Taking a look at possible defensive line options for the Carolina Panthers

The Carolina Panthers defensive line was man-handled for the second straight game on Thursday night when them team traveled to Cincinnati and suffered their second straight loss. Though the Panther defense held the Bengals to just 87 second-half yards, Cincinnati accumulated a total of 356 yards over the course of their 24-13 victory over Carolina.

Ron Rivera was critical of his defense and their slow start. However, Rivera was quoted as saying that the team will “live and die” with the current situation on the defensive line in hopes that the young and inexperienced line will improve over the course of the season.

The Panthers hope that they helped their situation when they claimed defensive tackle Kentwan Balmer off waivers from Seattle. The former North Carolina Tar Heel is a former 1st round pick, but has been overwhelmingly disappointing in his short career. Balmer has great size and is still only 24 years old, so the hope is that Balmer will turn things around with the Panthers.

Still, Carolina is desperately missing a veteran presence on the defensive line, especially at tackle. The team released Tyler Brayton earlier in the off-season, a move which now looks to have been a mistake. I have assembled a list of seven free agents and two trade possibilities that the Panthers could consider if they want to improve their line before the opening of the 2011 NFL Season. First the free agents (in alphabetical order):

1) Tony Brown- Brown was released by the Titans earlier this off-season due to the fact that Tennessee drafted three defensive linemen in the April’s draft. Another reason they released Brown was due to the fact that he is recovering from knee surgery. Brown reported in May that his knee was at 85% and that he expected to be ready to go in 2011. Many Panther fans may not remember, but Brown spent the 2006 season buried on the Panthers depth chart before heading to Tennessee. Brown would give the Panthers something that have not seen so far this preseaon: a pass rusher at the defensive tackle position. The 6’3, 290lb Brown has recorded 16.5 sacks in the last four seasons. If the knee is healthy, Brown could be a player the Panthers could use to help put pressure on the quarterback from the tackle position.

2) Marques Douglas- The 6’2, 290lb Greensboro native has spent eleven years in the NFL and has played for the Saints, Ravens, 49ers, Jets, and Titans. Douglas had 21 total tackles last year for Tennessee and has recorded 20.5 sacks over the course of his career.

3) Chris Hovan- Hovan collected 32 solo tackles for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2010. At 6’3, 300lbs, Hovan can take up space but his production has declined steadily over the past couple of seasons. There are better options out there, but Hovan would fit the bill when it comes to the Panthers’ need of having a veteran presence at the tackle position.

4) Ma’ake Kemoeatu- Released by Washington in July, Kemoeatu is still out there wading in the free agent waters. Though he was released by Carolina just over a year ago, parts of the Panther fan base have supported the idea of brining Kemoeatu back to Charlotte following the injury to Ron Edwards. Kemoeatu is 6’5, 350lbs of space eating man who could take up two offensive linemen and help free up other linemen to get to the quarterback or he could be used to help stuff the holes that have been exploited by opposing running backs so far this off-season.

5) Ryan Sims- To be quite honest, I’m not sure why I am even putting Ryan Sims on this list. But at 6’4, 315lbs, Sims could add even more size to the Panther line. Though he looked promising during his time with the Kansas City Chief, Sims has two things working against him: 1) He has a knee issue that could cause concern and 2) He was released by the Seattle Seahawks. Do the Panthers really want to pick up two players who were recently cut by Seattle? I think not.

6) Jamal Williams- In 2010, Williams proved he still belongs in the league even though he is getting long in the tooth. The former San Diego nose tackle recorded 47 solo tackles for the Denver Broncos who recruited him following the 2009 season to be the center-piece of their newly constructed 3-4 defense. With the hiring of former Panther Coach, John Fox, the Broncos have converted back to a 4-3 and it was obvious that Williams did not fit in Denver’s plans as he was released. Williams has a connection to Carolina through new head coach Ron Rivera who was Williams’ defensive coordinator in San Diego. Though he may hold out to play for a championship contender, the 6’3, 350lb Williams would be a great signing for the Panthers.

7) Pat Williams- It looks as though the Williams regime is over in Minnesota. Though he is over the wrong side of 35 and approaching 40, it appears that Pat Williams still wants a job in the league. The 6’3, 315lb Williams had a combined 31 tackles for the Vikings last year. One concern when considering signing Williams is the lingering Starcaps case which could cause Williams to miss some of the 2011 season because of suspension.

Now for two trade possibilities:

1) Darryl Tapp- Tapp is not a defensive tackle, but he is a pass-rushing defensive end who may find himself out of a job in Philadelphia. The Eagles have signed Jason Babin this offseason and added him to a depth chart that also includes Trent Cole. The Eagles acquired Tapp from Seattle prior to the 2010 season for a 4th round selection and then signed him to a 3 year $9 million extension. Philadelphia may need the cap room that trading Tapp could provide. Tapp would provide Carolina with an excellent rotation player that can effectively rush the quarterback when called upon.

2) Corey Williams- I have already written one article promoting the idea of the Panthers acquiring the Detroit Lion defensive tackle. Williams has good size and surprising athleticism for that size. With All-World tackle, Ndamukong Suh and 2011 1st rounder, Nick Fairley expected to get the bulk of the plays, the Lions could possibly be convinced of parting with Williams if they could receive something nice in return. The only problem is Fairley has been hurt in the preseason and the Lions may want to keep Williams around because of his veteran presence and experience.

If the Panthers make any move to add more to the defensive line, I would expect it to come next week after teams begin cutting down their roster to the mandatory number. One thing is for certain, Carolina needs to do something, because the defensive line we have seen the past two games could go by the nickname “Swiss Cheese” because there are holes all over it.

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