a promising rookie season in 2010, Gettis tore his ACL the next year in camp, and a hamstring injury kept him off the field last season. Now Gettis is not just solidifying a job, but he's also making a late push for the No. 3 job.
Other candidates for that role and roster spots - Domenik Hixon, Armanti Edwards and Joe Adams - are battling injuries, and a finally-healthy Gettis is taking advantage of the extra reps.
"You don't ever want to see one of your teammates get hurt. I've been in that position and I know the guys in my room would never think anything like that," Gettis said. "So I want those guys to come back as soon as possible because at the end of the day, we're family."
--After playing Thursday night in Philadelphia, head coach Ron Rivera gave his team an extended break. The Panthers were scheduled to have Friday off, but Rivera also eschewed Saturday's practice in favor of some team bonding.
He took his players to a local bowling alley, and according to a tweet from tight end Ben Hartsock, the winning team included Hartsock, quarterback Jimmy Clausen, defensive tackle Dwan Edwards, wide receiver Ted Ginn, and guard Garry Williams.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We kicked two field goals, but I want touchdowns." Head coach Ron Rivera on Carolina's first-team offensive struggles against Philadelphia.
NFL Team Report - Carolina Panthers - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SURPRISE OF THE SUMMER: Considering he had made just five receptions in three NFL seasons - with all of those receptions coming last season - WR Armanti Edwards started the summer very much in danger of losing his roster spot. But after OTAs and minicamp, coaches publicly and privately raved about Edwards' improvement. Then after the first couple weeks of training camp, they raved again.
Suddenly, Edwards had gone from a guy who would likely be out of a job to taking snaps with the first team. A couple catches in the preseason opener against the Bears helped him show he could produce when the lights came on, but that game also gave him a setback. He tweaked his hamstring that night, and he hasn't practiced since.
Edwards hopes to return soon, and even though the No. 3 role he had been competing for may be out of reach by the time he comes back, he'll certainly have a spot on the team come Week 1.
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: After CB Josh Norman finished the preseason opener with a pair of interceptions, the former starter was hopeful he would get some snaps with the first team this past week. But that didn't happen, and in preseason game No. 2 against the Eagles, Norman actually didn't even play until the end of the first half. But when he did come in, he picked off Michael Vick's Hail Mary pass that ended the half.
Coaches are still tinkering with personnel groupings in the secondary, with Drayton Florence and Captain Munnerlyn still hanging onto their starting roles. But with three weeks to go before the regular-season opener against Seattle, this is still a spot that isn't set in stone.
--LB Jon Beason practiced for the first time since minicamp on Sunday. The Panthers have been extra cautious with Beason, who underwent microfracture surgery on his right knee.
--WR Domenik Hixon, who had been out since Aug. 2 with a sore hamstring, returned to practice Sunday. Hixon needs to make up lost time quickly if he's going to earn the No. 3 role he was favored to win when camp started.
--DE Charles Johnson left Sunday's practice early with cramps.
--DE Greg Hardy missed Sunday's practice with an illness.
--RB Jonathan Stewart is still on the PUP list after undergoing surgeries on both his ankles in the offseason.
--G Edmund Kugbila, who tried to return last week but couldn't make it through a full practice before needing treatment, remains sidelined with a sore hamstring.
--WR Armanti Edwards continues to sit out. He had been making a case to earn the No. 3 role before tweaking his hamstring in the preseason opener against the Bears.
--FB Mike Tolbert continues to miss time with a sore hamstring. The Panthers don't think it's serious and expect Tolbert to be ready for Week 1.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--S Sherrod Martin (not tendered as UFA).
--CB Nate Ness (not tendered as RFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED (all picks signed)
--DT Star Lotulelei (1/14): $9,604,500/4 yrs, all guaranteed/$5,365,092 SB.
--DT Kawann Short (2/44): $4,630,336/4 yrs, $1,747,516 SB/$2,362,986 guaranteed.
--G Edmund Kugbila (4/108): $2,616,456/4 yrs, $456,456 SB.
--LB A.J. Klein (5/148): $2,351,300/4 yrs, $191,300 SB.
--RB Kenjon Barner (6/182): $2,265,800/4 yrs, $105,800 SB.
--QB Derek Anderson: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--TE Richie Brockel: ERFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--DT Dwan Edwards: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--TE Ben Hartsock: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--CB Captain Munnerlyn: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--LB Jordan Senn: Potential UFA; terms unknown.
--LB Chase Blackburn: UFA Giants; terms unknown.
--T Patrick Brown: Not tendered as ERFA by Dolphins; terms unknown.
--DT Colin Cole: FA; terms unknown.
--CB Drayton Florence: UFA Lions; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--WR/KR Ted Ginn: UFA 49ers; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--WR Domenik Hixon: UFA Giants; $1.2M/1 yr, $250,000 SB.
--S Mike Mitchell: UFA Raiders; $840,000/1 yr.
--CB D.J. Moore: UFA Bears; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--G/T Chris Scott: FA Bills; terms unknown.
--LB James Anderson (released/post-June 1 designation).
--DE Antwan Applewhite: Not tendered as UFA/Dolphins; terms unknown.
--TE Gary Barnidge: UFA Browns; $3.75M/3 yrs, $650,000 SB.
--DT Ron Edwards (released).
--CB Chris Gamble (released).
--C/G Geoff Hangartner (released).
--DE Thomas Keiser (released).
--WR Louis Murphy: UFA Giants; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--DT Andre Neblett: Not tendered as RFA/Buccaneers; terms unknown.
--LB Kenny Onatolu (released).
--LB Jason Phillips: UFA Eagles; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--G Mike Pollak: UFA Bengals; $780,000/1 yr.
--C/G Zack Williams (released).