PGF) I'm excited to be joined by Sheena Quick, beat writer for the Carolina Panthers, and you can hear her on Fox Sports Radio 1340 AM, and be sure to check out the halftime report on Revolt TV, Sheena thanks for coming on the show.
SQ) Thanks for having me. It's always a pleasure when people want to hear me talk about football.
PGF) Well, I'm really excited, I'm sure our listeners are going to be excited to hear a pro like yourself who covers the Panthers so in depth, and we're going to break it down and kind of get our listeners ready for the upcoming season so I want to start by asking you, entering his third season now defensive and Brian Burns might be the best young defensive player that America doesn't know about, he had more quarterback pressures than any other defender last year under the age of 25, could you talk about Brian Burns, and what can we expect from him this year?
SQ) I expect Brian burns to have a monster season. We've already seen traces of brilliance, you know, in his first and second years that his first season he was, you know, cut short a little bit by injury, but he's put on some muscle. He actually looks faster, and believe it or not, you know, he was younger than all the rookies, that were drafted, last year in 2020 So he has tremendous upside. He's been very impressive, thus far, he may be right and it's so interesting that he is one of the best young defensive players that the world has a note that the nation doesn't know about considering he came from Florida State, now you expect that maybe with the smaller schools but even though Florida State has had a couple of down years, they are still you know one of the considered one of the powerhouses, when it comes to college football, but he has definitely, I would say that between him and DJ Moore the Panthers have two of the most underrated players going into the season.
PGF) Yeah, I think you're certainly right Sheena and I think this is a breakout season for him, his lack of sack numbers I don't think reflects how good of a pass rusher he actually is and I think he's due for a big year. And with that D line around him that they've been building I think it's going to be harder than ever to send double teams his way and to give him, you know, to try to stop him or slow him down I think he's due for a monster year I'm excited to see what he does.
Sheena the Panthers, we know they went 5-11 last season, but they had 8 games, where they lost by only 8 points or less. Many pointed to the quarterback position that was holding them back in those close games. Enter Sam Darnold, who went 13-25 in New York, he had a 59.8 completion percentage, and was the lowest graded starting quarterback since 2018 according to Pro Football Focus. Why should Panther fans be optimistic about Sam Donald under center this year?
SQ) Because they're searching for an answer, I know you mentioned the one possession or less games the 8 losses that they had last year but if you go back, the past three seasons, you will see that a majority of their losses did come on the last drive or one possession or less and of course there's been an entirely different head coach one not hit just head coaching but there's been an entirely different coaching regime over the last couple of years they've had several different quarterbacks but the results are still the same. So I think when it comes to those very close games not to take anything from Sam Darnold but that the Panthers have to learn to win, they have to learn to close out those close games, no matter who's under center, so I think that every year Panthers fans are expecting to be better than the last. No one expected Teddy Bridgewater to go out there and throw 30 touchdowns, I know I didn't. Any casual football fan maybe, but if you have actually been following the sport and follow any of Teddy's previous seasons, you will see that last year was, it was average for him, it was, it's what he does, he was Teddy Bridgewater, I think that with Sam, more so than it just being a new quarterback under center they like his youth, they feel like he has a lot of upside, they feel that he hasn't been fairly analyze. So far early in his NFL career because of his coaching situation in New York, so they're hoping that with a change in scenery, you know with Matt Rhule and everything he brings and Joe Brady and his young offensive mind, they're hoping that they can develop him into a franchise quarterback and if not, There's always the draft next year.
PGF) I couldn't agree with you more Sheena, I think he did get kind of a bad deal of the hand, so to speak, in New York and with the coaching situation that you alluded to. A spotty offensive line, he really didn't have a lot of help offensively as far as playmakers or a running game, so I'm excited for him to get a new start here in Carolina and see what he can do. I know Panthers fans have got to be excited as well because I don't think we've seen Sam Darnold's best football just yet. So I think if things go well and he develops in this system I think it could be a good situation there for him. Now you talked about the NFL Draft. I want to touch on JayCee Horn. We know that he was really the jewel of this draft for the Carolina Panthers a guy that I'm really sky high on. He was the second rated defensive player on my big board, but if you could talk about the rest of this rookie class, and what have you seen from them so far?
SQ) Terrace Marshall is someone that everyone is very, very high on. He actually is not at full strength yet but we will be getting our first look at him as far as the media and I mean the fans also in Spartanburg in a couple of weeks here. I will say that Brady Christiansen was a little, a little smaller than I expected but again, you know you got to think about the group that he's working with the offensive offensive line, but I would definitely say that far and away Terrace Marshall and JayCee Horn are the two that are expected to make an immediate impact. Chuba Hubbard I'm expected to spell Christian McCaffrey quite a bit. Well, I'm not gonna say quite a bit because we don't know if Christian's workload is going to go back to what it was prior to last season, he missed the majority of the year, with injury, but I will say those three really stand out.
PGF) The Panthers released Tre Boston this offseason in order to save 3.5 million in cap space, but who do you expect to take over at free safety for Carolina this year?
SQ) Jeremy Chinn will be in a bit of a hybrid role, and then you have Sam Franklin back there that everyone is excited about. He was good last year when his number was called, so I think that between them, thing about it is that they're going to rotate so much that they're according to the Defensive Coordinator Phil Snow, so I think that I think it's really just Sam Franklin's position to lose.
PGF) So you touched on Christian McCaffrey, but coming off that 2020 season that was derailed by multiple injuries as we know, but it sounds like he's going to be ready to go this fall. In 2019 McCaffrey became only the third NFL player ever to post 1000 yards rushing and 1000 yards receiving in the same season. We know how great of a player he is, what have you seen from Christian McCaffrey? How does he look? and how big of a workload, you kind of touched on this, but how big of a workload should we expect from him going into this year?
SQ) Christian McCaffrey looks great, he looks great every preseason. He looks to be back at full strength, or speed, he works like a maniac as far as his preparation and just getting his body and mind ready. So I think that he's definitely going to be back to full strength by the time the season kicks off, even in training camp. Now when it comes to the workload. The Panthers have to learn to trust their other weapons. Now last year, they didn't have any choice. That's why you break out and you see four 1000 yard performers between Mike Davis, Curtis Samuel, Robbie Anderson and DJ Moore, so they've spread the wealth, a lot more and they became a more dangerous team offensively. I'm hoping that with Christian McCaffrey back, and with an extreme talent like that of course you want the ball in his hands, but you have to be able to trust the rest of your offensive players so that's going to be something that Joe Brady is going to be tasked with going into this season. Panthers fans do not shoot me....that team played better offensively without Christian McCaffrey last year, and I get it he's like a Swiss army knife it's easy to want to utilize every single skill that he has because he is a phenomenal talent, but you have to trust that there's other players on the field that can make plays as well and you don't want to go back to being a one dimensional team because nine times out of 10 on 3rd and short, the ball is going to Christian McCaffrey. Sometimes he's unstoppable, but oftentimes it's predictable that he's going to have the ball and in his hands, so it'll be interesting to see if Joe Brady in his second season is able to balance the offensive load and get some good ball distribution. That's going to be key to getting some wins, in my opinion. So like I said, I know it's easy to fall back onto pressure McCaffrey the Panthers in the last couple seasons they had questions at quarterback, you know, so there were a lot of check downs that Christian directed those yards on, not saying he's not a good receiver because I'm telling you people come for you If you say anything that they perceive to be negative about Christian McCaffrey, this is not a negative, it's just Joe Brady's gonna be tested, I called it that offensive group last year Brady Bunch, we'll see how Brady manages so much talent on the opposite side of the ball because that's going to be the key to whether their get more wins or losses.
PGF) When you said that, it kind of reminds me of the Cleveland Browns a little bit with the Odell Beckham Jr. situation we know he's an elite talent, we know he's one of the best receivers, for some reason the Browns tend to play better when he's out of the lineup, and so you alluded to that with Christian McCaffrey we know how great he is, but sometimes it's a little less obvious the play calling is a little more diverse sometimes spreading the ball around, can be a little harder to defend for teams so I like that call there I think it's spot on accurate.
So I want to shift back here to the defensive side of the ball, and Carolina made it clear that they want to build this team through the draft and going into Matt Rhule's first season as the head coach in 2020, the Panthers took all defensive players in the NFL Draft. Tell us about this young group of defensive players for Carolina?
SQ) I think they're extremely promising, and last season as you watch the season they got progressively better they weren't losing the games as they were early on when people were just driving and converting on third downs, but I do think that drafting JayCee Horn, not gonna lie to you, I felt like they were going cornerback but I thought it was going to be Pat Surtain, but I think that adding JayCee to that lineup, you're going to see even more aggressive defensive plays got play calling in place games. The Panthers had to play a lot of zone coverage they had to play you know, off the ball a lot last year because they just simply didn't have the personnel to get up, press the line of scrimmage play bump and run and be physical, JayCee Horn adds that element so I expect more importantly that third down conversion rate, as far as deepens I expect that to go down because of your third sitting at third and three in your corners or six seven yards off the ball, easy slant easy first down. So that's what I'm most excited to see this year is the secondary Dante Jackson is back healthy, not to mention this is a contract year for him so he has to ball out, he has the ball out and he's sensing the urgency, he seems to have worked a lot on the details of his game during this offseason which is very promising, Carolina Panthers fans will love to hear that because Dante was streaky good, like you know that he could be a shutdown corner but there was still some things that needed to be polished, and when you have the quickness that Dante Jackson has, you're able to kind of fudge a little bit on technique because you can catch, if it's a play race you can catch up, but what happens when you can't? so I will definitely be watching the defensive secondary, I am excited for that group of guys, they are young, but they are hungry when you're young deepens like that you have nothing to lose, but I'm very excited. I think the pass rush will be better. I think the run defense will be better. They got some bodies out there that are not afraid to get into the trenches, and I don't know if you can tell but I'm definitely a defensive type of defensive fan, but I'm excited, I'm excited to see what that unit can do I want to see what Brian Burns is able to do with a complete year being healthy, Hasson Reddick from that other edge. Shaq Thompson, not for nothing. I feel like he's, he's got to show me something, I just haven't been super duper duper blown away by him, you know, and maybe his contribution is more vocal and, you know, more so in the in the locker room, but I would like to see his status approved this year also. So it could be a breakout season for him when all the pieces come together, things happen like that you might have magic on that side of the ball this season but that's what I'm expecting I'm expecting to see some young aggressive players playmakers rather on the defensive side of the ball for the Panthers.
PGF) Yeah certainly Sheena, I think that young defensive line is really starting to come together and add in a guy like you said with JayCee Horn, being able to play a little more man to man being able to be a little more aggressive with certain things you do schematically I think is going to help this team. I think it's exciting young group of defensive players so I loved your answer there and and getting to hear about them. I expect them to take a big step forward this year as well. Now, we already talked about Darnold and McCaffrey both well known players but who are some under the radar offensive players going into training camp that we should keep an eye on?
SQ) Of course you're know I'm going to say DJ Moore, I think he is very underrated, I don't know how one of the, he's actually the first Carolina offensive player in years to have back to back 1000 yard receiving years. The other was, the most recent one before DJ was Greg Olson of course he's gone, I wouldn't be surprised if Reggie Bonnafon gives you a good season. We've seen him his spurts and on trick plays and he you know he can run the ball. So those are my two picks, Reggie Bonnafon and DJ Moore.
PGF) After an impressive first season as the offensive coordinator, Joe Brady has become a hot name in coaching circles around the NFL, but the Panthers were somewhat predictable on first down and they also had some redzone struggles, what changes do you expect from Joe Brady and the offense this season?
S) I just expect him to be a year older a year wiser in the NFL, you know, and his name, not for nothing was, like you said it was a hot, a hot name, you know as being shopped around with head coaching opportunities which I thought was a bit premature, not because I don't think that he can do it but I just don't think, I think I just thought they were jumping the gun a little bit and needs a little bit more experience, and again, the first drives are pretty predictable, but I think that as the season went on he had to learn how to use his weapons. Now the one thing I will say that was kind of a bit of a mystery was that Robbie Anderson was so good so early on and they didn't keep feeding him the ball down the stretch, I don't know why...there could be some physical limitations that we didn't know about who knows? But for some, reason they went away from that, he saw a lot of trick plays, fake punts and things of that nature. So I just expect them to be a year wise, more mature and able to really extract everyone's best qualities, you know, you have somebody like Curtis Samuel, I was not shocked when they lined him up in the backfield, and with a healthy Christian McCaffrey, that might be an entirely new arsenal that we have not seen Joe Brady even tap into, so I'm excited for that. Also, you know, I know you hear, you heard me going crazy about the defense even sleep is but they ask the playmakers on the offensive side of the ball and if they could protect Sam Darnold, that's what I think a lot of the redzone woes came from. Some of them were bad decision making, of course, no one can forget the Green Bay game when Teddy reached the ball over the goal line and fumble, but it wasn't just Teddy like sometimes he was out there running for his life, he very rarely had a clean pocket, so I think that what Joe Brady is able to do goes beyond the flashy players, the skill positions that we see, or you know the front and back end, I think that Joe Brady's ability to extract the most that he can out of this offense is going to start in the trenches with the offensive line.
PGF) With a talented but relatively young roster in Carolina, and a coach going into year two, what is the floor, and what is the ceiling for the Carolina Panthers in 2021?
SQ) Floor I say 7-10, ceiling I'm going to go 11-6.
PGF) I like it. I think realistically Panthers fans would have to be happy with a seven or eight win season, you know most fans are not gonna be super excited about that, but I think if we saw this team take a step forward, win an extra three games or four games they did last year, I think it would show that they're moving in the right direction and I think Panthers fans would have to be excited about that, but I've been really excited to have you on the show Sheena thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it so much once again we're joined by Sheena Quick, beat writer for the Carolina Panthers, and you can hear her on Fox Sports Radio 1340 AM, and the halftime report on revolt TV, Sheena thank you so much for your time and thanks for coming on the show.
SQ) Thanks for having me.