With training camp less than two weeks away, CatCrave proudly presents an analysis on each position on the Panthers roster. In an effort to prepare you for the excitement of watching your favorite team prepare for the season, we will analyze the projected strengths and weaknesses at each position.
In the fifth issue of the CatCrave pre-training camp breakdown, we switch sides of the ball to begin reflecting on a Panthers defense which was a driving force behind a playoff berth and an impressive 12-4 record. Smothering opposing quarterbacks and handing punishment to the most proficient offenses this side of the Appalachian, Panther Nation’s dreams of a dominating defense came to fruition last season as Riverboat Ron’s gang finished second in overall defense.
One of the dynamic forces of this strong effort was the defensive line which saw their brightest young star, Greg Hardy selected to his first Pro Bowl. Defensive End Charles Johnson chipped in to team up with Hardy for 27.5 sacks last season. Looking to remain one of the best in the league, Carolina’s defensive line shows the characteristics of a hungry group looking to feed its’ ravenous appetite.
Strength: As previously mentioned, Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson were the top pass rushers on the defensive line of Carolina. Harassing quarterbacks, the dynamic duo, with their impressive sack numbers, combined to force eight fumbles and recovered two. Tying with the St. Louis Rams duo of Robert Quinn and Chris Long for most sacks by a tandem of defensive ends last season, the two are at the peak of their game and should once again wreak havoc against quarterbacks this year. Games against the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens, and Philadelphia Eagles are three potential standout opportunities for the Panthers to get after the quarterback, as each team finished at the bottom of the league in sacks allowed for 2013.
While their athleticism and larger-than-life charisma draws more of the accolades and attention from fans, the defensive ends of any team are tremendously helped by the play of the big uglies in the trenches. Fortunately, as well as their defensive ends have played, the Panthers are also strong in depth and talent in their defensive tackles.
Dwan Edwards, Star Lotulelei, Colin Cole, Kony Ealy, and Kawann Short provide the depth for the defensive tackles with Ealy able to play both end and tackle. Holding opposing rushers to a measly 86.9 yards a game (second best in the league), the Panthers front four were spectacular a season ago and should even improve with the selection of Kony Ealy from Missouri. Projected as a first round prospect, the former Tiger fell to the Panthers in the bottom-half of the second round as he was selected as the 60th pick. Look for Ealy to play with a chip on his shoulder as he will not soon forget all of the teams who passed on him in the first round.
Weaknesses: Outside of a major injury to Johnson or Hardy at DE, or a variety of injuries in the interior, there are minimal on-the-field problems that could become an issue for the Panthers. The line has a well balanced group of experienced veterans in Edwards, Cole, Hardy and Johnson. Along with these veterans, we have up-and-coming talented rushers like Ealy, Lotulelei and Short to keep the line fresh with rotating in and out of plays.
Off the field, the potential cloud that is hanging over the Panthers’ facility is the legal trouble involving star DE Greg Hardy which could create a downpour on Carolina’s playoff aspirations. Found guilty of assaulting his former girlfriend Tuesday afternoon, Hardy is likely to face disciplinary action from the Commissioner’s office. A multiple game suspension could leave the Panthers without their best rusher in a divisional game against Tampa Bay, as well as a few more against three of the most talented quarterbacks in the league in Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore.
Recovering from a 0-4 or 1-3 record is nearly impossible in such a competitive Conference and Division, and with tougher games down the road, every game does matter.
Hardy’s temporary departure could mean more wear and tear on veterans. Also as a result, Ealy and the other young tackles would be thrown into the fire quickly in September and could struggle early in the season. This could lead to a defensive line that flourished last season, looking only average early in the year. On the field, the Panthers have little to worry about involving their defensive line, unfortunately, trouble from off the field is already leaving questions to what many believe is the most talented and stable position on the Carolina roster.