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Ask The Old Guy: School's out for summer


CHARLOTTE — You smell that? It smells like summer, not football. Hot dogs and sunscreen, not freshly mowed practice field or locker room funk. Mmmmm, hot dogs.

It's vacation time, almost, after the close of the spring drills and the shelving of the equipment for a few weeks before training camp begins.

And having seen the entirety of the Panthers offseason program now, it's easier to get a sense of what they're going to look like. You can see areas where improvement is reasonable, just as you can see areas of concern.

It's still a very incomplete picture, because they haven't put pads on yet, or worked against anyone other than themselves. And the roster is probably going to change considerably between now and the start of the regular season, as their first spot in the waiver order will give them their pick of the discard pile, and they're likely to use it.

But it's reasonable to look at an offense practicing against air or itself and see a path to improvement, just as it's reasonable to look at a defense full of known commodities and see some concerns. You can tell, for instance, that Jadeveon Clowney has a chance to be a difference maker, with a huge line in front of him and a reliable pair of inside linebackers alongside him. But you can also tell he's practically alone at the moment.

The scene at minicamp, when D.J. Wonnum was standing on the sidelines, yet to practice, and DJ Johnson was being carted off with a (thankfully minor) knee issue, and K'Lavon Chaisson was wearing his uniform for the first time, and Eku Leota was inside with a calf injury and Amaré Barno was also just watching while coming back from an ACL was a pretty obvious illustration. They were running out of dudes at that position. That's just one spot, but it's a big one. And several of those guys are expected to be back by training camp, so it's possibly too soon to panic. It is still June.

So that's a long way of saying, we'll see how it comes together in camp and the preseason, but you can't know now whether that's going to work or not.

That's not a take that's going to go viral, but that's a silly way to do business anyway; if you want to be honest with yourself or your readers (and readers, I respect you too much to B-S you about stuff no one can possibly know right now). When you look at what the Panthers have done from a wide lens, you can see this was a big job, and they did a lot of work all at once. Now, they have to come back for training camp, put those pieces together, and do the hard jobs that takes time.

That's the big picture, but there were plenty of questions about the smaller-scale issues heading into what we hope will be a slow couple of weeks.


Hello, a fan, since day one. First time submitting a question request. I would like to hear what players think so far about Dave Canales, his staff, and the new system. Are they all in and motivated? — Thomas, Winston-Salem, NC

That's a big question and one that requires a longer answer, and we get deeper into it as we get closer to the season. But the short answer, for June, seems to be yes. And to tide you over until the full answer rolls in, I'll make Thomas this week's Friend Of The Mailbag and get the appropriate honorarium on the way to Winston.

Canales' positivity and energy are well-documented. But the other word that comes up when players are asked about their new boss is "genuine."

Andy Dalton is almost Canales' age, and he's been around and seen a lot of coaches, and he knows about the excitement that comes with a new one. Everything's shiny and happy at first. But he said he's been impressed with the way Canales tries to make meaningful connections with guys, like hitting the 5:45 a.m. hot yoga class with defensive passing game coordinator Jonathan Cooley. He hasn't gotten on a tennis court with Dalton yet (that would likely be a mistake, as Dalton is quite good and will show you the video of a recent between-the-legs shot even if you don't ask him to). But Dalton said there's a noticeable realness about what Canales is doing.

"I think from the beginning, Dave has come in and he's tried to build relationships with everybody as quick as he can," Dalton said. "And it's been fun for me to get to be around him. I've kind of known what he's done in his time in Seattle and then obviously last year in Tampa, but it's all about building up personal relationships and he's been trying to do that in a lot of different ways with a lot of different guys.

"Obviously, when you're new, there's a lot of new faces. It takes a lot, but you can tell how important it is to him."

That investment is the kind of thing that could pay a long-term benefit as long as the football stuff gets fixed in the interim. That's obviously more important than the vibe, but the vibe is not unimportant, and at the moment, it appears good.


Bryce Young and Andy Dalton Production Day

First, here's my suggestion for the Dalton/Bryce Young (hypothetical) podcast name: Quarterbacks in Rocking Chairs Playing Checkers. It's got that laid-back summer/fall, sitting-on-the-back-porch-shooting-the-breeze-with-grandpa vibe with a bit of low-key strategy. Reminds me of another show though, so, ...

Checkers got me wondering while we're waiting for our next favorite event to start up (Panthers training camp, of course) what's your favorite way to spend the later waning moments of these beautiful summer days?

Speaking of training camp, when will details be released? I'll miss Wofford, but we might be able to sneak in on a trip to the Queen City if I can start planning soon. — Stephen, Black Mountain, NC

Taking these in reverse order, I'll say soon. As in, very soon. There will be a lot of good stuff coming your way in the coming days.

As for what one might enjoy doing in the summer — which is basically condensed to the next four weeks — I've always heard a lot of good things about nothing and would like to try it someday. Maybe it works for me. Otherwise, I'd like to sleep in (which realistically means 6:30 or 7 a.m. since I am an old), maybe get a long, slow run in, or get on my bike, eat a sandwich, listen to some music. I've got a handful of concerts on the horizon (Drive-By Truckers tonight, Frank Turner next week in Greensboro, along with the big Willie Nelson-Bob Dylan-Robert Plant festival show next weekend), and would like to add to that list. Maybe get weird and read a book or two from the stack I keep buying and not getting to (Tommy Tomlinson's "Dogland" is excellent though, and I recommend visiting your local independent bookstore and buying it). But hoping for at least one week in there where I don't think about football at all and work on something else.

Of course, my other thing might become professional podcast-namer. Stephen, nothing against your suggestion, but I think I nailed my first shot with "The Young and the Redness." Dalton's like the ginger Victor Newman anyway — great hair, great mustache, understated, wise — so it's perfect. I don't like to brag (Narrator voice: He very much likes to brag #selfawareness), but I hit that one right on the screws.


Hi Darin! Today, Nate Tice from Yahoo released a piece on Bryce Young. I don't know if everyone has seen it already, but it's getting amped up on Twitter and other places in the media. I thought it's well written, but I also suspect some supporters will point to and overestimate some things at the same time that detractors will do the opposite (seems like a resume from our world nowadays, doesn't it?). I will restrain myself from that discussion and wanted to ask you about just one aspect of it - understanding that there's only so much you can do and talk about from OTAs - although I remember seeing Bryce push the ball downfield sometimes last season, clearly wasn't effective enough; is there, if not an emphasis, a more effective scheme this season to push the ball downfield (even if it's under 2.7 sec)? Thanks! — Fernando, São Paulo, Brazil

I saw it, I read it, and it was quite detailed and deep and showed a lot of specific things. Good stuff.

The only thing that gives me pause is that practically none of the stuff that happened last year should apply if things go as planned. The system is brand new. Canales has a track record of making quarterbacks better. They invested heavily in protection so that Young might not endure the franchise-record-tying 62 sacks. They got him targets, which he needed.

So, many of the points Tice made, which were salient, were also outdated by the time of publication.

Last year's offense was, to use the technology football term, a hot mess. Nothing about it worked, from the top down. So, applying the video from last year is only helpful if you want to see what to avoid at all costs. And that has a place. But it's a bit like wallowing at this point, or just smearing mud on someone. No one involved was blameless, but no one was solely responsible for it either.

They want to get the ball out quickly, but there are also some shot plays in this deal. Diontae Johnson can make some of those on his own, by being able to separate (which is a thing that didn't happen last year). Coupled with Xavier Legette's size and speed and go-get-it-ness, there's an opportunity for some big plays downfield. Now, a lot of things have to go right for those to hit (basically the opposite of last year, when everything went wrong all at once), but there's a chance at more of those, based on what we've seen.

One of the keys here is the run game. I don't think they're kidding about this, gang. And with that interior line (whatever it's listed at, that's a half-ton of linemen), they should be able to run, and that will just create opportunities for play-action. Again, not saying it's all fixed, but there's certainly a chance to fix it.

Bryce Young


If Ikem Ekwonu has a tough time at LT again, would he start getting reps at guard behind Damien Lewis and Robert Hunt? — Edwin, Fairfax, VA

Tackles are rare. Good tackles are rarer still. Guys with the possibility to be quite good are given lots of chances.

It became fashionable to talk about trying to make him a guard during last year's avalanche, but it ignored the reality that he's a tackle and at times a good one (see those 10 straight games without a sack allowed his rookie year). Fixing the mistakes was always a better plan, and as you mentioned, those guard spots are now accounted for at numbers that create job security.

Ekwonu had to make important technical corrections, and he's making them. As Canales noted, it's a bit of a crutch to say you can't tell anything until pads are on, since there are things linemen can do this time of year to make progress. Ekwonu's also owning his part of this thing, and accountability is essential.

Hearing him recently, he sounds like a guy who understands how last year unraveled — the parts that were his fault and the parts that weren't — and has a specific plan to address them.

That's big, and a big step toward having a quality line.

Ikem Ekwonu


I read your articles and always find them interesting. I have read other articles about Bryce Young, his footwork, and Dave Canales. What is the role of the quarterback coach, Will Harriger? Seems like Canales has taken over that responsibility. — Matt, Waxhaw, NC

Thanks, Matt. Canales is in charge of the whole project and works closely with Bryce, but Harriger is his immediate supervisor, who handles many of the particulars. When the boss is standing there at practice, all eyes are obviously drawn to him.

It's very much a group effort, with offensive coordinator Brad Idzik, passing game coordinator Nate Carroll, and Harriger all working closely together with Young. They get together on all the stuff that's being taught, and they all work on particulars that they're best at communicating. It's both collaborative and specialized.

While they're doing that, Canales has a whole team to run, and he does it, spending his time all over the place and not just the quarterbacks room.

Will Harriger, Bryce Young, Dave Canales


As a FOTM, I have to say the CB room and edge room are quite worrisome. There is no way this front office is content on these groups heading into the season right? When and how do you expect the Panthers to add to these rooms? Enjoy summer vacation. — Jeff, Bellingham, WA

One's definitely more worrisome than the other. They could play with this corner group on hand and be OK. The problem is the concern about Jaycee Horn's durability, which is fair considering he's played 22 of a possible 51 games. If he plays every game, it's probably fine or better as a group.

And I could turn out to be wrong, but I still don't think the Stephon Gilmore thing is as likely as some people think. Listening to Clowney talk about his old high school teammate, it's clear this is a money thing — as in Gilmore still wants a lot of it. They'd love to have him, and he'd likely appreciate staying at home, but he also is likely to find someone to pay him what he's worth in an open market.

So if it's healthy Horn, Dane Jackson, a solid veteran nickel in Troy Hill, and some interesting young parts, you can work with that.

That outside linebacker group (I need to commit a journalism and figure out when "edge" became a ubiquitous football word but I think it annoys me) is clearly something they'll continue to work on.

As mentioned above, any time a pass-rusher gets cut, the Panthers will consider whether that guy's worth claiming since they have the first spot in priority order through Week 4. But they're also going to be ears-open on every possible avenue — trades, signing vets when they become available, etc. If Wonnum's not ready for the start of camp as Canales suggested this week, that opens the door to the possibility he might not be ready for the start of the regular season since it takes time to ramp up to football shape. There's no way to know a timeline since he hasn't stepped on the field yet.

And while Clowney (52.5) and Wonnum (25.0) have a respectable 75.5 sacks between them, the rest of the roster (eight other guys) has a grand total of 9.5. So yeah, that's a thing.

Dane Jackson, Jaycee Horn


Darin, unfortunately, this question is not about the Bojangler. However, it is about a current player who I think will shock some folks this year. How has Dicaprio Bootle looked so far in OTA's? I know it's hard to tell with what they are currently doing, but he really impressed me last year, and I firmly believe he has a role on this team. — Will, Rock Hill, SC

Man, I could go for a Bojangler on a dark biscuit right now. I ordered so many of those things during Lent that the AI order-taker at my neighborhood store (Bo-linda) basically said, "Pull around, Darin."

I did not have a Dicaprio Bootle question on my bingo card today, but I don't mind it, either.

He stepped into a bad situation and played pretty well last year before his knee injury. He's also earned the notice of his coaches this year, in part because of the way he gets after it in practice.

When they're running sprints, and the three lines are led by Derrick Brown, Chuba Hubbard, and Bottle, that says something about the company you keep. Three of the hardest workers on the field, every day. You kind of expect that from the best player and a starting running back, but in part because it's a distinctive name, when you hear Canales name-check Dicaprio Bootle, you can't help but notice.

You can't tell everything in the spring, but you can tell technique and work ethic, and he stands out. I'm pro-Bootle.

Dicaprio Bootle


Thank you so much for all you do through your coverage and with the Mailbag. It has become a vital way for me to feel connected to the Panthers and the region because I live in Bremen, Germany, although I grew up in Rock Hill. I have been a Panthers fan since the beginning (evidence being memories of going to tapings of the Dom Capers show in Winthrop Coliseum back in the day).

I apologize now because here begins my abuse of the Mailbag. I have tried other contacts and have never received a reply. I will keep it brief but will be glad to communicate further about the situation if you think it would be useful for you.

About a year ago, I became the head coach of a new American Football team in the small town of Emtinghausen (pop. 1,500): The Emhusen Windmills (Emhusen is the local dialect's way of saying Emtinghausen). The husband and wife founders couldn't find anyone else and thought an American must know something about football. Fast forward to now, we have surprised the region and are 3-1 in league play and just beat the team that beat us in our opener. We are already on track for the playoff to gain promotion to the next league level (fun European promotion/relegation system). We have around 50 players (ages 20-44) and six coaches, and the home games are basically a big party for the small town. Around 70 percent of our players had never held a football until they came to us, and we have 10 police officers on the team. We have a youth flag football division as well. And, of course, through no influence of mine, our cop-captain-linebacker Max's favorite player is Luke Kuechly. So, regarding grassroots football in Germany, where football's popularity is really exploding, I think we are a cool story.

Maybe as the Panthers grow their footprint in Germany, and prepare for the Munich game, maybe stories like this will be of use for the media department as well.

I would be glad to tell and show you more, including local newspaper articles about us or social media entries, but I honestly feel bad enough that I abuse the Mailbag in this way already. If our story could be of interest, I would be glad to stay in contact. But if you could put me in contact with someone in community outreach, I would really appreciate that as well.

Again, thank you so much for your work. It is a big part of me feeling connected to my hometown. And again, please excuse my Mailbag abuse. I couldn't successfully contact anyone else. But hopefully, something good will come out of it for both of us! — Will, Bremen, Germany

Well, for one thing, I think we now have a dedicated base of new Windmills fans here. Is there merch?

(I passed Will's information to our marketing department, specifically to the people who work with the grassroots efforts there, and they're going to be in touch.)

But I definitely have Windmills Fever now, and want to know more. Keep us posted on the playoff push, and maybe we'll see you in Munich in the fall.


And on that note, 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.

Speaking of, has anyone heard from Jeff? Even GET BACK TO CLASS Zach asked me this week where he's been. Holler at us, Jeff, people are starting to worry.

I have always been a fan of the unexpected player who stands out and maybe even makes the team. Freddie Lane comes to mind from back in the day. Can you give us a few rookies, drafted or not, that may be on such a path this year? I'm especially interested in Jalen Coker from this year's undrafted. — Howard, Chapel Hill, NC

Haven't seen much of Coker yet, he's been sidelined with a hamstring issue. But he's an interesting one, and has the 89 seal of approval, which matters.

With Eddy Piñeiro missing all of the voluntary workouts for reasons he said he wanted to keep "private," rookie Harrison Mevis has had a chance to shine. It helps that the "Thiccer Kicker" stands out visually (he's build like a short lineman, or maybe a Emhusen Windmill), but he's kicked well enough to not look out of place in an NFL camp. That's going to be an interesting competition in the preseason. It's also worth noting that Johnny Hekker and JJ Jansen call him "MEE-vis," as in "Mevis and Butthead." Special teams humor is a little different.

Harrison Mevis

Someone said that Bryce Young had two siblings, but for years I have always thought and read that he is an only child. I believe that it must've been a fake article where they mentioned his siblings. Could you please ask Bryce directly for us? (It was just a friendly discussion about it between two adoring female fans, nothing more.) Thanks. — Anna, Silverhill, AL

Fake news. Bryce is an only child, and has said he thinks that's part of the reason he's so low-key. He grew up getting used to keeping himself busy and entertained. But I can also tell you he's coming out of his shell, and showing more and more personality every day.

I can't want for The Young and the Redness to debut.

You're lame and clearly don't know football. — Muto, Gardena, CA

Yeah, well at least I don't have an email address. And I know I've got some time off in my future as well, and I'm not using my dusty old domain to heckle writers I don't know on the other side of the country. Advantage, me.