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Preseason panic in Pantherland, again

By Tom Sorensen
tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com
Tom Sorensen
Tom Sorensen has been a columnist at The Observer for 20 years and has been at the paper for 25, writing about nearly every sport in the Carolinas.
PANTHERS_RAVENS_34
Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera questions an official's call during Thursday's preseason action against the Baltimore Ravens at M & T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

NFL exhibitions rarely are compelling. But the reaction by fans of the Carolina Panthers is.

Based on conversations I’ve overheard or been part of, tweets and emails sent my way and sports talk shows I’ve listened to or sat in on, this is what we can take away from Carolina’s first three practice games.

The Panthers have THE WORST OFFENSIVE LINE IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD.

Cam Newton is NOT GOOD.

The offense is NOT CREATIVE.

And even though the defense scored three touchdowns against Baltimore, there were plays where THEY GAVE UP YARDS.

I drove past Bank of America Stadium and expected to see protesters burning their PSLs in effigy, or at least selling them at a steep discount.

The last time Panthers fans reacted to the preseason with such anger and passion was – well, you’d have to go all the way back to 2012.

If you go to a race and Jimmie Johnson looks slow behind the pace car, do you figure he’s going to finish behind Danica? If you go to a pregame party and the wings are terrible, do you figure the game will be? If Steve Smith drops a pass during warm-ups, do you figure he has bad hands?

Last season the Philadelphia Eagles won all four of their exhibition games. They averaged 26.5 points and gave up an average of 15. This was a Super Bowl team. You could tell.

Then the season began. They won the same number of games in September, October, November and December combined that they won in August.

Remember Newton’s rookie preseason? He threw 57 passes and completed 24. Some he overthrew so badly that fans in the fifth row thought the pass was to them. Others he threw so low it was as if his receivers were wearing baseball caps and, after grabbing the ball on two bounces, throwing to first. Newton’s exhibition quarterback rating was 64.9.

In his first real game in Glendale, Ariz., Newton threw for 422 yards and two touchdowns and his quarterback rating was 110.4.

Everybody has faults. One of mine is the absence of panic. I don’t get the appeal.

Maybe it’s because the NFL is so big, and August so devoid of major sporting events, that when the Panthers underperform you overreact. Maybe the team has let you down so many times you expect to be let down again.

Has the offensive line been shaky? Of course it has. I asked Panthers coach Ron Rivera halfway through training camp which position concerned him most and without hesitating he said right guard.

The Panthers can’t identify all the key members of the line until other teams make their final cuts. And if there’s a position that puts a premium on continuity, it’s offensive line.

Can the Panthers depend on guards Byron Bell and Garry Williams, each of whom came into the league as an undrafted free agent? I don’t know. Bell has had moments. Williams apparently is expected to.

But don’t you like seeing Ryan Kalil, who played in the Pro Bowl in 2009, ’10, and ’11, back after missing the final 11 games last season?

And don't you think tackle Jordan Gross, who last played in the Pro Bowl in 2010, has one more season in him? So many people said Gross was a sieve in 2012 that it's accepted as fact. Check the tape. It’s not true.

Late last season the line was solid, and that was without Kalil. The line won’t be the team’s strength. But did you think it would?

The NFL labels exhibitions preseason because preseason sounds serious and enables teams to charge full price for tickets.

You have to be careful with words that begin with pre. Take predate, for example. I don’t care about predate. I care about the date. The Panthers have one Sept. 8 at Bank of America Stadium with Seattle.

If panic is in you and it has to come out, you might want to save it until then.

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