Carolina Panthers Defense Still Rickety Heading into the 2013 NFL Draft

Now that the free agent signing frenzy has died down and we’ve gotten a chance to let the dust settle, the Panthers still haven’t done much because of the cap situation.

The Panthers signed veteran CB Drayton Florence earlier and today signed 4-year Chicago Bears veteran backup D.J. Moore to go with rising second-year pro Josh Norman. With Chris Gamble’s release, it looks like the coaches have faith in Norman as a #1 corner. With the signings in the defensive backfield, the fate of Captain Munnerlyn isn’t clear, but his defensive role would be relegated to the nickle spot and sub packages at best.

Gone are DT Ron Edwards and LB James Anderson and GM David Gettleman hasn’t re-signed Dwan Edwards, a tackle with some measure of ability to collapse the pocket or otherwise be disruptive. He signed DT Colin Cole, who hasn’t played since 2011, for the minimum as he hopes Cole’s upside will show.

Anderson’s loss means the Panthers are woefully thin at the LB spot, especially on the outside. We all know last year’s NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Luke Kuechly, has earned the right to start in the middle and led the NFL in tackles last season as rookie. A lot of that comes from the tackles not being able to slide off a block and wrap up the enemy runners.

Jon Beason has finished the last two seasons on injured reserve, and I was a bit surprised when Anderson was the one who was let go. It’s too early to question the wisdom of that move with the new GM since we don’t know what his “master plan” is quite yet.

First, he had to deal with the salary cap situation and he’s done a very good job of that so far. LB Thomas Davis played surprisingly well last season while his thrice-repaired knee actually held up. I’m not so sure I’d want to go into an NFL season with much of the “help” at any position with a long list of medical issues, and the Panthers have a lot of needs in other places in the draft.

Jul 29, 2012; Spartanburg, SC USA. Carolina Panthers linebacker Jon Beason (52) listens to instructions during the training camp held at Wofford College. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

So what’s the overall picture?

Defensive Line:

The Panthers are well set at the ends. Charles Johnson holds down one side while Greg Hardy starts on the other. Frank Alexander, last year’s rookie who cost the Panthers this year’s 3rd round pick, looks like he’s climbing the learning curve well and fits in the rotation very nicely. At the tackle position, they have Dwan Edwards (if they re-sign him) and little else proven at the position and it’s common “wisdom” that the Panthers will be looking to grab a rookie in either the first or second round. Antwan Applewhite is currently an unrestricted free agent.

Linebackers:

Luke Kuechly is already about as good as they come at MLB, so as long as he stays healthy, his presence will help stiffen the run defense if they can get some help from the DTs in front of him. At OLB, they’ve got Thomas Davis, Jordan Senn, Jon Beason and Jason Phillips. There’s now an obvious need at the position, unless former NFL linebacker and Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera knows something we don’t. Quite possible, but on the surface the unit went from a very good veteran group last year to a very iffy-looking crew at the moment. Recall Beason and Davis’ medicals.

Defensive Backs:

The bright spot is aforementioned cornerback Josh Norman, a late-round steal and the heir-apparent #1 corner. Captain Munnerlyn is a local favorite, having played his college ball at South Carolina, but diminutive stature limits what he can do and is best-suited for the nickleback, as I pointed out above. Former Bears backup D.J. Moore has been signed and could be the starting CB on the other side, so I’ll call this as “fixed” for now. D.J. Campbell was starting the last month at the strong safety spot but the body of work is too small to tell on him yet. Charles Godfrey looks to be starting at free safety. Let’s please forget about Haruki Nakamura. If you see him in the games in 2013, it’s a very bad sign.

December 02, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Jon Baldwin (89) scores a touchdown as Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman (24) makes the tackle in the second half at Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City won 27-21. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Draft needs defensively?

Defensive tackle(s) and outside linebacker(s). As Norman was a 5th round pick turned starter, D.J. Campbell looks like a 7th round pick turned starter. That looks to be the plan, at least, and the defense did improve overall as the season progressed and he started those last 4 games. I guess we’ll have to trust the coaches here, but a playmaking safety would be a wonderful thing to have with the pressure the defensive line is able to generate.

Overall, the defense has some big holes due to either lack of talent, questionable durability, and/or lack of experience. The salary cap has kept Gettleman’s hands tied and with no third-round pick, he can’t afford to “miss” on either pick in the first two rounds. I am glad I’m not in his shoes, but it’s exactly the situation he was hired for. In about 5 weeks, we’ll all know what the plan looks like.

Can’t wait!

Topics: Carolina Panthers

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