Derrick Brown may not be Kawann Short, but he can make a difference for Panthers

Tom Sorensen
·6 min read

I liked the Carolina Panthers draft. If I were to grade it I’d give it a – well, I wouldn’t. Writers hand out grades because readers like to see them. Grades are proof – proof that your team got it right, that your the team failed to, or that the writer, in the opinion of readers, is an idiot.

I checked grades from 12 writers I know or whose credibility I appreciate.

The grades the Panthers received, and the number of times they received them:

A (3); A- (1); B+ (4); B (4).

A longtime NFL executive says he’s surprised two players were available when the Panthers picked. They are Yetur Gross-Matos, an edge rusher out of Penn State, and Jeremy Chinn, a safety out of Southern Illinois.

Carolina took Gross-Matos in the second round with the 38th overall pick. He’s 6-foot-5 and can move. Interesting to envision him on one end of the pass rush and last year’s No. 1 pick, Brian Burns, on the other.

Carolina took Chinn in the second round, with the 64th pick and, oh no, traded up to get him, giving the Seattle Seahawks a third and a fifth-round pick. At 6-3 and 219 pounds, Chinn is big, strong and fast. Where does Chinn, who is listed as a safety, play? If he’s as good as some believe, anywhere he wants.

Carolina’s most controversial pick, inexplicably, is Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown. I’d hoped that Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah would drift to seven, where the Panthers picked. But Brown is a great consolation prize. He unquestionably was the best player in college football at his position.

Watch him on tape (by now we all have). Will he be the pass rusher that fellow Carolina defensive tackle Kawann Short is? That’s unlikely. But he is 6-5 and 326 pounds, and plays almost every play as if it is the most important play of his career.

Watch Brown reset the line of scrimmage as Burns or linebacker Shaq Thompson sail into the backfield for a sack. If the NFL borrowed from the NBA and credited a player with an assist, Brown would collect them.

When defensive tackle, and first-round draft pick, Star Lotulelei played for the Panthers, Carolina’s linebackers immediately became more effective. Lotulelei rarely reached the quarterback (11 1/2 sacks in six seasons for Carolina and the Buffalo Bills). But he commanded attention, attention that could not be devoted to, say, Luke Kuechly or Thomas Davis. Brown can be a better version of Lotulelei.

Carolina general manager Marty Hurney loves to build from the inside, from the line. New coach Matt Rhule obviously shares that philosophy.

The Panthers drafted seven players, and to say that they took care of all their needs would be make believe. But don’t you feel much better about them now than you did a week ago?

ESPN’s “The Last Dance” documentary, featuring Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, has made for compelling television.
ESPN’s “The Last Dance” documentary, featuring Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, has made for compelling television.

It’s been great to re-live Bulls-Pistons rivalry through Jordan documentary

ESPN/Netflix’s “The Last Dance” documentary is mesmerizing. You don’t have to like the NBA to like it.

My kids set up a Zoom conference so we could watch together from Minneapolis, Las Vegas and Charlotte. The story, of course, is the final championship season for Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, 1997-98.

Some footage is amazing. Dennis Rodman leaves the Bulls because he needs an in-season break and goes to Las Vegas. Nobody takes a selfie with him because selfies have yet to be invented. Rodman’s break goes overtime, so Jordan goes to Rodman’s room to fetch him. Carmen Electra hides as Jordan enters.

The contempt between the Bulls and Detroit Pistons was as raw as it was real. If you needed a team to hate, the Pistons complied.

Detroit, whose time came before Chicago’s, was a worthy champion. It also was a dirty champion. The Pistons were physical and smart, and in Chuck Daly, they had a great coach. But no question they were dirty. When the Bulls finally beat them, you wanted to throw confetti in the air, and hope it landed on Detroit big man/big hack Bill Laimbeer.

Revisionist history will tell you that the Pistons were misunderstood. Dirty is not difficult to comprehend.

Detroit beat Chicago in the Eastern Conference finals in 1989 and ’90. Beating the Pistons became a quest for the Bulls, and they swept Detroit in the 1991 conference finals. Jordan’s contempt for the Pistons lingers. Once a game ended, there were no fake hugs. The teams practiced social distancing long before there was social distancing.

The 10-part series, which has six parts remaining, is extraordinary. And the timing? Jordan always excelled at that.

Short takes: NASCAR’s back, thankfully

Good to see the return of NASCAR, and good to see that the sport is scheduled to make it’s post-pandemic debut May 17 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. NASCAR’s last race was March 6. Fans, or course, will be banned.

Many believe NASCAR has abandoned the fans that stuck with it in the early days. But NASCAR has not abandoned Darlington, a track that is a tribute to those fans.

Darlington is old school and high-banked, with little room to move. The track let me drive my car on it once, and I was thrilled I didn’t have to share the space with 38 other drivers.

After two Darlington races, the Coca-Cola 600 will tentatively be held May 24 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. NASCAR, welcome back…

The biggest surprises of the 2020 NFL draft were: (1) every time a camera showed a dog or a kid in the home of a coach or player, the dog and the kid were behaving; (2) ESPN worked hard to illustrate problems that the draft pick or his family had faced.

Yeah, the kid from Eastern Montana ran a 4.4 40 and bench-pressed 225 pounds so many times that people left the gym because they were bored. But in 2012, his mom jaywalked, and 2003, she wore jeans to church…

Since the pandemic hit, my world, like yours, has shrunk. I walk to McAlpine Park, drive to the coffee shop and the grocery store, and occasionally pick up takeout. I also spend more time than I ever have at home. So I watch TV and read.

My TV shows include “Dublin Murders” and, don’t know what took so long, “Ozark.”

My movies include two Clint Eastwood Westerns, a very bad Val Kilmer space movie (not his fault), Serpico and Donnie Brasco, three Daniel Craig James Bond movies (the only true Bonds are Sean Connery and Craig), and Harrison Ford in Alaska with a big dog that could be a member of Mensa. The best movie I’ve seen during exile is Just Mercy, with Michael B. Jordan. If you have a yet to be named baby boy, and want him to excel at his job, name him Michael Jordan.

My books include a biography of Jimmy Page and a biography of Robert Johnson, the former a great bluesman and guitarist for Led Zeppelin, the latter the greatest bluesman of them all. “There, there” by first time novelist Tommy Orange is outstanding. I read two Elmore Leonards and am reading “We are Water,” by Wally Lamb, which I probably will finish.

Stay safe. And if you have recommendations, please send them my way.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Observer columnist.