In 2011, the Carolina Panthers ranked last out of 32 NFL teams in net punting and 30th in punt return average. They also ranked in the bottom 10 in average field position after kicking off and after fielding a kickoff.
To address this, they delved into the Free Agent pool, picking up Haruki Nakamura, Reggie Smith, promising kicker Justin Medlock and special teams specialist Kenny Onatolu. They drafted punter Brad Nortman in the 6th round, Punt returner Joe Adams in the 4th round and all-around contributor D.J. Campbell in the 7th.
This season hasn’t fared much better. According to Football Outsiders, Carolina’s Special Teams is ranked 26th overall. Pro Football Focus gives them a not so generous slot of 30th. By comparison FO has the Broncos at No. 15 and PFF has them at 5th. For what it’s worth.
The kicker for the Panthers is Justin Medlock, who also handles kickoffs. Justin was signed as a Free Agent this Spring after spending the last two seasons in the CFL. So far this season, Medlock has made 7 of 8 Field Goals (87.5%) and all 18 Extra Point conversions. His longest went for 45 yards and his lone miss came on a blocked 50-yard Attempt last week in Washington when DeAngelo Hall came off the right side unblocked.
Justin’s kickoffs land around the 7 yard line on average. He has kicked off 33 times. 12 have gone for a Touchback (36.3%) and 21 have been returned an average of 14.4 yards.
The Punter and Holder is Rookie Brad Nortman, a 6th round pick this year out of Wisconsin. He has punted 40 times so far, with a gross average of 40.7 and a Net of 35.9 yards. Four went out of bounds, 6 were downed, 14 landed Inside the 20 yard line and 2 went for Touchbacks. Brad’s longest punt was a 63 yarder. 10 of his punts were Fair Caught and 18 returned for a 6.44 yard average.
During the season opener against Tampa Bay, Nortman had a punt blocked in the 4th Quarter. Aquib Talib came in off the left side untouched and made a clean block on Nortman's punt. That play turned into an important Field Goal since it was still anyone's game at that point. The Bucs ended up winning by six.
The Long Snapping Specialist is J.J. Jansen, who has started all 56 games since his arrival in 2009. Jansen has no Tackles in 2012 and 6 for his career.
COVERAGE AND RETURN MEN
The Punt Returners for Carolina are Captain Munnerlyn and rookie Joe Adams. Munnerlyn has returned 10 punts for an average of 4.8 yards and called for 4 Fair Catches. Adams has 5 returns for an 8.4 average.
The Panthers have used four players at Kick Returner this season, but only two have had more than one opportunity. Kealoha Pilares has had 9 touches for a 24 yard average. Joe Adams (4.45 in the 40) has also had 9 chances, for a 23.1 yard average. Adams was the kick returner for the first 3 games of the season, but was benched after losing two fumbles against the New York Giants.
MLB Jason Phillips (7 Tackles, 1 Miss) is the Panthers best Special Teams coverage man.
FS Colin Jones (5 TKLs, 2 MT), LB Jordan Senn (5 TKL,1 AST,3 MT), DB Josh Thomas (4 TKL, 2 MT), FS Haruki Nakamura (4 TKL, 1 AST, 1 MT), WR Kealoha Pilares (3 TKL), CB Captain Munnerlyn (2 TKL), LB Thomas Davis (2 TKL) and FS Sherrod Martin (2 TKL, 1 AST) round out the coverage guys for Carolina.
The edge definitely goes to Denver in the Special Teams matchup. The Panthers Unit has some positives, but inconsistency isn’t one of them.
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