For a team predicated on defense and running the football, The Carolina Panthers know they have to get great play from their front seven. We’ve looked at the four guys playing in the trenches. Now, let’s look at the linebackers who line up behind them.
This is a unit that has been solid. In fact, it has been rare that the Panthers have fielded a less than solid group of linebackers. And in this defense, we’ve regularly seen active, athletic play from this group. While they are solid, they might need a slight upgrade.
WLB – Na’il Diggs : The Panthers just re-signed Diggs to a contract extension so we can get the news on his return out of the way. We know he’ll be back. He posted good though not impressive stats (3.5 sacks, 58 tackles last season) and is a solid linebacker. He’ll turn 30 in July.
MLB – Jon Beason : After his rookie season, it’s safe to say that Beason is far from a draft bust. He played the outside originally then moved inside after the injury to Dan Morgan. Simply put, this guy is a tackling machine (140 tackles, 106 solo tackles). But if there is a weakness in Beason’s game, it’s probably in rushing the passer where he failed to record a sack in his rookie campaign. I’m confident and I’m sure the team is confident that the first sack in his career will come soon enough. Beason’s stats may not have been quite enough to win defensive rookie of the year (and award given to Patrick Willis) but his first year in the league certainly was enough to make him a fan favorite.
SLB – Thomas Davis : Three is a charm for Davis, apparently. His third season saw him produce 88 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 interception and 2 forced fumbles. He played in all 16 games and looked very good. He will return next year, along with the other starters.
MLB – Dan Morgan : After another in a long string of injuries, Morgan had to sit on the sidelines for 13 games and watch a rookie take his place in the middle and play well. He has to know that he has played his last snap in a Panthers’ uniform. In fact he said, “Sometimes change is good,” when asked about his future in Charlotte. Morgan took a pay cut to return last year but may not be ready to do that in ’08. Keep in mind that his agent is Drew Rosenhaus, an unscrupulous agent who is all about the coin. I don’t think this bodes well for keeping number 55 around.
LB – James Anderson : What do you think is going through Anderson’s mind after last season? As the year went on, his playing time decreased. He’s a key reserve so expect him to return…we think.
The Backups – Adam Seward, Brandon Jamison, Donte Curry, Terrence Melton : Of this group, only Seward really sees any time at linebacker while Jamison, Curry and Melton are generally special teams guys. But don’t assume that they are expendable as depth and the kicking game are critical components to this team and experience in those areas is needed.
This really is a good unit. However, they could use one more guy to team with Beason to make plays. Coach Fox says he wants playmakers and that doesn’t necessarily mean wide receivers and running backs. It can also be applied to the defense, in particular the linebackers. There are some very good free agent options available at the position and with the Panthers picking in the 13 hole, don’t be surprised if you hear a linebacker’s name called on draft day.
Coming tomorrow…the defensive backs!