Ask the Old Guy: Tales from Spartanburg

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SPARTANBURG — Welcome to the inaugural edition of the Ask The Old Guy mailbag.

I appreciate the flood of responses we had for this week, which stems from the genuine curiosity about this team. (And for the record, I reserve the right to repurpose leftovers like I do at home. So if you don't see your question this week, stay tuned. It might get turned into soup or meatloaf).

We had multiple versions of these first two questions, because they're probably two of the most pertinent ones entering camp, and you guys aren't the only people who don't know the answers (including this guy, thumbs emoji).

But that's what training camp is for, finding stuff out. So let's jump in.

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How much does the negative view of Sam Darnold's play while with the Jets affect the way Panthers fans view his potential for this year? Should those years be viewed as a one-off? - CHUCK, WEST JEFFERSON, N.C.

Love that our first question comes from the High Country. My people. West Jefferson is obviously the greatest of the Jeffersons in Ashe County, and the best way to get fresh delicious cheese without flying to Wisconsin.

To answer your question, I think the answer is "a lot."

Because we should all be more gracious and forgiving, I think it's reasonable to not hold the Jets against anyone who isn't there anymore.

Sam Darnold

Darnold was never really put in a position to succeed in New York, in terms of expectations and help. When you're drafted high in the first round there, you're expected to fix things immediately, and alone. The fact he was replaced by another high first-round pick shows you that it keeps not working.

Darnold could be an upgrade over Teddy Bridgewater, if only because he has a better arm. But we can't know at the moment whether he will be or not. If he keeps throwing it to the wrong team the way he did with the Jets, maybe not.

But they've taken great pains to insulate Darnold this offseason, to keep it from being all about him. They gave him better skill position talent than he's ever had, and they've managed expectations to keep it from being such a pressure-cooker.

He's in a position to play well. Now it's on him to do so. And if he does, people will be correct to give him a second chance.

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Who is going to protect our quarterback at left tackle this year? I don't see him on our 90-man roster, and we have cap space! - CAMERON, RALEIGH

Cameron is obviously a seer, as he has recognized that the cap savings that came with extending right tackle Taylor Moton gives them some flexibility. I might appreciate (and so might general manager Scott Fitterer) if Cameron could share the list of available left tackles who are just hanging out waiting for the Panthers to sign them.

The guys who are out there at the moment are either old or coming off injuries. The best name of the bunch would be Russell Okung, and they let him walk after a year, which doesn't suggest a high interest.

The Panthers might not have a Jordan Gross on the roster at the moment, but Jordan Grosses aren't available.

My guess is that when they practice Wednesday, that Cameron Erving will get the first shot at the job. But it could be Trent Scott, if he's healthy (he's coming off shoulder surgery). It could be Dennis Daley, who has played well when healthy.

If no one jumps up and grabs the job, there's a chance they could turn to Moton himself, who has played more on the right and is better at it. If they get a couple of weeks into camp and want to do that, they'd want to give Moton all his reps on the left so he could get used to it, and then find a replacement at right tackle.

That could be rookie Brady Christensen, that could be Scott or Daley, that could be Greg Little.

But it's not some magical Pro Bowl regular who is just sitting by his phone waiting for it to ring, because those guys don't really exist.

Shaq Thompson

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With Tre Boston and Kawann Short off the roster, who do you see being an under-the-radar leader for the defense (other than Jeremy Chinn and Brian Burns)? - DAVID, CHARLOTTE

You don't need me to answer that. You just need Burns.

He talked this spring about linebacker Shaq Thompson being one of the driving forces to get guys to show up for voluntary workouts this spring. (Which of course, you'd know if you read this story on Panthers.com, ahem, yesterday. Let this be a lesson to the rest of you).

"As a defense, I know Shaq came to me, and he was like 'We're all trying to get to OTAs and get to know each other and get through the teaching stage,'" Burns said. "I was all for it. I like being around the guys and being in the building, so it didn't bother me at all."

A lot of holdovers from the previous administration are gone, but Thompson has held on, in part because he bought into what the new coaching staff is selling.

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Tell us your favorite "player arriving to training camp" story of all time. - MATT, CHARLOTTE

Say please. No, actually, thank you. I am so glad somebody asked this. You're the John Stockton to my Karl Malone of this particular mailbag. I bet you're wearing high socks as we speak, if only to hide your pasty shins.

In 2001, we were standing outside Greene Hall, when a Yellow Cab pulled up. Yellow Cabs are not particularly common here, so the natural reporter curiosity kicked in. Out of the taxi popped Ron Merkerson, a former Patriots draft pick who had just played linebacker for the New York/New Jersey Hitmen of the original XFL. This made him a second-level curiosity, and the kind of guy you figure you'd want to talk to during camp to talk about the difference of experience between the leagues.

In the course of talking to Big Merk, I happened to ask him why he took a cab, since most guys drive themselves or catch a ride.

"I got up early this morning, I made a couple of calls to see who was coming early, and I needed to get here a little earlier, so I grabbed a cab, jumped on the Greyhound and got here," Merkerson said. "I don't have a car out here like some guys — they got to ride down here in style."

He was so determined to be here early and make a good impression, that he came off the hip for a $16 ticket on the crack-of-dawn 'Hound.

The only problem, the Panthers needed a couple of roster spots when they signed draft picks Dan Morgan and Chris Weinke on the eve of camp. One of those spots came when they cut the arthritic Chuck Smith, but the other became Merkerson.

For the record, team officials were chagrined to learn that he did that, since they arranged rides for anyone who needed one. Poor Merk just didn't know. With a little luck, he kept his receipt, and was reimbursed for one of the shortest stays in Wofford history.

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Did the Panthers sign Ha Ha Clinton-Dix after his tryout during minicamp? - CHRIS, NICHOLS, S.C.

They did not. The Texans didn't either when they worked him out previously. That suggests the former first-rounder might not be catching on with anyone at this point.

The Panthers used some of those workout spots during camps as chances to build the emergency lists, and it's possible some of those guys will show up soon if they need injury fill-ins. But it doesn't appear that Clinton-Dix is imminent.

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Multiple reports this week had Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck being spotted house-hunting in Los Angeles. Your thoughts? - JORGE, ORANGE, CALIF.

If they really loved each other, they'd be looking in Spartanburg. We have Wade's and the Beacon Drive-In here.

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I was born in 1992. Been a fan since 1995. Will we win a Super Bowl in my lifetime? - DEANNA, FORSYTH, GA.

Depends. Do you go to Wade's and the Beacon Drive-In a lot?

There are 32 teams with the same goals and plans to work hard right now, and while a lot of people might not want to acknowledge this, the results of sports games often depend on random occurrences. Bad luck can derail the best-executed plans.

What I will say is, the Panthers are on a better trajectory to be competitive than they were a year ago this time.

There's a pile of dead money on the books this year, but most of it goes away prior to 2022, and they don't have a lot of bad long-term deals on the books. They don't have a lot on the books period, with just 31 guys under contract through the 2023 season.

They built it that way on purpose, to give themselves financial flexibility in the future, while they're deciding who they want to be on the team.

At a certain point, they'll want to lock up more players, but preferably their own, guys like DJ Moore and Brian Burns. They're in a position to be able to make a number of moves, an agility that came as a result of doing things a particular way.

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What really caused Luke Kuechly's sudden departure from the Panthers organization? Panthers blood flows through his veins. — WAYNE, ARDEN, NC

It absolutely does. But as Kuechly himself said in May, it had something to do with wanting to go fishing every now and then.

When a lot of players become former players, they don't know what to do with themselves. They know how to football, so the natural inclination is to keep footballing.

But the ones who have been fortunate enough to make enough money have a different liberty, and a lot of them find out an ugly secret about the football business — it's really hard.

Coaches and scouts work ridiculous hours. Until they become head coaches or GMs, they don't make a pile of money (relative to star players). It's a lot of work. Not everybody wants to grind like that, every day, for the rest of their lives.

And if they have the ability to not work those kind of hours, and actually still get to enjoy themselves from time to time, why wouldn't they?

I don't think we've seen the last of Kuechly in a football-adjacent capacity, but he deserves the chance to enjoy time with his family while he can.

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Interesting fact, rookie running back Chuba Hubbard and former Carolina Hurricane goalie Cam Ward both attended Bev Facey High School in Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada.HAL, SHERWOOD PARK, ALBERTA

I would ordinarily mock Hal for not phrasing this in the form of a question. But I did fact-check him to make sure he wasn't pulling some Canadian fast one on me.

But it's the first mailbag ever, so instead of mocking Hal, or questioning Hal, I am naming him our first ever Ask The Old Guy Ambassador to Canada.

If there's ever merch, Hal is getting the second piece of it.

Hubbard's likely the fastest Canadian running back in Panthers franchise history — since Tshimanga Biakabutuka was born in Zaire before moving to Quebec when he was 4.

And I mean, I don't have to tell you about Cam Ward (he says, while Googling Cam Ward because I have a gnat-like attention span when it comes to hockey. Every year during the playoffs, I fall in love with it again for the first time).

I love Hal. I love Canada. Canada is great. Joey Votto is the best of the baseball players, and I will fight anyone who argues with me. Or not, because that wouldn't be very Canadian.

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I have been a fan of the team since its inception. It has been a glorious ride. Since you have the benefit of "having covered all five coaches here," give us a top five with some analysis, if possible. Which former head coach would win a game of charades? Poker? Golf? Monopoly? Chess? - PAUL, WILMINGTON, N.C.

I'm going with George Seifert for charades. George was a brilliant and interesting guy, it's just a shame he did all his best coaching in San Francisco. But if you ever saw him bossa nova, you know he has a flair for the dramatic. George was bright and curious, so I liked George even though he was bad at his job.

Poker has to be Ron Rivera if only because of the nickname, right? Though he was never much of a bluffer. He's too honest to be great at poker. I wouldn't bet against John Fox on the golf course, and Dom Capers was so meticulously organized and planned that he'd wear you out in Monopoly.

Still learning Matt Rhule. It's a process. Get back to me later, and I reserve the right to change my rankings, or make up new ones to suit me.

OK, that will cover us for today. Thanks to so many people for reaching out. And if you didn't see your question, there's a reasonable chance I didn't either. So tune in next time.

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