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Carolina Panthers

Ask The Old Guy: So long to the preseason


CHARLOTTE — There are things in this life you endure to get to the better version of that thing.

Builds character.

For some, it's beat-up cars that you had to work menial jobs to afford to put gas in, which may someday lead to a less-beat-up car, perhaps even one that you don't have to put gas in at all.

For many, it's menial jobs that you do so you appreciate a better one and also to have stories to tell later, which makes them sound better than they ever actually were. (The stories aren't nearly as adorable in the moment when you're making $17,000 a year.)

For an increasing number, it's marriages, as you run some plays poorly in the first half before adjustments are made and you finally figure out the communication from the box to the sidelines, and then acquire the personnel with which to run those plays.

But for most, it's preseason football, the necessary evil we endure each August, which gets us to the thing we actually want to participate in.

In the aftermath of a 29th year of participating in this particular necessary evil, and on the occasion of running into yet another of the old friends you meet along the way, I'm at least feeling nostalgic, if not generous, about the entire endeavor. No, it's not quite football. And yes, it's hot. But if I'm being Glass-Half-Full-Darin, I'd also say it's over, and that it could have been worse. It can always get worse.

It could have been a road game.

So we've survived, the lot of us, and now we're on to the thing we spent an entire offseason obsessing over. It's almost here. There are a few more items to check off the list, but next weekend, everybody gets to take one long, last deep breath before it starts up again.

Pat yourself on the back for enduring. Congratulate yourself if you did it without complaint. Run for office if you did it with perspective and without freaking out about things which, in hindsight, you'll realize were never worth that much attention to begin with. We need more who are wise like you.

And yet, there are still plenty of questions here in the 'Bag. It's a heavy 'Bag. I feel more virtuous for lifting it.


Hey D-man, hope you can find a nice not-so-hot place this weekend to drink some cold ones. What position do you think the Panthers will target once roster cuts begin as teams go down to 53 players? My top two would be nose tackle with the semi-surprising release of Marquan McCall and maybe WR with all the injuries we have at that position currently. Would love to hear your thoughts as well! — Reid, Charlotte

The cold ones are easier to find than a cool place to enjoy them, I know that. I didn't expect to come home from Spartanburg, and then for it to get hot.

The next four or five days figure to be busy ones in both comings and goings (but not Nick Goings), and the spots you identified could be on the list.

I'm actually quite curious about the reaction to McCall. He was a solid player last year, and he was the only player on the roster of his particular physical dimension, but he also wasn't exactly Curley Culp or Ted Washington. And when a guy goes from working with the ones in the first week of the preseason to the twos and threes the following week, there's a reasonably obvious signal being sent from the coaching staff. Not everybody picked up on it, I suppose. Anyway, best of luck to Marquan; there are places he fits.

The other signal that's not getting through to some people is that this isn't a traditional 3-4, with a big honking nose tackle in the middle. In other words, they're looking for bigger bodies, as opposed to simply wider bodies. If they could find a couple of cats who were in the 6-5, 320 range, that would be preferable to 6-1, 350s. But yes, I suspect that this week could feature some movement along the defensive line, even in the days after cuts. When you change a defensive scheme, it takes more than one offseason to gather all the parts you need. This isn't a coat of paint in a room; it's a whole-house renovation. And bringing in Shy Tuttle and DeShawn Williams to go with Derrick Brown was a good start, but it's not a finished product.

Receiver might be more of a short-term cover situation since the injuries that left them short Friday night are troubling but not season-ending. That could be a practice-squader coming up for a couple of weeks, as opposed to a big-name signing.

Otherwise, the needs list going into the season could include some reliable cornerback depth (though Troy Hill helps there), possibly a running back that leans to the larger side, and some special teams help. As we explained Friday night, they're running low on dedicated special teamers, and return men always have value. Last year's Andre Roberts experiment was a valid thought, even if it didn't work out.

And for wishing me success in finding refreshment before a long season, I'm making Reid this week's Friend Of The Mailbag and will get the appropriate honorarium on the way to him soon.

Shy Tuttle


Hi Darin! I've been away from the Mailbag for quite some time. These kids of mine take all my time nowadays. Two questions for you: 1) Do the Panthers have an Ickey problem? 2) It's really obvious the Panthers lack depth in most areas of the roster. I know there is a new regime, and good things take time. With that said, how active will Carolina be during roster cuts to build up some better depth? — Jeff, Henderson, NV

Don't get me wrong, I like for all of you to spend time with the Mailbag, and I love being able to pay my mortgage, but you don't have to apologize for hanging out with your babies instead of me.

To answer your questions succinctly, 1) no and 2) fairly.

People started freaking out last year about a dominant run-blocking college left tackle after Ikem Ekwonu gave up three sacks in the first two games of his rookie season. The noise died down when he went 10 weeks without giving up another one. He'll be fine because he's extremely talented, works to get better, and has one of the best line coaches in the league in James Campen, whose job is to maximize that raw material. If the Panthers have 99 problems, an Ick ain't one.

As to the second question, there's a reason you'll never see me refer to what happens on Tuesday as final cuts. And this year, it feels like it's going to be less final than other years.

As mentioned above, my suspicion is that the defensive line figures to be a spot that gets a lot of attention, but it's not the only one.

Ikem Ekwonu


Do the coaches see something in CB CJ Henderson that I am missing? He can't cover anyone. Doesn't come up to tackle people on his own. It seems the film of previous games would speak for itself. He is the go-to for other teams when they need a first down. Lifelong PSL holder if it matters. — Joe, Charlotte

Yes. They do.

Frank Reich might have raised some eyebrows when he referred to Henderson as "Mr. Consistency" the other day, but the fact is, he's had a good camp.

Henderson is supremely talented and always has been. Becoming more consistent is the part he's struggled with. And while Reich is a generally positive person, he's not just blowing smoke to make someone feel better.

If Henderson gets targeted a lot, it's likely because the other options are throwing at Jaycee Horn (and word's on the street that it is not a viable alternative) and Donte Jackson (who picks off a lot of passes). Part of this is also the standard you're basing expectations on. If you think of him as a top-10 pick as he was in Jacksonville, that's one thing. But here, he's a third corner they traded a third-rounder for. Perspective helps.

He's also going into a contract year after the Panthers turned down his fifth-year option. That tends to bring out the best in players. We'll see what it looks like on the field. (Although we may not see it in the opener, as much as the Falcons want to run it.)

CJ Henderson


Hi Darin! I'm curious to know if Scott Fitterer or Frank Reich has the final say or (I guess probably) it's more of a collaborative effort in reaching this initial 53-man roster. And if it's collaborative, the coordinators, positional coaches, scouts (to know which players might get cut on other teams), and Samir Suleiman (cap numbers) all participate, or Frank and Scott meet with them before and then make a final decision together? Thanks! (And best wishes to those who won't make the roster!) — Fernando, São Paulo, Brazil

See how Fernando referred to it as the "initial" 53? He gets it.

The short answer is it takes a village to put a roster together. Cap considerations are part of every decision, and the pro scouts have been busy watching a lot of preseason tape. They divide up the league, so each of them has a certain amount of teams to watch. They're reporting back to Fitterer and assistant GM Dan Morgan on likely cuts from other teams, and targets for potential trades.

Then, they all get together and talk through it. And then Frank and Scott spend a lot of time together this week. They're wired for this kind of communication. This isn't the time of year for someone who just likes to bulldoze through a conversation. They're both natural collaborators. Not everyone is.

Scott Fitterer, Frank Reich


So you saw Foxy at the game. How was that? Was it, in fact, what it was? — Will, Rock Hill, SC

Anytime you see John Fox, your day gets better. Especially if you're at the combine.

But he's great, and is enjoying the life of being a senior assistant with the Lions (he was comparing notes with Jim Caldwell and Dom Capers, and they were all smiling because they've got the best racket in the game. Do all the cool stuff you enjoy [talk ball, help people, free clothes] without being responsible for all the bad stuff you hate [cutting people, paperwork, dealing with media]).

Fox and I dealt with each other every day for nine years. You build up a rapport. So Friday, he looked at me and said: "I didn't expect to see you with long hair," so I replied: "And I didn't expect to see you skinny." There was always the opportunity for a back-and-forth with John. He's good at the banter. He'd rip me for something; I'd give it back. Usually, each of us took it in the spirit in which it was intended. Usually.

He's lived a life in this game, from his USFL honeymoon to coming through the ranks as an assistant, to turning one of the worst defenses in the NFL to one of the best, and going to a Super Bowl with an unknown quarterback in his second year in charge here. It stayed good for a while, then it didn't, and then he moved on to Denver. Won a bunch of games there and called shotgun when it was time to pick Peyton Manning up on a free agent visit (John Elway was driving, and only Fox would send Manning to the back seat). It's probably best to leave the Chicago chapter out of that book.

As I wrote in 2002 when he got the Panthers job (when I had a less-good job that only nostalgia polishes up), Fox was good at football, but he was better at people. The universe tends to reward people like that.

Make fun of him if you want for saying, "Picked a bad day to have a bad day," or "A punt is not a bad play." If you can disprove either of those statements factually, the next round's on me.

So it was good to catch up. This photo Kenny Richmond got is simply ridiculous in the best way. It was not, as it turns out, our first barbecue.

Old Guy, John Fox


Comment/question from an older guy. I remember when we drafted #89 (third round, maybe?) primarily as a punt returner. When he got a chance to play WR in his first year, I remember being impressed that when the ball was in the air, no one was going to "out-fight" him for it. In my mind, he is the most fierce competitor that has ever worn a Panthers uniform. Consequently, he and Jake Delhomme developed a special relationship of trust and accountability.

Fast forward to the Detroit game last year, and I was saying, who is this DJ Chark Jr. guy? I was very impressed with his speed, route running, and seemingly selling out to make the catch. From what I am reading about camp, he continues to impress. My question is, have you seen the beginning of a similar relationship between DJ And Bryce Young? Hope springs eternal. — Jim, Charlotte

That's asking a lot to replicate the Steve Smith connection with Delhomme. All they really did together was put up one of the best seasons a receiver had in NFL history in 2005.

But Chark had an excellent training camp after missing OTAs when he was recovering from an offseason ankle procedure. The daily DJ highlight was a feature of Spartanburg this year.

Young's also shown signs of having a vibe with veteran Adam Thielen (though they might need to get some work under the lights before Monday of Week 2), particularly in the red zone. Thielen knows how to get open in short spaces. Young seems to have a knack for finding those.

But that kind of Smith-Delhomme chemistry only comes with time and work. If you're old enough to remember Smith getting drafted, you're old enough to understand not everything is instant grits.


Darin, last time I wrote to you, I was full of optimism, maybe a little too full, you admonished. My optimism remains, but a bit more tempered by reality. At this stage, with the regular season now upon us, it is time for the Panthers to establish an identity. It is time for Bryce to take charge of the offense and become the field general that he is capable of, even though he is young. I see some real leadership ability in him and also think that the Panthers are just waiting for that rare individual who can transform a bunch of individual players into a formidable TEAM! I think that both Bryce and Matt Corral have the potential to be that person.

Same with the Defense. We need someone to stand up and fill the leadership role of Luke Kuechly! He was the force to be reckoned with on defense. The Panthers have a very talented defense, but right now, they not only are having to learn a new scheme, but they are playing as individuals, NOT as a team. Remember the word I used in an earlier letter? Our Defense needs to take one word and make it their mantra ..... DOMINATION! Don't just play the game ..... DOMINATE the game! However, they need a Defensive Field General like Luke was. Who is willing and able to step up and take that responsibility? Who will be the next LUKE?

Bryce, the game begins NOW! Time for you to fulfill your calling and TAKE CHARGE of the offense. Demand nothing less than what Sam Mills embodied. Get the ball moving downfield and KEEP POUNDING! Defense, find your identity, and find your leader, then rally around him and DOMINATE THE FIELD, every inch of it!

Darin, all Panther fans need to get behind this team and push them, encourage them, but also demand from them excellence. NOW is the time for US to become the 12th player on the field! GO PANTHERS! — Jim, Timberlake, NC

I already sent Jim a FOTM T-shirt, but I kind of want to keep him on retainer to just walk around behind me and offer encouragement in his own particular way. I feel like the people around Jim on a daily basis aren't content to give half-effort for fear of disappointing him.

Although, we're also setting some pretty high bars for players this week.

One does not simply become Luke Kuechly, one of the rare linebackers and leaders in the game.

But it has been interesting watching a few things develop on defense this year. Vonn Bell kind of walked in the door with the gravity they needed, but new people don't automatically become leaders.

Reich's talked a good bit about Brian Burns this preseason, for good reason.

Even though he's in the middle of contract talks, Burns has practiced at a high level every day. Don't believe me, go back and watch Camp Confidential, Episode 2, and see what Aaron Rodgers thinks.


If I may be so bold as to try and occupy the Weekly Corral Corner. Watching (and rewatching) the Giants game, I feel like Matt Corral has shown that he is more than worth taking a third QB into the regular season. I fear that if we try to put him on a practice squad, he will be snapped up as soon as possible. The real question, though, is where do we take that extra QB slot from? We need depth at DB and D-Line. The O-Line needs extra beef, if only because those guys take a pounding every week. With the way our RB room has been bitten by the injury bug, I'd be afraid to cut a slot from there. I never was good at math, but it just seems like we don't have the space for Matt in the final 53. But at the same time, we need to make room for him. — Nathan, Grand Prairie, TX

This really is one of the most interesting philosophical debates of the preseason (and frankly, I can't imagine life without the Weekly Matt Corral question).

The Panthers built a coaching staff to develop a quarterback. The priority is obviously Young, but Corral benefits from all of that wisdom as well.

And Reich acknowledged last week that because quarterbacks are a scarce commodity, it's hard to let go of one if he has potential. And everything we've seen from Corral this preseason suggests progress.

That doesn't mean he's guaranteed a roster spot. All those issues Nate referenced are real. To keep a third quarterback demands going short someplace else. Injuries complicate that. And the Panthers have enough of the kind of annoying injuries (in terms of volume rather than duration) that could complicate things for Corral and others. They're likely to have to cut somebody they'd rather keep to account for some of those issues.

Whether Corral is one of those feels like a decision that will be agonized over and discussed in great detail as they try to balance short-term needs and long-term goals.


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.

I'm not sure if this is the right place to ask this question but you were the first person I thought of. I just read about the Keep Pounding for Maui shirts the team will be wearing tonight. Will those shirts also be available to the public as a way to donate to the fund? Thanks! — Richard, High Point, NC

We've had a number of questions about this, but at the moment, there were only enough ordered for players and staff. But if you want to make a donation to support Kamu Grugier-Hills efforts to keep some attention on the devastation in Hawaii, you can click on this link to read more about it, and follow the links to the appropriate organizations.

Will the halftime show be televised also; the grandson's pee-wee football team is playing? — Mitch, Davidson, NC

Not sure how much made the broadcast (blame Matt Ryan and CBS), but that would have been great. Those kids were getting after it. Kid football is one of the best halftime shows of the year. The only thing that can possibly top it would be monkeys riding dogs.

This isn't exactly a football question, but whenever I've seen Dom Capers through the years, I've wondered if he still has the Dodge Viper that Jerry Richardson gave him when he was head coach here? — Steve, Biscoe, NC

That was a former sponsorship perk, but that was a beautiful car. Dom only drove it on Fridays, though, because when you have something that nice, you have to appreciate it. Dom worked hard to earn that car. Character was clearly built.

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