The 2021 NFL Draft is over, and both defense and offense were on the Carolina Panthers’ roster. Charlotte Hornets rookie guard sensation LaMelo Ball is back in roster and local football teams are heading to state championship games. With “All Things Considered,” host Gwendolyn Glenn for sports talk is Langston Wertz, Jr., a longtime sports writer with the Charlotte Observer.
Glenn: Hi, Langston.
Langston Wertz Jr .: Happy monday.
Glenn: Happy monday. Well, let’s start with the NFL Draft and the Carolina Panthers.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell: With the eighth pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers select Jaycee Horn, a South Carolina defensive back.
Glenn: So Langston, with former Ohio State University quarterback Justin Fields available, the Panthers passed him and went looking for Horne. Here’s what Panthers head coach Matt Rule had to say about Horne’s selection.
Matt Rhule: For us the corner is a position, you know, if you go back to last year, there were times when we just couldn’t get off the pitch. So this is a problem that we have tried to solve within the framework of free will. Think of the NFC South with the big receivers we have to deal with. We think he’s a special player and we’re delighted to see him.
Glenn: So, Langston, what do you think of this strategy?
Langston Wertz Jr .: I remember that game in New Orleans where they couldn’t get off the field and New Orleans kept converting third downs. You need someone who can help you get off the field. And I think Horn might be a guy to help them do that. They had noted it the best on their board. I think the Panthers really wanted Oregon tackle Penei Sewell, but he went an earlier pick in Detroit. I know Carolina tried to compromise. They didn’t like … what they did was they come back and they say, let’s go get the guy we have the highest on our board, which was Horn. And that surprised a lot of people because Patrick Surtain was generally considered the number one defensive player in the draft. But if Horn is the guy, it really makes the Panthers look good.
Glenn: OK, they also picked BYU offensive tackle Brady Christensen in the third round of the draft. He said he was surprised to get the call from the Panthers.
Brady Christensen: I wasn’t sure where I was going to go, but when I got the call from the Panthers I was so excited. I’m married and I was telling my wife it was almost like … it was so good from the start, you know, like this was the place for us.
Langston Wertz Jr .: Carolina really liked this guy, they traded a sixth round pick to move up three places to get him. I think he’s going to be a good tackle from the left. He’s 6’6 305, he’s running a 4.9 40, 4.8 40. He’s got, you know, measurable good ones. I think he surprised people with some of his measurables on his professional day. I think he’s going to be a really good player for the Panthers and a steal in the third round.
Glenn: OK, we spoke last week about the weakness of the team in attack. They also picked offensive linemen, Deonte Brown, who was on the Alabama Crimson Tide National Championship team. And check this out – over the past three seasons and 865 shots, he hasn’t allowed a single sack.
Langston Wertz Jr .: Yeah, you must be wondering why a guy with that type of stats is going so late. But the guy has had weight issues his entire career, he weighed 400 pounds when he got to Alabama. He weighs 365 pounds now, if he can control his weight Gwen, here’s the same word again, another steal for the Panthers in round six. The Panthers also picked up Chuba Howard in the fourth round. He led the nation to rush two years ago. I mean, it could be a steal. LSU wide receiver Terrence Marshall and Notre Dame tight end Tommy Trimble are going to be two players, I think, who will contribute. I think the Panthers really, really had a great draft. They’ve picked up eleven players and normally make about six and a half. So I can’t wait to see how it goes when they get on the pitch.
Glenn: Moving on to the Charlotte Hornets, where over the weekend rookie goalie LaMelo Ball returned to the starting lineup after a 21-game absence with a wrist injury.
Eric Collins: Lamelo… what a pass… finds bridges. Welcome LAMELO again!
Dell Curry: You just can’t teach instincts like that
Collins: Was it with his left hand?
Glenn: Ball had 11 points and seven assists in Saturday’s 107-94 win over the Detroit Pistons. Here’s head coach James Borrego on Ball’s return.
James Borrego, Charlotte Hornets head coach: It’s good to find him, I expect it will only get better from here. But it was a breath of fresh air just to have that jerk in the gym for us and all of our guys played with great rhythm, but Melo takes us to another level in that regard.
Langston Wertz Jr .: Gwen, it wasn’t so much the points and rebounds and assists that LaMelo had. The fun returned to Charlotte when LaMelo returned. He had a full-length scoop pass like Pete Maravich. He played a game when he ran into guys and changed hands before making a layup. He’s a fun player. It brings back fun and excitement. The Hornets are currently in the seven-eight game against Boston. But they’re only one game ahead of Indiana after being in a losing game at ten past nine. Good news for Charlotte. They have a crucial five-game homestand ahead starting Thursday. They have recovered LaMelo and they are 17-14 at home for the season.
Glenn: And they also have point guard Malik Monk back from his ankle injury.
Langston Wertz Jr .: Yeah, Malik is 11 points in the first two games against Miami and Detroit, and the Gwen thing, he’s shooting well. You know, he’s always struggled with his shots. He’s made five of nine 3. If he keeps coming back strong with that, with LaMelo back giving Charlotte a little more oomph, I think the bugs are going to be a problem for some people in the playoffs.
CBS Sports Jim Nantz: Once again. Yes indeed … fantastic.
Glenn: It was the sound of Max Homa sinking the final putt to win the 2019 Wells Fargo Championship PGA Tournament at the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte. Now it was canceled last year due to the pandemic, but is starting today. Langston, what does the realm of golfers and North Carolinians look like in the mix?
Langston Wertz Jr .: Yeah, there is a guy, actually I hope I say his name right,
Akshay Bhatia from the Raleigh area, he went to high school in Wake Forest. He quickly became friends with Phil Mickelson. He is in the field with the exemptions of the sponsor, he is 19 years old. He’s six feet, 140 pounds, he hits a ball for a mile. In addition, Wake Forest alumnus Will Zalatoris, who everyone knows, finished second in the Masters will be on the pitch. And then the big names are there – Rory McIlroy and Dustin Thomas, the Tony Finau. There are 156 players playing for $ 8.1 million and 22 of the top 50 players in the world.
Glenn: It should be great to watch. And state championship football games are coming. Two teams from the Charlotte area will be playing, fill us in.
Langston Wertz Jr .: Yeah, Charlotte Catholic is going for a fourth straight state championship in Class 3A. They’re going to play against Havelock, who they beat in 2017. Havelock has been in, I think, five state championships in the last 10 years. So it’s a battle of two titans in this game. And then in the 4AA Finals, Vance was playing his last game as Vance High School. They changed their name to Julius Chambers, the civil rights leader, from July. They are going to play at Wake Forest-Roseville, which should be a very good game. Roseville is essentially playing a home game, 30 minutes from Raleigh and Vance about three hours from Raleigh.
Glenn: OK, and finally, Langston, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper has lifted restrictions on exterior masks. This went into effect on Friday. How will this affect high school sport?
Langston Wertz Jr .: Well, athletes no longer have to wear masks outside. I know this news has been very relieved. Coaches should not wear them on the sidelines either. Fans have been encouraged to wear them, CMS still requires fans to wear masks, but many areas encourage them to do so. But I think it has been good for the players. I know a lot of soccer players have complained about how hard it is to breathe with a mask on when playing, so they’re really happy to see that happen.
Glenn: OK, thanks as always, Langston.
Langston Wertz Jr .: Absolutely.
Langston Wertz Jr is a longtime sports writer with The Charlotte Observer.