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Need a one-stop shop to catch up on the top sports stories big and small? Time Out For Sports airs Mondays on WFAE's "All Things Considered" and has what you need to know about everything from Charlotte-area high school football highlights to the latest updates on the Carolina Panthers.

The 2021 Carolina Panthers Finally Take The Field

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A lot happened in the local sports world over the last few days. The Carolina Panthers had their first preseason game, the Charlotte Hornets are still in their summer league schedule phase and two high schools have decided not to play varsity football this fall. Langston Wertz Jr. with The Charlotte Observer joins us to talk about those and other sports stories.

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

Gwendolyn Glenn: Hi, Langston.

Langston Wertz Jr.: Hey Gwen. How are you doing?

Glenn: All is well. The Carolina Panthers took the field for their first preseason game on Sunday... (There were) a lot of exciting moments, but the Panthers lost 21-18 to the Indianapolis Colts. What were some of your observations, Langston?

Wertz: OK, deep breath, Gwen. It's preseason, first game. Starters didn't play. Let's not get too excited, but an old bugaboo did show up. They couldn't finish in the red zone. This is something that happened last year. Positive is the pass rush looked good, Marquis Haynes had a sack, two QB hits, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Yetur Gross-Matos had a sack as did free agent Frankie Luvu. I hope I said his name right. And those are the backups Gwen so imagine when the starters get out there. Offensively, Terrence Marshall, who we talked about, three catches, 88 yards. had a 60-yard catch. Tommy Tremble had a touchdown catch, Chuba Howard had a 59-yard run. That was definitely positive in that game as well.

Glenn: Now, quarterback Sam Darnold, who is expected to be the starter for the regular season, didn’t play yesterday. But backup quarterbacks P.J Walker and Will Grier are competing for the No. 2 quarterback slot. Here’s Coach Matt Rhule on Walker.

Panthers Head Coach Matt Rhule (recording): I thought he hung in there, made some plays from the pocket. We have to be a little bit cleaner when he’s in there.

Glenn: What did Rhule mean by "cleaner," Langston? And what do you think of Walker’s and Grier’s performances?

Wertz: Walker threw a touchdown pass on a play where he's supposed to not even snap the ball. They were trying to make Indianapolis jump offsides. He finished 10 of 21, 161 yards and a touchdown on that play that he was not supposed to run. So I think the cleaner comment has to do with you got to be able to run what's called and not try to improvise so much. In terms of Will Grier, analyst Steve Smith said Grier has great arm talent, but he's been reticent to throw the ball down the field. We saw a little bit of that in the game. He had a couple of nice throws, short ones that were dropped. And he finished 6-for-10 for 31 yards, which is, you know, not great numbers. I think Walker definitely looks like the leader in the clubhouse right now for No. 2.

Glenn: Any players not in the rotation that you think should have been and that you wanted to see on the field?

Wertz: I'm sure everybody is going to have a player or two that they wanted to see. But I think there's one player everybody wants to see, and that's Sam Darnold. We haven't seen a lot of the starters so far, what you have in some of the other guys. We just don't know what we have in Sam Darnold right now. He's the most important player on the field. We'd love (to see) QB 1ne on Saturday when they play the Ravens, even if it's just a quarter.

Glenn: And before we leave the Panthers, what was up with the broadcast glitches for big portions of the game?

Wertz: Gwen, you know there's nothing like sitting down to get your first look at the 2021 Panthers, and you turn on the TV and you get technical difficulties — "please stand by" — and it doesn't go away. But the game came back in the middle of the second quarter. And in the fourth quarter, I think the Panthers were driving and we got a soccer game after commercial. All and all, the fans missed about 45 minutes of game time.

Glenn: NBA summer league is almost over for the Charlotte Hornets as they finish up tonight with a game against the Chicago Bulls. Who have been standouts? And how have first-round rookies, guard James Bouknight and forward Kai Jones, looked?

Wertz: You know what? I think Gelo has been a standout. LiAngelo Ball's played well, got a nice fan base out there. Showed a nice stroke, hit some big shots in late moments. James Bouknight, he's talked about as a professional scorer. I think he's going to be an All-Star, Gwen. I really do. Within three or four years. Kai Jones is just an athletic freak. Mitch Kupchak, just a great move trading for him. The Hornets have got a really, really athletic in the last couple of months. And I think Kai Jones is at the head of that. And I can't wait to see him play with LaMelo running down those lobs.

Glenn: Moving to high school football, the big news seems to be that East Rutherford and Cedar Ridge have announced that they will not have varsity football teams this season. What’s up with that?

Wertz: We've seen a drop in high school football participation in North Carolina over the last seven, eight years. And we're also seeing... players are going to winning teams and they're leaving teams that are struggling. w, East Rutherford was 0-7 last year, was outscored like 309-14 or something like that. So these schools are losing players at rapid rates. They just don't have enough players to field a team. East Rutherford say they beat the bushes to try to find a team. They called players. They interviewed. They had "meet the coaches" nights. And they just couldn't come up with enough players. And I think these schools are making the right decision. If you're going to put out a team, you know, 30 or less players and mostly of young guys that aren't very strong, haven't been in the weight room very much, you're just asking them to get hurt.

Glenn: Garinger High School, initially said that they would not be playing varsity football, but now officials have reversed course and will play. What was behind the first decision and then the reversal?

Wertz: Well, I mean, the same thing with Garinger that happened in East Rutherford and Cedar Ridge. They just didn't have enough players. Garinger had 28 players and the coach told me that if they started the season at that time, they would've started six freshmen on defense. And in Charlotte, playing 4A football, that's not a recipe for success. It's actually a recipe probably to put some kids in a position where they might get hurt. And I thought that was the right call. I think the thing that happened was they didn't run the decision up all of the right chains of command. And I think that became an issue.

Glenn: The season kicks off this weekend at the newly renovated Memorial Stadium. Tell us about the teams who will be playing.

Wertz: South Meck is playing Charlotte Catholic. Gwen, these are two schools that are right across the street from each other on Park Road. And I think this is a big rivalry. It should bring out a big, big crowd. And then following that, Myers Park and Hough, which has become a rivalry. Myers Park went up to Hough and scored 69 points a couple of years ago. So I think ... there will probably be 25, 30 college recruits on the field when those two teams play. So it's a great nightcap to a really nice doubleheader.

Glenn: With COVID-19 still being a major concern as numbers continue to rise, what do you think about them holding these games on the same day?

Wertz: No, because the fans. I don't think fans are going to stay for both games. COVID is definitely going to be an issue ,too, Gwen, for high school football. Up in Orange County tonight, they're talking about making vaccinations mandatory for all athletes. I think that could also spread to some other school systems. CMS is talking about testing athletes on a regular basis, something Greensboro's now doing.

Glenn: This weekend, Haiti was hit with a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that left more than 700 people dead and about 2,000 injured. Naomi Osaka, who’s part-owner of the North Carolina Courage professional women’s soccer team and whose father is Haitian, made an announcement on social media about how she plans to help. Tell us about it.

Wertz: Yeah, good on her. She pledged to donate her winnings from the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati. She's seeded second. This is a really nice statement in terms of support from Naomi who's made a kind of a career lately of being a social media activist — social activist, rather. So good for her.

Glenn: Our hearts go out to Haiti, which is also in the path of a tropical storm and tropical depression. As always, thanks, Langston, for being with us on Time Out For Sports.

Wertz: Absolutely

Glenn: Langston Wertz Jr. is longtime sports writer for The Charlotte Observer.

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