I can’t say many positive things about the Panthers’ Special Teams in 2011. What I can say is, I miss John Kasay, and am still irked that we picked up Olindo Mare in order to solidify the Kicker position into one player, but still relented to two kickers (a FG kicker, and a kickoff specialist) in the end.
Last year the Panthers ranked last in the NFL in net punting, 30th in punt return averages, and in the bottom 10 in average field position after kicking off and fielding kickoffs. That’s abysmal. It hurt to watch last year. Luckily, it should get better this year–much better.
We have a new Kicker competing in Carolina by the name of Justin Medlock. Word around training camp is that Medlock looks good, with a considerably high completion average in field goal attempts longer than 45 yards. Medlock is a pickup from the Canadian Football league, but was originally drafted to the NFL in 2007 by the Chiefs, where he missed his one and only FG attempt. An article surfaced in the past weeks mentioning that Mare has up years and down years, and perhaps is due for an up-year this year, but nevertheless it will be nice to give him some competition, and someone biting at his heels. Mare’s inconsistencies were a proverbial thorn in our special teams’ side last year.
Our longsnapper J.J. Jansen is great, and is a media darling in Carolina. We re-signed him this year, and I don’t see any issues coming from him.
The brightest spot in our special teams last year was rookie Kealoha Pilares. Pilares set a franchise record with a 101-yard kickoff return, and ranked fifth in the NFC with a 25.7-yard-average on kickoff returns. In his second year, he can only get better. In terms of special teams returners, we have Pilares, Armanti Edwards, Joe Adams (a rookie WR), and we will probably see new FB Mike Tolbert fielding some special teams returns.
We have two new punters in town in Carolina: Brad Nortman and Nick Harris. Nortman is a 6th-round draft pick from Wisconsin, and is known for being able to precisely place punts and for his hang time–he produced 53 punts that resulted in fair catches. Nick Harris is in his 12th NFL season, and ranks 30th in NFL history in punts and yards. These two new Panthers should help to clean up our special teams.