Which Player Are You Watching on Defense?

Carolina Panthers linebacker Jon Beason (52) talks during a break in the action against the Washington Redskins at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina on October 11, 2009. UPI/Nell Redmond . Photo via Newscom

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend training camp in Spartanburg, SC this year. As it happens, bigger, more important things occurred, and I had to make concessions. My hope is that next year, I’ll be able to attend a decent chunk of it.

So while I’m ‘stuck’ here in the northeast, forced to mostly read about what’s going on (aside from any drips and drabs that come through Sirius NFL Radio), I contemplate the things I’m looking forward to seeing, some things that I hope don’t happen, and in this issue, who I am most interested in seeing succeed during training camp on the defesnive side of the ball.

Hit the jump for more goodness.

I’ve been intrigued by some of the reports coming out of camp, lauding the abilities and work ethic of rookie defensive end Greg Hardy. I’m quite impressed with the team scouts; that if Hardy pans out to be the kind of player he is hoped to become, will likely replace former defensive end Julius Peppers with ease. the guy has all the right physical standards to be successful as a DE in the NFL, but the cerebral aspect — while in question — seems to be coming along without a hitch.

I definitely want to see success at the defensive end position, considering it’s the most talked about, next to the defensive front.

But I’m not as interested in a position as I am one particular player. As much as I want to see Hardy succeed, he’s not the reason I’m writing this piece. He’s more of a sub-plot, if you will.

My person of interest centers around the linebacking core.

We already know what Jon Beason’s about. He’s having some difficulty in coverage on the weakside, but any good — potentially great — athlete will hone his strengths to make up for his weaknesses. So his plight is of little concern to me, because he’s proven. He’s hungry. He’ll make it work.

Currently at middle linebacker, the coaching staff, teammates, and fans alike are watching third-year linebacker out of Penn State, Dan Connor. Connor has a nickname bestowed upon him. One that sounds intimidating and earth-trembling. “Thunder.”

I like it.

When he was drafted by Carolina, Beason was in his first full season as the starter at middle linebacker.

In the meantime, Connor was relegated to playing special teams and backup roles if a starting linebacker went down. He got that opportunity too, playing at strongside linebacker a couple of times for injured teammates.

Upon being drafted out of Penn State, Connor was ranked the 23rd player on Sports Illustrated’s list of the top-25 2008 NFL Draft candidates.

After tearing his ACL in a preseason game, Connor’s season was a wash. 2009 allowed him to get back to his pre-injury form and play more on special teams.

For Connor, it’s been something of a fight since before being drafted.

Although he had a successful career at Penn State, he wasn’t taken by any team in the first-round (not that I’m complaining), he was drafted onto a team that had a wealth of linebackers (Landon Johnson, Na’il Diggs, and Jon Beason were starters), and the guy suffered an injury in the third preseason game of his career.

While at Penn State, Connor excelled as a middle linebacker, and at this point, it’s sounding like John Fox is fairly pleased with Connor’s transition from special teams and scrub role, to starting at middle linebacker.

He is a good football player. He has played a lot of football for us. He hasn’t really had the opportunity to start a whole lot at this point.But it is all part of the growing process, and you just put more on his plate, and I think he has handled it well. –John Fox, Carolina Panthers head coach

Unless there’s reason to change and put Beason back in the middle, we can expect to see Connor starting at MIKE come the first preseason game at Baltimore next week!

Please share which defensive player you are particularly interested in in the comments section below!

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Tags: Carolina Panthers Dan Connor Greg Hardy John Fox Jon Beason Julius Peppers Landon Johnson Na'il Diggs NFL Penn State Training Camp

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