I enjoyed a friendly football conversation with a co-worker last week and concluded with a simple fact.
Carolina Panthers fans know their team best and speak in the best interest of the franchise.
While reading many media columns and blogs, listening to Sirius NFL Radio, and watching sports networks whose focuses are on the NFL Combine and upcoming draft, I'm curious if there is resistance to the Panthers becoming a winning football franchise.
It's no secret that our team needs a franchise quarterback. Someone to compete against defenses whose offenses are led by Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, and Josh Freeman. In our case, we're apt to know the characteristics of a franchise quarterback compared to one who is not. We're also fit to know what an elite defensive end or defensive tackle looks like given the rosters and history of our NFC South.
Examples of elite defensive ends and tackles since 2001 include Julius Peppers, John Abraham, Simeon Rice, and Will Smith and Warren Sapp and Kris Jenkins. (For good measure, I'll include quarterbacks Michael Vick and good Jake Delhomme.)
Panthers fans have a base of comparison for young quarterbacks, defensive ends, and tackles. We've watched Matt Ryan (3rd pick, 1st QB taken, 2008) and Josh Freeman (17th pick, 3rd QB taken, 2009). We've also seen Jimmy Clausen (48th pick, 3rd QB taken, 2010), Tony Pike (204th pick, 6th QB taken, 2010), and Josh Johnson (160th pick, 8th QB taken, 2008).
At defensive tackle, we can measure the production of high draft picks like Peria Jerry (24th pick, 1st DT taken, 2009) Gerald McCoy (#3 pick, 2nd DT taken, 2010), Brian Price (35th pick, 5th DT taken, 2010), Sedrick Ellis (7th pick, 2nd DT taken, 2008).
Of the defensive ends and tackles listed since 2007, not one player has reached the Pro Bowl. This is interesting because some of the players mentioned were in the top 5 for their respective positions.
Another consideration is that the Miami Dolphins and Saint Louis Rams picked the best left tackle in Jake Long and defensive end in Chris Long while overlooking the best quarterback available in Matt Ryan. Neither the Dolphins or Rams have reached the playoffs. The same can said for Josh Freeman.
So, I hope the Panthers adhere the advice that Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff and draft a quarterback at the first opportunity if you're franchise is without a franchise player at that position.
As a Carolina Panther fan, my hope is that Cam Newton becomes part of our franchise. I've nothing against the other quarterback prospects and have moved on from Andrew Luck once he stated that he'd remain in college, but I believe Cam Newton gives our franchise, its players and fans the best chance to win.
It's been interesting in how media members have treated Carolina's situation. We all know that sportswriters, color analysts, former players, coaches, and executives have differing reasons for stating the things that they do. It's a bunch of noise to me.
For example, Mike Mayock recently stated that Blaine Gabbert's non-participation in throwing drills at the Combine is a non-issue. Gabbert's agency, Creative Artists Agency, has used this strategy for clients like Sam Bradford, Matt Stafford, and Matt Ryan. That's okay, but I'd argue that each draft is a different situation.
The Carolina Panthers are going to need a very competitive quarterback to contribute to a 2 win, 14 loss team. Competitive spirit is an important part of turning our organization around. If this is positioning yourself for the draft and your personal livelihood, that's okay. Yet, the Panthers need a true competitor.
Mayock has also hosted a video clip demonstrating why he felt that Blaine Gabbert is the best quarterback available in this year's draft. I was curious to know his thoughts because I'm a huge fan of his analyses. However, I was very disappointed.
The opening remarks for the clip went back to suggesting that Blaine Gabbert is the only quarterback not throwing at this year's Combine. Immediately, I thought back to Mayock's non-attendance at Cam Newton's media day workout and his subsequent remarks about knowing a quarterback's intangibles is more important than throwing in shorts. In my opinion, to be there and study Cam Newton's body language, interaction with the media and others is a huge part of the equation. If you're not willing to attend a workout because you already know what will be revealed, and you're always commenting on intangibles then be there. Game character, football knowledge, and technique can be viewed on game tape. Outside of that, you've got to be around the guy to make an accurate assessment.
The ensuing analysis was even worse. Mayock's key point was highlighting Blaine Gabbert's ability to keep his eyes downfield while using his feet to cause a deep safety to break coverage and then throw to an open receiver. This is one reason why Gabbert is better than Newton? Not good enough.
This is what I saw. Missouri was playing against Colorado. The offense is on the opponent's 30 yard line. Gabbert hiked the ball six yards behind the line of scrimmage in a 00 personnel set. Three receivers are to his left and two are two his right. His offensive lineman have closed their gaps because the defensive linemen are pinching.
Once the ball is hiked, the defense rushes three defensive lineman and drops into zone coverage. Two defensive linemen line-up in three point stances and the other is standing but the linemen use a pure rush (i.e. do not stunt). Gabbert appears to take a five-step drop and steps forward once, plus one hitch. His eyes are downfield but he never looks left. He's focused towards the strong side. He doesn't bounce on his toes.
The three man rush is coming but each defender has lost his individual match-up. At this point, the five wideouts should have run 12 to 14 step routes. Against a zone and with no defensive line pressure, Gabbert has a lot of time to throw and pick apart this defense. It is Colorado after all.
Instead of sliding in the pocket or hopping on his toes, he bails. He tucks the ball and runs towards the line of scrimmage before throwing at the opponent's 31 yard line. This decision alarms me because there was no pressure to bail and he threw and off-balanced throw while focusing only on the right side of the field.
The film continues to show that Gabbert ran towards five defenders and, technically, under throws the ball to an uncovered receiver. The ball has too much air under it and the receiver is in a near complete stop before catching the ball on the two yard line and backpedaling into the end zone.
According to Mike Mayock, the reward is a touchdown. I think otherwise.
The play takes nine seconds to develop. In order to understand Gabbert's circumstance better, I'd like to have known down and distance, time on the clock, and score. This would have helped me understand the situation better. As for Gabbert's showcased ability to keep his eyes focused down the field, I saw a quarterback who was not under pressure and did not look-off any defender by not looking towards the left side of field. Even worse, I saw a guy who cannot make read a defense. This supports other criticisms about his inability to process information quickly on the field.
Mayock's analysis scares me. Furthermore, Carolina does not pass protect well. Gabbert's inability to quick decisions, slide in the pocket, or put spin on the ball will result in hits like what Nebraska's Courtney Osbourne and Ndamukong Suh delivered to him. Both times, he looked like a defeated quarterback. It resembled nothing like Aaron Rodgers getting creamed by Julius Peppers and then getting up to pound his chest or Peyton Manning getting slammed by Kris Jenkins only to run to the sideline, take a smelling salt, and return to the huddle to orchestrate a win.
Nope, Gabbert either stayed down or came-up limping. We've seen this in Matt Moore. As a matter of fact, Matt Moore Version 2.0 for the number pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. Absolutely not.
The conclusion is that no one knows Carolina's situation better than its fans. Matter-of-factly, we pay for the entertainment and have been around a lot longer than newly hired Coaches, General Managers, and players. We're not trying to place spin on any issues like someone in the media or hang on other peoples' opinions. We're very smart and truly observant of our situation. We can only hope that Carolina's leadership remembers this and does not overlook a talent like Cam Newton.
We're not asking him to win games on his own. We're asking Cam to get us into manageable 1st and 2nd downs, convert 3rd downs, extend plays with his feet, get the ball into our playmakers' hands. Cam will hand the ball to DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, or Mike Goodson or throw to Steve Smith, David Gettis, or Brandon LaFell.
With a fresh defense, who knows how far we can go.
We're betting against a 2 win and 14 loss season. Draft conditions may change in our favor with Jerry Richardson leading the owners negotiate for a new CBA. If this happens, we should definitely gamble on Cam Newton.