The Observers Joseph Person had a very interesting, one-on-one interview with Panthers coach Ron Rivera that we published in Sundays and Mondays newspapers. After reading it all, the most unusual analogy I thought Rivera made was when he said: I guess, to me, Brandon LaFell encapsulates who we are.
The Panthers sort-of No. 2 receiver? The one who holds the team record with a 91-yard touchdown reception but who also had nine games last season in which he had two or fewer catches?
That is the Panthers symbol? Not Cam Newton? Not Jon Beason? Not the Double Trouble running backs or Jordan Gross or Ryan Kalil or any other high-profile Panthers player?
When you think about it, though, the analogy does make some sense. Rivera used it after saying about LaFell: I didnt want him to feel like hes arrived. I think the thing that Brandon has to always keep in front of him is the big picture and that is his continual growth.
Of the Panthers, Rivera said: Weve got to keep the carrot in front of us.
In other words, keep working. Stay hungry. Rivera said he doesnt give a crap that some people are picking the Panthers to win the NFC South over controversy-ridden New Orleans this fall.
This Panthers team does have some stars more than many Panthers teams from the past have. But its the middle third of the roster say, players 10-35 on the roster, where LaFell would land that needs to get better for Carolina to go from 6-10 in 2011 to a playoff team in 2012.
LaFell, in other words, is a truer indication of the teams roster than an athletic outlier like Newton. LaFell had 36 catches for 613 yards in 2011 as a part-time starter, but in 2012 he needs to show he can make more tough catches over the middle and must be a more consistent blocker.
And there are lots of players like LaFell who will be important: Whoever the No. 2 cornerback turns out to be. And veteran defensive tackle Ron Edwards, returning from injury. And punt returner Joe Adams. And new utility back Mike Tolbert and Luke Kuechly and second tight end Gary Barnidge and so on and so on.
Those are the guys who embody a talented but still-flawed team. Those are the guys who will play such a large part in making or breaking the season the guys who will be given opportunities to make plays when the other team tries to take away Newton, Steve Smith, Beason, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Greg Olsen and so on.
So while I never had thought of it that way the Panthers being symbolized by LaFell Im now somewhat enamored with Riveras analogy. Its going to make me track LaFells progress more closely this fall, and see whether it really does mirror the teams performance.