The Panthers Wide Receiver Corps is currently littered with a series of question marks. How much longer will Steve Smith hang around? Is Brandon Lafell the longterm answer as the #2 WR? Will Louis Murphy be retained? Which one of the youngsters will step up?
Drafted in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL Draft, Kealoha Pilares has seen scarce time at wide receiver during his brief career in Carolina, and is primarily responsible for the kick return duties.
After a year of development, Pilares looked poised to have a solid season. Coach Chudzinski designed a few hybrid packages for him; he ran a medley of reverse and read option plays, and even scored a crucial touchdown on a busted play against Atlanta.
With Louis Murphy injured, Pilares was inserted into the lineup as the third receiver Week 9 against Washington, and received solid playing time before tearing both his labrum, and rotator cuff, in the third quarter, ending his season.
With Murphy's possible departure to Free Agency, Pilares is primed to be the Panthers third wide receiver moving into the 2013 season. Of course whether that remains the case remains to be seen.
No doubt the Panthers Front Office will be reviewing Pilares' season as they look to improve the team moving forward.
Per Football Outsiders snap count tracker, Pilares played 33 offensive snaps for the Panthers in 2012. In his limited time last year, Pilares exhibited a few superb traits that underscore his development as a wide receiver, and perhaps his potential moving forward.
In this post we will take a look at a few of Pilares' plays this season, and glean however much information we can from them. Even though Pilares will not touch the ball in any of these examples, there is still much that can be learned about the young receiver.
Here is a look at a one of his plays against Washington, Week 9.
(The red triangle distinguishes Pilares' location) The Panthers are lined up in 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE), with Pilares as the Y WR. The Redskins play quarters coverage; the Redskins DB overtop Pilares will play zone coverage against him.
At the snap Pilares runs his route with a slight angle to the left, drawing the DB further outside in anticipation. Most young receivers naturally hint which way their routes are designated; Pilares takes advantage of this and slightly veers to the left, masquerading the true nature of his route.
After approximately 12 yards, Pilares plants his foot in the ground and pivots to the right. His route running has practically taken the DB out of the frame, affording Pilares 3-4 yards of immediate separation against his man as he makes his cut.
Here is another look against Washington, as Pilares once again runs a 4 route (a crossing route).
The Panthers, executing a two minute drill, are aligned in 11 personnel, with Pilares lined up outside. The Redskins appear to be arrayed in Cover 3; Pilares will receive zone coverage from the overtop DB.
Hard to see in this view, Pilares attempts a double move right after the snap. Although the CB doesn't completely bite, it cajoles him into playing with a greater depth. Pilares keeps his pad level low, and explodes straight forward, good technique for beating press coverage or running a deep route. These signs point to a 9 route (go route), influencing the CB's coverage.
The CB plays Pilares as if he is running a 9 route. I couldn't capture it in this picture, but in the frame before, the CB is completely parallel to the LOS. As such, when Pilares plants his foot and pivots, the CB is in not in position to make a play on a pass. Pilares has achieved great separation, which is crucial when facing single coverage, all inside 3 seconds.
Pilares' speed exacerbates the separation; he is wide open across the middle of the field. Had Newton hit him, it is possible that he scores a TD. However, I wouldn't be too harsh Cam; on this play he hits Steve Smith for a TD.
Now here is a play against Chicago, Week 8.
Again, the Panthers are in 11 personnel. Here Pilares will face man coverage from the DB lined up immediately overtop of him. Pilares will take a few quick steps inside before cutting outside.
As he makes his cut outside, the Bears DB attempts to punch his shoulder, trying to slow Pilares' route down, and disrupt his timing with the QB. Perhaps the biggest problem for most young wideouts is simply getting off of the LOS against press man coverage; they don't have the technique or the strength to get off of the press, or combat DB's. Pilares parries the blow and doesn't break stride.
As Pilares continues his route, he gains the inside leverage against the DB, and looks back for the pass, in fine position to make a catch.
Here is one final look at Pilares, again Week 8 versus Chicago.
Here Pilares motions out of the backfield; the Panthers are in 01 personnel (0 RB, 1 TE), and are facing third down and long (3rd & 7+). The Bears are lined up in zone coverage. Lance Briggs (55) will be covering Pilares.
Although it is tough to notice in this camera angle, Pilares again shades his route outside. However here he is running his route away from the prowling LB. Briggs cannot follow too far outside, as it may leave the middle of the field exposed.
Pilares plants his foot right at the first down line, and turns, looking for the ball, exhibiting a level of awareness that evades many wideouts. You can't see it here, but Pilares has gained 3 yards of separation from Briggs.
I think fans should feel confident about Kealoha Pilares' future with the Panthers. As we've seen above, Pilares is a solid route runner, with superb awareness, and good technique. He has also has top notch speed, and is dangerous with the ball in his hands (check out some of the plays he made last preseason).
This coming season, I'd like to see how he handles running deep routes, and press man coverage; two things we haven't really seen him attempt yet.
Time will tell if the Panthers feel comfortable handing Pilares an expanded role, but I'm optimistic, what with his versatility in the run game, as well as his development as a wide receiver.