For fans of the Carolina Panthers, these aren’t the division standings we expected to see. At 6-10 last season following a disastrous 2-14 campaign in 2010, Cam Newton had the offense a dynamic attack both on the ground and in the air. We added about as sure-fire top pick as was available, and also my personal favorite choice at the time, MLB Luke Kuechly from Boston College. Kuechly was 14 tackles shy of the all-time NCAA record in tackles…in only 3 seasons. Had he stayed in college for his senior season, he’d have been talked about in the college ranks for decades by putting the record so insanely out of reach that few players would come close – they’d go pro, as Kuechly did at age 21.
So far, he’s made a few mistakes that any rookie is expected to, but overall has been a gem of a guy to find. Compare to players around him like the Bills’ Stephon Gilmore or Dallas’ Morris Claiborne and Kuechly certainly adds a lot more to his team than either of those other defensive rookies. Late-round pick Josh Norman has really shown a lot of promise for a rookie corner. It’s a difficult position for a college player to adjust to on the pro level with the tighter rules.
4th-round pick Frank Alexander, a DE from Oklahoma, has really begun to come into his own and has 2.5 sacks in a 2nd-string role behind Greg Hardy, who has 8 sacks. Add in Charles Johnson’s 8.5 from the weak side and the fact Thomas Keiser shows some pass rushing ability in very limited action gives the team some good talent and dept at defensive end – exactly what you want in a 4-3 scheme.
The Edwards boys, Ron and D’wan, are a good complementary pair of tackles. Ron is the hoss at 325 lbs and sees the double-teams most often. D’wan is a 300-pound interior guy who came from a career of 3-4 schemes – and never registering more than 2.5 sacks in a season in 7 tries years – has 5.5 already this season. He looks like a keeper there.
It’s the safeties that need upgrading the most. Charles Godfrey at strong safety is adequate enough, granted. He’s made a few plays, but isn’t someone Offensive Coordinators worry about. Instead, they’re looking at multiple ways to exploit free safety Haruki Nakamura. I know he tries his best, but as we say in the south “Bless his heart…”
Chris Gamble is a very solid corner on one side when healthy. Josh Norman is coming along nicely. Captain Munnerlyn should be a reserve, so the Panthers could use a corner especially considering nickel situations. At the very least, they could use some competent and perhaps veteran help.
I saved the outside linebackers for last for a reason named Beason.
I don’t know what his future holds with the team. He’s got a 6-year $51 million contract he signed only a few months before he got injured in the first game of 2011 and hasn’t been a factor in the defense since then. He’s on injured reserve again this season, but the contract complicates matters.
We’ve got James Anderson at the strong side, who has been a steadying influence on the group as a whole. He’s been the only one healthy and playing every game the past few years. Then there’s the Thomas Davis saga with the 3 major knee injuries but who looks like he could get the NFL Comeback player of the Year award. How long will those knees hold up, though?
It would appear that the FS position might be the top priority, but I’m not sure there’s one worthy of a high pick in the 2013 draft. If Beason stays, not much will be done there in the draft. A good corner would be a nice find, so keep an eye on that Milliner kid whenever you watch the SEC Championship Game to see how he plays.
He could be the next Panther.