Ah, yes, the Carolina Panthers’ defense. You know the one, right? The unit that had been the strength of the team, controlled offenses and took over games. Yeah, that one! The same one that has some fans concerned over a lack of pass rush, turnovers. THAT’S the one!
The offense has been covered so…let’s talk about that defense.
If there was an area of concern last year, it was the defensive line. A unit that has dominated the team’s payroll only managed 23 sacks in ’07. What’s that? Like $10 million per sack? I’m no good at math so I’ll leave the bean counting up to those who do it best but for the investment, the Panthers didn’t seem to get a lot in return.
DE – Julius Peppers : Article after article it seemed hit the papers and the net during the season and the fans became more and more upset with the seeming lack of effort from the mainstay of the defensive line. With only 2.5 sacks and 38 tackles last season, it appeared that Peppers was taking the year off. It’s a contract year in ’08, however, so I expect him to be more like the Julius that had 24.5 sacks between the 2004 and 2006 seasons. It is possible too that a trade could be worked out but that’s extremely unlikely since the team leans on him quite a bit. But a new deal will have to be reached since J-Pep is due $6.5 million in ’08.
DT – Kris Jenkins : How can a guy turn hatred into a dominating performance? Ask Kris Jenkins. He says he hates Warren Sapp even going as far last year saying, “I hate him. Everybody says I’m supposed to be polite when I talk to you all, but I hate him. He talks too much, he doesn’t make sense, he’s fat, he’s sloppy, he acts like he’s the best thing since sliced bread. He’s ugly, he stinks, his mouth stinks, his breath stinks, and basically his soul stinks, too.” What a guy, huh? Yet, he admitted that his dislike for Sapp motivated him and made him the anchor of the Panthers’ defensive line. Back in ’06 Jenkins hurt his shoulder and then fell into the bottle during those boring days of injury rehab. Then the real drama started during the offseason. Maybe the shoulder wasn’t completely healed and maybe his heart wasn’t in it. He had an off year by all accounts with 38 tackles and 2.5 sacks…wait a minute, were Jenkins and Peppers trying to match stats? Either way, there is a question about Jenkins for ’08. Will he be back? And do I want to walk out on that limb and make a prediction? Why not? He’ll be back but probably with a restructured contract. That is, if his heart and his hatred are in it.
DT – Maake Kemoeatu : Honestly, I don’t know what to say about a guy that had made a name for himself playing in Baltimore as an undrafted free agent who follows up that performance in Charlotte looking like a guy who may not have earned his payday. He earned the chance to become a free agent and get the big bucks but not a lot of bang has been received yet. Let’s hope we get more out of this guy because the tackles on this defensive line need to step up their play in order to help the guys on the outside. I think he returns but his level of play (46 tackles, no sacks) needs to be improved.
DE – Mike Rucker : I’ve had the pleasure of watching Rucker and Peppers dominate games. It just didn’t happen last year. And with Rucker now at 32 years old and still not sure if he’ll come back for another season, that may all be a memory now. He says he’s still relaxing and isn’t really thinking about football. I’d say if he can’t really answer the question, and if his heart isn’t in the game, the odds are he’ll retire. Look for the team to make a move here either in free agency or the draft to at least bring in a player to groom as Rucker’s successor.
DT – Damione Lewis : He didn’t post big stats (3.5 sacks, 29 tackles) but he is a valuable backup. Lewis can spell the guys in the middle and keep them fresh and even do a fair job while he’s in the game. He’s set to be a free agent this offseason. This coaching staff knows that their defense has been the strength of the team so I’d hope they either re-sign Lewis for depth or bring in some guys. My guess is they’ll try to re-sign him if the price is right.
DT – Kindal Moorehead : Another backup free agent this year, Moorehead didn’t put up great stats (2 sacks, 19 tackles). Don’t expect to see him brought back next year.
DE – Stanley McClover : Not exactly a standout on the stat sheet, McClover would have to be considered a career backup. But, again, depth is hard to come by in this league. He’ll be back but probably will only see continued spot action.
The bottom line on this unit is that the team needs one of two things – 1) Bring these guys back and hope they perform better or 2) Make an effort in free agency and the draft to upgrade. Reality will probably be some of both. There are some very good pass rushers potentially hitting the market and the draft looks strong along the defensive line. If the team doesn’t feel that they have the guys to get the job done, they have options available. I’m expecting at least one and maybe two new faces in the starting lineup along the defensive front next season.
Don’t go away! Tomorrow…the linebackers!