Today, we’ll take a look at the other side of the ball, as the defensive line has come into question more times than almost any position during the offseason.
Before we get started, I just want to clarify one thing. When talking about the defensive line today, I’m only talking about a smaller unit: the front-four. We’ll cover defensive ends, linebackers, cornerbacks, and safeties as the date for training camp draws closer (seven days away).
Hit the jump for more!
The 2009 season saw multiple injuries on the defensive front for the Panthers. It all started with nose tackle Ma’ake Kemoeatu, who was sent to injured reserve, shortly thereafter.
As the season pressed on, more injuries to the defensive front occurred, forcing the team to look to other teams with younger, inexperienced players with some potential upside to their abilities.
So the Panthers traded for Tank Tyler, Louis Leonard, and also signed Hollis Thomas.
When Thomas was signed, I merely shook my head, as I was well-versed in his injury-prone days with the Philadelphia Eagles. But beggars can’t be choosers, and at least at that time, I figured we had a guy who could contribute, until the inevitable happened. To my surprise, Thomas never sustained an injury, and actually turned in the best season of his career.
Tyler and Leonard showed a lot of upside during their first season in Carolina, and look to be among those vying for a place with the starting lineup.
Others returning from the 2009 and previous seasons to lock in on a starting job are Corvey Irvin, Ed Johnson, Derek Landri, Nick Hayden, and Andre Neblett.
Of the names mentioned, the most likely — at this time — to be starting are Tank Tyler, Louis Leonard, Nick Hayden, and Ed Johnson. Not that all these guys are a lock, but they currently have the most experience among the defensive tackles.
Corvey Irvin, while massive, was on a good track of possibly seeing a lot of playing time in 2009, until he too suffered a season-ending injury.
The players most likely under pressure to perform are Tank Tyler and Louis Leonard. Look at what the Panthers traded to acquire both.
Both Tyler and Leonard showed some upside in the later half of the Panthers 2009 campaign, and left a lot of us feeling better about where the defensive line is at.
I keep hearing and reading how the Panthers don’t have any big guys on the front line. To the contrary, they do. Maybe not behemoths, but the “smaller” guys who are also younger, make up for brute strength with speed and other power.
On the defensive front, the Panthers tackles average 300 lbs. Some of the guys are a little on the light side, but those whom I project to be the starters average a little more, at 304 lbs.
This time around, there is more than one player to keep an eye on. First and foremost, you have to keep an eye on Irvin, Tyler, and Leonard. But the one whom you should really be looking out for, is the guy from Temple: Andre Neblett (video too large to embed). Small size, relatively speaking, but the kid comes from a smaller school, and the Panthers have had success with guys who hail from smaller schools.