It feels good to be back.
OK, so I haven't actually gone anywhere, unless you count what seem like countless vacations this summer in the maniacal mind of Bill Voth. Speaking of, the usual author in this spot is himself on vacay, so I'm filling in for my first mailbag duty in more than a year.
I inhabited this space from training camp in 2012 until around this time last year. During my run, fans posed upwards of 10,000 questions and I answered about 1,000 of them, starting with one about the No. 3 wideout spot behind Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell (David Gettis was the leader in the clubhouse) and ending with the suggestion that a victory at the Patriots in Week 4 of last season could launch a special season (the Panthers did win and did make the playoffs but didn't make any noise once there).
Staying true to Bill's formula, I guess I should kick it off with a serious query, but also like Bill, that won't last long.
Website submission from Cody in Lexington: Just curious, what do you think the future is for Cameron Artis-Payne with us getting C.J. Anderson and already having Christian McCaffrey? Do you think CAP will see any playing time this year besides preseason?
I was just in Lexington (North Carolina) this past weekend; I lived in the self-described "Barbecue Capital of the World" for four years in the 1990s. I checked out two BBQ joints last Saturday after soaking in the out-of-place, out-of-this world Childress Vineyards. Pork and cork. But the best called for a spoon, not fork.
Oh yeah, you asked a question. Artis-Payne was the first player we featured when offseason workouts began in mid-April. He arrived in great shape physically and mentally, ready to possibly take over the bruising back role previously held by Jonathan Stewart. His position seemed to strengthen when the Panthers passed on drafting a running back later that month, but a few days later Carolina signed 1,000-yard rusher C.J. Anderson.
Artis-Payne remained upbeat and involved throughout offseason workouts, and he has owned the offseason in the past. Last year, he paced the entire NFL with 180 rushing yards in the preseason. Every August, head coach Ron Rivera has touted Artis-Payne's ability and has said he could have an expanded role come the regular season. It never happened with Stewart in the backfield, and Artis-Payne totally understood it.
It might well play out the same with Anderson now in the backfield, but I would think the coaching staff would be quicker to give Artis-Payne a chance if Anderson bogs down versus when an all-time franchise great in Stewart struggled. If the running game is clicking, fans won't worry (OK, maybe some fantasy players will) about who's doing the damage. If it's clicking behind Anderson and Christian McCaffrey, it would be good to know that Artis-Payne is again waiting in the wings if needed.
Sure I see the appeal of your contribution to the suggestion box, but I wouldn't want Bill to be away very long. I'd sorely miss his presence (and his bylines) at the grind that can be training camp.
Your question made me realize for the first time how truly north of Charlotte the land of Cleve - the land formerly occupied by LeBron - is. Now I'm not one of these geographically challenged products of the American education system. I was in fact borderline obsessed with U.S. geography as a tyke, priding myself on knowing all my state capitals at an early age. My favorite things to color and favorite puzzles were U.S. maps. Strange I know.
Yet somehow until this moment, I thought of Ohio as just as much west as north of Charlotte. My idea of heading north on I-77 involved a trip to Lake Norman, but it turns out the "I" stands for interstate, and Cleveland is pretty much due north eight hours up 77. Who knew? Well, I suspect Bill did.
Since I'm just borrowing Bill's space, I'll share some but they'll include Carolina connections along the way.
In my mind, the best representation of the Browns since their return to the NFL in 1999 following a three-year absence is this: In the 2014 movie "Draft Day," which I saw as part of an advanced screening with fellow Panthers employees, a poster hanging on the walls of Browns headquarters commemorated a victory over the Panthers. A victory in 2010. When the Panthers went 2-14. A poster, protected for posterity under glass.
The Browns have enjoyed a double-digit-win season just once this century, and they didn't even enjoy that. In 2007, Cleveland finished 10-6 – but still didn't qualify for the playoffs. The quarterback? Derek Anderson.
The Indians by comparison have been competitive the last few years, though their last title coincides with the Browns' glory days (yes, that is a thing). The Indians' last World Series victory was in 1948, which took over as the longest current drought when they lost to a Cubs team that hadn't won it since 1908 in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series (The Browns in 1948 were on the front end of an unmatched run of success, believe it or not. They advanced to their league championship each of their first 10 years of existence. The first four all resulted in titles in the NFL-challenging All-American Football Conference, which promptly folded. The Browns and 49ers transitioned from the AAFC to the NFL, and the Browns proceeded to play in the next six title games, winning three).
As for the Cavaliers, sure I could talk about LeBron, but I don't want to. Did you know that the original Charlotte Hornets welcomed the Cavs for the first game in franchise history in 1988? Three months later, as a senior in high school, I attended my first NBA game and it too was against the Cavs, a 110-91 loss for Kelly Tripucka and Co. that was at least more competitive than the 133-93 loss in the franchise debut.
The game that I attended – I still have the pennant I purchased – saw all five Cavs starters reach double digits. North Carolina native Brad Daugherty and Hot Rod Williams (who appeared together in the Whoopi Goldberg joint "Eddie" a few years later) were joined in double digits by future Charlotte Bobcats assistant coaches Mark Price and Mike Sanders. The Cavs were paced that night by 25 points from Ron Harper, a five-time NBA champion. He didn't win any of them in Cleveland.
For it to truly be a rivalry, it can't just be the same person winning over and over, can it?
With that, time for me to hand it back over to Bill.