Monday, July 28, 2008

It's July! Football's Coming Soon! FRONT FOUR Edition

Brethren: Three days into Training Camp, and I’m in hook, line, and sinker. On a car trip back from Charlottesville to DC yesterday (after a most wonderful drunken weekend of tubing, crushing the Virginian, and hitting the Mediocre Restaurant Heaven that is Cville), I spent a solid two hours on my buddy’s iPhone reading all the updates from Chaz Chandler and the boys I could get my hands on. I have to say: I like what I’m hearing so far. The Thomas Davis quote about the Thunder/Lightning combo of Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams brightened my day. Reading the story about Jake doing his fiery Cajun thing and yelling at O-Linemen after a busted play got me excited. Seeing Steve Smith blatantly voice his dislike of training camp even got a rouse out of me. All of it sounded good to me.

Then I saw Chaz is reporting that this team has a positive vibe going for it, that they’re loose and excited to be playing football. That’s when I knew: let’s keep this momentum going.

So, I’m back at the helm today, sitting down to break down maybe the most significant unit on all the team: the Panthers D-Line. Once feared and revered, the Front Four needs to answer a lot of tough questions this 2008 season. What the fuck happened to Pep last year and can he come back? Are we going to miss Kris Jenkins more than we expected? Is having Mike Rucker not around going to affect us? Has Maake eaten any babies recently?

We attempt to answer these questions, and more, desde:

Brethren (cont’d): As I mentioned Saturday, the Fox/Hurney Era has been about making a claim for a dominant Front Four. Some years, it’s more bark than bite, but cotdamn, they try to go big or go home every year. What’s the 2008 edition look like?

The Starters
Julius Peppers, RDE: I don’t think there was anyone who summed up last year more than Pep. After a huge stastical 2006 campaign, he mysteriously disappeared in 2007. 2 ½ sacks? Are you kidding me? He’s a phenomenal athlete, and he claims he wasn’t sick or injured and refused to give excuses.

Well, what the fuck then, Pep? What gives? Your double-teams waned as the season went on and the production wasn’t there, in terms of stats. And any explanation we get is that stats don’t tell the whole story; that’s the company line from Pep, Hurney, and Fox. Well, they know more about football than me, so when they say that Pep’s still affecting the game, that he contains the outside, can force a running play inside, and limits the other team’s playbook with his presence, I’ll believe them. On the other hand, stats might not tell the whole story, but they tell a pretty damn big story, because they reflect production, as much as any piece of measurement can. So while I love the big fella and I rock his black #90 jersey every week, I want to see him making Pep plays and having Pep stats this year.

I want to see him bat a ball mid-air, pick it off, and stiff-arm a fullback on his way to the end zone. I want to see two blocked kicks in one game. I want to see him run down a LDT-type back. I want to him to single-handedly save a victory for us.

So yes, those are my expectations. He was the #2 draft pick, an athlete unlike any other to come through Charlotte. And it hurts that much more when he doesn’t meet them because we all know he can do it. We’ve seen it before; we want more than anything to see it again on his way to taking us to the Promised Land.

But better yet, the past two days have seen reports floating out of camp that Pep looks better than ever, that he looks on the verge of breakout year. He isn't talking to the media, and he's got a sick beard. I'm convinced: Make it happen, Pep. As you go, we go. Put us on your back, Big Cat.

Maake Kemoeatu, DT: One of the largest Panthers ever. I have enjoyed his presence, depsite never knowing how much he actually affects the game. He's not a pass-rushing DT so he doesn't pile up the sacks, but he takes up a lot of space, so I'm down with that.

Damione Lewis, DT: The returning sacks leader for the Panthers, Lewis is reported to have taken on a more vocal leadership role now that Jenkins is gone. I don't know really know what that means, but hey, I'll take it. Maybe more vocal means more production? Sure.

Tyler Brayton, Charles Johnson, and Stanley McGlover: The three dudes fighting it out for Peppers' old Left End spot. McGlover's got the crazy long hair, the Panthers hope Johnson becomes the next Mike Rucker (even with the Georgia lineage) and Brayton's an athletic dude. Of course, it won't really matter if Peppers has the crazy year we all want him to have, then the other guy should have some great opportunities.

From there, we got some rookies and others. But seriously, the time is now for Peppers to take over the D-Line. He's in his 7th year and it's time to start owning this line.

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