I had stated last night that I was going to preview the cornerbacks this afternoon, until I realized (how could I forget) that I have yet to preview the linebacker core. So in lieu of cornerbacks, this afternoon we’ll take easy path No. 2, linebackers.
Much like the running back position, the linebacker position is also one of Carolina’s strengths this season.
Carolina saw strength and consistency at the linebacker position in 2009. At the start of minicamps in 2010, things were looking even better, as six-year veteran Thomas Davis was returning from a season-ending knee injury in 2009.
Of course, that collapsed on the first run drill, where Davis made a simple spin. With him perhaps collapsed his season and maybe even his career with the Carolina Panthers.
The return of Davis this year was exciting, as he was leading the defensive unit in stats before suffering that season-ending injury in 2009. We all had him pegged to pretty much pick up right where he left off, with very few hitches.
For now, the Panthers are allowing Davis’ injury to heal, in hopes of seeing him return sometime during the 2010 season. The question is, how long will it take to heal and how long will management wait?
In the meantime, the staple of the defense — Jon Beason — is primed to roll in 2010, and there is a promising contingent of linebackers around him.
With Davis’ injury, fifth-year linebacker James Anderson and third-year linebacker Dan Connor will get more playing time than originally anticipated.
Also playing a large role in the linebacker core will be first-year Panther Jamar Williams, the linebacker acquired from the Chicago Bears via trade of safety Chris Harris.
Bears fans by-and-large, were none-too-happy about losing whom many had tabbed a starting-caliber linebacker, for a safety who can’t defend the pass all-too-well. Panthers fans were upset about the loss of a locker room leader and hard hitter, but in hindsight, it seems management once again got the job done for the right reasons.
The latest seems to be that the Panthers are toying with the notion of perhaps trying Connor at the middle linebacker position, and placing Beason on the left outside linebacker position, with Anderson on the right. As much as I’d like to see Connor get his chance to start, I also would hate to see Beason moved from the MIKE position.
However, I would expect Beason to excel at any of the linebacker positions. I suppose my biggest concern is whether or not Connor would be as beneficial at MIKE, or more of a hindrance to a team that is still trying to find it’s identity on the defensive side.
If nothing changes at the linebacker position, then we’ll still see Beason at middle linebacker, Anderson should beat out Connor at strongside, and Jamar Williams will take over the weakside position.
When the Panthers have Beason lined up on the outside and Connor in the middle, keep an eye on Connor. When Carolina lines up in their “traditional” style with Beason in the middle, keep an eye on Williams.
No, I didn’t forget him — okay, maybe I almost did. Keep an eye on rookie SC product, Eric Norwood, anytime he is on the field. Carolina has him listed at DE/LB, so he should see plenty of time on the practice fields in Spartanburg. I don’t think there’s going to be a single “home” position for this guy. He will be used at either position whenever needed, especially when a rotation is utilized. My guess would be that they’ll try Norwood at both outside linebacker positions, though he seems more favored to weakside.
Tomorrow we will take a look at receivers, a compilation of tight ends and wideouts.