Panthers

The Deshaun Watson saga continues to be the most dominant headline around the NFL as the league gets set to turn the calendar to a new league year tomorrow morning. Last Friday, the criminal cases against the current Houston Texans quarterback were dismissed and while there are still civil depositions that still need to be resolved, the trade market for him has hit its peak since before the allegations were initially brought to light.

When it comes to the 2022 NFL Draft and the Carolina Panthers, it feels like the majority of the buzz right now surrounds the fact that the team looks like the most likely spot for the first quarterback to be selected. The success of Malik Willis has some wondering if the Panthers could be looking in that direction with the glaring need at the position and Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports has reported that people inside of the Panthers building are also really excited by what they see from Kenny Pickett.

The Panthers completed what will hopefully be their final round of hires for Matt Rhule's rebuilt staff this offseason earlier this week with the hirings of Kevin M. Gilbride (tight ends coach), Joe Dailey (wide receivers coach) and Robert Kugler (assistant offensive line coach) to the offensive staff on Monday. This completed a nearly complete revamp of the team's offensive staff, which saw four members of this past year's group either parted ways with or moved on from on their own, headlined by the in-season departure of offensive coordinator Joe Brady who was replaced earlier this offseason by former Giants head coach and offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo.

As the 2022 NFL Draft continues to draw closer and draft season takes full effect, the question surrounding the Carolina Panthers seems to be about which key offensive position they value the most and would be willing to spend a high draft pick on. Is it the offensive tackle position, where the team had yet another chance this past draft to get their long-awaited left tackle of the future to finally replace Jordan Gross after all of these years, or is it the quarterback position, where the team decided to take a flier on a veteran quarterback that struggled and has them in an even worse spot that a year ago?

There have been many successful college football coaches that have made the jump to the NFL, and it didn't work out. Names that come to mind our Lou Holtz who won a national championship at Notre Dame, Steve Spurrier who won a championship at Florida, Bobby Petrino who built Louisville into a national program, and oh Nick Saban who is arguably the best coach in the history of college football. When the Panthers lured away Matt Rhule from Baylor and outbid the Giants to get him, it was perceived that David Tepper had found in Carolina what Mike Tomlin is in Pittsburgh. A 10-19 record later, it appears that Rhule's time in Carolina is running short, as players started voicing their concern in the media following the loss to Atlanta yesterday. Urban Meyer entered the NFL this season when he took over the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the #1 overall pick in Trevor Lawrence. Meyer had won national championships at both Florida and Ohio State, before taking on the NFL. Jacksonville has managed only two wins this season, as their coach has had issues both on the field and off the field. He's fought an uphill battle from day one, and it doesn't seem to be getting any better, any time soon.   Mello Miller from the Draft Scout joined Wilson & Norfleet earlier today, and when asked about the struggles of Rhule and Meyer he replied: I'm more surprised at the struggles of Matt Rhule than Urban Meyer. (Rhule) I thought that he would be such a good NFL pedigree guy. That he could come in, and pair him with Joe Brady, would be pretty good Ironically enough, it looks like both Matt Rhule and Urban Meyer are headed to faster exits than anticipated upon their arrival in the NFL. 

To say that this Panthers season has been a roller coaster is an understatement. The team raced out to a 3-0 start to begin the season, getting the talks of the playoffs stirred up early on before the team would be brought back to Earth and left searching for answers with a six-game stretch where they lost five games, including four straight after the 3-0 start. The franchise was reinvigorated when they resigned franchise legend Cam Newton prior to the Arizona game and followed that with a big win on the road against the Cardinals, making some reconsider whether the Panthers could make a playoff push. However, those thoughts have seemed to be dashed in a lot of people's minds after two straight losses, including a blowout loss to the Dolphins on Sunday.

Yesterday was a day to forget for the Carolina Panthers, as they fell to the Miami Dolphins 33-10, making it their seventh loss in their last nine games, following a 3-0 start. It was the worst game of Cam Newton's career, as he was eventually benched for backup PJ Walker during the blowout defeat. Earlier today on Wilson & Norfleet, Ross Tucker joined the program to talk about the latest loss for the Panthers. When asked about the job security for Panthers head coach Matt Rhule, Tucker replied: "I think the Carolina Panthers have a bottom five, offensive line and quarterback situation in the NFL. That answer would suggest that the issues that lie within the Panthers organization both on and off the field, are keeping the Panthers to reach their potential under Rhule, and would lead you to believe, that he's not the biggest issue with the team. Will owner David Tepper give Rhule, who is on a seven year contract, time to turn this thing around? Or will the owner who is hungry to win, and win now, while pushing for a new stadium, make a change? Time will tell. 

In Cam Newton's first start back as the QB of the Carolina Panthers, the offense produced 21 points, and looked about as adequate as they could have given, Newton has only been in the saddle for 10 days. They may have been more effective had they not committed costly penalties in a tightly contested one-possession game yesterday afternoon. Fox 46 personality Will Kunkel joined Wilson & Norfleet earlier today, and when asked about the offense, and the penalties he replied: "Penalties bit them again, unfortunately. They are the most penalized team in the NFL, with 81 penalties this season. That's just undisciplined football, and you can't have that stuff. Penalties are usually the mark of a young inexperienced team, but there are veterans on this roster, which calls into question the job Matt Rhule, and his staff is doing to try to instill discipline into their football team. If they want to make a run at that final playoff spot in the NFC, which is still attainable, Carolina will need to crack down their self-inflicted wounds and become a smarter football team in the closing weeks. 

Sunday is going to be one of the greatest spectacles in the history of Charlotte sports, as Cam Newton will make his first appearance back in Bank of America stadium, after rejoining the Panthers last week. Earlier this afternoon, on Wilson & Norfleet, the guys were joined by College Football Hall of Famer, and NFL veteran London Fletcher to take a deeper dive into Sunday's matchup against Washington. Washington will bring with them to Carolina just a 3-6 record but Fletcher said "They are coming into this game very confident, but they know it will be another challenge. Fletcher would go on to say that he doesn't believe that Sunday is a revenge game for either Cam Newton or Ron Rivera, before concluding his interview with his opinion on who the best team is in the NFC. 

The Carolina Panthers have five practices in the books, with their next phase of camp beginning Tuesday following the addition of fully-padded practices. WFNZ's Will Palaszczuk empties his notebook with his observations below.