September 9, 2012; Tampa, FL, USA; Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) warm up prior to the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Assessing the Panthers Linebacking Core

The Carolina Panthers already had a pretty good defense last year, and it was debatable that the Panthers had a better defense than the offense last year. That defense as already gotten better with the new additions of Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short, Drayton Florence, and D.J. Moore, and with the additions to the Linebacking Core, A.J Klein and Chase Blackburn, I am expecting that the Panthers are lined up for an even better season on the defensive end of the ball.

The Panthers Linebacking Core was already set for another great season, with Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis coming off great seasons, and Jon Beason coming back from IR. Kuechly obviously the center of the Panthers defense and the Panthers have taken all the steps to put him in as the leader. Moving him into the middle, a spot that has been relegated to Jon Beason up until last year, positioned him to be the immovable center of the Panthers defense. I am expecting him to be named the defensive captain in the next coming years; it seems to be inevitable.

Nov 18, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera talks with outside linebacker Thomas Davis (58) after a personal foul penalty during the fourth quarter at Bank of America Stadium. The Bucs defeated the Panthers 27-21 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Davis also adds another layer to the Panthers Linebacking unit. Davis is the Panthers Ray Lewis, or at least he is to me. He adds the emotional center for the Panthers defense, and though Davis may not be the better Linebacker, he is still a starter in the NFL and would be on any other team. I’m not so sure if you remember when Davis recorded that one interception against Atlanta, but I sure do, and when he caught that ball I remember the entire defense running up and celebrating with the rest of the team. Coming off of his huge surgery, his ready to work attitude only added to the strength of Davis’s stance with the team, reaffirming his role as the emotional center of the defense.

With Beason coming back, the Linebacking unit will only grow in strength. Beason is a three time pro-bowl selection for the NFC team and the defensive captain for the Panthers during his active time as the Panthers middle linebacker. And he only seems amicable to let Kuechly take his spot as the Panthers middle linebacker, he also seems willing to do anything for the future success for the Panther’s franchise. However, the Panthers did cut James Anderson during the offseason leaving them without their starting outside linebacker for a small amount of time, before we knew where Beason would end up.

May 10, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers linebacker A.J. Klein (56) walks to the field prior to the start of practice held at the Carolina Panthers practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Panthers made up for it by acquiring Chase Blackburn from the Giants and A.J. Klein through the 2013 NFL Draft, two quality Linebackers who add some serious depth to the unit.  Not to mention the quality backup Linebacker and special teams captain, Jordan Senn. So with all that being said, I honestly and truly think that the Panthers Linebacking unit will definitely improve from next year. Klein works hard, being one of the players that Ron Rivera has praised the most from the team mini-camp, and with his ability to play all three spots with the unit I expect him to be the first backup for all three spots. Blackburn also seems to be his very own entity. A special teams captain with the Giants for the past two years, Blackburn has worked his way up from the bottom, an undrafted free agent out of Akron, not getting any recognition at the beginning but then working hard to earn a starting job through hard work in the special teams unit. He also is a Super Bowl champion, something the Panthers seem to lack.

The Panthers have a great Linebacking unit. When it’s all said and done, the Panthers may have one of the better Linebacking units in the entire NFC and possibly the NFL. The unit is obviously a strength for the Panthers and is something the team should try to exploit. It should prove for a very exciting year for the Panthers Linebacking unit, something I can’t wait to see. That’s what I think about the Panthers Linebacking unit but, as always, what do you guys think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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