Columns & Blogs

Carolina Panthers’ camp, first exhibition bring marvels

Welcome to Tom Talks, the sports talk show of the printed page. You ask, we answer. Call me.

Tom, Bill from Bath. Anything surprise you at the Carolina Panthers’ training camp?

Attendance has surprised me. Last season the Panthers attracted their largest crowds, and they estimate attendance this season is up about 20 percent. You can see it from the field; the hill is packed with fans and fill the space along the fences. The crowds can be attributed in part to new landscaping and fan-friendly grass patios. But there’s also the sense that, after twice winning the NFC South, the Panthers are on the cusp of something very good. You feel that on the field and in the crowd.

Tom, Sally from Spartanburg. Do you think the game-winning drive and two-point conversion Friday will carry into the exhibition against Miami or into the regular season?

No. But it was enjoyable. I like the poise of third-team quarterback Joe Webb and the running of Brandon Wegher, who took Webb’s short pass 42 yards for a touchdown with 54 seconds remaining.

Who is Brandon Wegher?

He’s a running back from Sioux City, Iowa. I’ve been there, if you care.

I don’t.

As a freshman, Wegher rushed for eight touchdowns, an Iowa freshman record. He attended two other schools before transferring to Sioux City’s – did I tell you I’ve been there? – Morningside College. At Morningside last season he rushed for 2,610 yards. Those 2,610 yards didn’t get him drafted, so the Panthers signed him as a free agent.

Tom, Ted from Turkey. Who do you like in Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400?

As a professional news-gatherer, I’m not allowed to takes sides. That said, I like Kyle Busch. What he’s accomplished this season is extraordinary, and a great story.

Tom, Perry from Como, up here in Hertford County. I know you didn’t go to Buffalo to see the Panthers. Be honest. Did you watch the entire game?

I did. When I go to camp, I write, of course, about stars and starters. I also write about underdogs, and I feel as if I know them. For the underdogs, the Bills’ game was not a meaningless exhibition. It was an audition. Paul Browning, who caught the game winning two-point conversion pass, isn’t even on the roster I brought back from camp. He played at Colorado-State Pueblo, replaced the injured Stephen Hill and came to the Carolinas on a 1 a.m. flight from Denver.

Tom, Vivian from Vass.

Vivian, Vass up?

Darn. She hung up.

Tom, Gregg from Gaffney. We all have superstitions and strategies when we watch the Panthers on TV. What are yours?

I don’t have any superstitions. I did, but they wore out. I do have strategy. When the Panthers awaited a punt last season I’d go to the kitchen and grab something to drink. With Ted Ginn Jr. back there, I don’t go anywhere. He returned only one punt Friday for seven yards. But with Ginn it’s not so much what he does as what he’s capable of doing. His teammates know it, and as he waits for the ball there’s a jolt that goes through the players on the field as well as on the bench.

Tom, Lyle from Lake Lure. Since you like underdogs, somebody surprising must have impressed you. Give me a name.

I’d say Jordan Todman, the running back. But I would have been surprised if he hadn’t played well. Rakim Cox, a defensive end out of Villanova, was impressive. He was all over the field, and the Bills.