Last night we were blessed with a beautiful evening for football. It was temperate, there wasn't a lot of wind, and the crowd was roaring and ready for football. The only sign of preseason was the empty seats. But it was football, and me and my buddy sat in the upper deck and watched the action from start to finish. It was a slow-paced game, without a lot of offense on either side of the ball. That gave me a lot of time to sit and think.
A few years ago Florida played Ohio State for the National Championship. When they hit the field, it wasn't long before you noticed a real difference between the Ohio State offense and the Florida defense. The Gators were just plain faster. The ball didn't go anywhere without several Florida players converging on it, and the Buckeyes couldn't get a thing going. Speed killed.
That's the way I feel about the current Panther defense. They just look faster than the other guys. I haven't seen a group this fast in years. That's not going to automatically make them world-beaters, and it remains to be seen if they have enough leadership to keep them together when things get tight. But if I had my choice, I would take the speed.
The line seems to like it too--they're rushing with reckless abandon. Gone are the days when Kemo dug his heels in and tried to move the pocket back. Now you have Leonard, Tyler, Johnson, & Landri doing their best to ignore the pocket and just get to the QB. Charles Johnson looks great on both the inside and outside, Brown has gotten some strength to go with his speed, and Hardy is just fine playing with the ones. This group looks to have gone from a team concern to a team strength.
Dan Connor deserves his own call-out as well. He looked like another 55 out there, but without the concussions. When he was in the game, he was with the ball, usually for little or no gain. He's showing amazing instincts in the middle. He's still sitting when the Panthers line up in the nickel.
Beason is starting to look like he's played the weak side his entire career. He made several nice plays. I didn't hear Anderson's name called, but the Linebackers as a unit were very solid.
And once again, all of the blitzing came from the Linebackers. Remember when Trgovac would send Marshall in on a blitz that had him running 15-20 yards before he made contact with anyone? Not this defense--they bring a Linebacker up to the line and just bring pressure at the snap. And they've got the speed to keep the coverage.
Speaking of speed, when did Charles Godfrey's light come on? I know it's preseason, but I've never seen him play so well.
Offense is another issue entirely. As prepared as the defense looked, the offense didn't. The penalties were bad enough, but even when they got their play going they didn't look particularly comfortable. Our offensive line got no push at all, and the backs couldn't buy a hole. Someone needs to tell me again about all the talent we have on the line, because I don't feel like I saw much last night.
Still, the big concern isn't on the line but instead at Quarterback. A lot of people will say receiver, but once again Matt Moore looked tentative out there, stared down his receivers, and made some really interesting decisions. Moore definately likes his tight ends more than Delhomme ever did. But he's not playing well.
Clausen looks far more comfortable under center, and has more presence. But he's a rookie, and clearly isn't ready to take the team. But if Moore doesn't get his groove back, I wouldn't be surprised to see a change by mid-season. My buddy is a Steeler fan who doesn't really know the Panthers well, and he didn't understand why Clausen isn't starting already.
Last night Moore's accuracy, particularly on longer balls, was just suspect. Maybe everybody's running the wrong routes, maybe he doesn't have faith in anyone, but he just isn't throwing with authority and he doesn't really look anything like he did last fall. On the other hand, when he did lay it right in there the receivers dropped it more often than not.
Which brings us to Brandon LaFell. I think he's going to be the starter, solely based on how well he moves without the ball. He's got good game speed, his cuts are crisp and he's physical. And this week it was his turn to make the routine look difficult and the difficult look routine. He dropped an easy throw from Moore, and then made a diving one-hand grab on a terrible pass that had the Stadium rocking. Take comfort in the fact that he's a rookie, and will probably improve.
Someone who hasn't improved is Dwayne Jarrett. For whatever reason, he just couldn't get open. What's the point of having great hands if the Quarterback won't throw it to you? Well Dwayne, as long as you don't get any separation, the Quarterback will continue to look elsewhere. Unless it's Moore and you're a Tight End, maybe.
It was genuinely disappointing that Armanti Edwards wasn't given another opportunity to return punts. Trent Guy did ok, but we've been using guys who do ok for far too long. We need someone who's a threat to go more than ten yards when he catches the ball, and Guy isn't that. Edwards might be, and he needs as much practice as possible to find out. He did catch a few passes though, and looks comfortable out there, but he's still going to take time.
Special Teams were good for the first time in a long time. In the off-season a lot was made about bringing in better special teams players, but until now it wasn't really apparent. Last night the coverage was good, the kicking game was great, and we actually got a long return for a touchdown. Here's hoping it carries over to the regular season!
The third preseason game is where you're supposed to game-plan and come up with some schemes that look like your regular season stuff. If that's what we saw last night, we're in trouble. The Defense is ready, and Special Teams no longer look like an embarrassment. Based on last night, that role looks to have been taken over by the offense.