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David Newton's ESPN Sports Magazine
by David Newton posted Sep 11 2017 9:26AM
The thing that surprised me most in the Panthers' 23-3 win at San Francisco was how well rookie Christian McCaffrey adjusted his pass route on a Cam Newton scramble and made the reception for a first down. I knew he excelled at running routes but McCaffrey adjusted on the fly like a 10-year veteran.
by David Newton posted Sep 7 2017 9:47AM
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera didn't hesitate on Sunday when asked where quarterback Cam Newton was in his rehab from offseason shoulder surgery a week before the opener at San Francisco.

"I think he's ready,'' Rivera said. "You wish he'd had a few more snaps and played a little bit earlier in the preseason so we'd have more to go on. But what we saw, we liked.

"We liked how everything seems to be meshing together as an offense. We'll see how it goes as we continue to work this week.''


Cam Newton has been a full participant in practice the past week as the Panthers began installing the game plan for San Francisco. AP Photo/John Raoux
Newton had surgery on March 30 to repair a partially torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder. The 2015 NFL MVP was limited in throwing much of the first four weeks of training camp and played only one series -- a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive -- during the four preseason games.

But Newton has been a full participant in practice the past week as the Panthers began installing the game plan for San Francisco.

The staff was so confident with where Newton is medically that third-string quarterback Joe Webb was released on Saturday. Carolina still will carry three quarterbacks after claiming former University of Miami star Brad Kaaya following his release by Detroit.

But Kaaya was brought in to be developed for the future with backup Derek Anderson, 34, in the last year of his contract. Webb, 30, hadn't taken an in-season snap at quarterback since he was at Minnesota in 2013.

General manager Marty Hurney said releasing Webb was tough because of his versatility and locker room presence. But he echoed Rivera's sentiments on where Newton is.

"We have been on a plan since training camp,'' Hurney said. "I think we feel very confident. We do feel very confident. Every day he takes more and more. He's looked good. He's felt good. We have a lot of confidence in him.''
by David Newton posted Jun 13 2017 9:23AM
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The past two months have been anything but a vacation for Carolina Panthers first-round draft pick Christian McCaffrey because of an NFL rule that prohibits him from joining the team until Stanford’s school year ends.

The former Stanford running back has spent three hours every morning training and undergoing treatment from his hometown of Denver, and the rest of his day watching film and talking on the phone with running backs coach Jim Skipper.

He insists he hasn’t done anything fun, outside of going to a Rockies baseball game, while his teammates have been in voluntary offseason workouts.

“I figure the guys on my team aren’t doing anything fun, so I’m trying to walk in and stay on their schedule,” McCaffrey told ESPN.com. “I’m trying to put myself as much in a situation as they’re in as possible.”

McCaffrey arrived in Charlotte on Sunday to get acclimated to his new home. He’ll begin working out with the team on Wednesday, the second day of a mandatory three-day minicamp.

“I won’t be behind as far as the plays go in practice,” McCaffrey said. “Getting acclimated and comfortable with the team, I’ll be a little bit behind. But that will come.”

McCaffrey would like to see a change in the rule Carolina coach Ron Rivera said unnecessarily punishes players like McCaffrey. Tight end Greg Olsen said the rule is backward.

McCaffrey repeatedly said it’s been a “bummer” having to stay away since a rookie minicamp in early May, especially because he wasn’t enrolled in classes at Stanford this quarter.

“I understand the concept of the rule,” said McCaffrey, referring to the language in the collective bargaining agreement designed to allow college players to finish the school year and work toward a degree without the pressure of football.

“But at the same time, for a guy like me that is just trying to get out there and get acclimated to the team and compete, it’s tough.”

Outside of quarterback Cam Newton possibly throwing for the first time since March 30 shoulder surgery and an appearance from tackle Michael Oher, who hasn’t participated in the voluntary workouts and remains in the concussion protocol, McCaffrey’s arrival will be the biggest news of this minicamp.

McCaffrey, who lives and breathes football the same way that Carolina middle linebacker Luke Kuechly does, can’t wait.

“It’s tough being away from a competitive atmosphere for that long, but I still push myself every day in my training and studies,” McCaffrey said.

What McCaffrey has missed the most is the opportunity to bond with his new teammates. That’s something he can’t really do on the phone or in text messages.

“It’s definitely a major factor,” McCaffrey said. “Everyone wants to be close to your team. You don’t want to have guys that don’t feel comfortable in the locker room.

“But they’ve been so welcoming to me. The times I have been there, the vets have been so great to me, reaching out to me, texting me, giving me advice. So I know I’m not there, but I definitely feel very comfortable.”

McCaffrey also is comfortable with sharing the backfield with veteran Jonathan Stewart, 30, who said last week he wasn’t worried about losing carries to the 2015 Heisman Trophy runner-up.

“He said it best; we’re trying to win a Super Bowl,” said McCaffrey, referring to the quote from Stewart. “I don’t care if I get no carries and just play special teams. I’m there to try to win football games and help that team win.

“Every great team has multiple backs. Very few times do you have just one back. To be able to share the backfield with him and the other guys is going to be a lot of fun.”

McCaffrey will be fun to watch. He’ll help the Panthers as a runner, receiver out of the backfield, slot receiver and kick returner. He’ll have plenty of opportunities to make plays even when on the field at the same time as Stewart.

Countless hours of film study have only whetted his appetite to get started.

“It’s an unbelievable football team across the board,” McCaffrey said. “It’s exciting for me, because coming in as a rookie, just being able to pick these guys’ brains and learn from them, compete with them every day, is going to be a lot of fun.”

McCaffrey’s father, former NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey, has done all he can to help his son prepare for this moment.

So has Carolina linebacker Shaq Thompson, who went through what Christian McCaffrey has with the rule when the Panthers selected him out of Washington in the first round two years ago.

“He just told me to enjoy the time at home and I’ll be fine when I get back,” McCaffrey said. “It does suck [not being there], but at the same time I’ve enjoyed being at my home with my family for the last time in a while.”
by David Newton posted Apr 24 2017 10:33AM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Josh Norman wasn’t sure which of his former Carolina Panthers teammates that were invited would show up for his annual celebrity basketball fundraiser on Saturday night.

As it turned out, they all did.

Including, as the Washington Redskins cornerback said with a laugh from a hallway at Providence High School, No. 89.

No. 89 is former Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith, a player Norman challenged – "insult" might be a better word for it -- on and off the field as a fifth-round draft pick out of little Coastal Carolina in 2012.

“But eighty-nine is not 89. Eighty-nine is 24,” Norman said of the number he gave Smith for his Starz24 Celebrity game.

That would be the same No. 24 Norman wears on the football field, the one Panthers fans fell in love with during the 2015 Super Bowl season, when Norman emerged as a household name.

“We got him right,” Norman said of Smith. “So we’re going to have a little friendly competition battle like the old days, and see what we can do with that.”

Norman and Smith share a bond now that goes beyond their time together with the Panthers. It’s their love affair with Charlotte, where Smith lives despite spending his final three NFL seasons with the Baltimore Ravens before retiring and where Norman continues to make his offseason home.

Charlotte, Norman said, will always be home for him because this is where his NFL career began, because it’s only a few hours from where he grew up in Greenwood, South Carolina.

Unlike Smith, who burned a lot of bridges with the Panthers when he was released after the 2013 season, the 29-year-old Norman won’t rule out returning here one day before his career ends.

He only has to look at this year’s free agent moves to know it can happen. Defensive end Julius Peppers (37), who spent his first eight NFL seasons with Carolina from 2002-09, signed a one-year deal to return.

Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (29), who spent his first five seasons (2009-13) with the Panthers, signed a four-year deal.

“Who knows,” Norman said of returning one day. “I’m not a storyteller. ... I believe the man upstairs writes mine, and if he does see Carolina in the penmanship, then it shall be. Who knows. We still got some time to play yet.”

Norman didn’t burn bridges.

“I treated everybody with respect,” he said. “I was nice to them. Everybody be the same with me. Everything will have its time when it comes up. I don’t hold grudges.”

Norman had every right to be bitter and burn bridges. He wanted to remain with the team, and thought he would be at Carolina at least through the 2016 season, when the Panthers placed the franchise tag on him.

But when he didn’t sign the tag and didn’t report for the start of offseason workouts, and when it appeared negotiations for a long-term deal wouldn’t get done, general manager Dave Gettleman rescinded the tag.

That was on April 20, 2016. Two days later, the Redskins made Norman the highest paid cornerback (five years, $75 million) in the NFL.

Was it a coincidence Saturday’s fundraiser to benefit youth programs fell on the anniversary of his new deal?

“It was fate,” Norman said. “It was just out of the blue. ... It’s kind of crazy it all came back full circle.”

That so many former teammates from the 2015 Super Bowl team made an appearance showed how strong the circle Norman was a part of was and still is.

Among them were outside linebacker Thomas Davis, running back Jonathan Stewart, safeties Kurt Coleman and Tre Boston, and cornerback Teddy Williams.

Even cornerback Bene’ Benwikere, who was cut last season after Atlanta’s Julio Jones burned the Panthers for 300 yards receiving, was here.

Norman’s career at Carolina was defined by Jones and his ability to limit his numbers. One of his best lines, when asked why he is so effective at covering the four-time Pro Bowl receiver, was, “Julio completes me.”

So don’t think Norman didn’t pay attention to what Jones did to Benwikere and the rookie corners with which the Panthers tried to replace him.

But if you think Norman took total pleasure in that or Carolina’s overall struggles without him, you’re wrong.

“That was cool to see, but it kind of sucked because you wanted to be there to help as well,” Norman said. “Mixed emotions, obviously. But they’re going to be all right.”

All was right on this night.

Davis got to wear his favorite No. 23 (he’s a big Michael Jordan fan) and jump center. He almost had a dunk, but the ball rattled out after an explosive move to the basket.

Boston got to show off his 3-point shooting prowess. Smith got to show that at 37 he’s still got the quickness to finish off a fast break with a layup.

And Norman got to show he’s still arguably the best basketball player among them, draining a 3-pointer to start his team’s scoring.

Among those in attendance was new Carolina defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, who was Norman’s position coach from 2012-15.

Wilks took as much pleasure as anyone seeing all the Carolina players support Norman. He called it a testament to the culture the organization has developed.

“It just shows you the unique thing we have with the Carolina Panthers,” Wilks said. “That locker room is phenomenal. We’ve got brotherhood, and these guys come out and show that support even beyond the years when guys have moved on.

“It really shows exactly what we have there.”

Even Wilks wouldn’t rule out Norman’s return one day, after seeing Peppers and Munnerlyn return.

“You know what?” he said with a smile. “This is the National Football League, so you can never say never.”

by David Newton posted Apr 24 2017 10:27AM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Josh Norman wasn’t sure which of his former Carolina Panthers teammates that were invited would show up for his annual celebrity basketball fundraiser on Saturday night.

As it turned out, they all did.

Including, as the Washington Redskins cornerback said with a laugh from a hallway at Providence High School, No. 89.

No. 89 is former Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith, a player Norman challenged – "insult" might be a better word for it -- on and off the field as a fifth-round draft pick out of little Coastal Carolina in 2012.

“But eighty-nine is not 89. Eighty-nine is 24,” Norman said of the number he gave Smith for his Starz24 Celebrity game.

That would be the same No. 24 Norman wears on the football field, the one Panthers fans fell in love with during the 2015 Super Bowl season, when Norman emerged as a household name.

“We got him right,” Norman said of Smith. “So we’re going to have a little friendly competition battle like the old days, and see what we can do with that.”

Norman and Smith share a bond now that goes beyond their time together with the Panthers. It’s their love affair with Charlotte, where Smith lives despite spending his final three NFL seasons with the Baltimore Ravens before retiring and where Norman continues to make his offseason home.

Charlotte, Norman said, will always be home for him because this is where his NFL career began, because it’s only a few hours from where he grew up in Greenwood, South Carolina.

Unlike Smith, who burned a lot of bridges with the Panthers when he was released after the 2013 season, the 29-year-old Norman won’t rule out returning here one day before his career ends.

He only has to look at this year’s free agent moves to know it can happen. Defensive end Julius Peppers (37), who spent his first eight NFL seasons with Carolina from 2002-09, signed a one-year deal to return.

Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (29), who spent his first five seasons (2009-13) with the Panthers, signed a four-year deal.

“Who knows,” Norman said of returning one day. “I’m not a storyteller. ... I believe the man upstairs writes mine, and if he does see Carolina in the penmanship, then it shall be. Who knows. We still got some time to play yet.”

Norman didn’t burn bridges.

“I treated everybody with respect,” he said. “I was nice to them. Everybody be the same with me. Everything will have its time when it comes up. I don’t hold grudges.”

Norman had every right to be bitter and burn bridges. He wanted to remain with the team, and thought he would be at Carolina at least through the 2016 season, when the Panthers placed the franchise tag on him.

But when he didn’t sign the tag and didn’t report for the start of offseason workouts, and when it appeared negotiations for a long-term deal wouldn’t get done, general manager Dave Gettleman rescinded the tag.

That was on April 20, 2016. Two days later, the Redskins made Norman the highest paid cornerback (five years, $75 million) in the NFL.

Was it a coincidence Saturday’s fundraiser to benefit youth programs fell on the anniversary of his new deal?

“It was fate,” Norman said. “It was just out of the blue. ... It’s kind of crazy it all came back full circle.”

That so many former teammates from the 2015 Super Bowl team made an appearance showed how strong the circle Norman was a part of was and still is.

Among them were outside linebacker Thomas Davis, running back Jonathan Stewart, safeties Kurt Coleman and Tre Boston, and cornerback Teddy Williams.

Even cornerback Bene’ Benwikere, who was cut last season after Atlanta’s Julio Jones burned the Panthers for 300 yards receiving, was here.

Norman’s career at Carolina was defined by Jones and his ability to limit his numbers. One of his best lines, when asked why he is so effective at covering the four-time Pro Bowl receiver, was, “Julio completes me.”

So don’t think Norman didn’t pay attention to what Jones did to Benwikere and the rookie corners with which the Panthers tried to replace him.

But if you think Norman took total pleasure in that or Carolina’s overall struggles without him, you’re wrong.

“That was cool to see, but it kind of sucked because you wanted to be there to help as well,” Norman said. “Mixed emotions, obviously. But they’re going to be all right.”

All was right on this night.

Davis got to wear his favorite No. 23 (he’s a big Michael Jordan fan) and jump center. He almost had a dunk, but the ball rattled out after an explosive move to the basket.

Boston got to show off his 3-point shooting prowess. Smith got to show that at 37 he’s still got the quickness to finish off a fast break with a layup.

And Norman got to show he’s still arguably the best basketball player among them, draining a 3-pointer to start his team’s scoring.

Among those in attendance was new Carolina defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, who was Norman’s position coach from 2012-15.

Wilks took as much pleasure as anyone seeing all the Carolina players support Norman. He called it a testament to the culture the organization has developed.

“It just shows you the unique thing we have with the Carolina Panthers,” Wilks said. “That locker room is phenomenal. We’ve got brotherhood, and these guys come out and show that support even beyond the years when guys have moved on.

“It really shows exactly what we have there.”

Even Wilks wouldn’t rule out Norman’s return one day, after seeing Peppers and Munnerlyn return.

“You know what?” he said with a smile. “This is the National Football League, so you can never say never.”

by David Newton posted Apr 14 2017 2:38PM

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Just off Bull Street, surrounded by remnants of the South Carolina Lunatic Asylum that was built in 1822, is a grand year-old baseball stadium named Spirit Communications Park.

Several buildings on these 181 acres in the heart of the state capital are still standing, though windows are broken or boarded up. Others have been bulldozed, leaving piles of rubble that create a somewhat surreal, somewhat spooky scene as the sun sets.

 

 

It is here on Thursday night that former University of Florida star and NFL failure Tim Tebow will begin what he hopes is his journey to the major leagues as a member of the Class A Columbia Fireflies.

It is here that the 29-year-old Heisman Trophy quarterback-turned-outfielder is being questioned for doing what Michael Jordan did in 1993-94, when he pursued a baseball career between his six NBA titles.

It is here that TebowMania has begun only a few miles from the University of South Carolina campus that a few days ago was abuzz with Final Four fever.

It is here, in the South Atlantic League, that Tebow finds comfort in his decision to chase a dream.

He knows there are skeptics, but he's been faced with those before.

"As an athlete, you always try to use negativity from outside sources as fuel, but at the same time I try to not even listen to it," Tebow said Sunday as he prepared for the opener against the Augusta GreenJackets. "I love what I do, and I'm blessed to be able to play a game that I started playing when I was 4 years old."

The circus is in town

During the first part of Tuesday's media day, Tebow stayed back in the clubhouse as teammates met with reporters. It was a move, in part, to let others get the attention he's been grabbing and, in part, to keep his focus on baseball, not the circus he knew was coming.

Tebow knows how it works, having been in front of the camera as a star and on camera as an analyst and personality for ESPN, mainly on the SEC Network. He knows his job here isn't to be good on camera but to be good on the field.

"It's about bringing that same work ethic, regardless of the situation, regardless of the hype," Tebow said. "It's not about the one day. It's about the journey, the process. It's keeping everything in perspective most of the time."

In August, Tebow announced he had been training for a sport he hadn't played full time since 2005. That process became more real when the quarterback who won two national championships at Florida (2006, 2008) and the Heisman Trophy in 2007 signed a minor league deal with the New York Mets in September, eight days after his workout. The Mets sent Tebow to the Arizona Fall League, then invited him to spring training.

That ultimately led Tebow to Columbia, where most people know him as the quarterback who went 4-0 against their beloved Gamecocks. And it brought the media circus. It's nothing like the one that surrounded Jordan in the mid-'90s, but Tebow has created quite a buzz for the Fireflies, now in their second season in Columbia.

"The Tebow name carries a lot of weight," said Kevin Fitzgerald, the team's director of media relations. "I'm excited for him to get out there so we can move past the introduction of him being here and that celebrity aspect of it, and then it gets just to baseball."

And baseball, Tebow says, is what it's all about right now.

"As an athlete you have to live with tunnel vision," he said. "You can't step back and look at the big picture and all these hypotheticals that people want to write about. They'll look at Thursday night, and they'll sensationalize it, and regardless of what happens, it'll be the best night of all time or the worst night of all time. But for me, it's just going to be one day."

More than baseball

The more than 4,000 fans who showed for Sunday's autograph session were filtering out of the stadium when Tebow noticed a familiar face among the crowd.

It was a girl he met years ago at one of his foundation events. She had driven more than seven and a half hours just to give Tebow a 5-by-7 inch photo she'd taken with him. She didn't leave disappointed.

"She just hands him the picture and gives him a hug," said Fireflies president John Katz. "When you've got someone like that who can impact people's lives to the point they're willing to get in the car seven and a half hours with no agenda other than handing him a picture, that's special. This is a guy you hope your kids aspire to be."

There was no official count on how many fans came just to see Tebow. Let's say a lot.

"The Tebow name carries a lot of weight. I'm excited for him to get out there so we can move past the introduction of him being here and that celebrity aspect of it and then it gets just to baseball."

Kevin Fitzgerald, Columbia Fireflies director of media relations

Many were dressed in Florida T-shirts and jerseys. Some wore Tebow's jersey from his brief NFL career with the Denver Broncos, where in 2011 he threw for 316 yards and two touchdowns in a playoff win against Pittsburgh.

"What was really cool was when they realized he was in the batting cage," Fitzgerald said. "You should have heard the cheers."

Tebow acknowledged the attention, occasionally waving or tipping his cap. He understands, as he has throughout his career, that what he does isn't all about competing. He wants to touch lives. That's why he sought out the girl with the photo.

"It's special because it transcends the game of baseball," Tebow said. "That's something I've always tried to do is bring something that means more than just playing football or baseball."

Past meets future

South Carolina's Williams-Brice Stadium, where more than 80,000 fans gather on football Saturdays if the team is doing well, sits four miles from Spirit Communications Field. It was there, on Nov. 10, 2007, that Tebow, a college sophomore, launched his Heisman Trophy campaign. He rushed for 120 yards and five touchdowns and threw for 304 yards and two more scores.

"I remember having a lot of fun," Tebow said with a smile. "I love that stadium, actually. I think it's one of the more fun, underrated stadiums out there. That place gets rowdy, especially that right end zone."

Fireflies pitching coach Jonathan Hurst, a native of Spartanburg, South Carolina, wasn't a Tebow fan when the quarterback was breaking his garnet-and-black Gamecock heart. He's a fan now.

So is Fireflies rookie outfielder Gene Cone, who grew up in Columbia and played baseball for the Gamecocks.

"He's a tough guy not to like," Cone said. "I don't see any problem with the Gamecocks liking him."

Not a distraction

Tebow T-shirts are flying off the shelves in Columbia. David Newton/ESPN

Fireflies manager Jose Leger didn't know much, if anything, about Tebow before he learned the football icon was on his roster the last week of spring training. So he turned to Google.

"Being from the Dominican Republic, I'm not a big football fan," Leger said.

But he's now a big Tebow fan. He marveled Sunday as Tebow addressed the media with an ease and sense of command. He believes Tebow will help his younger players with the pressure of handling expectations -- and disappointments.

There's not much Tebow hasn't experienced in sports. He even wrote a book, "Shaken," in which he shared his faith and journey, his successes and disappointments.

"Obviously, I'm new to baseball, but I've been competing for a long time, and I've been in a lot of big situations," Tebow said. "To be able to help younger guys when they think going 0-for-4 is the end of the world or 3-for-3 is best day ever, you can share those experiences and encourage them and build them up and inspire them the best you can."

"He could have gone after the money, changed positions. That's not what he wanted. Now he wants to be a major league baseball player, and honestly, I don't know if anyone is going to stand in the way of him."

Columbia Fireflies president John Katz

Tebow's baseball journey has been one of struggles. He batted .148 with eight strikeouts in 27 at-bats during spring training. He was the only player in the Mets organization to play in at least eight spring training games without scoring a run.

But that was mostly against players with experience at levels above Class A. Leger has seen a player with good pop in the bat and solid skills in the field.

Katz, the director of media relations for the Carolina Mudcats during Jordan's baseball experience, said Tebow is at a level more "appropriate for his skills" than Jordan was when assigned to the Double-A Birmingham Barons.

Tebow will play a lot with only four outfielders on the roster. He'll start in left field Thursday night.

"Giving him that chance to be successful and putting him at this level is really the right place to be," Katz said.

And while the media focus has been on Tebow, Leger isn't worried.

"A lot of questions, yes," he said. "But a distraction? Not at all. ... We're pushing for him to get to the next level, and hopefully getting him to pursue his dream of getting to the big leagues."

Hot commodity

Matt Strader, who manages the Fireflies' team store, can't talk specific numbers as it pertains to the sale of Tebow merchandise.

"Let's just say it's been incredible," he said. "We've definitely had to reorder some things to keep up with stock. Online we ran out the first seven hours or so." The scene on opening night is expected to be incredible, as well. The more than 7,000 seats and standing room area are expected to be packed. A team conference room has been turned into an auxiliary media room.

"We've been working hard and late hours, but nobody is complaining about it," Fitzgerald said.

Tebow doesn't know exactly what to expect. He's still getting used to the subtle differences between baseball and football, beginning with being prepared on every play even though you may go several innings without having a ball hit toward you. In football, Tebow was always at the center of the action.

He also knows that while waiting for his moment, there may be boobirds in the crowd. No worries there.

"When you go to Death Valley to play LSU, you pretty much hear everything, so ... ''

Katz has read Tebow's book. He's heard Tebow talk about turning down opportunities to play for other NFL teams at a different position because he wanted to be a quarterback. He's confident Tebow can handle his new adventure.

"He could have gone after the money, changed positions," Katz said. "That's not what he wanted. Now he wants to be a major league baseball player, and honestly, I don't know if anyone is going to stand in the way of him."

by David Newton posted Apr 14 2017 2:28PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman expressed concern last month about the "fail factor" in recent history with first-round draft picks.

"The miss rate is really scary," he said.

Many of those misses have come from teams with the No. 8 pick that the Panthers have this season. Over the past 20 years, only nine players picked at that spot have made the Pro Bowl. Only four of those have gone to as many as three.

You could consider eight of these picks failures, or at least significant disappointments.

Cornerback Justin Gilbert, who went to the Cleveland Browns at No. 8 in 2014, is a prime example of a failure. He was traded two years after being selected and currently is not on a roster.

"When you look at these first-rounders and the failure rate, it gets scary," Gettleman said.

Justin Gilbert, who was taken eighth in the 2014 draft, exemplifies the difficulty that No. 8 picks have had in achieving success over the last 20 years. Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports

It's not an exact science. Gettleman mentioned Carolina's first draft in 1995. The Panthers traded the top pick to the Cincinnati Bengals, who selected running back Ki-Jana Carter. The Panthers took quarterback Kerry Collins at No. 5.

Carter tore an ACL on his third preseason carry and never was the same. He battled injuries the rest of his short career.

While Collins made the Pro Bowl once and led Carolina to the NFC championship in his second season, he was released in his fourth season after telling coach Dom Capers, "My heart's not in in it, I'm not happy, and I don't feel like I can play right now."

Both could be deemed failures for different reasons.

That's why Gettleman and company are doing extensive research on LSU running back Leonard Fournette, Alabama tight end O.J. Howard and others being considered at No. 8.

"Once we get the board set, we ask ourselves a question: 'What's his fail factor?'" Gettleman said.

With that, let's look at the history of the eighth pick over the past 20 years. The 19 selections in that span are assigned one of three grades: success, solid or miss.

2016, Jack Conklin, OT, Tennessee Titans (solid): It's too early to call him an outright success, but he looks good. The former Michigan State star started all 16 games and was selected first-team All-Pro.

2015, Vic Beasley Jr., OLB, Atlanta Falcons (success): He made the Pro Bowl this past season after moving from defensive end to outside linebacker. He followed a somewhat disappointing first season with 15.5 sacks.

2014, Justin Gilbert, CB, Cleveland Browns (miss): Gilbert was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2016 for a sixth-round pick. He was released the by the Steelers in February and is not on a roster.

2013, Tavon Austin, WR, St. Louis Los Angeles Rams (miss): Austin had a career-best 58 catches for 509 yards last season, but he still hasn't lived up to potential. He has only 12 touchdown catches in four seasons. To put that in perspective, Carolina's Kelvin Benjamin (28th pick, 2014) has 16 touchdowns in two seasons.

2012, Ryan Tannehill, QB, Miami Dolphins (solid): He's missed only three starts in five seasons and has shown potential to be a star despite a 37-40 record.

2011, Jake Locker, QB, Tennessee Titans (miss): He was benched in 2014. The Titans used the second overall pick of the 2015 draft on Marcus Mariotta, who is now the team's quarterback of the future.

2010, Rolando McClain, MLB, Oakland Raiders (miss): He was released by the Raiders during the 2013 offseason after two subpar seasons and several off-the-field incidents. After one season with the Baltimore Ravens, he was starting to come into his own with the Dallas Cowboys. However, his NFL future is in doubt after violating the league's substance abuse policy multiple times.

2009, Eugene Monroe, OT, Jacksonville Jaguars (solid): Monroe started 62 of 65 games for the Jaguars before being traded to Baltimore four games into the 2013 season. He retired after being released by the Ravens in 2016, citing the toll football has taken on his brain as a reason in a story in The Players' Tribune.

2008, Derrick Harvey, DE Jacksonville Jaguars (miss): Harvey was waived by the Jaguars after his third season. He spent one lackluster season with the Denver Broncos and hasn't played since 2011.

2007, Jamaal Anderson, DE, Atlanta Falcons (miss): He was released by Atlanta after his fourth season with only 4.5 sacks over that time. Anderson spent time in Indianapolis and Cincinnati over the next two seasons and hasn't been on a roster since.

2006, Donte Whitner, SS Buffalo Bills (success): He was selected to three Pro Bowls, although all came with his third team, the Cleveland Browns.

2005, Antrel Rolle, DB, Arizona Cardinals (success): Rolle was a three-time Pro Bowl selection and Super Bowl champion, although most of his major success came with his second team, the New York Giants.

2004, DeAngelo Hall, DB, Atlanta Falcons (success): Hall is a three-time Pro Bowl selection, twice with Atlanta. He remains in the league with his third team, the Washington Redskins.

2003, Jordan Gross, OT, Carolina Panthers (success): Gross is one of the bigger No. 8 successes during this span. He made three Pro Bowls and was a perennial team captain, spending his entire career with the Panthers before retiring after the 2013 season.

2002, Roy Williams, FS Dallas Cowboys (success): He may be the best of the No. 8 lot during this span, earning five Pro Bowl selections with the Cowboys before going to Cincinnati for the final two years of his career.

2001, David Terrell, WR, Chicago Bears (miss): He was cut after four so-so years with the Bears, then failed at two comeback attempts with New England and Denver.

2000, Plaxico Burress, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers (solid): Burress caught the winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLII, but did so with the Giants. This isn't to suggest he didn't play well for Pittsburgh -- he surpassed 1,000 yards receiving in his second and third seasons.

1999, David Boston, WR, Arizona Cardinals (miss/solid): This was a mixed bag because he made the Pro Bowl in 2001 after catching a career-best 98 passes for 1,598 yards. He did little after that between injuries and a positive test for steroids.

1998, Greg Ellis, DE, Dallas Cowboys (success): He made the Pro Bowl in 2007 when he had a career-best 12.5 sacks. He played 12 years in the NFL, all but one for the Cowboys.

1997, James Farrior, OLB, New York Jets (solid): Farrior was a two-time Pro Bowl selection, but for the Steelers and not New York, where he didn't come into his own until his fifth season.

by David Newton posted Apr 10 2017 9:22AM

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Tim Tebow had a lot of big moments in his storied football career, and he kicked off his minor league baseball career with another, hitting a two-run homer in his first at-bat in his debut Thursday for the Class A Columbia Fireflies.

"All of my sports experiences helped me for moments like that," Tebow, the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner, said after the Fireflies' 14-7 victory over the Augusta GreenJackets. "Playing in The Swamp or Death Valley or in Mile High Stadium in the playoffs, they all helped.

"So much about sports is handling moments and handling pressure."

 

 

Tebow, 29, handled this moment well. He drilled a 2-1 pitch off the railing in left-center field, where a strong wind had been blowing out all day.

His only mistake was that he initially thought it was a ground-rule double, because the ball ricocheted back onto the field, and stopped at second.

As soon as the umpire motioned to circle the bases, Tebow clapped his hands as if he had thrown a game-winning touchdown.

"I thought I had a double, and the guy goes, 'Keep going,'" Tebow said. "I was, 'All right, I'll take it.' It felt good, though."

The home run came off Augusta left-hander Domenic Mazza, the No. 666 overall pick in the 2015 draft and runner-up in golf's 2010 World Long Drive Championship.

The sellout crowd at Spirit Communications Park was sent into a frenzy. But even before the homer, fans were chanting "Te-Bow! Te-Bow!'' after the former University of Florida and NFL quarterback fouled off a pitch.

The chant grew even louder as Tebow circled the bases.

Tebow later had a weak groundout to shortstop and struck out in his next three at-bats -- twice looking and then swinging in his final at-bat. He finished 1-for-5 with two RBIs.

But the home run is what most in the packed stands will remember for a player who batted .148 with eight strikeouts in 27 at-bats during spring training.

"I know so many people want to sensationalize it, but for me it's just one day," Tebow said. "One opportunity, the first of a lot of games. Tomorrow will be another opportunity to wake up and try to get better.

"For me, it's about the process. I know it sounds cliché, and I've said it a hundred times, but it is about the process and I still have a long ways to go in the process."

It was announced in August that Tebow would pursue a career in baseball after his time in the NFL fizzled. He was assigned to the New York Mets' Class A team at the end of spring training.

He always tried to envision what his first official at-bat would be like, but a home run might have exceeded those expectations.

"The big games in football have helped me for that moment, being my first at-bat in a real pro baseball game," Tebow said. "But I tried to make the most of it."

by David Newton posted Feb 20 2017 8:32AM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A few NFL players who became salary-cap casualties in the past week play positions that are a big need for the Carolina Panthers.

But do the Panthers need them?

Let’s take a look at five of them, and what Carolina’s interest might be:

WR Victor Cruz (Giants) -- Because Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman came to Carolina in 2013 from New York, there is a natural assumption that he’ll be interested in former Giants players who become available. Cruz could make sense. No offense to Ted Ginn Jr. (31), but the Panthers lacked veteran leadership at wide receiver after Jerricho Cotchery wasn’t re-signed following the 2015 season. Cotchery was valuable in the slot, a position the 30-year-old Cruz plays. Nobody really stepped up in that role last season. While Carolina should look for a speedy slot receiver in the draft, adding a veteran to mentor that player might be helpful. Cruz made the Pro Bowl in 2012 and had more than 1,000 receiving yards in 2011 (1,536 yards) and 2012 (1,092) and fell just shy of that in 2013 (998). His production dropped to 586 yards this past season, but that would have ranked third among Carolina wide receivers. He’s worth a look, and he wouldn’t come at a big price.

LT Branden Albert (Dolphins) -- There's no doubt that left tackle, and tackle in general, is a priority for Carolina since the future of Michael Oher (concussion) is still in question and Mike Remmers an unrestricted free agent. But the Panthers don’t need a 32-year-old like Albert. Granted, he made the Pro Bowl for the second time in 2015. But Pro Football Focus ranked Albert 65th among tackles this past season, with an overall grade of 42.2 and 47.7 in pass blocking. That doesn’t sound like an upgrade for protecting quarterback Cam Newton. Remmers, who moved from the right to the left side since Oher was out the final 13 games, ranked 51st among tackles with a grade of 66.1, 50.0 on pass blocking. The Panthers would be better served to reinvest in Remmers and go after free agent Matt Kalil (Minnesota) than take a chance on a player past his prime.

CB Justin Gilbert (Steelers) -- The eighth overall pick of the 2014 draft by Cleveland, Gilbert has had a disappointing pro career. The Browns gave up on him after two seasons and traded him to Pittsburgh for a 2018 sixth-round pick. The Steelers gave up on him after one season in which he played in 12 games with no starts, and he graded out at 55.0 by PFF. That’s not in the top 112, in case you’re wondering. Carolina rookie cornerback James Bradberry (second-round) ranked 20th with a grade of 82.6. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be worth kicking the tires on Gilbert. Carolina hopes to be set with Bradberry and Daryl Worley (2016 third-round pick) as the starters, but depth remains an issue. If Gilbert gets through the initial round of talks with prospective teams, I could see him getting a workout. It's more than likely, though, that Carolina will target a player such as free agent Captain Munnerlyn, who was with the Panthers from 2009-13.

DE Mario Williams (Dolphins) -- Williams was one of the top ends in the NFL from 2012 to 2014, with a combined 38 sacks for Buffalo. But in his past two seasons he’s had a combined 6.5 sacks -- five with the Bills in 2015 and 1.5 for Miami this past season. At 32, he appears to have run out of gas. Perhaps the Panthers will take a look at him because Williams is from North Carolina and played at NC State. A four-time Pro Bowl selection, he might be willing to play at a home-state bargain. The Panthers are also in a state of flux at end -- Charles Johnson (30), Mario Addison (29) and Wes Horton are free agents. But Williams would be no better than a reserve depth player at best, so a look is probably all he would get.

RB Rashad Jennings (Giants) -- Yep, another former Giants player. But the last thing Gettleman needs is a 32-year-old back to go with soon-to-be 30-year-old Jonathan Stewart as the Panthers look to take pressure off Newton with a better running game. Look for the Panthers to rebuild at RB through the draft, which is loaded with running backs this season. They could begin by taking one with the eighth overall pick. Jennings makes no sense here.

by David Newton posted Feb 17 2017 11:19AM

Long rumored to be on the move, Brandon Phillips is finally leaving Cincinnati. The second baseman is headed to the Atlanta Braves as part of a three-player trade.

 

 

The Reds received left-handed pitcher Andrew McKirahan and right-hander Carlos Portuondo. McKirahan, 27, appeared in 27 games in relief for the Braves in 2015, posting a 5.93 ERA. He had Tommy John surgery in 2012 and again last year. Portuondo is a 29-year-old Cuban whose only American experience is 17 games between Class A and Triple-A last season.

"We are excited to add Brandon Phillips to our club." Braves general manager John Coppolella said in a statement. "He is a Gold Glove-caliber defender who will also deepen our offensive lineup. We are thrilled to 'welcome home' Brandon to Atlanta, where he will play in front of his family and friends and many of his fans."

Phillips is in the final year of a six-year, $72.5 million extension that he signed in 2012. He will make $14 million in the coming season. A source told ESPN's Buster Olney that the Braves will only have to pay $1 million, with Cincinnati picking up the rest.

"We appreciate Brandon's contributions to our organization," Reds general manager Dick Williams said. "He excited our fan base and was an important part of several seasons of winning Reds baseball. We wish him well with this next opportunity."

Phillips had a full no-trade clause as a result of being in the league for 10 years and five with the same team. He waived that to go to Atlanta. He also had a limited no-trade clause to 12 teams that he received when he signed an extension with Cincinnati in 2012. Coppolella issued a second statement on Sunday clarifying Phillips' standing on the Braves.

"Since John Schuerholz took over as GM in 1991, we have never granted no-trade provisions and we have no intention of changing that policy," the GM said, but he added that "teams are obligated to honor the contract of players they trade for. We will honor Brandon's limited no-trade clause because we are bound to honor the contract provision just as we are bound to honor other contract terms whenever we trade for a player.

"If Brandon would happen to be traded from the Braves to another team, he would receive a $500,000 assignment bonus.

"It should be noted that we never included no-trade or limited-trade provisions for players such as Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, as well as future Hall of Famers Chipper Jones, Fred McGriff and Andruw Jones, and we have no intention to include these provisions in the future."

The Braves made the trade because they had a need for a second baseman. Infielder Sean Rodriguez will undergo surgery on his left shoulder and will miss three to five months, according to Fox Sports. Rodriguez, his wife and two young children were involved in a serious car crash on Jan. 28, when they were T-boned by a driver who stole a Miami police cruiser. Rodriguez suffered the injury during the crash, Fox Sports reported.

Trying to rebuild, the Reds have dealt stars over the past couple of years, including Jay BruceAroldis Chapman and Johnny Cueto. Phillips rejected a trade to Atlanta earlier this offseason. Last winter, he turned down potential trades to the Arizona Diamondbacks and Washington Nationals.

Phillips, 35, has played 15 years in the majors, the past 11 with Cincinnati. He is a three-time All-Star who is a career .275 hitter and has won four Gold Gloves. Last season, Phillips hit .291 with 11 homers and 64 RBIs.

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