Sunday is the perfect day to spread out.
Spread out in front of the TV. Spread out at the dinner table. And, for the Carolina Panthers, spread out the targets for their wide receivers.
It’s great news that wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is back for the Panthers. But I want to see Cam Newton prove on Sunday that he can still coax impact plays out of five or six receivers against San Francisco with “Benji” on the field.
In 2014, Newton looked for Benjamin or tight end Greg Olsen practically every time he was in a jam. In the season opener against Denver, the same thing happened. Devin Funchess, who was so dynamic in the preseason, was an afterthought. Same with Ted Ginn Jr., who had a career-high 10 receiving TDs in 2015. Olsen and Benjamin combined for 13 catches vs. the Broncos. Funchess, Ginn and Philly Brown combined for three.
Without Benjamin in 2015, Newton had his best season in part because he was forced to spread the ball around. The 49ers will spend a lot of defensive capital trying to take away Benjamin and Olsen Sunday. It’s time for the other receivers to shine.
NATIONAL ANTHEM SOLUTION? Reader Patrick Baines wrote this to me about the national anthem demonstrations by San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick and others. I thought it was an interesting idea.
Wrote Baines: “The demonstrations are getting attention but not the right kind in a positive way. ... It’s been in the news that some police departments are stopping the use of body cameras because new laws require extended time maintenance of the video records and it is becoming too expensive for these departments. The NFL players and their sponsors should start and fund a program to support the use of body cameras throughout the USA. What better way for the players to get the justice they want in police shooting situations?”
GABBERT VS. NEWTON: You may remember that in 2011 the Panthers considered quarterback Blaine Gabbert for the No. 1 overall pick before taking Cam Newton.
When studying tape of those two before the draft, coach Ron Rivera came across something interesting. Newton, sometimes derided then as a player who pulled the ball down and ran at the first sign of trouble, actually spent more time in the pocket looking for his receivers than Gabbert did. Rivera told me about this in “Panthers Rising,” my new book about the Panthers.
Said Rivera when he spoke about studying Newton before the draft: “The first bit of tape I watched was Auburn vs. Alabama (when Newton led the Tigers from a 24-0 deficit to a 28-27 win in Tuscaloosa, Ala.). The second half was phenomenal. I went right over to Marty Hurney’s office (Hurney was GM at the time) and said, ‘This is our guy.’”
Continued Rivera: “Marty told me to calm down, but he felt pretty much the same way. ... I watched all of (Newton’s) throws from that season. And I watched all of his runs. Surprisingly, most of them were called runs. We broke it down and Blaine Gabbert actually scrambled more than Cam Newton that season, that’s a fact.”
Gabbert still runs a fair amount and won’t be a stationary target for the Panthers’ rush on Sunday. In San Francisco’s 28-0 blowout win over the L.A. Rams Monday night, Gabbert ran nine times for 43 yards.
OK, WHICH IS IT? I was on jury duty in Lincoln County for most of this past week. My favorite moment came during jury selection. The assistant district attorney trying to help pick a jury asked one man: “Are you married or single?”
“I am,” the man replied.
PREDICTION TIME: I correctly picked Denver’s upset of Carolina last week and will try to go 2-0 with this one. The Panthers were 10-0 last season at Bank of America Stadium, and I don’t see them losing their home opener in 2016. In fact, I don’t think it will be that close. My pick: Carolina 30, San Francisco 17.
Fowler: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @scott_fowler