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Ask The Old Guy: Looking for answers at the bye

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CHARLOTTE — Bye weeks are chances to reset, to recharge.

The Panthers checked off the first part of that equation with the shift in play-calling Monday from Frank Reich to Thomas Brown (who is apparently "still a G."). The next part began when players and coaches scattered shortly after lunch Wednesday to take weekends to see family, head to the beach, enjoy life, and breathe for a second.

When they come back on Monday, the hard part begins: figuring out a path forward after a ridiculous, unlucky, and fairly unforeseen 0-6 start.

Reich is an unfailingly positive guy, and he also has the kind of wisdom that can be helpful on long and difficult journeys. Sometimes in the NFL, sizzle is confused with substance, and they're not nearly the same. Because the job now is to build on what's here, fix what you can in a problematic circumstance, and create the conditions for success in the future, which is the important part of the job and what he was hired for.

The things that were true in July remain true. This is a deep and talented coaching staff. The quarterback of the future is here. The roster is being remade on the fly according to their wishes, and they're still in the process of figuring out exactly what those wishes are. It's inevitable that more change will come, as the personnel needed tweaking in a perfect situation, and with the current blight of injuries, things are far from perfect.

So the key for Reich in the next week, and moving forward, will be to lead the project, to coach the coaches and the entire operation, rather than the minutiae of calling every play. His personality is geared that way anyway, but having the ability to be over the top could help lend some stability to this thing. We'll see how it manifests itself when they come back and start playing again. But there's a whole team that can use his leadership right now, and after watching the defense give up 42 each of the last two weeks, a broader base of supervision can't hurt.

But for now, the best thing they can all do is take a breath and come back ready to work on the big-picture things that matter more anyway.

With that said, let's plow through this mail so the rest of us can take a weekend off as well.


What is wrong with people? Been a fan since the team came into existence and have seen good things and bad. This is not the worst we've seen (i.e., 2001/2010). New coaching staff, new offensive and defensive schemes, and a rookie QB. . . that's a lot of new. It's going to take time for this all to gel, and believe it or not, there have been some improvements week-to-week, . . . minor but there. Throw in the starters that are out on injuries, (Brady Christensen, Shaq Thompson, Jaycee Horn, Austin Corbett, Vonn Bell, Xavier Woods) and some others who can play, (Henry Anderson, Marquis Haynes Sr., Chandler Zavala). We don't have a bad team, . . . just one that's dealing with a lot at one time. Sure, a couple of games that we could have won and had some bad luck, but there is a good base here that can be built upon. It's only been six games, with 11 more left. Before we execute the coaching staff and call for the head of Alfredo Garcia, . . . let's give it some more time. What say you, Darin? — Rick, York, SC

What's wrong with people? Do you want me to have a bye weekend or not? Because I could write for four straight days and not scratch the surface of that one. (Short version: Many, many things are wrong with people. Yelling fixes few of them.)

But yes, all the points Rick makes are sound. They'd still be true if the team was 3-3 or 2-4 or even 1-5, and they'd certainly be a little easier to swallow, but the point stands.

As the famous Eastern philosopher John Fox might say, the record is what it is. Can't change it now. Can only move forward.

And we've seen enough from Bryce Young to reasonably conclude that forward is a direction he's heading. He's actually playing fairly well, considering the circumstances (which, again, are not ideal).

So yes, what they're dealing with is . . . a lot. Some of it could get better in the coming months. Some might not. The head-on-a-pike gang will continue to yell, but that would be the same regardless because there are people among us who wake up in the morning looking for something to yell at.

So for having perspective and coming up with a dated pop culture reference that establishes Rick as a gentleman of experience, I'm going ahead and making him this week's Friend Of The Mailbag, and will get the appropriate honorarium on the way soon.


Hi Darin, Thailand Tony here again. It's been a while since I last commented, but I figured since I'm trying to cook some BBQ over here on a Monday after the game, I thought I'd hit you up. I get up in the middle of the night to watch our Panthers at midnight and usually crawl back in bed at about 5:00 AM for a couple of hours. I try to see what the teams in the NFC South are doing before I crawl back into bed. I really wish the Panthers had a better record right now. And my wife does, too, since I'm not usually in the best of moods for a couple of days after a loss. But I'm still holding out hope, especially for a 4-2 record in the NFC South, no matter what else happens. I like this team, and it hurts to see them lose and/or get injured.

I'll have to say that it's worth getting up in the middle of the night to see Johnny Hekker headbutt somebody. Now, if we can just string three or four quarters together like the first quarter was against Miami, we'll be on the road to the inevitable victories that are coming. Again, I hate seeing guys go down with injuries, but I'll give credit to the "next men up" who are making plays. Keep Pounding Panthers, and I'll keep getting up in the middle of the night to watch and support you from halfway around the world. As for a question, do you like a smidgen of brown sugar in your vinegar-based slaw along with the BBQ? — Tony, Chiang Rai, Thailand

Distract me with food questions. Tony's speaking my language. Yes, I like the idea of the contrast of smoky pork, the acid and crunch of the vinegar-based slaw, and a little sweet to pair with the spicy. You're on to something, Tony, and I admire your willingness to adjust your personal schedule for this. (Part of the reason I enjoy English soccer [Come On You Spurs] is that it happens first thing on a weekend morning, so it's convenient for an early riser. The middle of the night? Not sure I'm that dedicated, so I bow to your Buddha nature.)

Your point about the NFC South is a valid one. I like to say that every trailer park gets to have an HOA, and somebody has to be president. This whole division is flawed to the point of absurdity. How absurd? The Panthers are the highest-scoring team in the division. (They're also allowing points at the highest rate by an even more absurd margin). Having observed the Baker Mayfield Experience, I am not prepared to accept that he's one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the league over a 17-game season. I have questions about the structural soundness of the Falcons (who have spent top-10 picks on running backs and tight ends), spent big free agent money on safeties, and have led people to consider Taylor Heinicke (the second-most-popular Taylor in football) at quarterback. The Saints can play defense with anyone in the league. I'm not sure what's happening when they have the ball. And the Panthers are, as you may have noticed, 0-6. I'm not prepared to even entertain questions about the playoffs until they win a game or two, but the reality that this division is a hot mess remains.


Hi Darin. You answered my question a few weeks ago, and I thank you for that. It made my day. I took your advice and have not panicked. I have decided instead to focus on improvements made each week. Even though we did not get a win over the Dolphins, I enjoyed much of the game (obviously not the parts where the Dolphins scored). My favorite play of the day was the Johnny Hekker pass. Even though it came up short, I thought it was a gutsy call. Your opinion? — LeeAnne, Lincolnton, NC

LeeAnne is wise. The Stoics tell us to focus on what we can control and our reactions to things we cannot.

The Stoics also love a good fake punt. Marcus Aurelius was like the Chris Tabor of his time. And with two straight Hekker questions, it's clear he's a thing this week.

Johnny Hekker's got a career 84.2 passer rating. He can sling it. Let Johnny cook. Sometimes, when things get weird, going YOLO with your punter is the only answer. They knew they weren't going to hold the Dolphins to three-and-outs all day, so going fake punt with a lead at midfield was the right kind of chance to take. Situationally, it was a great call. It just didn't work out by a couple of inches.

This should not dissuade them from trying it in the future. As JJ Jansen noted after the game, Hekker's not just a punter; he's "a full-blooded football player." He's also a team captain and knows that trying times sometimes require something off the menu.

I also know that Hekker's a little embarrassed by all the attention "Faux Headbutt-Gate" has created for him. He believes, as a mature adult and a father, that a retaliatory headbutt (even of the slightest degree) was not setting a good example for the kids watching.

But I choose to view it as a noble act of defiance, planting his flag on behalf of his brothers and telling Dolphins linebacker Cameron Goode that this aggression would not stand.

Times may be hard right now. But when times are hard, the Panthers now know they can rely on the leg, the arm, and also the vast and powerful forehead of one John Robert Hekker.

Revolutions have been built on less.


Hey Darin, what should be Miles Sanders' role be once he returns? Chuba Hubbard has just looked better every time he gets the ball. I don't think Miles is a bad back, but his "cha-cha slide" running style just doesn't fit with this spotty O-line. We need a back to hit those holes fast and hard, which Chuba does. At the same time, though, we're paying Miles RB1 money, so it would stink to watch the man just sit on the sidelines all the time. — Simon, Charlotte

See, this is an actual football question that demands a bit of subtlety beyond the "THIS GUY STINKS, CUT HIM" discussion you find in a lot of corners of the internet.

Here's what we know. Hubbard is a downhill runner. Piles moved forward, rather than laterally or backward, when he was the one in them. This is something the Panthers could use more of.

Here's what else we know. Sanders is still a good back, just perhaps not in the exact manner he was being used early this season.

I'm thinking, and this is kind of radical, so stay with me here, that the best way to use him is by letting him do what he's best at.

We're not sure what Thomas Brown has in store for when Sanders returns (or when Sanders might return). We know it's going to be stuff that's already in the playbook because he was there when he and Reich put that book together.

But with his background in the Rams running game, there's a way to use backs like Sanders in space, to tap into his gifts as a pass-catcher, and to allow him to use his burst outside. There's a way to create a combination of the two. Last year with D'Onta Foreman and Hubbard, you just had two slam-it-up-in-there guys. You also had an offensive line that was talented, healthy, and most importantly, cohesive. The Panthers haven't enjoyed that this year.

So my suspicion is they'll try to blend the things that Sanders is good at with the line in its current state and create ways for him to succeed. If not, Hubbard showed he's capable of carrying the mail, and he's continued to work on his own pass-catching and pass-protecting in case they can't find the right mix.


I understand the sentiment of adding a veteran safety for the Dolphins game, but at what point is it just worth throwing in all the young guys like DJ Johnson or Jammie Robinson or others to get reps and develop so we can try and gather some additional positives from this season? — Matt, Cary, NC

This feels like one of those "I'd rather light a candle than curse your darkness" situations, but the way this season is going is going to take care of that organically.

Yetur Gross-Matos came out of last week's game with a hamstring injury that is not insignificant. So Johnson's going to get a lot of snaps anyway. He had already jumped over Amaré Barno in the defensive rotation and has the kind of physical presence that will be useful against the run (an area they definitely need to improve in).

Having a vet like Matthias Farley was helpful because he understands the assignment, with 101 NFL appearances under his belt. But Robinson could easily work his way into more time. Vonn Bell's going to be out a bit after the bye, and we don't know yet if Xavier Woods is going to be ready to go against the Texans. They brought in Alex Cook off the Giants practice squad this week because they need the bodies. As you can tell by the acquisitions of Woods and Bell the last two offseasons, the personnel staff and this coaching staff in particular place a high premium on the knowledge-and-experience side of the equation at that position.

Robinson's got talent, and they like what he's doing on special teams. But, as you may have noticed, it takes rookies a minute to learn the nuances of the NFL in general.

At a certain point, he's going to play because they're running out of dudes. With Jeremy Chinn joining an already-long list of the injured last week, having a healthy and able body qualifies you for playing time, so Robinson will likely get some.

DJ Johnson


Enjoy your hard work every week, and thank you! Looking forward to seeing Thomas Brown's play-calling. He reminds me of Steve Wilks in press conferences. Speaking of press conferences, Frank Reich loves saying, " That's a fair question." Are you ever tempted to hit him with a "Who's grandma's offense was that!" question?

Bryce looks good but needs to go back to just throwing it away when nobody's open! I can't believe all the people calling for a "fire sale!" The team is just now starting to play together! Darin, are there any new players that have the coaches excited? — Don, Trinity, NC

Don packed a lot into that one. He's ready for the bye week, too.

Yes, Thomas gives good press conference. He has things to say and knows how to say them. That kind of authority matters in more important areas (coaching players) as well.

Sometimes, coaches do have verbal crutches they use to buy themselves a second to process how they want to answer things. As verbal crutches go, Frank being gracious isn't the worst thing in the world.

I don't see a fire sale. There are people who might find new homes in the coming weeks, but I don't see the kind of Christian McCaffrey-leaving type of splash. For starters, the guys they have who would create that kind of splash are guys they want to keep and plan to.

As for younger players, if you really wanted a deep cut, they're kind of digging on defensive end LaBryan Ray lately, and his workload points to that. After getting a single defensive snap each of the first two weeks, he's become a regular part of the rotation, playing 40 percent of the snaps in Detroit and 51 percent last week. He's got the kind of big frame they want, and they're beginning to trust him with more and more time.

LaBryan Ray


Hello Darin! Here are my takeaways from this week's contest that lasted 60 minutes (which is the equivalent of playing Slow Ride 7 times)

Johnny B Goode- that man can Chuck a football Berry well as a Punter!

Chumbawumba Hubbard was Tubthumping Sunday! 80 plus yards and a TD - he got back down and got back up again.

Waddle and Tyreek Oh God (Wynken and Blinken and Nod)- The two Doobie called Brothers sometimes because they are so darn fast.

Hooked on a Thielen- The wideout in Blue must of had some Swede dreams Saturday night for him to play so well on Sunday.

My question for this week: What are your top three takeaways from Sunday? (Please include your rating of Hard Rock Stadium's corn dog bites.) — Zach, Charlotte

I fear I have created a monster. GET BACK TO CLASS, ZACH. Maybe John from Charlotte, your teacher, could assign some extra homework for you this weekend to fill what is obviously too much time on your hands (Styx says hello).

The corn dog bites were a solid departure from the normal press box hot dogs. I give them a B. Which you'll be lucky to see if you keep making all these classic rock puns.


Hey, Old Guy, Before I get to my question can I reflect on the last Mailbag? "Zach in Charlotte," thanks for reminding me. I, too, am an old guy; I grew up listening to '70s music live on the AM/FM dials. As for songs, might I recommend Al Stewart's "The Year Of The Cat"? Just change "She" to "The Panthers" in the lyrics, and everything will make sense, and any song that references "incense and patchouli" cannot be bad!

"James in Mt. Olive." Cheers neighbor! Onto my question, I'm going to duck the doom and gloom and just ask about something I've been curious about. Offensive and defensive linemen seem to drop weight rather quickly once they retire. What is the secret formula? As always, thanks for giving us fans a small platform. — Rich, Mount Olive, NC

See what you started, Zach? Now I have Al Stewart in my head, and that's not as much fun as it sounds like.

It's interesting that Rich's question came up when it did. I was just talking to no less of an authority than Mike Rucker for a project you'll see soon.

When he was playing defensive end, he had to work to stay at 275 pounds. And when I say work, I mean it.

"Eating became a full-time job," Rucker said.

He was routinely putting down 7,000 to 8,000 calories a day to try to add mass and keep it on with the demands of all the exercise he was doing. That's fairly common among people his size. Also, the USDA recommends 2,000-3,000 calories a day for American men. So, the math is kind of easy on this one.

Rucker's now in incredible shape, slim and in the 220 range, but he said the first 25 pounds fell off him in a hurry by simply not putting as much food down his cake hole (not that he's eating a lot of cake, at least not anymore).

Mike Rucker


Well, I think this is the best game we have played this year. I keep seeing improvement in the team and Bryce. I am encouraged that we were able to run the ball more this week. I hope we continue to develop the run game. I have some concerns and would like to see improvements in the offensive line play. Along with the defensive ability to stop the run. It's coming along, a little slower than I expected, but the first win this year is on the way. They keep improving every week, and that is what I like seeing. It's going to take some time, but I like what I saw this week.

I appreciate what you do and enjoy your perspective. I read Ask The Old Guy every week and look forward to reading the next one. Keep up the good work. I also appreciate the food choices you recommend. You can't go wrong with corn dogs and barbecue. I will voice my strong opinion that ketchup on a hot dog is a sin against nature, but to each their own. Hot dogs are personal and a joy to experience. — JP, Yadkinville, NC

I write this Mailbag, but it belongs to you, dear reader. So, thanks for the kind words, and for coming right out of a discussion about healthy eating habits with hot dog questions.

I would never put ketchup on a hot dog because I'm no longer a child. I prefer mine in the manner of the gods (chili, slaw, mustard, white onions). I did dip a corn dog in ketchup last week in Miami (mainly because I was too lazy to make the preferred orange ketchup-mustard blend for corndogs. Again, I like a little sweet with my spicy. Life's all about balance). And frankly, I've taken more crap about that dab of ketchup than any football opinion lately.

But what I like about JP's letter the most is his willingness to live and let live.

He might not make the same choices as others, but he defends their ability to make their own decisions and respects their agency and value as unique individuals.

And because he is a shining light who should serve as an example of the power of diversity and inclusion, I'm making him this week's Friend Of The Mailbag, Part II, and will get the appropriate honorarium on the way to him soon.

Joey Chestnut


Let's go lightning round, brought to you by the patron saint of the lightning round Jeff from Fuquay-Varina, to close it out this week.

Darin, I recognize that football is a violent sport, but it seems to me that the Panthers are getting hurt at an unusually high rate this year. Has something changed with our training program? — Linda, Charlotte

Nothing has changed with the training program, or the weight room staff, or the sports science. Part of it is recency bias (you're paying attention to what's happening now), and part of it is proximity (you pay attention to their injuries and not other people's). The Jets are out there without Sauce Gardner last week, and Aaron Rodgers and Alijah Vera-Tucker on IR. That's like three of their four or five best players. It happens all over, but we tend to focus on what's right in front of us.

Bad luck isn't a particularly gratifying answer, but sometimes it's the only right one. They were extremely fortunate last year, until New Orleans. They're less fortunate this year.

Howdy, Darin! Hope all is well in your neck of the woods. As are so many other Panthers fans, I'm disappointed and discouraged with our lack of wins. However, if you look at some of the recent scores and take away the points we gave to the opposing team, we won those games. Folks need to remember that Bryce Young just turned 22 years old. I don't know about you, but I didn't have it together enough at that age to be as calm, mature, and centered as he is. Heck, at that age, I couldn't have led a dog on a leash, much less an NFL franchise.

I love my team. Always have, always will. My respect and devotion to them are unconditional. I would say this to the fair-weathered "fans" out there: If you don't cheer for them when they lose, don't cheer for them when they win. Past teams have gone from the cellar to the Super Bowl twice; they'll do it again.

Bryce is the guy, Frank is the coach, and Scott is the GM. Let them do their jobs, be supportive, and then wait for the magic to happen. Let's all remember to Keep Pounding! — Patrick, Winston-Salem, NC

Appreciate Patrick's optimistic spirit in troubled times. As JP reminded us all moments ago, we're all free to choose. So you get to fan however you please. I've never gotten in the business of telling people how they should do it, and I don't intend to start now.

But the difference in tone is refreshing, so thank you.

Hey Darin, I'm writing this question on a very news-filled Wednesday. With the injury news regarding Colts QB Anthony Richardson (which means I'll have to settle for watching the magical Gardner Minshew play in the Bank), what are the odds that the the Twitter/Sports Bar GM's admit that it's hard to judge if a rookie is "fragile" or "breakable" purely based on size? — Nate, Grand Prairie, TX

It's truly unfortunate that Richardson's going to be out for the year (mostly for Richardson). You'd think living through the Cam Newton Era would have taught the locals that size isn't a predictor for injuries.

But I don't expect the people who yell about these things to stop yelling. They'll just yell about something different.

I am starting to suspect the Panthers are located so close to the South Carolina Gamecocks they may have caught a variant of the Chicken Curse called the Cat Curse. — Stephen, Columbia, SC

I'm a believer in science, rather than fairy tales. However, if there was a vaccination for the Chicken Curse, I'd take one in both arms. Most curses aren't real. I ain't messing with that one. If nothing else, it's someone new to blame, so you accept the variety, at least.

Several things here, . . . (a lot of what's already been yelled about) . . . Also, why aren't the team stats on the team site? Appreciate what you and Augusta do. Keep Pounding! — Graham, Burgaw, NC

I can't help you with all the (redacted yelling). But I can absolutely help you with stats, at this handy link. We do it for the people.

Without Horn, Woods, or Bell, can the Panthers keep the Dolphins from scoring 49 or more? I say no. (facepalm emoji). — Michigan Vic, Concord, NC

Not only did the Dolphins not get to 49, the Panthers actually held them to 424 yards, well under their average of 513.6 per game. Yeah, that doesn't sound like much, but with what they were working with, it's about the best you could hope for.

Take that, Michigan Vic. Signed, Appalachian State Darin. (Hashtag never forget.)

Just going to ask how the KOOL ADE tastes? There's absolutely nothing else to ask here anymore. — Scott, Hampstead, NC

There are many things to ask, and many new questions to come in the next 11 weeks, for people with genuine intellectual curiosity and the ability to process nuance.

Also, that's not how you spell Kool-Aid.

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