Here are some of the responses collected from the Roundtable discussion about the Unsung Hero nominees:
CanadianPanther: Travelle Wharton is the unsung hero of 2013. He's stabilized the left side of the offensive line and is a huge reason why the Panthers run game did so well this season. He's shown great ability in space as a lead blocker, which is impressive considering his age (32) and the fact that he was coming off a major ACL injury. He's also been steady in pass protection, as he did not allow a single sack on Cam Newton this season, per PFF.
Evan Leekley: If I've got to choose one guy it would be Kawaan Short. He didn't have a great stat line in terms of tackles and sacks, but he was up there with the league leaders at DT in QB hits and pressures. Star and the defensive ends got all the attention, but without "KK", our interior pass rush would have been far less effective. Plus, if Gettleman hadn't drafted KK, the Panthers would likely have needed to sign a guy off the street, or worse yet -- they would have had to put Sione Fua in the rotation -- and we've all seen the results of that disaster. In short (insert 'see what I did there' meme), Kawaan completed our defense.
JDeLong: My unsung hero award would go to Jordan Gross. He essentially tore up his contract before the year and took a one year deal for the good of the team. While the struggles of the right side of the line have gotten all the attention from fans, Gross has stayed steady anchoring Cam's blind side. He frequently matched up with opponents' best pass rushers but still went largely unnoticed, which is a good thing for an offensive lineman.
TerribleMetaphorGuy: I'm with Gross as well. Jordan Gross is both the best and worst canary in the coal mine that any West Virginia town could have ever asked for. He went down Cam's shaft every Sunday in an effort to protect him and did a phenomenal job of keeping some pressures away from the mine manager that Newton has become, but he also helped mask serious gas build ups in the deepest, right-most tunnels that had been dug by the West Virginia Panther Company. Still, from a football perspective, that makes him an incredible asset. Nobody, including myself, sung his canary praises loud enough.
Edgar: Travelle Wharton is my unsung hero for the 2013 Panthers. From a casual observer standpoint, Cam Newton had such a better year than last, and you can thank the returns of Ryan Kalil and Wharton for that. This stability on the line gave him more time in the pocket and a better running game that made his job much easier. Kalil already gets a lot of the credit, so let's show some love to Wharton too! Although he left the Panthers for a year and injured his ACL, he has not skipped a beat. He embodies the phrase, "You don't know whatcha got till it's gone." Anyone miss Amini Silatolu? You can thank Wharton for that, and the increased efficiency of Newton and the offense.
Ivan: I'm going to stick with Brad Nortman for this one for several reasons. For one, the guy was easily one of the most improved players from last year to this year. We went from wondering if we would sign another punter and cut him to wondering why he wasn't on the Pro Bowl roster. Secondly, I believe much of the defenses success came from Nortman's punting. When your punter is able to put the opposing offense within its own 20 and nearly a third of the time he punts, it really helps the defense to do its job. Oh, and he did win NFC ST Player of the Month, mainly for the job he did against the saints in consistently pinning them deep in that final home game. To me, that is why he is the unsung hero. That and the fact that punters ARE people. Stop the abuse of punters.
Derek: I'll give you a name that might be off the radar more than others because of his lack of playing time: AJ Klein. Yes, our 5th round rookie who didn't even start for most of the season. Nevertheless, when he did get opportunities to see the field, he made plays, most notably in a win at San Francisco. Klein was unsung to the point that even the coaching staff mistakenly played it 'safe' by starting Blackburn for the majority of the season. Although his snaps were limited, Klein made impact plays that proved he will be an asset for years to come.
Editor's Note: This was collected prior to Pro Bowl rosters being announced.
My pick for the Unsung Hero is actually safety Colin Jones. Colin Jones was one of those "Umm, who?" acquisitions during the 2012 season. We traded away a 7th round pick and many of us were scratching our heads over a trade for a special teamer. However, Jones has paid dividends as depth as well, having been one of three safeties healthy on roster at one point this season and having to step in a few times last season. But Jones is the embodiment of an Unsung Hero to me. This season, we saw drastic improvement on both the coverage and return sides of special teams. And a lot of that has to do with Jones. He was in on or in the frame of nearly every special teams stop, and contributed the the return teams that saw Ginn consistently pushing for more field position than given. He's a guy who has never made waves with stupid mistakes or quotes from the media. He's gone in and contributed in some way every game since he arrived, and I think he was quietly one of the better trades that Hurney did in his tenure here in Carolina.
Like I said before, an Unsung Hero can be a starter or a special teamer. The rules are simple, I will create a poll for each choice we have made here at CSR. If there is anyone you feel deserves to be nominated, write a fan post or comment with a response. If it gets enough recs we will throw their name into it. I will post a winner in roughly a week if we see any responses. And remember, an Unsung Hero is someone who hasn't necessarily been recognized for their contribution, so this doesn't have to be about the best overall player nominated.
If a follow up post with other entries is required, I will also draw up a post for voting strictly, possibly with finalists.