Dec 22, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers players including linebackers Luke Kuechly (59) and Thomas Davis (58) and defensive back James Dockery (31) and head coach Ron Rivera and tight end Richie Brockel (47) react late in the game. The Panthers defeated the Raiders 17-6 at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

An NFL Top-Ranked Defense May Have Panther Coach Ron Rivera “Superbowl Shuffling” Once Again


The Carolina Panthers were ranked 10th last year in total defense (yardage allowed) but that doesn’t impress head coach Ron Rivera.

After all, he was an All-American linebacker in college and played for a top-ranked NFL defense, the 1985 Chicago Bears. 

Remember them? The team that eventually won Super Bowl XX? And who could forget the “Superbowl Shuffle”? 

Yep, Coach Rivera knows the steps.

Now, as a coach, he must figure out the steps involved in putting together a top-ranked defense. 

Starting with the line, the Panthers defensive-end duo is already one of, if not the best tandem in the league.  Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy were an unstoppable force last year. Johnson racked up 12.5 sacks and Hardy finally had the breakout year that was anticipated with 11 sacks. See Pro Football Focus for more on these two up and coming stars.

Speaking of stars, Rivera addressed the Panthers’ woes at tackle by drafting Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short back-to-back in the first two rounds. Lotulelei is already listed as the starting right defensive tackle and Short is listed 2nd on the depth chart at left defensive tackle behind Dwan Edwards.

Linebacker Jon Beason returns to play on the outside, alongside Luke Kuechly, last season’s NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Kuechly finished with an NFL-high 164 tackles, the first rookie to lead the league in tackles since San Francisco linebacker Patrick Willis in 2007. Kuechly also had two interceptions and a sack in his first season in the league.  

At strong side linebacker the steady veteran, Thomas Davis is still around doing a solid job.  And the Panthers have signed former New York Giants’ linebacker, Chase Blackburn to help add depth.

The secondary has been the most suspect group of the defense, giving up 3,568 passing yards last season.

Captain Munnerlyn holds down the left corner opposite Josh Norman.  Charles Godfrey is atop the depth chart at strong safety with former Raider Mike Mitchell listed as his backup.

Playing time for the free safety may be the most interesting of all with the unproven and often erratic Haruki Nakamura still listed as a starter. Undrafted rookie safety Robert Lester had a good spring with the team and may push Nakamura for playing time. Lester had 14 interceptions as part of two national championship teams at Alabama and has shown some good size (6-foot-1, 215 pounds) and instincts according to the Charlotte ObserverThere has even talk of former Eagles and Rams safety Quintin Mikell joining the squad, and  according to Geoff Mosher of CSNPhilly.com, a deal could be done soon.

The new-look Panthers sure have one defender excited.  Captain Munnerlyn told WFNZ-AM on Tuesday, “Nobody (is) really giving us a chance in the secondary, you know, to be great, or having any talent in the secondary. For me, being a leader in the secondary, it’s my opportunity to step up and be that guy.  It’s going to be scary how good (this team) can be. And I’m excited about this year. I feel like we can be the top defense in (the NFL).

The Panthers certainly have reason to be optimistic about this season’s defense. Whether they can live up to Munnerlyn’s expectations remains to be seen. But if Coach Rivera can figure out the steps to assembling another top-ranked defense, the Panthers may do a little “Super Bowl Shuffling” of their own.

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  • Brad Hodges

    Godfrey moved to free safety at the end of last season and is going to start there this year. The roster battle is for strong safety not free.

    • Ed Jones

      I was gonna say… Maybe actually knowing the team isn’t a pre-requisite for wring a Panthers article anymore

    • Guest

      You are correct, sir. Thanks for pointing that out. I will try to make the correction soon.

    • tim

      i doubt that, haruki is a good player that has been catagorized as a bad one based on two plays he made during the atl game. he is aggressive, a good tackler and someone who will make less mistakes and missed tackles than godfrey. yes he might not be as good as an athlete but he is much smarter and does more for the defense then godfrey would at the position. expect for haruki to get one more year as a starter for the panthers to show the fans, what the coaches already know, he is capable of.

      • Catman

        Nakamura gets completely turned around, has a 3-inch vertical leap, and is a liability in pass coverage. He just doesn’t have the athletic ability to go up and defend the ball at the highest point.

      • Catman

        Ohhhh really? LOL

    • Catman

      I think Mike Mitchell will nail down the SS job by opening day.

  • Mark Bradford

    Folks let us stay real here. I am as much of a Panthers fan as anybody, but I am not going to mention Panthers and SB or even playoffs in the same sentence until I see the first game at least. I am as excited as anybody to see what the defense as well as offense will look like against a very good Seattle team.

  • ahrcshaw

    Mark Bradford is right, proof is in the pudding, when we see the tone and play of a game, we will be able to determine the fate of this 2013 team. No doubt there is a lot of talent, but there was talent last year as well. This 2013 team is good on paper and could be as good as the 2004 SB team, buuuuut what happens on the field is what counts. We will see. Go Panthers.

  • Bobby Gosnell

    What do you think now?