Defensive Line is Key to Carolina Panthers Success in ’12 Season
There are high hopes for the Carolina Panthers going into the 2012 season. With all the turmoil the New Orleans Saints are dealing with it will be difficult for them to play as well as they did last season. Tampa Bay will not be easy, but they are not in the same class as the Panthers.
Atlanta’s offense was not as good as Carolina’s last year (402 points to 406 for the Panthers). The difference was the defense (the Panthers allowed 429 points, Atlanta just 350).
The key to the team’s success this season will not be with Cam Newton and the offense. It’s going to be with the defense and its ability to stop opposing runners and harass their quarterbacks. Both tasks start with one group, the guys up front in the defensive line.
The question is, are they good enough to get the job done? The answer is a real, big, definitive—maybe.
Last season the Panthers sack total was one of the lowest in football (31; tied for No 25). The run defense was also No 25 in the league (130 yards a game allowed). The one thing they did do right was cause fumbles (tied for No 2 with 10).
Now the responsibility for all that does not necessarily fall squarely on the shoulder of the defensive line; linebackers are of the recipient of the hard work the line does. However, if the backers are going to do their job the line has to do a better job of theirs.
Defensive end Charles Johnson will do his part once again this season. Last year he had 41 tackles and nine sacks, nearly one third of their total—and that was actually a down year for him (he had 12 sacks in ’10).
As for the rest of the line, it is hard to really complain too much about them since they are a collection of mid to late round picks that are being forced to play a high number of snaps before they are really ready.
- Greg Hardy was a top defensive end for Ole Miss before getting drafted by the Panthers in the sixth round in ’10. He’s improved in each of his first two seasons, but there is still room for growth.
- Terrell McClain and Sione Fua are both ’11 draft picks (third round). Neither was bad, but more is needed.
- Ron Edwards will likely share time with McClain and Fua.
- ’12 fourth round pick Frank Alexander (Oklahoma) will share time with Hardy depending on how well he is able to adjust to the NFL game.
They just don’t have much experience in the front four. Does that mean they are going to be bad? Of course not! Young players often need time to grow into the NFL game. When the unit is primarily made up of young players (all needing to grow), it shows in what the unit can do.
This season the group will have more help out of the linebackers who were hit pretty hard by injuries last season. Add Boston College beast Luke Kuechly to the mix, and the defensive line could very well get the time that they need in order to gel.
Should they be able to gel—watch out NFC South.