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Sports

Time Out For Sports: Clemson Loses Big, Panthers Have Big Offseason Questions And Hornets' Inconsistency Woes

Panthers vs Saints Jan. 3, 2021
Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers played the New Orleans Saints Jan. 3, at Bank of America Stadium.

Big losses for the Clemson Tigers and the UNC Tar Heels in bowl games this weekend; the Charlotte Hornets are struggling, six games into the season and it was a day of interceptions for the Carolina Panthers. With "All Things Considered" host Gwendolyn Glenn to talk about these topics in our first show of 2021 is Langston Wertz Jr. a longtime sportswriter with the Charlotte Observer.

Gwendolyn Glenn Hi Langston!

Langston Wertz Jr, a longtime sportswriter for the Charlotte Observer.
Langston Wertz Jr.

Langston Wertz Jr.: Happy New Year.

Glenn: Happy New Year to you, as well. The Carolina Panthers finished up their season with a big loss against the New Orleans Saints.

Sound from Sunday's New Orleans Saints/ Carolina Panthers game

Glenn: Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was taken out in the third quarter after an ankle injury, it was an ankle injury, right, Langston?

Wertz: Yeah, it was an ankle injury.

Glenn: And as you heard there he threw two interceptions. Then backup quarterback PJ Walker started out with an interception and threw for two more in the fourth quarter. Not a good way to end the season. Your take?

Wertz: Yeah, the Panthers laid an egg Sunday. That was not a good way to go out. But at the same time, you know, it gives them a top 10 draft pick. I think the Panthers made an effort yesterday to try to throw the ball deep and Teddy Bridgewater showed he really is not good at throwing the ball deep. He forced the ball into coverage. The second interception was really, really poorly underthrown. Teddy is not the quarterback who's going to get them to their goal of trying to reach a Super Bowl.

Glenn: And that is what I was going to ask you: Everybody is speculating on what holes need to be filled and if Teddy Bridgewater will be in the mix next season. What do you think?

Wertz: Well, the Panthers still have to work on a defense. Jeremy Chinn certainly looks like a star in the defensive backfield, but I think, you know, they still struggle with tackling. They still struggle to slow down certain types of offenses. They got to fix the offensive line. I like the skill weapons. You want to re-sign Curtis Samuel. You want to hope Christian McCaffrey comes back healthy and you want to get a really good draft pick.

Glenn: Moving over to the Charlotte Hornets. They’ve beaten two of the better teams in the NBA in the Brooklyn Nets and Dallas Mavericks but they’re still 2-4. What’s not clicking?

Wertz: Their starting lineup is not clicking. The starting lineup is down, I think, 20 points when they're out there together. And I think, you know, you're going to have to move some pieces around and just kind of continue to tinker with what you have. It's just a matter of finding the right pieces. And that's going to take a little bit of time.

Glenn: Most people would agree with you that that starting lineup isn't clicking and needs some tweaking. And many fans are calling for the coaches to start rookie guard LaMelo Ball. Why is he not a starter now? And do you think if he was a starter, the team would be more consistent?

Wertz: He's a phenomenal passer. He really has court vision like you just don't see. I mean, he's special. And me, I think I would ride with him and put him out there and let him kind of go through the learning process right now versus putting it off until next year. Work with him on defense. He's never going to be a good one-on-one defender. But you can become a good team defender, à la Stephen Curry.

Glenn: OK, so, there were bowl games this weekend. The Clemson Tigers, who we both thought would be a shoo-in for the upcoming national championship game played in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Friday against the Ohio State Buckeyes. What happened?

Wertz: I think Clemson may have been looking just a little bit ahead to the Alabama rematch. But Clemson went down early and scored easy. It looked like it might be a blowout. Ohio State smacks them in the mouth. And, you know, Clemson didn't have their offensive coordinator. They lost a linebacker in the middle of the game. I mean, they had a lot of things kind of conspire against them, but Ohio State just beat them.

Glenn: With this likely being Trevor Lawrence’s last game at Clemson — he’s expected to be a first-round NFL draft pick — he still played his heart out, especially in that last pass with no chance to win the game, and he got clobbered after throwing it. How would you describe his style of play and leadership in his three years at Clemson, and commitment to the game?

Wertz: Well, I think there's no doubt the kid is committed. I mean, he's out there running, you know, getting killed in the championship game when they're getting blown out. He kept coming out. He kept taking blows. He kept trying to make passes. But the thing about Trevor, the leadership part, he was one of the guys that was really pushing hard, talking to players from other teams to organize together to have a college football season. That really speaks to his leadership to me. The kids on the team love him. And I think that speaks to somebody who's grounded and kind of understands there's a little bit bigger picture than just playing football. So I think Trevor Lawrence is going to be fine. I tell people all the time he's 18 year old Peyton Manning with better arm and better legs. I think he's going to be a generational quarterback.

Glenn: OK, also, the UNC Tar Heels were in the Orange Bowl this weekend against Texas A&M, and their outcome was a 41-27 loss.

Wertz: The Tar Heels old bugaboo showed up again — they just can't tackle and they struggle with that. They were right in the game. They let a freshman run around the left side, break about five tackles and run away for a touchdown. It just got away from them after that. But Carolina was missing four of their best players, all who decided to go to the NFL draft. And Carolina has a really bright future. They've just got to work on a defense. When Mack Brown came, they were atrocious on defense. They went from two or three wins to an Orange Bowl bid in two years. So you got to give Mack a lot of credit and you got to think he's going to continue to build that program up.

GLENN: Finally, Langston, high school basketball in Charlotte starts Monday night. What’s on tap?

Wertz: Yeah, the public schools come back Monday night. The big night for CMS is Wednesday when most of the CMS schools play. The private schools, as you know, have been playing since November. The public schools postponed or waited till January. So it's a big week of games for the Charlotte schools starting Wednesday. There's another big night on Friday. They have to wear masks. But, you know, I hope it is a precursor to football also coming back next month.

Glenn: Thanks as always, Langston.

Wertz: Thank You.

Langston Wertz Jr is a veteran sportswriter for the Charlotte Observer.