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Tom Talks

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Star Lotulelei has Panthers coaches, fans smiling so far

There are two obvious high points and two obvious low points in the first half of the Carolina Panthers’ 2013 season.

A high point: At training camp, a defensive coach continually smiled. Every time I saw the man he was smiling. I finally asked why. Was his dorm room a suite?

“Star,” he said.

Star Lotulelei was outstanding in camp and still is. The rookie defensive tackle offers a force and a presence that complements Carolina’s outside rush. It’s not outrageous to envision him as defensive rookie of the year.

A low point: Coach Ron Rivera said one afternoon in Spartanburg that receiver Armanti Edwards was his training camp MVP. I’ve been writing for years that Armanti’s time would come, and now it was apparent – 2013 would be it. I admire Edwards, admire his game. So, yet again, I trumpeted his impending stardom. Then the Panthers cut him. So I guess Edwards will have to star for Cleveland instead. The Browns are undefeated since they signed him.

A low point: To beat the Panthers, Buffalo had to drive 80 yards in less than two minutes. Behind their rookie quarterback, they did. And they had no timeouts. The celebration at Ralph Wilson Stadium was immediate and emotional and loud. Carolina was 0-2, and it was impossible, that afternoon, to imagine such a celebration in dejected Charlotte. It felt like 2012 and 2011 all over again.

A high point: Cam Newton’s performance in a 22-6 loss to Arizona, Carolina’s last loss. Newton played poorly in the second half, and another winnable game was lost. Newton was sacked seven times. It’s as if the Panthers held a party in the backfield and invited the Cardinals. Arizona’s delayed blitz continually fooled Carolina.

Why was the loss a high point?

Newton never complained about his protection and never lost his poise. He was knocked down. He’d get back up. When he did, he didn’t whine or point or allow his shoulders to slump. He just played. That’s what leaders do.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen
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