Panther Paw Prints: OTA Kick-Off Edition

USA TODAY Sports

Here's the latest collection of Panther related links from the past week.

Why is it so hard to understand that BPA draft picks sometimes include positions already considered deep?

Eight in the Box: RB status check - NFC South Blog - ESPN
Carolina Panthers

The Panthers have more running backs than they know what to do with -- and have invested too many premium resources at this position. The lead guy here is Jonathan Stewart, who, if given the chance to be a featured back for an entire season and able to stay healthy, might just prove to be one of the top half-dozen backs in the league. Stewart has missed only nine games over his five seasons but is constantly fighting nagging injuries. He also averaged a meager 3.6 yards per carry last season after averaging 5.4 the year before.

The Panthers recently restructured DeAngelo Williams’ contract, ensuring he'll remain in Carolina. This will be Williams’ eighth NFL season, but he hasn’t received more than 173 carries in any of the past three seasons. He has breakaway abilities and a penchant for breaking off long runs. I think he still has plenty left in the tank. Mike Tolbert is listed as a fullback, but he is a short-yardage specialist who is a bowling ball with a low center of gravity. For a back of his dimensions (5-foot-9, 245 pounds), he is also a surprisingly adept receiver. Oddly, when considering all of its other needs, Carolina used a sixth-round pick on Kenjon Barner, a perimeter and space player who comes from Chip Kelly’s high-octane Oregon offensive attack.

"Invested too many premium resources?" That sure is a fancy way of saying 'cap space'. Barner will get a chance to shine in the role as a kick returner that several Panthers before him have failed to do in the past three seasons. Gettleman explains it further:

A.J. Klein signs contract with NFL’s Carolina Panthers | The Des Moines Register | desmoinesregister.com

"We are thrilled to have all of our draft choices under contract," general manager Dave Gettleman told NFL.com. "A.J.’s versatility is very appealing to us. He has played all three linebacker positions and he will have a chance to help us on special teams. Kenjon has great speed and was a dynamic player on offense and special teams at Oregon."

If Barner is not ready as a kick returner then we turn to the vet Ted Ginn, one of the positions Panther GM Dave Gettleman taregted to upgrade in free agency. Another position was cornerback:

Veteran corners make impression with Carolina Panthers | CharlotteObserver.com

But Panthers coach Ron Rivera believes Florence, 32 and in his 11th season, and Moore, 26, can help the Panthers' trio of young corners - Josh Norman, Josh Thomas and James Dockery. More than Florence's interception Thursday, Rivera was most excited about hearing Florence tell one of the young corners what route to look for based on a receiver's alignment. "It was really good to watch Drayton and D.J. Moore come out there and do some nice things. They did make plays on the ball. You watch them and you see the veteran experience," Rivera said. "It's kind of neat to watch a veteran guy talk to a young player and use his experience."

I have to say I love the chemistry of this team. It's certainly the way I thought the roster would be shaped but I can see the logic behind it. Now we just have to see if it works.

On to OTA's, further supporting the notion that the Panthers will not move DE Greg Hardy to DT as they did in 2012, he has arrived 15 pounds lighter.

Carolina Panthers’ Greg Hardy leaner, just as mean in 2013 | NFL Football | The State

Hardy applauded the Panthers' drafting of defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short with their first two picks. He believes their arrival will be good for the defense as a whole and the line in particular. "They believe in us. That's one of those situations where the front office shows by what they do that they're backing us,'" Hardy said. "We needed middle help. ... They were like, ‘Listen, here's the parts, man. Go win a championship. "We're going to keep grinding. We're going to keep working. It's not about money, extensions and deals, and who we drafted, and how much money everybody got. It's about how good we're going to get," Hardy continued. "If you thought last year was ridiculous, we're going to take it to a whole other level because we're starting from a higher point than we did last year. "That's what it's all about for me. We're already making more money than normal people, right?"

So we will see a faster Kraken coming from the edge in 2013, I love it. As Rviera planned, the Panthers LBs are happy about the new beef up front:

Panthers Kuechly says new DTs make his job easier - SFGate

"The more the better," Kuechly said. "With big guys up front they're going to need two blockers to handle them. And when you commit two guys (to blocking) a defensive lineman it allows us linebackers to run around and make more plays. It makes my job a little easier." Coach Ron Rivera played linebacker for nine seasons with the Chicago Bears and knows the benefits of having big linemen. "I know from experience they can help make players even better than we are," said Rivera, who won a Super Bowl with the 1985 Bears. "Plus it will also help our pass rush and coverage so there will be a lot of good things to come from those two guys up front."

I'm calling it now...the Panthers will have the best defense in the NFC South.

Moving to the other side of the ball, another big guy is excited about running the ball a little more in 2013:

Inside the Panthers: Tolbert excited for Shula's rushing game plan

In an interview with Panthers.com, the fullback expressed his pleasure with the first-year Panthers offensive coordinator's desire to get back to a more traditional running game. "I can't wait," Tolbert said. "Being a running back we rejoiced when he said we're going to run the ball. That's one thing we're going to do is run the ball, so it's something we're really looking for."

I'd prefer to see Tolbert catching the ball in the flat but as long as he gets into the end zone I don't care how it happens. I want to see Tolbert continue to sharpen his dance moves!

Here's another guy I hope gets in the end zone often:

Hixon excited about fresh start in Carolina
"To me, the Panthers are a team that's going up and going up in a hurry," Hixon said. "There's so much talent here. I saw that on day one on the field." And Hixon intends on helping the Panthers continue their upward trend. He's not sure exactly what role he'll play just yet or where he'll fit on special teams, but he's here to compete for a substantial role in the offense, all the while strengthening the Carolina receiving corps. "Everyone strives to be no. 1 at their position. That helps your group get better," Hixon said. "Whatever role it is and whatever role helps the team win, I'll accept. "Everyone wants to be a no. 1 receiver, but if you have to run down as a gunner or block on kickoff return, it's worth it to compete for that Super Bowl trophy."

You have to love his attitude and given Gettleman had to know Hixon pretty well it gives me comfort G-Man was able to bring him here.

So apparently some people don't recognize satire when they see it:

Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton Has Work to Do On and Off Field
After a picture surfaced of Newton partying flamboyantly in Miami, James Dator of Cat Scratch Reader published an article referring to the quarterback as Jay Gatsby. In the conclusion of the article, after calling Newton, like Gatsby, a fraud and phony, Dator addresses Panthers fans by saying, "You’re Nick Carraway, in love with Gatsby’s wonder without any clue who he really is. It’s a shame your irrational, undying love has clouded your judgment, and I won’t laugh when you mourn over the coffin of his NFL career, because we’ve all been tricked." There’s no question that Newton can play. There’s a reason he won Rookie of the Year in 2011. He’s thrown for 7,920 yards and 40 touchdowns over two seasons and rushed for 1,447 yards and 22 touchdowns over that same time.

However, that doesn’t dismiss the reports of him having a bad attitude and his immaturity and the criticisms of him regarding his leadership abilities. It also doesn’t eliminate the interception issues that he’s had recently and other areas where he needs work.

So are people just ignoring what his teammates have to say about him? I don't know why this type of criticism still bothers me. The Panthers just need to win for this to be put to bed.

The Panthers are surprisingly middle of the pack here thanks to a few free agent signings:

Average age rankings for projected* starters - NFC West Blog - ESPN
The chart ranks NFL teams from oldest to youngest for all starters. Overall rankings appear in the final column. Rankings for offensive and defensive starters appear in the middle columns. Some of the rankings will change as starting jobs settle out. That is why there's an asterisk next to the word "projected" in the headline above.

I have to agree one of the biggest unknowns going into 2013 is what will the offense look like?

OTAs: Five things to watch

1. Shula runs the offense Mike Shula is entering his first season as the Panthers' offensive coordinator after two seasons as the team's quarterbacks coach. Shula and quarterback Cam Newton developed a close relationship during those two years, and now Shula's role has expanded. The OTAs provide Shula with his first opportunity to work on the field with veterans as the offensive coordinator, and he's anxious to get started. "We need to grow together," Shula said. "We need to do a better job in the offseason, in training camp, in the OTAs to start the season better than we did last year. "The most important message we have to have for each other is the urgency to get it done right away."

The coaching staff obviously realizes there will be no patience for a slow start in 2013.

I will leave you with a rookie video compilation.


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