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Archive for May, 2010

Richard Marshall to sign tender

Some good news on the Panthers front, courtesy of Yahoo Sports.

Carolina Panthers starting cornerback Richard Marshall is back on the field after missing minicamp while upset about his contract situation.

Marshall is participating in voluntary workouts this week at Bank of America Stadium. He said Tuesday he hasn’t signed his one-year tender worth $1.759 million, but will before the start of training camp.

Marshall is one of many NFL players with four years of service who would have been unrestricted free agents if the owners hadn’t decide to end the collective bargaining agreement after this season. The move put different rules in place that left Marshall a restricted free agent with few options.

Coach John Fox said Marshall is in great shape despite also skipping the team’s off-season conditioning program.

This is great news – now the team can focus on playing football and not have to worry about any possible distractions that may result in Marshall holding out of camp.

Panthers Draft Pick Analysis: Robert McClain

Note: I posted this at CSR today, so I decided to share it here as well.

Carolina’s version of “Mr. Irrelevant” came with the 249th pick in the draft, when the Panthers selected UConn defensive back Robert McClain in the 7th round. The selection of McClain was surprising to some (myself included), as it was the third consecutive selection that the team used on a defensive back (a position that most of us thought we had an abundance of) and failed to use one of those picks to bolster the defensive line (as many of us thought they should do). However, McClain appears to be the kind of player who would be a good fit to a Ron Meeks led defensive unit, so the front office decided to take a late round flier on the UConn product to see what he can bring to the table for the Panthers in 2010.

Looking at him on paper, there’s no reason to go out and buy a McClain jersey (at least not yet), but he is an average sized defensive back (5-9, 195) with excellent speed and great jumping ability, as was displayed during his pro-day exercises (4.42 40 yard dash, 38″ vertical jump, and 23 bench press reps of 225 lbs). According to NFL.com, he is rated as being good in man coverage, with excellent speed and physique, and has the tools that should allow him to compete for a backup spot during training camp.

In his last season at UConn (2009), McClain was tied for the Big East lead with 4 interceptions, and was 3rd on his team with 60 tackles (although ESPN says he only had 52), and he forced one fumble. He was also a decent punt returner for the Huskies, averaging 14.8 yards per return with 1 touchdown (15 returns in 10 games), and he was tied for 6th in the nation among seniors in punt return average. His return ability earned him 1st Team All Big East from the media as a punt returner, and his defensive play earned him 2nd Team All Big East honors from the coaches.

McClain was a team co-captain for UConn in 2009, and he was awarded the Brian Kozlowski Award last year, which is given to the player who proves to be a “courageous, hard working, and productive person”. This honor speaks a lot of his character, and could be part of the reason the Panthers drafted him in the 7th round even though they had already taken 2 defensive backs before him: they like to draft good character guys, and McClain appears to fit this description well.

On the surface it appears that McClain will bring the potential for speed at the cornerback position and a possible threat in the return game – something that the team has desperately needed for some time. With the right amount of work and reps on the field during the preseason, McClain could sneak up and earn a spot on the special teams unit.

I believe that McClain will compete for and earn a spot on the roster during camp, and I believe that he has a slight advantage because of his experience returning punts. The team has totally retooled the special teams unit during the offseason, and there could be a spot available on special teams for McClain if he proves that he can return kicks in the NFL as well as or better than he did in college.

Overall, I believe that McClain is a good fit for this team, as he is a hard working player and a good person off the field – he should find himself right at home in Carolina and I will be somewhat surprised if he doesn’t make the roster given his speed and his apparent off-field character and work ethic [which are very important to the Big Cat].

Categories: Offseason Tags: ,

Panthers Draft Pick Analysis: Eric Norwood

Note: I posted this draft analysis on CSR about a week ago, but have been so busy I haven’t had time to post it here.

The Panthers were originally slated to choose at #112 in the 4th round, but Marty Hurney and John Fox made a deal with the Jets that gave the Panthers an additional 6th round pick to move down 12 spots to #124. The rumors at the time were that the Panthers had lost the player they wanted to draft prior to their selection and saw no problem with trading down, but it was later revealed that they had no intended target and just decided that moving down 12 spots was worth the additional pick in the 6th round.

Prior to the 4th round the Panthers had picked all offensive players, despite the numerous fans and analysts conclusions that the front office would shore up the defensive line in the beginning rounds of the draft and focus on the BPA (Best Player Available) strategy in the later rounds.

But, as we all know, there is no formula to understand what is going on in the mind of John Fox, other than “it is what it is” and “we’ll take it day by day and go from there” – after that it’s practically impossible to figure out what he’s thinking. Say what you will about Fox, but just because he acts coy with the media and doesn’t give out a lot of information doesn’t mean the man never goes into a draft without a plan to make the Panthers a better football team. Fox and Hurney are notorious for going after the best player available on the draft board, regardless of need or the fact that the draft choice makes absolutely no sense to anyone but Hurney and Fox (see Kalil, Ryan and Stewart, Jonathan).

This year’s draft was no different, and per their usual style, the Panthers decided to go with the best player available on the board when pick #124 came due.

Eric Norwood played college football at the University of South Carolina, where he was the team’s starting linebacker for each of his four seasons. During his tenure with the Gamecocks, Norwood set two school records (sacks and tackles for loss), was named first-team All-SEC 3 of 4 years, and was a 2009 first-team All-American.

Norwood is one of the surest tacklers to come out of the SEC and should be an asset in 3rd and long situations when he can rush the quarterback. He could see action on the field as a linebacker or at defensive end, and his durability will allow Defensive Coordinator Ron Meeks to be creative with how he uses Norwood in different situations.

One of [the] SBN bloggers over at Garnet & Black Attack had this to say about Norwood’s strengths:

Pro scouts correctly note Norwood’s draws as his pass rushing, tackling, special teams abilities, and durability. His closing speed, instincts and ability as a tackler, and ability to block kicks are well documented, and he has the skills to translate these attributes to the next level. Norwood is exceptionally durable, having played in every game over the course of his career and started 32 consecutive games. The pros do and should love that.

Based on the positives that Norwood brings to the table, I believe he will compete for the starting SLB job in training camp and preseason, and he could very possibly take the job away from Connor and Anderson. At the very least he will be an effective backup and special teams player for his rookie campaign until he adjusts to the speed of the NFL game.

But every player has weaknesses, including Norwood. [SB Nation’s Gamecock blog] Garnet & Black Attack’s assessment tells us:

As far as weaknesses go, pro scouts judge that Norwood will likely only be effective as an outside linebacker in 3-4 schemes. This is probably a correct assessment. While Norwood has great instincts in coverage, his height allows bigger tight ends to pick on him underneath, and faster receivers and backs can get a step on him. These weaknesses would be exposed in 4-3 schemes. In essence, Norwood will be at his best in a limited, pass-rush specialist role in the NFL.

Based on this analysis, you’re probably wondering why we drafted him. The answer is simple. Norwood is a good tackler who can rush the quarterback, and the pressure that he can put on the backfield will help out the corners and safeties in coverage. Norwood is a great fit to Ron Meeks’ system, and his size is nearly identical to [Panthers starting OLB] Thomas Davis’ (Davis is 6-0, 240; and Norwood is 6-1, 245).

What we have with Norwood is a 4th round pick who should be able to contribute right away on special teams and should see quality action on the field in specific situations (e.g. – 3rd and long). But was he worth the pick? The blogger at Garnet & Black Attack predicted that he would be drafted in the 2nd-3rd rounds, stating:

Most mocks I’ve looked at project Norwood in the second to third rounds. I think this is about right. Norwood provides incredible potential as a pass rusher and special teams player, and his durability suggests that he will have a long, productive career. He’s also a very positive force in the locker room and a player that teams rally around on the field.

Considering that he should have been picked in the 2nd-3rd rounds and we got him in the 4th round, he already classifies as a minor steal. Norwood was rated as the 10th best linebacker according to CBS Sports, and he was the 15th linebacker taken in the draft. He was rated as the 79th overall player, and was taken 124th. Based on these numbers, I can’t help but think that we made another quality selection and took the best player available at the time, regardless of his position (because we do have quite a few linebackers on the roster already, and Norwood adds yet another body to the competition of starting SLB).

I know I’m a bit of a homer with my belief in Norwood because of my ties to USC, but I really believe that the Panthers have made a heck of a draft pick and we will see the benefits of this selection on the football field for years to come.

Categories: Offseason Tags: ,