Welcome to Tom Talks, the sports talk show of the printed page. All we lack is free food and fake laughs. Some weeks I’d settle for the latter. Let’s go to the telephones.
Tom, Sam from Spartanburg. Every season you pick a long shot in training camp and every season he gets cut. The players on the margin must take off running when they see you coming.
Nah, not true. They like me.
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Who’s your long shot?
Jordan Todman, the running back whom the Carolina Panthers signed in March, is the early leader. The guy runs with authority and for a little guy he blocks with authority, too. I saw him handle linebacker A.J. Klein on a blitz, and I’m a Klein fan. Now, because Todman played three seasons for Jacksonville, started a game for Jacksonville last season and ran 62 yards for a touchdown last season, you could say he’s not a long shot. But Jacksonville didn’t keep him. If Jacksonville doesn’t keep you, you’re a long shot.
Tom, Sara from Saluda. Who else has impressed you at camp?
I love that name, Saluda. If I’d had a girl instead of two sons, I might have named her that. Kelvin Benjamin runs routes like a veteran. He’s been good. I also like Cameron Artis-Payne, the rookie running back out of Auburn. I watched him on a draw. The defense had no idea Artis-Payne was going to get the ball because he gave nothing away. When he did take the handoff, he waited for his blockers and seamlessly found a hole. Artis-Payne is 25, same as Todman. Rookie running backs often want to demonstrate how fast and athletic they are and get there now. Artis-Payne is confident enough to wait.
Tom, Ann from Ahoskie. I have a nontraining camp question. Floyd Mayweather announced that his final fight will be against Andre Berto Sept. 12. Are you excited?
I love boxing and appreciate Mayweather’s artistry, but I don’t love this fight. Berto once was 27-0. But he’s lost three of his past six fights. Mayweather is too much of a pro to be in anything but superb condition; this is a mismatch. When Mayweather wins he’ll be 49-0, same as the late Rocky Marciano. You think he’ll stop there? I suspect Mayweather will go for 50, and his 50th fight won’t be against a stiff.
Tom, Ralph from Laurens, Laurens, S.C. OK if I ask you a question about a sport people care about?
There are boxing fans in Charlotte, Ralph. I see them at the local fights. If I don’t know their names, I know their faces.
Whatever. What’s your favorite play from camp so far?
Cam Newton threw to tight end Greg Olsen on the right side. Olsen wasn’t expecting the pass and never looked up. Linebacker Thomas Davis did. Davis grabbed the ball and suddenly he was the fastest 32-year-old in the world. He sped past everybody except Newton. Fellow linebacker Luke Kuechly was lurking near Newton in case TD needed a block. He didn’t. TD ran at Newton, made a nice cut to his left and provided his own soundtrack, yelling as he put on the move. If you know TD, you know that at that moment he had dedicated his life to avoiding Newton and reaching the end zone. And he did, a TD for TD. You know, the Spartanburg heat can be brutal. It’s often 99 in the shade, and there is no shade. Regardless of occupation, I love to see people enjoy what they do. I don’t know anybody who enjoys football more than Davis.
Tom, Martin from Myers Park.
Surely you jest. I’m actually Martin III.
I hate that word, actually.
I have a favor to ask. Every August you ask Panthers coach Ron Rivera to name his training camp MVP. Two years ago he named wide receiver Armanti Edwards, who is out of the NFL. Last season he named Frank Alexander, who was suspended for substance abuse and played only one game. If you get Rivera one-on-one before camp ends, promise me you won’t ask him to name a training camp MVP.
Surely you jest.