During the offseason, one of the most popular stories for all teams are the ensuing camp battles among certain positions. One camp battle specifically talked about this year for the Carolina Panthers is between Chase Blackburn and A.J. Klein for Outside Linebacker.
I will be the first to admit that when this topic came up I was in the Klein camp. Klein had a noteworthy rookie season and seemed to make more plays on minimal opportunities than Blackburn did as a starter. Klein specifically looked good during the week 10 game against San Francisco when at times he could easily be confused with Luke Kuechly. He started in the place of Blackburn during that game and registered a sack as well as notching 5 tackles.
In that game against San Francisco, the Panthers were specifically dominant on defense; holding the 49ers offense to less than 100 yards both on the ground and through the air. Klein certainly seemed to be a big part of what made the defense so effective that day. Despite Klein’s good play, Blackburn returned to the starting line up a couple of weeks later and resumed his role.
With an entire year under his belt Klein seems primed to make a strong push for the starting spot at Outside Linebacker currently held by Blackburn.
The battle for the spot is still ongoing, but after seeing the first preseason game I am inclined to think there will be a more difficult decision to make than was speculated a month ago.
In the first preseason game against Buffalo last week Blackburn looked faster and more aggressive than the 93 we saw in 2013. It’s important to note that Blackburn struggled with a nagging foot injury that hampered him for most of the season last year. He made two exceptional plays behind the line of scrimmage to stop a pressing Buffalo offense on Thursday night.
Klein also looks good as he continues to develop in his sophomore season, but he has a challenge in taking the starting job from Blackburn. We got our first look at a completely healthy Blackburn playing in the first quarter Thursday night — and he looked good. If Klein is to take the starting spot he will have to convince the coaches he is better and Blackburn isn’t making that easy.
Blackburn spent a long time fighting his way into the starting lineup during his eight years with the New York Giants. He didn’t become a full time starter until 2012 when he started all 15 games he played in and turned in an impressive performance.
As a full time starter in 2012 Blackburn had 98 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 int, and 4 forced fumbles.
Now as a starter for the Carolina Panthers, he is healthy and ready to contribute in much the same way. We didn’t see that Chase Blackburn last year as he dealt with his foot injury, but this could be the year that we do.
There is still plenty of time before the season starts and anything can happen. However, we could be looking at a Chase Blackburn this year that not only holds off the young A.J. Klein for his starting spot, but contributes in a way that none of us expected after last year.