A great big Thank You goes out to James Dator, El Jefe at Cat Scratch Reader, for sitting down in an undisclosed location to provide some insight on the Panthers for the upcoming contest at Soldier Field against our Beloved.
1- Obviously the first topic: Cam Newton. Discuss.
James: He's everything we could have wanted and more. Honestly, we thought it would be a good 2-3 year wait before Newton would reach his potential, and he hasn't reached it yet but nobody could have predicted he'd catch on to the NFL game this quickly. Already he's looking off the safety, spreading the football to multiple receivers, adjusting protection on the line of scrimmage, selling play fakes... it's remarkable because he's doing so many things his scouting report said he was terrible at.
Newton is still a rookie and he makes some bone-headed plays here or there, but overall we're ecstatic.
2- The Bears are not known for having the most popular management committee (President Ted Phillips, GM Jerry Angelo, and even HC Lovie Smith at times)... Can you tell us what the fans perspective is of Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, President Danny Morrison, and GM Marty Hurney? How do they work together, and how is the HC involved in the operation?
James: The last two years have been pretty rough for a variety of reasons. Being on the forefront of the lockout Jerry Richardson was preparing his team for a work stoppage. He wanted to do everything he good to save the jobs of his team employees and tightened the purse strings. Concurrently, he saw the opportunity of an uncapped year not as a opportunity to buy, but rather sell. He used it to shed every bad contract from the organization and start all over again. Fans normally love the guy, but there are some bridges to mend after the 2-14 year as a result of the saving.
In terms of football ops it's all Marty Hurney. Richardson is a very hands-off owner when it comes to football decisions, he'd rather defer to the knowledge of those who he hired rather than make decisions himself. As for Hurney, he is very collaborative with his head coach (with the exception of John Fox's lame duck year). From what I know the head coach let's Hurney know what he needs, Hurney then works with the scouts and coach to find those players. Ron Rivera wanted a franchise QB, Hurney got him one. Knowledgeable fans recognize his successes in the draft. As it stands he has the highest percentage of 1st rounds picks to make pro-bowls in the NFL, but his propensity to wheel and deal draft picks can annoy us at times.
As for Danny Morrison, he's very behind the scenes. It's all just business operations and solvency. He's only been in Carolina for two years, but given his hands on approach to the HC search he seems good.
3- The Panthers have a very young team, and the fanbase isn't nearly as rooted as most NFL teams. It's not uncommon on gameday in Charlotte to see as many opposing teams' jerseys as Panther jerseys (people in that area were fans of other teams before 1995, and probably a large portion remain loyal to their original team)... What is your opinion of the fabbase there? Do you view them as a force to be reckoned with at Bank of America Stadium?
James: Cam Newton will go a long way to getting transplants to trade in their jerseys and get behind the home team. So much of the Charlotte area is tied to financial and banking industries that we have an inordinate amount of people who grew up in other areas now calling Charlotte home. Ron Rivera publicly made it known that he wants an 'our house' demeanor to be present in the stadium. Part of the issue is we have a large portion of the fans at games we call the 'Wine and Cheese crowd' who see a Panthers' game as a social event, rather than a contest.
That being said, seeing as many fans stay in the stands knee-deep in water last week was heartwarming. It seems Rivera's plan for the Panthers might get realized.
4- Looking at the rookies and sophomores on your team, who should be expected to make significant impacts for the 2011 and beyond Panthers?
James: Apart from Cam Newton this question begins and ends with sophomore DE Greg Hardy. Once thought to be #1 overall pick material he experienced a free fall on draft day due to injury concerns and questions about his desire. Since being in Carolina we've found neither to be true... the guy is an absolute wrecking ball from the edge and has a rare combination of speed and power we haven't seen since Julius Peppers was drafted. Thus far he has two sacks, one forced fumble and a safety in three games... it seems that Hardy and Charles Johnson will be long time bookends for Carolina.
5- What will be the key match-ups for the Panthers this weekend? What needs to happen for them to be able to go into Soldier Field and whip the Bears?
James: I believe the key match-up will be our short passing game vs. your linebackers. I know that's painting with a broad brush, but your linebackers will need to be ready to deal with not only our tight ends, but running backs out of the backfield. This can be very difficult to defend when Jonathan Stewart has a head of steam with only a DB to take him down.
As for what the Panthers need to happen... they need the Cam Newton/Steve Smith hook-up to be back at full force, and they need to contain Matt Forte out of the backfield if they hope to win this game.
And there you have it... Thanks again, James!