Panthers Lose Defensive Coordinator To Bills

It was so just a matter of time before Sean McDermott landed a head coaching position. After three years of off-season considerations from teams like the Eagles to and Redskins, the Buffalo Bills have hired McDermott, the Panthers defensive coordinator for the past five years, as Head Coach. 

The headlines may have spotlighted Cam Newton throughout McDermott's tenure, but the team's heart and soul has always been the defense. It's been the real identity in the shadows of Cam's starlight. 

McDermott had a rough first year as a coordinator for Carolina. The Panthers finished at the bottom in nearly every defensive category. The next four years, however, Carolina was able to field a top 12 defense and a top 10 defense three of those four years. In 2013, McDermott's defense was second only to Seattle, which was one of the best defenses in NFL history. Carolina wasn't far behind either, tallying a record-setting 64 sacks that year. 

McDermott has been a fantastic coordinator for Carolina. Most impressively, he's helped coach Carolina's defense into a league-leading with used and discarded parts. Carolina's secondary is shows it best. McDermott helped Josh Norman grow from a stubborn kid from Coastal Carolina into a star corner. He helped vets like Roman Harper and Drayton Florence find success in the Twilight of their careers, and he even helped retreads like Mike Mitchell get paid. 

McDermott has been instrumental in Carolina's success in the last four years. Sure, it's a sign of success for an organization when a coordinator gets poached to be a head coach, but this is tough loss for Carolina. Most believe Carolina will promote Assistant Head Coach Steve Wilks to Defensive Coordinator. Wilks has garnered some interest outside the organization, but an internal promotion would be a familiar move for both him and the Panthers. He intimately knows Carolina's personnel and understands defensive philosophy by working closely under McDermott's guidance. All of this will hopefully lessen the blow that naturally comes when a coaching staff reorganizes. 

The challenge will probably be more difficult for McDermott in the end. As the Bills' head coach, he will have to try and find a way to win in a division that has been dominated by the New England Patriots for over 15-years without a quarterback, a star receiver who hardly plays, and a host of contractual challenges many attribute to inept management. 

By the Professor, aka Tony Dunn
Follow @Cat_Chronicles for the latest Panthers news and opions from the fan perspective. 

What's Wrong with the Carolina Panthers?

We've seen the Carolina Panthers get off to a good 0-2 start, but ole Riverboat Ron had patented slow starts long ago, and let's face it. This time last year, we were 1-3, so things aren't quite so bad as they may seem in some ways.
What's going well? Right now, that's a short answer-type question. Cam Newton, despite being banged up and hobbled with a lingering ankle issue, has been nothing short of spectacular considering everything going on.

He hasn't been healthy and he's not getting protected by his offensive line. He has still managed to improve on his play from last year, and his being hobbled could be a blessing in disguise as it will force him to learn to be a better pocket passer.

Then there's rookie phenom Kelvin Benjamin, whom we're all familiar with and hopefully as high on as I am. 

I'll be honest....I always am in my writing, but specifically here. I didn't like the pick when it was made for two reasons: Kelvin was a redshirt sophomore coming out of FSU and hence I figured he'd take a year or two to develop his potential. 

What I didn't realize is the vast potential he apparently has. If he's only going to get better in the rest of the season and next, the sky really is the limit for this kid. 

The other reason I didn't like his selection was his propensity to drop easy passes in college. 

It looks like receivers' coach Ricky Proehl has coached a lot of that out of him. Dropped passes are almost always an issue of focusing. The NFL is so bang-bang that a split-second makes a difference, and I can see how tempting it is when an open receiver wants to take a peek upfield as the ball arrives for a catch. You HAVE to watch the ball into your hands, THEN turn and look - not the other way around, or passes get dropped.

All WRs will have a drop here or there; that's just how it is. Kelvin hasn't seemed to drop any more than any other given receiver and has actually emerged as the team's #1 receiver. That's frankly unheard of in the NFL these days.

Thankfully, TE Greg Olsen has been the steady hand on offense and made some very nice plays the first month. Against Baltimore last week, he showed he still has a nice burst on that catch he made at the 15 or so and turned up the sideline to run in for a score, so that was encouraging.

The thing is, if we could get healthy on offense, especially with the running backs, the Panthers ARE built to be a power running team that plays tough defense. Yes, the D hasn't played well at all the last two weeks, but the talent is there and they've shown their capabilities so hopefully it's something that can be fixed. If it can be, a healthy offense could be more potent than last year's but the lack of pass-blocking talent at the tackle position has to be considered when forming their game plans. Adjustments need to be made, but I think things can be turned around....but we don't have the luxury of much time.

Now for the bad. This is a long list, I'm afraid.

Number one, the offensive line really IS offensive, and the warnings I issued before the season started (and got creamed by fans for pointing out) are splayed wide open. I said the o-line is like a tiny college basketball team - they start a center and four guards.

I stick to that statement. I knew the line was in trouble when Dave Gettleman tried to sell all us fans a horrible bill of goods about the situation at tackle when Rivera had to move Byron Bell from the right side to the left, while Gettleman said "Sometimes the answer is right there on your roster."

As I've also said before, as far as that statement goes, it's true enough. Where the lie starts is one of omission - what he didn't say: "and sometimes the answer is NOT on your roster.

That is very much the case in Charlotte.

To his credit, Gettleman didn't reach for a tackle with the top pick or with ANY pick for that matter. I saw the "top-tier" offensive tackles were gone, and even at the bottom of the first round, you don't draft a second-tier guy. You find a top-tier guy at a position of need and draft him, or simply draft the "best player available" which Gettleman subscribes to, and fully explains the Kony Ealy pick in the second round.

At any rate, the OT position wasn't addressed at all when Jordan Gross retired, and we're paying for it now. My nickname for Byron Bell for some time now has been "the Turnstile." Byron "The Turnstile" Bell has earned that nickname by often letting pass rushers get by him without him hardly even touching them. 

You see, there's a difference between tackles and guards in the NFL. Guards, for lack of a better descriptor right now, are kinda "square" guys. Byron Bell is built like a typical NFL tackle. He's got SOME height at 6' 4", but he's 340+ pounds. 

That's a guard.

Usually, offensive tackles are a bit taller and leaner than Bell is. It's not uncommon to have a left tackle that's 6'5" to 6'7" and hits the scales at about 310-315 pounds....taller and leaner than Bell.

They're almost always guys with much quicker feet than those of Bell, or RT Nate Chandler for that matter.

Neither is a starting-quality offensive tackle. Both went undrafted out of college, and Chandler started his NFL career as a defensive tackle. So we have Bell playing WAY out of position and Chandler just really learning the right tackle position. 

And we're well into the season. Ouch.

Since the tackle position went completely un-addressed, the only way anything can be done about it this season is via a trade with another team. Perhaps Greg Hardy could be bundled with a middle-round pick for a good tackle, but Hardy's trade stock is at an all-time low at the moment because of his own legal issues connected to the Ray Rice domestic violence issue. We don't even know if Hardy will ever play another NFL down, AND he's playing under the franchise tag. I don't see another team clamoring for his $11 million+ salary this season and having to try to sign him after the season is over, nor do I see him contributing much this year. 

The other two ways to address it are via free agency next season and then the draft in the spring. To fix this, Gettleman likely would have to pick up a decent guy in free agency as well as adding a rookie to the roster in the draft.

What about the defense?

The defense has looked atrocious in both losses. Granted, Le'Veon Bell may be a top-five RB in the NFL these days, but teammate Legarrette Blount is not. Both hit us up for over 100 yards, and last week in the Blood and Guts Bowl, our old WR reject, Steve Smith, completely torched us for well over 100 yards and 2 TDs....even if that first "tip drill" TD made me think I was watching last season's Auburn/Georgia game.

Luke Kuechly isn't playing like the Defensive Player of the Year he was last year and has already played himself OUT of ANY consideration to repeat that honor this year. I saw too many players out of position on any given play as well.

Part of this is the "rent-a-defensive back" strategy we've seen from Gettleman the past two seasons. We're taking on rejects from divisional defenses that weren't any good at the time they were let go....Thomas DeCoud from Atlanta and Roman Harper from New Orleans, to be precise. While DeCoud has played fairly consistently (if unspectacular in doing so), Harper has been in the wrong place way too much.

The defensive line isn't putting pressure on the opponent like it has in the past, either. This isn't just because of no Greg Hardy; one thing the team does have is depth at the DE spot. It's NOBODY is playing up to last year's bar, which I acknowledge was set quite high, but the entire front-seven returned from last year's second-ranked unit, save Hardy and his situation.

Without getting deeper into the specifics as this post is already quite lengthy, the line isn't pressuring the QB or disrupting the backfield. The secondary isn't covering consistently well and is playing out of position on a lot of running plays. The linebackers are the same way...even Kuechly hit the wrong hole on that long gain by Le'Veon Bell the previous week.

Harper was WAY out of position against Tampa Bay when their fullback went 54 yards on a quick-opener running play. The list goes on and on. And on. And on. I haven't even mentioned our entire backfield is injured, either.

In fact, as per The Charlotte Observer, Ron Rivera said he counted 14 plays against the Ravens where at least two defenders were out of position. Apparently the vaunted front-seven isn't immune to falling back to Earth as well.

Read more here:

Defensive Coordinator Sean McDermott needs to come up with some fixes and fast. The team is in the bottom-five in stopping 3rd down conversions and that was a strength last year. You name it, we're worse in that defensive category than last year. WAY worse.

But why is all this happening? The offensive woes could be explained with personnel issues and with injuries to the backfield including Cam. As well as Cam's playing under bad circumstances, just think how electrifying the 2013 version would be, and he continues to get punished as Ron Rivera took him out of the game two consecutive weeks to "protect" him. That's never a good thing.

It's the defense that makes me wonder. Yes, the secondary is largely made up of 1-year rentals but so was last year's. No corners seem to want to step forward yet to claim the #1 spot, but rookie Bene Benwikere (whom I call "The Fed Chief" and Al Michaels referred to him the same way on Sunday Night Football) could work himself up that ladder as he's the most talented and instinctive CB we have, and has locked down the nickel spot for now.

It still doesn't explain why Kuechly has seemingly regressed somewhat as his own instincts have seemed to fail him on a number of occasions this year, but he's not the only person not playing up to par. 

In fact, on defense, I can't think of anyone that IS!

Hang in there, gang. Looks like it could be a long year unless the defense can begin keeping us in games. We have the talent, but can the coaches pull things together?

All we can do is watch, root for the team, and time will tell on that one.

Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye

Oh Godfrey, No Safety in Carolina's Secondary!

Oh Godfrey, Cam broke a rib. Oh Godfrey, Carolina has an entirely new receiving core. Oh Godfrey, Jordan Gross's retirement pushed Byron Bell to left tackle, and this line could be even worse than last year's. Oh Godfrey, Panther fans are in a panic. What, there’s more?  Oh Godfrey!

Byron BellYes, there’s is another weakness that hasn’t been discussed as frequently--safety. Personnel deficiencies and injuries, just like last year, could place an undue amount of pressure on a defense that is almost entirely predicated on the pass rush. Those hogmollies up front best pin their ears back and get after the quarterback, because it’s not clear Carolina could stave off a powerful air attack.

Safety wasn't Carolina's strongest attribute last season.  Mike Mitchell's punishing hits and flashy safety blitzes created a false sense of strength, one that even landed Mitchell a fat contract with Pittsburgh. Carolina’s secondary just wasn’t the best dish on the defensive buffet.  Injury and inconsistency forced Gettleman to make-over the recipe with old-journeyman and fresh, near unheard, of ingredients. Sure the dish was edible, but hardly delectable.  

Captain Munnerlyn, the fan favorite mini-sized cornerback, and Mike Mitchell’s departure temporarily highlighted the deficiency.  Dave Gettleman's acquisition of two rival NFC South safeties, Thomas DeCoud (FS) and Roman Harper (SS), helped to quell some concerns as departures of Jordon Gross and Steve Smith grabbed most’s attention.  Although to a lesser degree, the problem remained. 

DeCoud appears to be locked in at free safety, but Robert Lester's inconsistent preseason and recent ankle injury, Roman Harpers oldness, and rookie Tre Boston's absence entirely, only sours the taste of this defensive dish once again.  There are some guys, like Anderson Russell and Colin Jones, who are battling to solidify a roster spot in this depleted backfield, but according to Joe Person, the Panthers haven’t been happy with what they have seen.

Roman Harper
The secondary has been a topic of discussion at C3 for quite sometime. We’ve been particularly interested in Charles Godfrey’s move to nickel corner.  The Panthers reasoned that Godfrey, who played some corner in college, could adjust to this position a little easier after his Achilles injury.  He provided a bigger body that could match up with some of those more athletic tight-ends and slot receivers, as Bene Benwikere developed.  In our Training Camp Cuts podcast, in mid-July, we speculated that Godfrey would wind up at strong safety before the season’s end.  We originally believed this would come from Roman Harper simply not outperforming the younger guys, while expecting Benwikere to develop faster than most expected.

After a C3 interview with Bill Voth and Lester’s recent injury, our perspective may have changed slightly, but the outcome remains the same--Godfrey will end back up at safety.  Our rationale was that Harper was just too old and a little too washed up, resulting in him losing the starting position. Voth, however, articulated an additional concern, Harper may just be nicked up all season and not have a chance to lose the job. Well Harper is back on the field for the moment, but the Panthers don’t expect him to do the job alone.  Today, Joe Person reported: 

Godfrey is moving back to safety, at least in some capacity. I like Godfrey in this role better. He hasn’t adjusted particularly well to nickel corner.  He’s been beaten in practice and in the preseason repeatedly. Godfrey was in on coverage on the play where Chris Hogan broke a big reception.  Now there’s a need, and he’s about the only experienced option the Panthers have at the moment. 

Oh Godfrey, the Panthers are in a pinch right now, and the secondary is a big part of the concern.  I’m interested to see how the Panthers try to address this weakness. Counting on Tre Boston to contribute is a bit far fetched.  Some believe that Colin Jones can help. We’ll be watching to see if Gettleman tries to pick up a road warrior like he did last year. He better be a gem, or you can hold your breath on every play where the front four doesn’t get at the quarterback.  Remember that last play in the Miami game?  Well that will be the spoiled milk if Carolina can’t plate the proper defensive dish this season. 

Did the First Preseason Game Tell the Tale of the Panthers Defense?

It’s fashionable for analysts to downplay a team’s preseason debut. They’re mostly right, teams are still early in the process. Their skepticism would be particularly true for Carolina’s first preseason game had it been against a mere random opponent. This matchup wasn’t entirely random and may offer more insight than normal.  
Early last season, Carolina suffered a demoralizing last second defeat in Buffalo. The early loss stung particularly hard, not only because it occurred in the final seconds, but because it revealed the underlying weaknesses that eventually ended in an early playoff exit: a suspect secondary, weak offensive line, and less than potent offense. 

Ron Rivera used a dominant front seven to mask deficiencies in the secondary and negate offensive weakness, producing an 8 game win streak, a division title, and Coach of the Year. Despite these successes, it was the same weaknesses displayed early against Buffalo that undermined Carolina’s final success. In some ways, it was always a matter of personnel.

Although far from perfect, the circumstances surrounding the 2013 loss may be the closest thing Rivera has to a control group to measure last year’s team, early out of camp, to this year’s team that is beginning the process.  

C3’s Erin Ford alluded to this connection when he wrote on Byron Bell’s redemption opportunity in facing Mario Williams who racked up 4.5 sacks in last year’s meeting. Although Bell had strong performance, it wasn’t offensive line play that was most revealing or easily comparative to last year’s control group.  Surprisingly, it was the defensive side of the ball where the parallels were most striking--all which can be seen in the first 10 defensive plays. 

Buffalo's 79 yard drive, ended by a 4th and inches goal line stand, could tell the tale of Carolina’s defense, much like the 2013 loss told the tale of last year’s Panthers team.

Play 1

1-10-BUF 20 (15:00) 28-C.Spiller left tackle to BUF 34 for 14 yards (21-T.DeCoud; 59-L.Kuechly).

4-3 Defense Corner Blitz--TD showed blitz

Panthers generally play tough against the run, but when a team does rush the ball well, it’s generally a gasher. The Bills caught the Panthers during a strongside corner blitz, allowing CJ Spiller to kick  it outside for a 14 yard run. Frank Alexander, in for Big Money, nearly ran down the play from behind. Thomas DeCoud showed nice tackling form on the stop without giving up any additional “truck” yardage.

Observations: During a recent C3 podcast, Falcons writer Scott Karasik, lamented over DeCoud’s tackling inability.  DeCoud made a couple of good tackles early, but fans should hope that DeCoud isn’t charged with this task too often.  

Play 2

1-10-BUF 34 (15:00) 28-C.Spiller right guard to BUF 36 for 2 yards (91-C.Cole; 98-S.Lotulelei).

3-4 Combination Coverage

3-4 with Hardy playing WILL-backer blitzing from up on the line and well outside of the LT. Weak-side blitz; weakside CB apparently in press or press-bail, strongside CB in off-coverage. Again, the interior DL collapsed down on where the hole was supposed to be; Spiller cut back but Star swallowed him for a 2-yard gain.

Observations: Panthers run-stop should be improved with the continued development of Star and Short.  Look for teams to try and work the flats.

Play 3:

2-8-BUF 36 (15:00) 3-E.Manuel pass short right to 14-S.Watkins to 50 for 14 yards (38-R.Lester).

Base 4-3 Tampa-2 Defense (Cover 2 )

LBs bit on a play-action fake to Spiller, leaving Watkins able to work the zone. Antoine Cason would have had good position on the play had it been man-coverage, but stopped halfway through Watkins’ route because of the defensive call. Robert Lester at safety made a nice 21st-century rules low tackle on the play.

Observations: Lack of secondary talent forces Carolina to run a lot of zone coverage, which is susceptible to these types of gains.  C3 caught up with BBR’s Bill Voth at training camp where he described Carolina’s secondary, aside from Benwikere, as band-aids.  Well Sammy Watkins peeled the band-aid here.  Let’s hope Cason can answer the call before a more experienced quarterback-receiver tandem rips it off.

Play 4:

1-10- (15:00) 3-E.Manuel pass short left to 28-C.Spiller pushed ob at CAR 47 for 3 yards (23-M.White).

Cover 3, zone-blitz

Hardy faked a pass rush and dropped into zone on the weakside while Thomas Davis blitzed from the strong side. Offensive play call was a weakside swing pass to Spiller. Cason whiffed on the a tackle. Melvin White forced Spiller of bounds.

Observations: Buffalo responded well to this play, but Carolina responded better.  Play demonstrates Carolina’s relentless pressure on the quarterback.  Had Cason made this tackle, the play would have illustrated Carolina’s defensive capabilities. Instead a blown tackle, led to well….still a strong defensive play.  If this is what Carolina can do when they miss tackles, offensive opponents are now getting antsy thinking of what Carolina can do when they do make those plays. 

Play 5:

2-7-CAR 47 (15:00) 3-E.Manuel pass short left to 14-S.Watkins to CAR 43 for 4 yards (23-M.White).

Cover 3

Another zone-blitz with Robert Lester playing SS, showing blitz VERY early, creeping up to the line on the strong side. Melvin White was barely starting to get moving toward his post-snap zone when the quick-slant to Watkins was thrown and completed. White read the play quickly, broke off his assignment, and made a textbook tackle for a small gain.

Observations: Melvin White continues to show up. Rivera has praised Cason throughout camp, but been a little more measured when discussing White.  As an UDFA, this guy has done nothing but show up and impress.  Last season, Carolina asked White to do the near impossible.  Wet behind the ears, he was required to defend the biggest, fastest wide receivers.  If White can be tasked with the #2 corner responsibilities, as he is on paper, this guy should outperform expectations.  Hopefully Cason lives up to Rivera’s praise, allowing White to prove himself on a more reasonable stage. 

Play 6

3-3-CAR 43 (15:00) (Shotgun) 3-E.Manuel pass deep right to 15-C.Hogan to CAR 11 for 32 yards (21-T.DeCoud).

Man Coverage:

Panthers show all-out blitz pre-snap with 10 defenders at the line and a single deep safety. DL in a strong-side shift. Offensive play call was a rub-route to Hogan in the slot with Charles Godfrey in man-coverage. Godfrey got caught up in traffic as the outside WR went inside while the slot WR went outside (the “rub” route), allowing Chris “7-11” Hogan a wide-open look down the right sideline in an “out-and-up” pattern. BTW Hogan got the nickname “7-11” from Reggie Bush when both were with the Miami Dolphins and the subject of “Hard Knocks” that season because, in Bush’s words, Hogan was “open 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week.” Thomas DeCoud, the lone deep man, clotheslined him on the right sideline for the tackle.

Observations: The routes created a natural pick that exposed the secondary’s individual ability. Once the pick occurred, Hogan separated easily from the cornerbacks and boogied up the sideline.  If anything this play, not only exposed Carolina’s ineffectiveness at man coverage, but it also highlights the forced necessity of playing zone coverage.  There are ways to work the zone, and this will continue to hurt Carolina as opposing offenses dink and dunk their way down the field.  

Play 7

1-10-CAR 11 (15:00) (Shotgun) 22-F.Jackson right guard to CAR 7 for 4 yards (59-L.Kuechly).


Free Safety Robert Lester lined up like a WILL backer, but was blocked completely out of the play by an O-lineman. Buffalo in the shotgun, handed off to Jackson on a “slice” run-right, who cut back to the middle. Kuechly came off a block by Buffalo’s center to make the stop.

Observations: Run away from Luke, not towards him!

Play 8

2-6-CAR 7 (15:00) (Shotgun) 22-F.Jackson up the middle to CAR 2 for 5 yards (38-R.Lester).


With Lester playing SS, DeCoud the FS, rotating his coverage to the weakside even more at the snap as two Buffalo WRs were wide left leaving Sammy Watkins alone on the strong side with Cason in tight man-coverage in an apparently failed attempt at press-bail coverage since he didn’t get much of a push on Watkins’ route on this running play. Clearly, the defense was expecting a pass here. NOTE: Kawann Short was in this package, double-teamed as the nose tackle, and moved aside by the O-line and he didn’t hold up at the point of attack as a result.

Observations: This play wasn’t easy to watch. Carolina gets tough as the field shortens, but we're worried this shows that the secondary’s struggles affect the defensive line and linebacker core because these units are required to do so much. 

Play 9

3-1-CAR 2 (15:00) (Shotgun) 22-F.Jackson up the middle to CAR 2 for no gain (76-G.Hardy; 38-R.Lester).

Nickel defense, 4-2-5, man-coverage

Buffalo in 11 package tried to ram it up the gut. No movement of defensive front by Bills’ O-line while Hardy sidestepped the lunging LT and came across the middle to make a diving grab on Jackson’s legs to get him hung up until help arrived. Hardy made the key play here.

Observations: Carolina will be even stronger in the middle this year. With Star and Short entering their second season, in addition to Cole and Edwards, the Panthers are tough in the middle.  If Carolina can stack the box, watch out!  You better hope you can shed a tackle and head to the pylon. 

Play 10

4-1-CAR 2 (15:00) 22-F.Jackson left guard to CAR 2 for no gain (93-C.Blackburn). #60 Kraig Urbik reports as eligible 

Goal-line D, straight-up

Buffalo lined up in 23 package (2 RBs, 3 TEs, 0 WRs) with the LEFT side being the strong side as it had a TE and the other TE as an H-back on the left. Very heavy run-look with the possibility of a play-fake/rollout to a crossing TE still in play. D-Line got some surge but mostly in the wrong spots initially as the play indeed was a run-left behind that strong LEFT side. After Jackson got the ball and committed himself, the FB blocked a penetrating Chase Blackburn rather poorly at the two yard line, and four Carolina defenders converged on Jackson either blocking his path or helping in the tackle. Blackburn had read the play early and came charging at the line, followed closely by Charles Godfrey, likely throwing off the timing of the FB’s block which in turn helped the Carolina D-line disrupt and penetrate, not allowing Jackson much of a chance at all to get the first down at the 1-yard line...let alone get into the endzone. This swarming defense is exactly what defensive coaches want to see in goal-line defenses. Short, Lotulelei, and Hardy were the others in the immediate swarm. It was truly a gang-tackle.

Observations: As the field shortens, the Panthers can line up and punch you in the mouth. Simply put, the Panthers defense improves as teams enter the red zone and approach the goal line. 

So what tale does this tell?  First and foremost, Carolina’s front seven is boss, perhaps more so than last year. The Panthers can and will beat offenses at the line of scrimmage, allowing the linebackers some serious flexibility.  As long as the players make the right reads and McDermott schemes properly, the defense will continue to be the driving engine of this team.  If there is a defect, however, it is the secondary--just as it was last season. Carolina will have to run a lot of zone coverages and continue to rely on a pass rush, that without a lot of blitzing, continuously gets after the quarterback. Without this push, the secondary will have to cover….and that’s something they can’t do for very long. Additionally, as the Panthers continue to be handcuffed primarily to zone coverages, teams will be able to find holes and work the zone.  Like the game winning drive by Buffalo in 2013 and in the opening drive of this game, teams can move the ball on this defense when the quarterback has time. Sprinkle in a few effective running plays, and Carolina becomes a little more timid. This ultimately puts more pressure on a secondary to handle their guys on their own. But unlike last year’s finish in Buffalo, this Panther defense gets stingier and stingier the closer they are backed up to the goal line.  With this underlying weakness in the secondary, look for the Panthers defense to continue to bend, but not break. 

By C3 Crew

Panther Defensive Players to Breakout in 2014

Wrapping up part two of players set to have a breakout season for the Panthers, I’ll take on the defense this time and give my opinion on the players I feel will end up having a recognizably strong 2014 season.  Considering there are at least five Pro-Bowl potential players in our front seven alone, there really are only a few defensive players who could surprise Panther fans.  Don’t be shocked if one of the players might already have a lot of “Money” to his name.

I feel like last year could have been one of our best defensive drafts ever. In 2013 when we drafted AJ Klein.  I was almost positive he would steal Chase Blackburn’s spot by the end of his rookie campaign. Not that I feel Blackburn hasn’t deserved it, Klein just truly has what it takes to go in and make a difference for an already strong linebacker core. Klein really can do it all, but most importantly he’s smart. He is the perfect complement to Kuechly and Thomas Davis; every time he was thrown into the action, he made an immediate impact. If you don’t remember, check out last year’s game against the 49ers at Candlestick. I know Gettleman is big on Blackburn through their past connections in New York, but I sense this is the year AJ busts out, letting everyone around the league know that he is the real deal and that the Panthers have the strongest LB corps in the NFL. 

2014 Predictions: 92 Tackles 5 sacks 1 Int

It seems right about when Charles Johnson got leg whipped in the Patriots game and all questions surfaced about how he would end the year, we got lost in the Greg Hardy mumbo jumbo. Hardy had a very strong year though, and we all had a right to get wrapped up in it. He tied the franchise record with Kevin Greene for sacks in a year (15), and proved to be one of the strongest links on our defensive line. Let’s be real though, Hardy is a great and integral part of our team, but the heartbeat of our line lies with Charles Johnson. He has taken all double teams away from everyone on the line, except Hardy if we’re only rushing four; his pure athleticism, great instinct for the ball and knowledge of how to smash down or set the edge is what makes him such a dominant player. That showed when he went down in the Patriot’s game, where Carolina’s defense dominated the first half. After leaving as a result as a dirty Pats play, Carolina’s defensive line didn’t know what to do with themselves, allowing the Patriots run game to hit us right in the mouth.  Greg Hardy is a great player and I love that he’s ours, for the time being, but his huge three sack games were against rookies while CJ was doing the dirty work taking on big time vets on the other side. I’ve kept up with CJ this offseason and the guy looks to be in the best shape of his career. I’ve also noticed he’s training with former Panther and current Green Bay Packer Julius Peppers, who he learned under earl in his career. I like where Big Money is right now, right under the radar. This could be his best year yet; maybe we’ll even see him in a Pro Bowl finally. 

2014 Predictions: 17 sacks (team record), 43 Tackles, 2FF, 1 FR

With questions surrounding Carolina’s defensive backfield and the repeated references to it as the “Legion of whom,”  it’s time for our young DBs to step up under the guidance of two Pro Bowl safeties and a few other vets.  I’m most excited to see if 2nd year UDFA Melvin White really can break out of his rookie shell and find the confidence he needs to elevate himself to the next tier of cornerbacks. I’ve really liked this guy from day one, and was truly ecstatic when we signed him. White is the full package; his cover skills are great, but he’s still very raw.  My favorite thing about him is his capability to lay the wood and his high level of aggressiveness.  It’s so great to have a corner who’s not afraid to get right into a receiver’s frame and have the ability to jam him at the line. Playing corner is one of the most mentally challenging positions in football, all he needs is to find some more self found confidence and we may see Gettleman signing him back soon. 

2014 Predictions: 56 Tackles, 5 Int, 1 TD, 1FF

Star Lotelelei and Kawann Short both have more pressure on them than people actually realize.  We automatically expect for the two second year players, who both had impressive rookie seasons, to hold up the most important part of our defense yet again. With Star being the dynamic run stopper he was last year, Luke Kuechly and TD were able to roam around more and worry less about the run game. Anyone who loves this team knows that we made the jump to an elite defense last year due to the fact we finally had a guy to stop the run up the middle. I know it’s really hard to forecast if a tackle slumps, but Star is potentially just as important to our defense as Kuechly.  Without him, we are left with Colin Cole and a handful of DTs who can rush the passer but may only clog the middle every now and then; let’s be honest, we need the consistency Star brings. Kawann is the sugar to Star’s tea, however. What Star lacks in pass rushing, Short makes up. He slumped mid-season, but came back towards the end of the year and really looked like to have found his groove. Look for these guys to cause match-up problems for centers and tackles all across the league. 

2014 Predictions: Star Lotelelei: 46 tackles, 3.5 sacks (huge space eater) Kawann Short: 36 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 FR

I believe that he and, surprisingly, James Dockery will have possibly their best seasons this year. Dockery truly has dynamic cover skills, mostly credited to his long arms. Barring injury, he should impress.  The front office hasn’t kept him around for nothing.  Robert Lester is the last person on my list that I feel truly has the potential to make a name for himself this year. Perhaps a guy with even greater potential, Lester is a born winner and play maker. It’s almost like God created him only to run with our style of defense because he can do what he’s best at and roam the field. His knack for going and getting the ball is what’s to love. He gets it at the highest point and will make a quarterback quickly regret a pass. Look for him to steal possibly a starting spot this year once he gains a little more confidence and has the playbook under his belt. A second year safety should know the ropes and finally be able to play their way, which is a scary thing for the intellectual Lester… 

2014 Predictions:  39 tackles, 5 Int, 1 TD

Hope you enjoyed guys, sorry it took a while to get back to you folks with the defensive version. For those maybe who feel there were some players left out, I also feel others have potential to have a big year. I have to stop my biased hand somewhere, however, and limit my list. Go Panthers!

By Gerin Honeycutt