There are some Carolina players whose nature as a player can be summed up in one moderately-simple polysyllabic word. Steve Smith is our mercurial wide receiver, Cam Newton has become our emblematic quarterback, and Greg Hardy is our eccentric defensive end; but there's one more player who joins this group of Panther nomenclature, and that's our enigmatic cornerback Chris Gamble.
In an era when the position has been typified by self promoters like Darrelle Revis and DeAngelo Hall the Panthers' DB has avoided the pitfalls of such aggrandizement. In many ways he's become Carolina's version of Tim Duncan. If you're not familiar with the former Wake Forest center, and NBA MVP he's made a career off being soft spoken, staying in his lane and being fundamentally sound without flashy. To watch Duncan's game you can stare at a screen for 48 minutes and feel like he's done nothing, only to look at the box score and realize he dominated the game. It's bizarre for a 13-time all-star to be under the radar, but that has been Duncan's way.
So too has Chris Gamble typified this behavior with his mild mannered behavior, and we'll look further into the public perception of him and his on-field play... after the jump
A few weeks ago the folks at Pro Football Focus wrote a tweet that told the world just how good Chris Gamble has been in 2011
Career renaissance?Chris Gamble of the Panthers is allowing just 32% of balls thrown his way to be complete
What they see as a renaissance, I see as a return to the ability he's always had. Throughout his career (with the exception of 2010) Gamble was one of the least targeted CBs in the NFL. While flashy interceptions and big hits get players nominated to the Pro Bowl it's this singular ability to disrupt a quarterbacks ability to throw the ball to their favorite target that truly separates the wheat from the chaff. The change in perspective that really made fans realize this fact was the aforementioned Revis and his 'Revis Island' shtick that gave a buzz word for ESPN to run with. Now we look at factors like 'stop rate', 'target rate' and 'QB rating against'.
There's no island for Gamble, no preening or promotion... just a quiet guy who doesn't have a twitter account, doesn't talk to the media a lot, and despite being on the team for the better part of a decade he hasn't become a captain, it's just not his style. This is what made the schism between Gamble and John Fox in 2010 all the more bizarre.
While none of us really know what happened last year, we know that a pretty serious rift occurred between the cornerback and the coach who drafted him. Whether it was disrespect for Fox, or another reason he was deactivated for the final five games of the season, a move that surely hurt the Panthers' chances at victories down the stretch. Most players would have made their displeasure public, demanded a trade or acted out in a variety of ways, but not Gamble. He stayed quiet, biding his time and knowing he would outlast the lame duck head coach.
Now Gamble has his swagger back, and unlike other players this doesn't involve denigrating interviews about his opponents or mocking opposing WRs, instead simply doing what he's always done for the Carolina Panthers... shutting down wide receivers. While come outlets will see this as a renaissance, others see Gamble's true colors- a player doing special things in an un-glamorous way; is there anything more distinctly 'Carolina Panthers' than that?