Panther Paw Prints: Bits & Pieces Edition

Jun 12, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA Carolina Panthers linebacker Jon Beason (52) stretches during minicamp at the team's practice facility at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-US PRESSWIRE

I've got another cadre of Panther paw prints from around the interwebs for you Panther fans. This first one talks about getting the LB core to gel as a whole unit rather than the 'bits & pieces' we had in 2011, due to the lockout and injury:

Strickly Panthers: Davis battling back
"We saw the culmination for Jon Beason with him being able to get on the field, so I'm excited about that," Rivera said. "I wish Thomas had the opportunity to do that for us now, but the nice thing is that we've watched him go through the walkthrough stuff and installation, and he's moving around very well and working hard at it. "It would be a huge plus to be able to get him back as well and have that linebacking group as a whole, as opposed to last year when it was bits and pieces."

So Davis won;t see any action until TC and even then I bet he eases in slowly. The Panthers, and Davis for that matter, can't take the risk until absolutely sure the knee can handle it. I'm sure they will ever be 100% sure the knee is fine, at point you just have to go for it if TD likes the way it feels. I know he would be a huge lift for us if he can get him back to even 80%.

DC Sean McDermott uses a southern staple to build team chemistry: bar-b-que!

McDermott hopes different approach yields better results for Panthers’ defense | & The Charlotte Observer Newspaper
"Jon’s the leader of our defense. He’s a heck of a player. He does a great job with our young players and a great job off the field. A lot of what we do revolves around Jon," McDermott said. "The bottom line is if they’re all good football players, you make room for them."

They have a long way to go but I think as long as they are scheming to our strengths, the LBs, we should see a nice improvement in the run defense this season.

Another guy that is getting some praise is DE Greg Hardy who has worked out in Charlotte the entire offseason. Rivera has noticed and appears even more impressed than he was at the start of OTAs:

Panthers’ Hardy done with motorcycles, not quarterbacks | & The Charlotte Observer Newspaper
"He’s put on some weight and kept the same quickness. He shows the desire. He’s done everything to show you that he wants to be very, very good," Hurney said. "He’s improved. I think the offseason’s helped him a lot. … He’s just got a special knack as far as rushing the passer." Rivera talked excitedly about Hardy on Thursday, starting in with praise for him before a reporter could finish a question. "He’s put a lot of muscle on. He’s only got 14 percent body fat. So we’re pretty excited about what he’s done this offseason. He’s had a great one," Rivera said. "Last year he had the accident before camp. Him spending the entire offseason here was tremendous. And I’m real excited about what he can become as a football player."

If Hardy should have a break out season it won't be a 'secret' as Pro Football Focus has picked him as the Panthers 'Secret Superstar':

After finishing 2011 with a grade of -6.7 in his final four games, you have to wonder whether the heavy workload was simply too much for him. Had he stopped in Week 13, his overall grade would have been a mightily impressive +12.9, a ranking around the Top 20 defensive ends in the league.

That can easily be remedied by spelling him more frequently, but what Hardy needs to work on from 2011 is setting the edge on defense against tight ends. Too often in 2011 he was easily sealed inside by tight ends and lead blockers, many of whom are far from exceptional at that job. At his size he should not be getting bullied by tight ends, but his inconsistent play on the edge was a contributing factor to the Panthers having one of the worst outside run defenses in the league last season. He has made plays in his first two seasons against quality edge blockers but the consistency has not been there as he has struggled to strike the balance between setting the edge and attacking the passer within a single performance.

With the added weight Hardy should be very good at holding off the TE's and keeping containment. Color me very excited for the potential our DEs should realize in 2012.

Moving on to our star QB, his rookie season is being judged in this post as the 3rd best ever for a rookie QB behind Dan Marino and Ben Rothlisberger:

NFP Sunday Blitz | National Football Post
3. Cam Newton, 2011 Panthers. He played like the No. 1 pick in the draft is supposed to—and then some. No rookie quarterback ever has accounted for more yards. Newton set one record with 4,051 passing yards, and another with 706 rushing yards. He also had a rookie record 35 touchdowns—21 passing, 14 rushing.

I could argue he deserved to be higher but I'm kind of worn on that at this point. I'm ready to see the sophomore season get under way which could see him attain some lofty status...Well apparently some are not so sold on the Panthers taking another big leap in 2012. This list of the top 6 QBs who have never won the SB to win it in 2012 doesn't include Newton but it does include Tony Romo, Alex Smith and this guy:

Matt Schaub has best Super Bowl shot among QBs without title -
5. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals Dalton is already one of my favorite players in the NFL. All he did during his rookie season was lead the Bengals to the postseason and earn a trip to the Pro Bowl -- not a bad start to a career. Along with Dalton, the Bengals have one of the league's rising stars in WR A.J. Green. For all of the jokes about the Bengals' thin scouting department, they have done a fantastic job of landing impact players in the past few drafts. This team is capable of winning a postseason game or two this season, and I believe they will play in a Super Bowl at some point in the near future.

I guess he's basing that on the Bengals defense. Same for Smith and Romo? I'm thinking the Panthers D is going to sneak up on some teams early in the season. One of those teams won't be the Giants, who's coaching staff has a very high opinion of Rivera and his abilities:

Cramerton's Fewell, Panthers' Rivera have mutual respect as former colleagues now NFL rival coaches - Gaston Gazette
"When I found out he was one of the candidates, my thought was, ‘If not me, he’s exactly who I would want to have the job,’" Fewell said of Rivera, who guided his first Panthers team to a 6-10 record that marked a four-game improvement over the previous season.

So did Fewell take over Rivera's mantle of being the guy with the most HC job interviews but no HC job?

This piece had very juicy headline but then I found out it was more sizzle then steak:

Steve Smith reminds Panthers rookie DB: This ain’t Coastal Carolina! | Shutdown Corner - Yahoo! Sports
"For a young guy, he's coming out and he's playing well. But as far as how much swagger and he loves to compete, I look at it like all the other veterans — May and June you just kind of cruise a little bit just to get through," Smith said during his fifth annual youth football camp last week.

"Once late July, August comes, he's going to learn very quickly this isn't Coastal Carolina. I look forward to camp. I hope he looks forward to camp, just like all the other DBs because the first week is never a good day for them when we've got this offense with Chud (offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski). It's going to be early and often and real quick."

Smith didn't say this at mini camp but rather at his charity event later when told of the brash rookies comments. I give Norman props for his bravado but certainly he has to know he is playing with fire. Though I'm positive Smith is past his days of elevating practice tiffs to full on fisticuffs I'm just as sure Smitty will be sure to rub it in the first time he burns the young CB in TC, it's just a matter of time.

Moving on to NFL news, here's the hot stuff, Jonathan Vilma sounds surprised he didn't get his day in court:

Jonathan Vilma of New Orleans Saints leaves hearing, calls process unfair - ESPN
"Roger Goodell has taken three months to tear down what I built over eight years. It's tough to swallow. I have been linked to a bounty and it simply is not true," Vilma said. "I don't know how I can get a fair process when he is the judge, jury and executioner. You're assuming it will be fair, but it's not."

Though I can't blame Vilma for doing all he can to save his season his position of complete denial doesn't seem to be helping at all.

A sure fire Hall of Fame inductee retired today but I instead found this quote about the bounty program by Peter King more interesting:

LaDainian Tomlinson second only to Marshall Faulk among modern-era RBs - Peter King -
Last week in Montana, I asked Goodell what he thinks the legacy of this bounty scandal will be. I didn't run his answer in my column because it didn't break new ground. But this is what he said: "I think what the bounty legacy will be is that it's not part of football. There's a rule that prohibits it. We obviously had a violation of it. We found it, dealt with it aggressively, and I don't think it will happen again. I think it will help in that continuing effort to create the culture of safety that we want. I hope by the actions that have been taken here that the fact that we discovered it, and the fact that we penalized it with unprecedented discipline, and by the focus that it's gotten, that people understand not to engage in that.''

Anyone else find it strange that Goodell says the bounty program was 'obvious' and yet the players say 'there is no evidence'. Something just does not jive here.

Okay, back to LT but not to talk about his retirement. Instead let's talk fantasy football and whether LT had the best fantasy season ever.

Did LaDainian Tomlinson Have The Best Fantasy Football Season Ever? - From Our Editors -
In 2000, Faulk ran for 1,359 yards and 18 rushing touchdowns. He added another 830 receiving yards and eight receiving touchdowns. Faulk had 139 more yards from scrimmage that season than LT did in 2006; however, the difference that probably gives LT the slight edge is his 31 combined rushing and receiving touchdowns, the league record.

Click on over to vote in a poll on this.

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