I've built a reputation around these parts as a bit of a special teams aficionado. I guess one could argue that my deeply ingrained and publicly overstated love for punters is sufficient evidence to back said reputation. It is because of my reputed love for special teams that I am tasked with writing this review for you today, and it is because of the things that I have to say about the 2012 Carolina Panthers Special Teams that I am incredibly sad.
Of course, I could always make stuff up and say that everything is sunshine and roses in Carolina, but that would be dishonest. The truth of the matter is this: the 2012 Carolina Panthers Special Teams was an atrocity, much like the 2011 Special Teams, and also like the 2010 Special Teams. If you're like me, you're sensing a pattern here, and it's not a good pattern. Quite frankly, the Panthers' Special Teams situation has been a dumpster fire for years now, and it doesn't appear that it's going to get better any time soon.
So, with that being said, get your flashlight and security blanket ready. We're about to go to a dark, dark place.
The Carolina Panthers have seen struggles at the kicker position since releasing long-serving veteran and Original Panther John Kasay, and have attempted (and failed) several times to find a replacement for him in free agency.
Ok. There, I said it. The Panthers made a mistake when they released Kasay. Of course, I still believe the mistake wasn't the release of Kasay, but the person they replaced him with. I still maintain that they made a huge mistake going after Olindo "I'll just shank this kick" Mare, but as our old friend Foxy would say: It is what it is. We're stuck with the ramifications of that move, and being bitter about it doesn't do us any good.
However, it's undeniable that the Panthers have yet to find a suitable replacement for Kasay. The Olindo Mare experiment was a disaster as he didn't even make it out of training camp in 2012 because the Panthers decided to go younger with Justin Medlock, the former CFL kicker they signed in the offseason.
Medlock was seen as the type of kicker the Panthers needed: good enough to kick when needed, but because of the hopes and dreams of the offense pouring out touchdowns, not expected to be needed very often. As it turns out, he wasn't used very often: he only attempted 10 field goals in 10 games, and only had two attempts total before Week 8 when he went 5 for 5 in Chicago.
Unfortunately for Medlock, he was released after the Week 11 loss to Tampa Bay (the one where the defense allowed the Bucs to come back from an 11 point deficit to win in OT) and was replaced by Graham Gano.
Gano started off on the right foot (no pun intended) when he was issued the #4 jersey, setting off a firestorm of angry fan comments (many of which from myself). Thankfully, Gano thought better of it and requested that his number be changed from 4 to 9, easing tensions in the Carolinas and preventing a riot at Bank of America Stadium.
The number change didn't do him much good, however, as he promptly missed an extra point in his first game with the team against the Eagles on Monday Night Football. Luckily he was able to recover and provide decent results for the Panthers the rest of the season, finishing 9/11 in FG's and 20/21 in XP's.
While Gano's numbers are nothing to get upset about,he didn't really do anything differently than Medlock would have done. I know there's the whole "Rivera wouldn't let Medlock attempt a long FG in Chicago" thing, but really - is there anything Gano brought to the table that Medlock didn't already have on there? I can't think of anything, so to me bringing in Gano for Medlock was at best a lateral move.
Useless information that you don't really need but is still fun to think about: With Medlock, the Panthers were 2-8. With Gano, the Panthers were 5-1. Let that marinate for a while.
Oh boy. This one's gonna be fun.
It is widely rumored on CSR that I'm a huge fan of Brad Nortman. I don't know why people say stuff like that, but they do, and there's not much I can do to change that. All I've ever said is that he's the best punter in the history of the NFL, and I don't know why that would lead people to believe that I'm the acting President of the Brad Nortman Fan Club, but for some reason it did.
This may seem like a shock to most of you coming from me, and you might want to sit down before you read this: Brad Nortman was horrible in 2012. Yes, that's right - he was horrible.
The man reason Nortman was drafted was for his ability to pin opponents behind the 20 yard line. That seems reasonable, and given the Panthers' offensive prowess a punter with a booming leg wasn't a necessity. However, it appears that the Panthers may have underestimated their offensive prowess and overestimated Nortman's ability to pin opponents behind the 20 yard line. There were many cases of stalled drives and short punts in 2012 that gave Carolina's opponents a distinct advantage in field position, leading to opponents putting points on the board that stuck the Panthers in deeper and deeper holes to make up on offense.
Of the 32 teams in the NFL, there were only two who had fewer punts land inside the 20 (Vikings and Eagles). This is simply unacceptable. To make matters worse, Nortman's 26% inside the 20 average was worse than Jason Baker's 2011 average of 28%. So, in essence, we got rid of a guy who couldn't pin opponents inside the 20 and replaced him with a guy who did it even less. If that's not a Panthers move, I don't know what is.
I'm only going to mention them briefly because I don't see the need in kicking a guy while he's down (no pun intended), but Nortman's infamous 6 and 15 yard punts didn't help him much. His average punt traveled 43 yards, and his net average was a paltry 36.5, both among the worst in the league. His longest punt of the year was 63 yards, but other than that one kick he really didn't have much to write home about in 2012.
I guess the one bright side would be that Nortman only had to punt 76 times, which ranked in the middle of all 32 teams for the year. It's a good thing that he only had to punt 76 times, because if he had to punt any more than that his results would have probably been much worse than they already were. Hopefully this was just a rookie struggle type thing, but I've always been of the opinion that with punters - you can either do the job, or you can't. As of right now, it appears that Nortman can't.
Stay tuned for part two of the special teams review where we take a look at the coverage and return units. That sounds like loads of fun, doesn't it? In the words of Bart Scott, "Can't Wait!"