Tom Sorensen

Tom Talks: Drafting QB Will Grier a sensible move for Carolina Panthers

Former West Virginia quarterback Will Grier is a potential successor to Cam Newton for the Carolina Panthers.
Former West Virginia quarterback Will Grier is a potential successor to Cam Newton for the Carolina Panthers. AP

The Carolina Panthers selected Will Grier with the 100th pick in the NFL draft, only three picks from the bottom of the third round. The pick has been criticized because, well, all picks are criticized.

Grier is a quarterback, and the Panthers already have some. So, they now have a rookie, an accomplished rookie who is from Davidson, starred at West Virginia, and plays the same position that Cam Newton does.

There are times when there’s one quarterback too many on a roster. If a long-time starter is benched, and his former backup becomes the starter, the former starter usually is jettisoned.

This is not such a case. I’ve heard the theory that if Newton strings together, say, two bad games, fans will chant the name of Grier.

You know what? The theory makes sense. If Newton plays poorly in consecutive games, some fans will call for Grier. They’ll point out that other rookie quarterbacks have done good work, so why don’t the Panthers give their rookie a chance?

There also are fans that will chant for Grier if Newton plays one bad game. There are fans that will chant for Grier if Newton plays one bad half. And there are fans that will chant for Grier before Newton even steps on the field.

So what? If Newton can shake off the massive hits he takes, he can shake off disgruntled fans.

Newton, who turns 30 on May 11, has always been polarizing. He is unconventional. Some fans will dislike him no matter what he accomplishes. Other fans will embrace him no matter what he fails to accomplish.

Grier, 24, has a quality Newton doesn’t. He’s new. Newton has played eight seasons for Carolina. We know his weaknesses as well as his strengths. We have no idea what Grier can’t do in the NFL because he’s never done anything.

Why do the Panthers collect offensive linemen? They do it because they don’t want to be caught the way they were last season when offensive line starters went down and their replacements struggled.

Newton has twice undergone shoulder surgery, in March 2017 and again in January. Shoulders are a complex collection of muscles. So, for the first time since the Panthers drafted Newton in 2011, they drafted a quarterback. To nab Grier at the end of the third round, with the 100th pick in the draft, was, I believe, impressive.

Could the Panthers have used a defensive back? Sure. They always seem to. But there’s no problem with selecting and then developing Newton’s backup. If Newton gets hurt this season, if the right shoulder doesn’t hold up, there’s Grier. And if Newton sustains good health and thrives in offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s second season, Grier can watch, listen and learn.

You ever see an NFL playbook? There are so many details, options and, in the old days, color-coded pages that a rookie must feel as if he’s attempting to crack a code. If Newton’s health is good, and if you’re a fan of the Panthers you hope it is, Grier will have several seasons to crack the code.

Grier isn’t the savior, and he might not be the future. But Carolina found a potential starter late in the third round.

What’s controversial about that?

A reason to cheer for Rory

This is a small story. But if you’re not sure whom to cheer in the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club, here’s a candidate.

Rory McIlroy has done good work in Charlotte. He’s twice won at Quail Hollow, and in 2015 set a tournament record. He shot 21 below par and won by seven strokes.

On Tuesday, even a star such as McIlroy didn’t attract a large gallery. There was no pro-am, only players practicing. But his gallery was larger than most. And when McIlroy finally finished, adults and kids rushed to him for autographs.

Quail Hollow started something new this season that I hope becomes permanent. They established Autograph Alley for kids. When players finish their rounds, they sign for kids. In related news, if you are 45 years old, you are not a kid.

My autograph theory is not terribly popular, as several of you have been willing to point out. Autographs are for kids, and when I see adults using their weight and heft to steal to the front of an autograph line, I want them arrested.

Thus, my rule: Nobody is allowed to ask anybody younger than he or she for an autograph. So old autograph seekers will have to look to old golfers for a signature. Phil Mickelson will be even more popular. He’s 48.

McIlroy is 29. After playing 18 holes Tuesday in heat that reached 84 degrees, humidity engulfed the golfer. He undoubtedly wanted what the rest of us did: something cold to drink and a shower.

Yet, sweaty as he was, McIlroy signed for everybody. He worked his way down the line, and signed for about 15 minutes. You’d think he was finished, and then a new line would begin.

This wasn’t Autograph Alley. This was just a good guy being a good guy. After McIlroy signed and signed some more, he finally walked up the stairs to begin the journey to the clubhouse.

When he reached the platform atop the steps, he paused. He picked up his ball, looked below, and lobbed it to a kid.

The kid caught the ball cleanly, and walked away with his family, each of them smiling as widely as he was.

McIlroy’s throw was not the act of a man who had to do this. It was the act of a man who wanted to.

Hope he has another great tournament.

Shorts a must at Quail Hollow

This is what you should know about the Wells Fargo Championship.

Don’t wear jeans. I did for no reason other than habit. All my shorts are for working out or swimming, except the shorts I bought at Augusta National, and they seemed a tad pretentious. Yes, I’ve been to the Masters. How did you know?

The afternoon was warm, the heat enveloping. What bothered me most about the jeans was that the only two other guys I encountered wearing them smoked cigars in a fashion that suggested, “Ha, ha, we aren’t allowed to smoke cigars at home and but we’re not home so how you like us now.” They didn’t just smoke the cigars. They tried to get you to see them smoke cigars.

So, yeah, next time, new shorts.

Also, if you spend a few days here, you will run into almost everybody you know. This happens to a lesser extent at Carolina Panthers and Charlotte Hornets home games, at BB&T Ballpark and Charlotte Motor Speedway. I always see people I know at local boxing cards, but ours is a small family.

The Wells Fargo Championship is large. It is spring break for adults. I don’t know how high Charlotte area absenteeism climbs Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, but since the people you report to also are at Quail Hollow, it shouldn’t be an issue.

When you encounter friends, acquaintances, co-workers, and people from your past, here’s something to try.

Ask them how much they paid for their ticket.

In all the time I’ve been going, and I’ve been going since the tournament’s inception in 2003, I’ve never encountered anybody that has acknowledged paying for a ticket. The name of the tournament has changed. Even the location has. Yet the contention that the ticket was free has not changed. Not once since 2003 has somebody told me, “Yeah, I paid $47 for my ticket.”

Everybody assumes everybody else got in free, and nobody wants to admit being the lone fan to pay.

My first day at the tournament this year was Tuesday because I wanted to go on a day when the pros practice and the crowds were less than overwhelming.

I didn’t use a press pass.

Did I pay?

I would have.

But a friend gave me a ticket.

Grading the Panthers draft is tough

How did you grade the Carolina Panthers draft?

Did the Panthers address needs? In theory they did. But we need to see the players who hope to fill these needs in training camp. We don’t know if they can play. Nobody knows. The people who assess letter grades don’t know.

If the graders don’t know, why do they do assess grades?

Fans want to know how their team did, and here’s the answer, clean and neat. There’s no confusion, no ambiguity. The Panthers got a C+ or an A-, a B or a D.

Except, the grades were unusually high. One guy gave almost everybody an A, unless he was disappointed, in which case he assessed an A- or even a B+. Man, where was this guy when I was in college? With a grader such as this, you wouldn’t need to bribe somebody to take a test for your kid.

With the 16th pick in the 2019 NFL draft, I would have taken edge rusher Montez Sweat out of Mississippi State who, I’m aware, thanks, has a heart condition. The Panthers did not take Sweat, and he lasted 10 more picks, going 26th to Washington (which I think had a fine draft, which means owner Daniel Snyder must finally have deferred.) The Panthers took Florida State edge rusher Brian Burns.

I think Sweat will be a better pro than Burns. But I concede that the Panthers might have done more research.

Despite the research, the draft is inexact. The draft is where research and instincts collide. Many scouts and coaches and general managers watch tape deep into the night, ice cubes scraping inside the glass in their right hand, as they look for an edge (rusher), a sign, a tendency, or insight or brilliance. They look for clues the others miss.

I especially like two Carolina picks. I like Grier at the end of round three, and I like Alabama edge rusher Christian Miller 15 picks later in round four. If the often-injured Miller stays healthy, he will disrupt. He’s smooth, and he can move.

Safety has been a perpetual need for Carolina. I wrote before training camp in 2018 that safety was their biggest need. Then, in a coup, the Panthers signed free agent safety Eric Reid, who finished especially strong.

Who plays across from Reid? I hope Rashaan Gaulden, last season a third-round pick out of Tennessee. Gaulden didn’t have good games last season. He had good moments. He has the talent to start. The favorite at the moment might be veteran Da’Norris Searcy.

About draft grades: After each Panthers’ game, the Charlotte Observer grades quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, the offensive line, defensive line, linebackers, secondary, special teams and coaching.

We stopped at one point. Complaints didn’t. Readers were angry. They want answers, and letter grades offer them.

I’d grade the 2019 draft the same way I’d grade every other team’s draft. I’d give them an I for incomplete.

Short takes: Golf fans welcome Grier; stop whining, NBA players

Although Grier grew up in Davidson, he had never played Quail Hollow until he teed off Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Championship pro-am. He told the club he wanted the highest possible handicap, which is 18.

Fans offered warm and appreciative applause when his name was announced. Earlier, when Grier was on the driving range, he received a loud, “Let’s go Mountaineers.” He played, of course, for West Virginia…

Couldn’t make the Charlotte Knights-Gwinnett Stripers game Wednesday at BB&T Ballpark. Hated to miss it. First pitch was at 11:05 a.m. Day games are great because you feel as if you aren’t supposed to be there on a school day. Find a seat in the sunshine, sit back and quietly salute everybody who skipped out of work for lunch and didn’t return for hours. The Knights won 10-7…

Is it me or do the Houston Rockets complain incessantly about officiating? It’s not just me? Thanks. This is a glamour playoff series, full of great individual and team match-ups. Officials miss calls, but there is no fix or favored son. I promise. The Golden State Warriors lead the series 2-0 after Tuesday’s 115-109 victory because they are talented and versatile and well coached and played both games at Oracle Arena in Oakland.

The Rockets submitted data to the NBA that attempts to prove NBA officials like Golden State better. We didn’t have data when I was growing up. I thought my mom liked my four brothers better. But I could never prove it. Houston can’t, either.

A problem with this series, and with the other three concurrent series, is that players complain so predictably and demonstrably when they’re called for a foul. They’re aggrieved, they’re angry, they’re hurt, and they’re righteous. You have a great sport, gentlemen. The incessant complaints detract from it.

Golden State’s Draymond Green complains steadily. But there can be no complaints about his performance Tuesday. Man, was he good Tuesday. Question: What did Green do? Answer: Whatever his team needed. His line: 15 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, two steals and fine defense on whomever he was assigned. At 6-7, he often functioned as Golden State’s defensive center. He pulled it off…

The first official clue that the Wells Fargo Championship has returned to Charlotte: CBS trucks rumbling down Sharon Road West…

This just in. Please pay college football and men’s basketball players. If any college athletes produce revenue, whether through ticket sales or by enticing alumni to kick in thousands of dollars, it’s them and it’s only them. Paying all athletes is not feasible.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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