Kony Ealy Taking Ribbing On and Off Field

Proclaimed steal of the draft, Kony Ealy has taken a beating both on and off the field.  Drafted 60th overall and graded as a first round talent, Panther fans praised Gettleman's commitment to drafting the "best player available" when selecting the 276 lbs Missouri Tiger in the 2nd round.  Some fans were bewildered as the Panthers passed on guys like Morgan Moses or Jack Mewhort, but later consoled when Gettleman grabbed Trai Turner in the 3rd, who many viewed as perhaps the draft's most valuable steal.  Greg Hardy's legal troubles and looming suspension, the unlikeliness of signing him long-term, and the potential parting of ways with Charles "Big Money" Johnson, only made the Ealy selection look that much wiser.

Ealy, however, has struggled in his first training camp, leaving some questioning his ability to make an immediate impact.

The disconcerting news began when Charlotte Observer’s Jonathan Jones reported last week, “Rookie defensive end Kony Ealy struggled Tuesday. He was blocked consistently in one-on-one drills, including getting dominated by Byron Bell and later blocked to the ground by undrafted rookie Andrew Norwell.”

Saturday was particularly difficult for Ealy, physically and mentally, who found himself on his back taking a ribbing from his teammates and coaches.  After being beat up by David Foucault, a Canadian walk-on resembling Thor, Ealy got a ribbing from Cam Newton.  It hasn't been reported what Cam actually said, but ESPN's David Newton described Ealy as "agitated" from the chiding. Ealy later commented that the exchange got his “blood pumping” and that moments like this “motivate him to play harder.”

Should Early's early struggles worry Panther fans? 

Many believed that his size and athleticism would translate seemlessly to the pros. Ealy's difficulties in his first camp have some worrying already, however. This shouldn't be all too surprising.  Defensive end is a difficult position for guys coming out of college to adjust to in the pros.  Mike Rucker, commented on the Mac Attack this week that "college moves" just don't work as well in the NFL. Guys have to refine their craft against more crafty and talented offensive lineman.  

Even Greg Hardy, who some believe to be the most talented pure pass rusher in the league, struggled in his rookie year. PFF’s Ben Stockwell noted:

“After playing 30 snaps in each of the first two games of the season he wouldn’t play more than 30 in a game again until Week 15 and after his fast start Hardy’s performance dipped both as a pass rusher and run defender. From Week 3 to Week 10 Hardy recorded only three hits and only graded positively in run defense twice.”

It wasn’t that Hardy couldn’t be effective or didn’t have the necessary ability, he just wasn’t ready technically to assume a consistent role in the Panthers defense. Ealy will likely face similar challenges.  He’s full of raw talent and potential, but he will have to refine his craft to make the impact that fans want.

Observations on Ealy’s technique and reasons for his struggles:
  • Power rusher who relies on speed more than strength.  Can get around and inside offensive tackles with very straight lines and underneath moves.  
  • Technique and nuances of game need development.  Overly reliant on speed rush and hasn’t perfected hand fighting just yet.
  • Gets swallowed up by blockers at times because of reliance on speed. Isn't country strong yet.  The pro weight training regimen should help Ealy maximize strength potential for a guy of his size. 

Don’t be disheartened.

Ealy shows the mental strength to meet this challenge. People who are so accustomed to success often have trouble with adversity and failure.  It’s something that they just don’t know and understand first hand.  Look at Cam’s struggles during his sophomore NFL season.  We referred to him as mopey Cam because he just had a hard time internalizing losing.  The game, for the first time in his life, weren’t easy.  A guy with Ealy’s size and athleticism likely hasn’t ever struggled at the game.  He’s facing the greatest football challenge and it isn’t easy.  He facing this adversity courageously, humbly, and maturely, however.  Take a look at Ealy’s Instagram post of him and Rivera.  Rivera isn’t just giving him a pat on the back, but coaching this guy in the midst of this criticism.  Ealy seems to be embracing this moment, this learning opportunity.

Another encouraging aspect is Ealy’s continued excitement in the face of this adversity.  He wants to get out on the field and show he can live up to the hype and defy this criticism.  I will be looking carefully at Ealy’s intensity early in the preseason to see just how motivated Ealy is by this challenge.

This year’s draft didn’t offer the strongest pass-rushing class. Jadeveon Clowney and Dee Ford were the only 1st RD defensive ends selected this year.  Ealy was the 5th defensive end selected, so while he was graded high, he wasn’t the most elite pick of the 2014 draft.  This suggests that the potential is there, but he isn’t ready to step in as an immediate starter.  A great scenario would be for Ealy to rotate in with Addison behind Kraken and Big Money to produces a relentless pass-rushing quarterback.  In this capacity, Ealy can capitalized on tired offensive lines and refine his pass rushing moves.  Panther Nation, don’t be troubled just yet by Ealy’s camp struggles  Watch for improvement throughout the season, particularly in Ealy’s pass-rushing technique and increased strength.  Let’s hope he has time to learn behind Johnson and Hardy, rather than being required to step into a larger role to soon because of injury or looming suspensions.

By: the Professor