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Carolina Panthers

Trades near deadline rare for Panthers


The Panthers are a very talented team, no doubt, but do you think maybe they are one player away from being a great team? Do they need to draft well again, or make any trades? – Andrew in Austin, Texas

The NFL Draft is always crucial to the success of any franchise. Trades traditionally haven't been a big vehicle for the Panthers, but they can be valuable if the timing is right.

On the eve of training camp last season, the Panthers acquired tight end Greg Olsen from the Chicago Bears. That's obviously paid dividends. Trading for wide receiver Raghib "Rocket" Rocket Ismail in 1996, defensive end Al Wallace in 2002 and safety Chris Harris in 2006 turned out well, too.

This year's trade deadline is Tuesday. Of the 27 non-draft-day trades made in franchise history, just one was made between the beginning of the regular season and the in-season deadline, when the Panthers acquired former North Carolina State defensive tackle Tank Tyler in 2009.

Why can't the Panthers finish games? – Nate in Atlanta

If you saw the game against the Falcons on Sept. 30, you witnessed the most painful example of that, when Atlanta rallied in the final minute from its 1-yard line to edge Carolina 30-28.

"We've had so many games come down to the last drive that it's causing me to get gray hair," quarterback Cam Newton said. "Then if you go back and look at the game, you see they shouldn't have even been close."

There is truth to that. If Newton hadn't fumbled on Carolina's last drive in that game, Atlanta wouldn't have had a last drive. Last week against Dallas, avoiding a second-quarter interception in the end zone could have set up a different end-of-game scenario.

The reality, though, is that both teams are going to miss opportunities, and many games are going to come down to the very end. If one play had gone another way in a couple of instances, we'd be talking about how good the Panthers are at finishing games. Instead, the Panthers are now charged with finding a way to build their confidence in such situations.

It seems like everyone is putting blame on Cam Newton and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski. Why has nobody put blame on the offensive line? Last year it seemed like holes opened up left and right for our running backs, and Cam had 10 minutes to see where he wanted to throw the ball. Now Cam has someone in his face on almost every play, and our running backs have nowhere to run. – Clayton in Carolina Beach, N.C.

The offensive line has taken some heat, but the reality is that in football, higher-profile positions like quarterback and running back typically are targeted for the brunt of the blame.

The Panthers' front has had its share of troubles, and the recent season-ending injury to Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil obviously doesn't help matters. This line does, however, have a recent history of overcoming slow starts, though getting well against the Chicago Bears' defense is the definition of a tall task.

Is Brandon Hogan designated to come off injured reserve or is he shut down for the year? – Philip in Lenoir, N.C.

The second-year cornerback went on injured reserve before the regular season started with a knee injury, officially ending his season.

The NFL has created a new option this season, allowing teams to label one player each season as "designated for return" at the time he is placed on injured reserve. Under the rule, the player can return to practice six weeks after going on IR and play in a game eight weeks after.

The Panthers couldn't use it on Hogan because the player must be placed on injured reserve on or after the Tuesday before the regular season opener (Hogan went on IR a week before that). And even if Hogan would have been ready eight weeks into the season, the Panthers would have had to decide if it was best to use the designation on him or save it.

The Panthers aren't likely to use it this year, because a player going on IR today would only be able to play in the last two games.

What do the players do to get pumped up right before a game? Do they have a ritual they follow? – Casey in Hickory, N.C.

I stopped by rookie cornerback Josh Norman's locker earlier in the week for his take.

"Guys do different things. Me personally, I listen to a little music," said Norman, who likes to listen to battle-cry movie soundtracks like Gladiator and 300. "And recently, I've been hot-tubbing it to get loose while mentally visualizing what the game is going to be like."

What's the weirdest pre-game approach Norman has witnessed?

"I have seen somebody jump in and dump his whole body in a cold tub for at least 30 seconds. That's about the craziest thing I've ever seen," Norman said. "I've also seen a guy sniff a whole thing of salt, basically let it burn his nose hairs and have his eyes go bloodshot red."

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