Chansky’s Notebook: Panthers’ Poor Start

It’s what’s inside that counts for the Carolina Panthers.

The state’s pro football team is off to a worrisome 1-3 start after going 15-1 last season and advancing to the Super Bowl. Cam Newton is on concussion protocol and perhaps should have been since being hammered in the head by the Denver Broncos on opening week. And Josh Norman keeps ragging on his old team’s porous secondary play from his new home in Washington.

So what’s up anyway? As they used to say with a different meaning, it’s all up front that counts. The Panthers are getting poor play from both interior lines, which lead to less protection for Newton on offense and fewer turnovers on defense.

Obviously, opponents have studied what made Newton so great last year and have game-planned to stop him from controlling play on the field when the Cats have the ball. That has led Newton to feel less comfortable in the pocket and running for his life instead of running when he sees a seam. And Newton seems to get less respect from both the defense and the officials when he does take off to run.

He is bludgeoned like a running back, knocked out of the game in Atlanta Sunday while making extra effort to reach the goal line. Newton is not known as a give-it-up quarterback prone to sliding at the end of his run, which makes it illegal for the defense to hit him. And the refs seem to regard him more as a runner and ignore some plays that come very close to helmet-to-helmet hits.

On defense, the Panthers are not the same team that led the NFL in turnover ratio last year, constantly giving the ball back to the offense with great field position. Instead, they have five interceptions versus seven for their opponents and lost one more fumble than the other team after four weeks.

Their statistics are not bad and far better than a typical 1-3 record. The schedule is tougher and doesn’t preclude a Panthers turn-around. But it cannot happen without Cam and better protection for him when he does return and, definitely, more turnovers by the defense. That’s what made Carolina so great in 2015.

UNC Wide Receiver Austin Proehl Embraces His Father’s Legacy

Facing a crucial 4th-and-6, the second of the drive, during the team’s game-winning march down the field against Pitt last Saturday, UNC quarterback Mitch Trubisky found junior wide receiver Austin Proehl for a first down on a perfectly executed comeback route.

The play capped a career day for the speedy, young pass-catcher–who has embraced the pressure of following in his father’s footsteps.

Any time you read or hear anything about Proehl, it’s become almost a requirement to add on the fact that he’s the son of Ricky Proehl—the wide receivers coach for the Carolina Panthers, and a 17-year NFL veteran with two Super Bowl rings.

Ricky Proehl with Austin on his shoulders after the St. Louis Rams' Super Bowl XXXIV victory over the Tennessee Titans. (Photo by Albert Dickson/Sporting News via Getty Images)

Ricky Proehl with Austin on his shoulders after the St. Louis Rams’ Super Bowl XXXIV victory over the Tennessee Titans. (Photo by Albert Dickson/Sporting News via Getty Images)

Right now, Austin is in the midst of a season where, in just four games for the Tar Heels, he’s already just 100 yards shy of matching the amount he had in the previous two seasons combined. Against Pitt on Saturday, Proehl stepped into a larger role when Mack Hollins left the game with an injury and finished with a career-high seven catches for 99 yards.

As his playing time has increased, his talent has shown through and he’s started carving out a name for himself. Still, though, the constant comparisons to his dad don’t bother him as much as you might think.

“He’s gained that respect to the point where I’m Ricky’s son to reporters, I’m Ricky’s son to our analysts, I’m Ricky’s son to whoever’s doing the game,” Proehl said at Monday’s press conference. “A lot of people ask me if it bothers me—and it doesn’t.

“He’s earned that respect,” Austin continued. “And I love being his son. I love being associated with that.”

Watching Proehl out on the field, it’s tough not to notice the influence his father has had on his game. Despite being only 5-foot-10—two inches shorter than Ricky—and 175 pounds, he relies on superior route running and agility to make his mark.

Those same attributes are exactly how Ricky put food on the table while Austin was growing up.

Upon seeing the sharp cut his son made on his comeback route on that critical fourth down last Saturday—a move that left his defender grasping for air—the elder Proehl couldn’t help but be impressed.

“Somebody put a video on Twitter of Mitch’s comeback to me and my dad happened to see it,” Austin told reporters. “I got a text last night coming out of our meetings and he said, ‘Hey, great route. Call me afterwards, I got something for you.’

“It’s always that [type of reinforcement], and I love it,” he added. “Just him being able to critique me.”

Proehl's route running and agility have helped get him to this point in his career. He credits his dad for always having feedback and critiques ready for him. (Grant Halverson/ UNC Athletics)

Proehl’s route running and agility have helped get him to this point in his career. He credits his dad for always having feedback and critiques ready for him. (Grant Halverson/ UNC Athletics)

That kind of feedback has been going in Austin’s ear since he was just a kid running around in the backyard, and out on NFL fields with big-name players like Kurt Warner and Cam Newton.

He’s used that advice to find success despite not exactly fitting the physically dominant stereotype placed on most football players.

“I don’t have big hands, and I’m not a big guy obviously,” Proehl said. “Those things like route running and catching every ball that’s thrown to me—I take pride in because those are opportunities to make a name for myself.”

For some players, the pressure of living up to that kind of legacy can be too much to handle mentally. For Proehl, it’s a resource he takes advantage of to help him become successful in his own right—rather than trying to escape Ricky’s shadow altogether.

It’s clear that his role in UNC’s offense will only grow larger as this season goes on, before he becomes the program’s go-to-guy next year–when the team’s top three targets, Ryan Switzer, Bug Howard and Mack Hollins, each graduate.

Judging by Proehl’s work ethic and background, however, Tar Heel fans should feel comfortable knowing they’ll be in good hands.

Chansky’s Notebook: Panthers Take Bitter Loss

Well, at least the pressure is off the Panthers — for now.

Obviously, there was more at stake for the Carolina Panthers than the Denver Broncos, who came into the NFL opener with greener than green quarterback Trevor Siemian, and having won the Super Bowl over the Cats last February. The Panthers will prove to be a better team than Denver in the long run, but it was a very tough way start the new season.

The Panthers could have won if Graham Gano had made a 50-50 field goal from 50 yards out, or if Cam Newton hadn’t been bruised and battered by the Denver defense into a poor second half. But, let’s face it, the Broncos had more going for them than was on paper. A raucous Mile High Stadium opening night crowd to salute their champs, Peyton Manning walking the Lombardi Trophy out before the game and a rookie QB who turned out to be better than Manning was at the end of his career.

Both teams obviously studied the Super Bowl tapes, making sure they corrected the mistakes made in the last game. The Broncos won on their defense, which was unstoppable in the playoffs, and held the Panthers to one of 14 third-down conversions in the Super Bowl. This time, they appeared more prepared to handle Denver defense, but changes in the Broncos scheme and personnel threw in some new wrinkles that Carolina had trouble handling even before Newton got roughed up.

Luke Kuechly was in full form. Most of the Panthers defense played stout again, but besides scoring more points than in the Super Bowl, the offense again did not give the “D” much help.

It was a long heart-breaking flight for the home-state team, failing to prove again it’s the best in pro football. As the team and coaches get past this one, they’ll get rolling for sure in the right direction.

UNC Football Hopes to Rebound As Illinois Seeks Signature Win For Lovie Smith

Early last season when the UNC football team was searching for credibility, it orchestrated a 48-14 blowout of a reeling Illinois team which had just fired head coach Tim Beckman.

Coming off a deflating loss to Georgia this past weekend, the Tar Heels again find themselves in a similar scenario.

The Fighting Illini, however, are now led by longtime NFL head coach Lovie Smith—and will present an entirely new challenge.

Around the UNC practice fields this week, there hasn’t been much talk about last season’s win over Illinois—despite the return of some similar faces, such as quarterback Wes Lunt.


Lovie Smith spent 20 years in the NFL before accepting his first college head coaching job this past offseason. (Heather Coit/ AP Photo)

That all has to do with Smith, the man who has been coaching at the NFL level since 1996. As head coach of the Chicago Bears in 2006, he became the first African-American to ever lead his team to an appearance in the Super Bowl.

After a failed stint with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in recent years, though, Smith and his no-nonsense style have found their way back to the college ranks—where his Illini defeated Murray State 52-3 in their season opener.

UNC head coach Larry Fedora said after watching that game that Smith hasn’t show too many of his cards yet, instead opting for a game plan that was very “vanilla.”

“One thing I can tell you about Lovie Smith—at least what I know from the past and what I’ve heard about Lovie—is that he’s not gonna be real exotic in what he does,” Fedora said at his weekly press conference Monday. “He’s gonna line up, his guys are gonna know what to do and they’re gonna play really hard.

“When we looked at that Murray State film, that’s exactly what we saw.”

Because the Tar Heels have such limited film on this brand new Illinois team, they’ve instead opted to study tape of Smith’s NFL squads.

Junior wide receiver Austin Proehl—the son of Carolina Panthers’ receivers coach Ricky Proehl—has been able to lean on his dad extra heavily this week as the Panthers are division rivals with the Buccaneers, where Smith coached each of the last two seasons.

“It’s one of those things where Lovie Smith is Lovie Smith,” Proehl said after Wednesday’s practice. “The thing about it is, my film study this week has been the Panthers vs. the Bucs. I’m getting all of my dad’s stuff in from last year, so I’ve got two games worth of everything [Smith] did.”

“With what he’s done in his career, he’s not gonna change anything,” Proehl continued. “He believes in what he believes in.”

Above all else, Smith has always been known as someone who preaches defense first.  His “Cover 2” scheme on that side of the ball played a major factor in all of the success he had at the pro level.

Ryan Switzer and the rest of the UNC offense will need to be on top of its game against an Illinois defense looking to get a signature win for its new head coach. (Smith Cameron Photography)

Ryan Switzer and the rest of the UNC offense will need to be on top of its game against an Illinois defense looking to get a signature win for its new head coach. (Smith Cameron Photography)

As UNC looks to recover from the offensive funk it slipped into against Georgia—especially in the passing game–senior wideout Ryan Switzer expects Illinois to run Smith’s playbook, but knows college football presents more opportunities to try different tactics.

“In the league they don’t play many coverages, but they play the coverages they play really well,” Switzer said. “We’re expecting some Cover 2, but we have to be prepared for whatever they throw at us.”

Of course, UNC of all schools should know just what it means to bring in a coach with championship pedigree. Sure, defensive coordinator Gene Chizik hasn’t been to a Super Bowl but he has won a pair of national title rings at the college level.

In Chizik’s first season on the job in 2015, the Tar Heels were the most improved unit in the country in terms of scoring defense, despite not adding much in terms of new talent.

That type of credibility motivates players in a different kind of way—something Illinois hopes will push UNC to the limit in Smith’s first marquee game on Saturday.

“Anytime you get a guy of [Smith’s] caliber who’s been around the game so long—especially been around the pro game, which all those guys I’m sure are aspiring to get to—that definitely brings new motivation,” Switzer said.

“With them being at home, being a night game, new year, new staff—there’s a lot of things going well for them,” he added. “We know it’s gonna be a test.”

Chansky’s Notebook: Panthers Won’t Win

Here is why the Panthers won’t beat the Broncos opening night.

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera wasn’t whistling Dixie when he expressed concerned about having to start the NFL season with a Super Bowl rematch against the Broncos in Denver Thursday night. He knows the Super Bowl champs are a different team with different personnel, which will make it harder on the Cats to figure them out.

Playing at home can never be minimized in the NFL. Home teams, especially in an emotional game, have an immense advantage. And this one will start with the Broncos raising a Super Bowl banner after having given out rings to all of the players. That will make everyone wearing orange that night super fired up to prove it was the defense and not Peyton Manning that beat the Panthers last February.

And Cam Newton has to overcome his dismal career record against Denver. He has played the Broncos twice, lost twice and his statistics have been horrendous. He has thrown two touchdown passes and been intercepted three times by the Orange Crush defense. Newton has been sacked 13 times and his total quarterback rating in both games has been a dismal 11.

Denver reached the Super Bowl and won with its defense. And though the Broncos have lost a couple of key players, they still have the highest-rated unit in the NFL coming into the season. Any time Von Miller is in your grill, which he will be with Newton, that harasses the opposing offense. And Cam comes in with enormous pressure on him this year to erase the one game that ended his MVP season.

The Peyton Manning factor is negligible. It was a wonderful way to end his Hall of Fame career but Manning was a shadow of his former self at the end. Denver’s new quarterback is Trevor Siemian, a 7th round draft pick from Northwestern in his second year as a pro. Siemian does not have great statistics dating all the way back to college, but John Elway likes what he sees in him. And like Manning did not have too much last year, neither does his replacement.

Chansky’s Notebook: Getting To No. 2

Cam Newton is trying to do something 37 other NFL quarterbacks haven’t.


All the stories surrounding the Carolina Panthers as they open training camp for 2016 are whether Cam Newton can improve on his MVP and Super Bowl season. Now, how can a guy who led his team to a 15-1 record and beat out Brady and Rogers and Russell Wilson as the best player in the NFL do that? Well, apparently he has to.

Of the 50 Super Bowls played, 38 of the starting quarterbacks never started a second championship game. And if you think Newton is a shoe-in to do that, listen to the names of some pretty good QBs who never made it past one. Start with Aaron Rogers, whose annual proclamation as the best quarterback in football hasn’t led the Packers back to another Super Bowl since their 2010 title.

Rogers, plus Colin Kapernick, Joe Flacco and Drew Brees are still active and also vying for No. 2. Among those who stopped at one include: Johnny Unitas (although there was no Super Bowl for most of his career); Hall of Famers Dan Marino and Joe Namath; all-pro lefties Steve Young and Ken Stabler; Donovan McNabb, Ron Jaworski, Boomer Esiason, Steve McNair, Jim McMahon, Jake Delhomme, Drew Bledsoe, Billy Kilmer and Doug Williams. There are other good one-timers on the list, but you must be over 50 to recognize them all.

Point is, Newton is no slam dunk to get his team back to the Big Game. The Panthers had one of those seasons in 2015, a favorable schedule, comeback wins and/or goal line stands and an underrated defense that played in the shadow of Newton. But already the national media is calling for Newton to improve his game in order to be back at Super Bowl 51 and, this time, win it.

They are saying he must be more consistent, but how can you improve on being the No. 1-ranked player in the game? He must figure out how to incorporate returning receiver Kelvin Benjamin into the offense, but isn’t that Benjamin’s job? And Newton must handle the bad moments better, like how the loss to the Broncos ended.

Guess that’s why reaching a second Super Bowl has been hard for all those stars who came before Newton and couldn’t do it.

Chansky’s Notebook: Cam Still Has Leather Bullet

Don’t worry, Cam Newton won’t give up his signature move.

The Panthers’ lightning rod quarterback told WFNZ in Charlotte this week that he won’t dab anymore after touchdowns, first downs or meltdowns. That’s okay; he may have invited it, but everyone from Roger Goodell to Roy Williams tried it on camera over the last few years. Newton’s real signature move is the keeper.

When he scores a touchdown, home or away, he runs to the end zone stands, finds a young Panthers’ fan and gives him the NFL football. That is the coolest move of all time, and no one will dare duplicate it because it belongs to Newton and only Newton. The NFL missed its chance to stop it and fine Cam after the first few times. Then the league discovered what a PR boyish bonanza it is.

Some teams have their own version of the Lambeau Leap; when a Green Bay Packer scores he leaps, backside first, into the seats and lets the fans pound on him for a few seconds. There are cheap imitations of that all over the NFL, but have you seen anyone else but Newton hand footballs to wide-eyed kids? That would be like stealing Santa’s sled and Reindeer. However he came up with it, that is all Newton needs because it has made him a hero beyond all his other controversies. Footballs for young fans? Absolutely genius.

Maybe the NFL has told Newton confidentially that he could continue doing that because it was the best feel-good ploy in the history of the game, but he would have to pay for every football he handed out. That wouldn’t phase Newton, who according to Forbes was the 7th highest-paid athlete in the world in 2015. His nearly 100 million dollar contract, plus his sky-rocketing endorsements, put him in elite company with LeBron James, Roger Federer and Kevin Durant.

So if Newton decides, like the old Brylcreem commercial said, a little dab will do you, or no dab at all, people may wonder what his next celebratory move will be. But his signature will remain, and everything else will be gravy.

Some pro jocks toss their wrist bands and head bands into the crowd, some baseball players give away their batting gloves. But nobody personally delivers an official pigskin to a young forever fan. Newton can dab or not dab, it won’t make a dang of a difference. He’s already found the leather bullet.

Stroman On Sports: Not-So-Super Bowl

2015 was a good year for the Carolina Panthers, but it ended in disappointment with a Super Bowl defeat. Quarterback Cam Newton won the league MVP award, but struggled against the Broncos’ defense – and while he was gracious in defeat on the field, he also walked out of his postgame press conference.

Deborah Stroman is a sports commentator and a professor at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. She discussed the Super Bowl after the game with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.

Americans Split On Politics, Football

Republicans are split three ways on who they favor for President; Democrats still favor Hillary Clinton but by a narrowing margin; and Americans are equally divided on which team they want to win the Super Bowl.

That’s the latest finding by Raleigh-based polling firm Public Policy Polling. PPP released a pair of survey results this week: one on the Super Bowl, with the game just hours away, and another on the presidential race post-Iowa.

PPP director Tom Jensen spoke with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.


On the Super Bowl, Americans are split down the middle: 40 percent of Americans are rooting for the Panthers and 40 percent are rooting for the Broncos. (Regardless of who they’re rooting for, 56 percent say they think the Panthers will win.) The 40/40 split masks an interesting racial and generational divide, though: white people (46-34) and senior citizens (55-28) tend to support the Broncos, while nonwhites (53-26) and Americans under 45 (46-31) are rooting for the Panthers.

Is that a Cam Newton thing? Possibly, says PPP director Tom Jensen: Newton’s favorability rating is 81 percent with nonwhite voters, but only 46 percent with whites – and only 48 percent of Republicans say they approve of Newton, while 79 percent say they approve of Broncos QB Peyton Manning. (On the other hand, only 24 percent of Republicans actually disapprove of Newton – numbers that any politician would kill for.)

More numbers from PPP’s Super Bowl survey here.

When it comes to politics, PPP finds Donald Trump’s support has taken a big hit in the wake of his second-place finish in the Iowa caucus. He still leads all GOP candidates, but his support has dropped from 34 percent in December to 25 percent today. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio trail just behind Trump with 21 percent each. (That represents a major bump for Rubio, who only polled 13 percent last month. Cruz, who actually won the Iowa caucus, hasn’t seen his support level or favorability rating change much at all.) Jensen says Rubio has the clear momentum heading deeper into primary season: he actually leads Trump and Cruz in head-to-head matchups, so he’s poised to benefit the most as other candidates begin dropping out. (On the other hand, Jensen says Trump still has one key number in his favor: while 50 percent of GOP voters say they’re still open to changing their minds about whom to support, 71 percent of Trump supporters say they’re locked in. That’s a far stronger base of support than Cruz and Rubio enjoy.)

On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders is almost certain to win the New Hampshire primary next week, but Hillary Clinton still has a 21-point lead nationally, 53-32. Sanders is still closing the gap – he trailed Clinton by 28 points in December – but Jensen says he’s still struggling to win over black voters, who support Clinton by an 82-8 margin. That won’t matter much in lily-white New Hampshire, but it will make it much harder for Sanders to win states like Nevada or South Carolina, which are up next on the primary calendar.

More numbers from PPP’s presidential primary survey here.

Cam Newton, Sports, America…And “Disrespect”

For the good of the team…let’s disrespect Cam Newton.

Listen to Aaron’s notebook:


Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has led his team to the Super Bowl. He’s had an incredible year, and he’s probably going to be the MVP. But! He’s still not the NFL’s most popular player.

That, apparently, is Russell Wilson. According to the NFL Players Association, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is #1 on the list of top-selling jerseys. Tom Brady is #2, Peyton Manning is #5. Cam Newton? The MVP? Cam Newton is #22! Right behind Seattle’s tight end, because that makes sense. Cam Newton’s not even the top-ranking player on his own team – that’d be Luke Kuechly at #18.

Talk about disrespect, am I right? Talk about disrespect!

Of course…we don’t have to remind Cam Newton to talk about disrespect. He’s a professional athlete. He feeds off disrespect. This is not a Cam Newton thing. This is every pro athlete. Every time they win a title, it’s the same interview. “Nobody respected us. Nobody believed in us. Everybody hated us. It was us against the universe.”

Remember Muhammad Ali shouting “I shook up the world”? That’s what I’m talking about. Pro athletes, all of them, are constantly living under the impression (right or wrong) that nobody respects them, everybody hates them, everybody’s out to get them.

It’s a pathology! It’s a professional athletic pathology!

Except…for the fact that it’s not. This actually isn’t a pro athlete thing either. This is an America thing. This is all of us. You and me. We all feed off disrespect. We’re all exactly the same way.


Well – what do Americans believe in, more than anything? Two things: we believe in freedom and we believe in individualism. It’s a really interesting combination. If we believe in Freedom, that means we’ve got to be suspicious of Power. Political power, economic power, physical power, it doesn’t matter: we don’t like power, and we don’t trust people with power because those are the people who can run over the little guy. Those are the people who can threaten our freedom.

(This is why we’re always rooting for the underdog. This is why every Hollywood movie is a plucky little nobody going up against a big powerful behemoth. It’s why Star Wars is plotted out the way it is.)

But we also believe in individualism. We believe in every individual’s right to go out and pursue their own happiness, go after their own interest, work hard, get lucky, try to get big and rich and successful. It’s the American Dream. And if we believe in individualism, that means we also have to believe in ourselves. First and foremost. Love yourself. Look out for number one.

What do these two things mean, put together? If we mistrust power, if we believe in the little guy, and if we believe in ourselves, then we have to believe – all of us have to believe – that we are the little guy. It doesn’t matter how big and rich and powerful and supported and beloved we really are. For the American mentality to work, I have to believe that I am the underdog, I am the plucky little nobody, powerful forces are lining up against me, and it’s me (and my friends) against the world.

This is why (for example) our foreign policy often seems so schizophrenic. We don’t really know how to handle the fact that we’re the most powerful country in the world. But this is also why you find so many straight white men who say they’re the real victims. This is why so many Christian leaders say they feel oppressed, in a country that’s still 85 percent Christian. This is why you, like 90 percent of Americans, probably think of yourself as “middle class,” no matter how rich or poor you really are. (I’m with you on that one.)

And every time your team wins the championship, this is why it always feels like they overcame such incredible adversity. “Everybody hated us. Nobody believed in us. We were the plucky little nobodies. It was us against the world.”

So, here’s my message to Panthers fans: this week, let’s all come together and support our quarterback. Let’s get Cam Newton motivated. Let’s make sure he’s ready to play.

We’ve got a couple days left. Here’s how you do it. Go to Walmart right now, or Target, or the mall, and buy up as many Peyton Manning jerseys as you possibly can. And wear those babies around, loudly and proudly. Take pictures of yourself wearing ’em and tweet them at Cam Newton every day.

You want Cam Newton to win the Super Bowl? Make sure he feels disrespected.

After all…it’s the American way.