This Sunday, the Cleveland Browns take on the Carolina Panthers. To help preview a few topics from the Panthers’ perspective, we reached out to Walker Clement from Cat Scratch Reader and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!
According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Browns are 1.5-point underdogs against the Panthers.
Chris: “Baker Mayfield ended up being named the Panthers’ starting quarterback; can you convey how Carolina fans feel about him being the guy to lead them in 2022?”
Walker: “Panthers fans, at this point, are ready for somebody—anybody, really—to pick up the reins at quarterback and play with consistency. We have seen nine different starting quarterbacks since Cam Newton last started a full season (2018). I know Browns fan can empathize with that kind of instability. Baker can win a lot of fans here by being anything from mediocre to great, but he’ll win the most by just being consistent. That’s what he was known for in Cleveland, right?”
Chris: “Christian McCaffrey was the ultimate all-purpose back in 2018 and 2019, but has been banged up the past two years. How has he been this offseason? Is he ready for a return to his glory days?”
Walker: “Good ol’ CMC is going to be one of your top fantasy players, regardless of position, for so long as he is healthy. How long that will be is best determined by sacrificing goats, reading tea leaves, or keeping a crystal ball handy to throw at the TV when he goes into the medical tent at the half of what was pacing to be his fourth consecutive 30-touch game.
Really, it’s not that the coaches are trying to hurt him or that anybody has any real idea of whether or not his recent durability concerns are indicative of a trend or a blip in his career. It’s just that we have the growing feeling that we aren’t supposed to have nice things. For now, McCaffrey is healthy and considered to be fully available for the start of the season. We’ll see if he’s back or if Cleveland just drew the short straw on facing him early instead of not at all.”
Chris: “Which position is the strength of the Panthers’ offensive line, and which is the weakness?”
Walker: “The right side of the Panthers offensive line is certainly the strength. Taylor Moton is a top tier player who has battled the guaranteed irrelevancy of an otherwise bad unit his entire career. Austin Corbett is one of the few free agent signings along the line in recent memory that is expected to improve the unit. He’s holding up the right guard position.
The weakness side of your question gets a little tougher. Technically, the left side of the line is the newest. Rookie left tackle Ikem Ekwonu is a first round pick and second year left-tackle-to-left-guard conversion Brady Christensen is a former second round pick. Center is my pick, however, for the biggest question mark on the line. Guard/center Pat Elflein is currently expected to start as the previously expected to start Bradley Bozeman missed much of training camp with an ankle injury.
Still, for all that we’re starting four new players from last year, we’re also starting the most talented and/or highly drafted group of offensive lineman that the Panthers may have ever fielded. The talent part will need to prove itself in live game action, but that draft claim is evident: All of these guys were top 100 picks, and three of those were even made by the Panthers. We’ve come a long way from starting UDFA guards with regularity.”
Chris: “What is the biggest concern with Carolina’s defense heading into the 2022 NFL season?”
Walker: “The Panthers have been trying to beef up a little along their defensive line this off season and that process continued through the end of roster cuts. Last year they got caught flat footed with a light and fast defense that was built to play with what turned out to be laughably fictional leads.
This year they want to have the mass available to do some crazy thing called “stopping the run.” I think it’s some college trend. For all that the offense has a new coordinator and new players at most positions, I’m at least as interested in seeing how defensive coordinator Phil Snow is going to retool his front seven. The man has had some entertaining successes to date in Charlotte, but we still have yet to see those successes string into repeated events.”
Chris: “Tell us about one player who Browns fans may not have heard of, but who could have an impact on this Sunday’s game.”
Walker: “Eddy Piñeiro. Don’t worry, Panthers fans don’t know him either. He’s the new kicker, signed when the Panthers ‘regular’ place kicker, Zane Gonzalez, suffered a season ending injury in the final preseason game. Talk about bad luck. Gonzalez was a fan favorite because he only missed one extra point in his twelve games as a Panthers last season. That’s the stuff of legend in these parts, nowadays. Piñeiro, on the other hand, was available this late in the offseason for a reason and we have no idea what to expect. ”
Thanks again to Walker for taking the time to answer my questions.