Ask The Old Guy: No room for complacency

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CHARLOTTE — A funny thing happened as we were putting together this week's mailbag.

There wasn't quite as much mail.

Are you people spoiled? Has a 2-0 start made you complacent? If Matt Rhule's going to expect his football players to be the same guy every day, I'm going to expect the same thing from readers.

It's probably human nature to have more to say when things go poorly than when things are going well.

And things are going reasonably well, though there are obviously still some things they need to get better at. Some of the more prevalent issues of the offseason and training camp have faded a bit, as fans have seen what appears to be the makings of a very good defense.

Now, it's raining outside, so I fully expect some of you people to have some more stuff to gripe about in the near future.

But for now, let's get right into it the short-week version (no 4,000-word behemoths this week) of the mailbag:

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Based on Matt Rhule's press conference Monday I think it's something that the coaching staff is aware of, but I'd like to know if there will be extra emphasis on this week's game against the Texans? A surprising 2-0 start (at least surprising for the national media), a national TV prime time game, short rest on the road, against a supposedly bad Texans team with a rookie QB — all the makings of a trap game for a young team that should not be resting on its laurels. I hope they (players and staff) don't fall into that and follow the "1-0" mantra every week. — Fernando, Sao Paulo, Brazil

It might be tempting, except there are fairly regular reminders around this building that going 1-0 each week is all that matters.

Rhule said as much, noting that when people text him to congratulate him on a 2-0 start, he reminds them that going 1-0 in that particular week is the only thing he thinks about.

It's not just something they say, either. Coaches are wired differently than the rest of us, particularly fans. There's a natural sense of optimism created by a couple of early wins, but this is a long season (longer by a game this year), so a lot can still happen. When we look back on the course of the year, catching a Jets team with a rookie quarterback making his first start, and then a displaced Saints team missing a handful of key starters and half the coaching staff because of COVID-19 might not look as impressive.

But when all you focus on is the one in front of you, it's easier to not worry about that kind of stuff, and just be glad you took care of that week's priority.

As Twitter content goes, it's not always the most dynamic stuff, but as a staff, they seem to be on message.

I think having a young team helps, but the offseason emphasis on bringing in guys from teams that have won was also part of it. DaQuan Jones was around when the Titans went from bad to good. Morgan Fox was on quality Rams teams. That matters when you're trying to create that "culture" that all coaches want to build.

It's one thing to say it, but having guys that have lived it helps.

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With it being a short week, wouldn't this be a great opportunity to see what Deonte Brown or Brady Christensen have at the left guard position, with their young, spry legs and all? — Greg, Tega Cay SC

Are those legs sticking out of your cargo shorts spry?

Actually, in a short week, it makes more sense (to me) to lean on someone who has been in an NFL game.

Dennis Daley will get the first shot to replace Pat Elflein at left guard Thursday night, though they want him to play better than he did in his first start Sunday.

As we noted in this here mailbag recently, they do like what they've seen from Christensen and Brown, and they could be factors in the lineup sooner rather than later. But coaches always seem to lean toward known commodities, and for the time being, that means Daley's going to get the nod.

But stay tuned.

The line clearly needs to play better, and until it does with some consistency, I think they'll continue to consider their alternatives.

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Love your work, and I am so glad you are back writing for the Panthers. I've transitioned from "Grill Bill," and I am thoroughly enjoying your perspective on the Panthers from the inside. Despite the occasional late-game sack/QB hit from the Saints' defense on Sunday, I thought the Panthers' O-Line held up pretty OK. However, Elflein went down and we are looking at a short week vs Houston. Do you expect to see Michael Jordan take a few snaps at left guard? Thank you so much for interacting with the Panthers Fan Base! #KeepPounding — Juan, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Grill Bill? Never heard of it. Otherwise, thanks for the kind note.

And for the record, that makes it South America 2, South Carolina 1 in this week's mailbag scorecard.

It also makes Juan this week's Ask The Old Guy Friend of the Mailbag, and as soon as we have merch, he's getting the eighth piece of it behind me, Hal from Canada, Westray from Kershaw, Joseph formerly of Concord who's moving away for some big fancy job with a desk, Sunny from Houston, Adam from Germany, and Long-Winded Donovan.

Jordan's an interesting cat. When you see him on the practice field, he's the kind of massive player you want at the position.

But when they claimed him off waivers, they all but acknowledged the former fourth-round pick from Ohio State was someone they wanted to develop. That means they weren't in a hurry.

The problem with bringing in new offensive linemen is that their position is generally among the ones with the longest transition time. Schemes are so particular, and communication is so important, that expecting a new guy to come in and play quickly in a new place is difficult.

But because of his physical skills, they clearly want to learn more about him, and see if he can become a contributor in the future. Of course, if injuries keep stacking up, they might not have as much runway as they'd prefer, but he's certainly an interesting prospect. And by the time he's been here for a month, he could be ready to compete for some playing time, or at least a jersey on game days since he's been inactive the first two weeks.

Michael Jordan

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Any Zippos available, or are we stuck with a bunch of Bics? — Andrew, Charlotte

This guy, this guy has been around a while. Either that, or I tell the same stories and use the same lines over and over, and he happened to catch it once or a million times.

One of my grand theories of football is that kickers are kind of like cigarette lighters. You either want to invest in a good one and keep it forever, or just buy cheap ones and hope for the best until they run out of gas.

Panthers fans probably got spoiled with 15 years of John Kasay (who was definitely a Zippo). That kind of longevity is exceedingly not normal. So when you see teams find a kicker they really like, they really want to hang onto them.

But unless you have an elite kicker, the difference between the top non-elite kicker and the 28th-best kicker in the league isn't big. That's why teams in that vast middle will often shuffle around the same set of guys.

There's a belief in some league circles that the best time to catch a kicker is after a bad year, because the bounce-back factor is significant. That's what the Panthers are hoping for with Zane Gonzalez, who was 88.6 percent on field goals for the Cardinals in 2019, but just 72.7 percent last year. (Those numbers are also a little deceiving because of the small sample size. Gonzalez missed four field goals in 2019, in 35 attempts. He missed six last year, but only tried 22).

The other reality is they all miss sometimes, even the good ones. The season is only two weeks old, and only 11 kickers in the league have made all their field goals and all their extra points. There are 32 teams. This is a supply and demand problem. And unless your neighborhood convenience store has a rack of Pro Bowl kickers next to the scratchers, this is a short-term fix rather than a long-term one.

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Hey Darin! Even though Sam is a pocket passer first, we all know he is athletic and can move. Do you anticipate seeing any designed runs from Darnold? — Christian, Fayetteville, NC

Darnold appears to be more of an athlete than he gets credit for. He showed some decent wheels on his draw for a touchdown against the Jets. It may not have had quite the drama of Steve Beuerlein against the Packers back in the day, but it was good.

He can move the pocket a bit, but planning for him to run more on purpose might be a stretch.

Also, any time he's carrying the ball is a time Christian McCaffrey is not, so I'm not sure the cost-benefit is there on that one.

But he's certainly capable, and as an element-of-surprise factor, it's absolutely something opponents have to consider.

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What goes on in the Panthers locker room at halftime? It seems to never fail that the third quarter is some sort of black hole where the team just goes through the motions. — Earnie, Conway, SC

Hot soups. They eat heavy, heavy soups. Occasionally bisques. Chowders sometimes.

This is already a topic after two weeks, but two weeks could be an unsteady fact set from which to draw conclusions.

Both Rhule and Darnold were asked about it Tuesday.

Rhule said he looks more at the particulars of why certain plays or drives didn't work than drawing any overarching themes. Darnold talked about needing to play with more "energy," which is kind of hard to define.

If we get a few more weeks into the season and they still haven't scored a touchdown in the third quarter, then it'll be worth a deeper investigation into what's going on down there. But for now, it might be too soon.

They did start the second half of the Saints game by forcing a three-and-out on defense, and following with a 10-play drive on offense. That one ended with a blocked field goal. If it goes in, then it would have appeared to have broken the streak after one week. Ask me again in two more weeks.

Also, I suddenly want to know more about the soup.

Shaq Thompson

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Do you think that Shaq Thompson could be a potentially defensive player of the year? — Gordon, Port Royal, SC

I don't know that he's got the kind of profile to win national awards (and being in mid-market Charlotte doesn't help), but the way he's played through two games is certainly going to get attention.

We've always known he's athletic. He's now athletic with a purpose and the knowledge to be able to capitalize on it.

And not to get too heavy into coach-speak here, but having a guy like DaQuan Jones around certainly helps. When a linebacker knows that a defensive tackle will absolutely be in the gap he's supposed to be in, it allows him to flow to the ball faster because he doesn't have to worry about possibly adjusting for someone else's mistake.

But this isn't all about others.

Thompson's playing some of his best football, and doing so in his old/new jersey number makes you remember just how dynamic a player he was in college.

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Any thoughts on why we didn't bring in kicker Jake Verity from the Ravens practice squad? Seems like he was kicking the ball well and could have stepped right in, given that he was giving Justin Tucker a run for his money in Baltimore? — Kyle, Clover SC

First off, Verity might turn out to be the truth.

(I'll wait for you all to laugh at my clever wordplay. ... Thank you. You're too kind.)

But he was not giving Tucker a run for his money. That guy is a Zippo.

Verity is certainly an interesting prospect, but a few things might give a team pause. First off, the former ECU kicker missed a 40-yarder in the preseason finale and had one blocked. But again, every kicker misses sometimes.

But the Panthers also had the benefit of seeing him up close during two days of joint practices during training camp. Those snaps in a practice that others might not have noticed while focused on Lamar Jackson and Christian McCaffrey could have given them pause.

They were willing to go with a three-week salary guarantee to sign Gonzalez off the Lions' practice squad, but he's had success at the NFL level before.

If Verity turns out to be the next Harrison Butker — who was stuck behind a dependable veteran and had to find success elsewhere — then we'll revisit. But at the moment, it's certainly defensible to go with a guy who is in his fifth year in the league as opposed to a rookie.

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How can I listen to or watch Panthers games in Virginia Beach? — Jonathan, Virginia Beach, VA

Well, you can always listen to the dulcet tones of Mick Mixon and the Panthers Radio Network on your desktop computer at Panthers.com anywhere in the country for every game. (On the always-handy Panthers app, radio broadcasts are available within 90 miles of Charlotte.)

The Panthers app streams the games for free in the places where it's already carried on TV. So for Thursday Night Football, a national broadcast on NFL Network means free streaming on the Panthers app anywhere in the country.

But keep an eye out each week on this site for the weekly TV map. Depending on what times other teams are playing, the Panthers coverage sometimes expands or shrinks around the Southeast.

Beyond that, NFL Sunday Ticket is the answer for out-of-market games. Hope that helps.

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That's going to take care of us for this week, with a word of warning. Bring the good stuff next week, or I'm making you all run gassers after practice. Or something.

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