The next Panthers positional review is defensive end. Prior to All-Pro Julius Peppers recent signing of his franchise tender the depth chart at DE was anybody’s guess. With Peppers back in the fold things are a little clearer at least on one side of the equation. The remaining question is who will man the other side across from Peppers on 1st and 2nd down. Here’s the current depth chart at DE for the Panthers current roster:
As much as I want to make a bold prediction that 3rd year player Charles Johnson will unseat Tyler Brayton I’m thinking this is one of those cases where HC John Fox sticks with the more experienced player in Brayton. With that resolved the only question is whether the Panthers keep five DE’s or not. Last season they only keep four so this could be the end of Hilee Taylor and/or
Julius Peppers – 100% chance of starting at RDE
There is no doubt we have spent enough bytes of space on this blog about Peppers so I’m not going to go into a lot of detail. I predict Pep will start on the right side but will be moved around just as he was last season. He could potentially line up at all 4 DL spots throughout the course of the game and I don’t see that changing. My hope is that he improves on his 14.5 sacks and 51 tackles last season in a bid to prove he is worth the huge price tag is commanding.
Tyler Brayton - 70% chance of starting at LDE
As stated earlier I’m going with the safe bet that Brayton sticks one more season in
Charles Johnson – 20% chance of starting at LDE; 100% chance to make the roster
This should be a big season for Johnson as he looks to show he has skills to be an every down DE in this league. His 6.5 sacks and 40 tackles last season as a back-up are impressive and the word is he has worked on his strength and size in the off-season. My hope is Johnson develops into a Mike Rucker type of DE who excels first as a run stopper but can also get after the QB. Though I only give an outside chance of him to start game one in 2009 I think that he will be a starter next year if not later this season.
Everette Brown – 10% Chance of Starting a LDE; 100% chance to make the roster
The Panther shave the luxury of letting the rookie Brown soak up the newness of the NFL and the Panthers scheme without throwing him in the fire. I have no doubt in future seasons he will be a starter for this team but I only see an outside chance of it happening right away. Brown will instead be the situational pass rusher similar to that of Hilee Taylor last season though I see Brown getting on the field more. The only question is whether he will stick to his more natural right side or play the left side as he did recently during OTA’s. Given the positive comments from RT Jeff Otah from OTA’s about Browns speed and strength he might end up the first pass rusher off the bench and line-up across from Pep. This the dream scenario for Panther fans in my opinion as it means we’ve speed coming of the edge from both sides.
Hilee Tayor – 10% Chance of making the roster
In 10 games last season
I believe Brinkley is still eligible for the PS and that is his best chance at this point in my view. Brinkley didn’t leave much of an impression last preseason so he really needs to step it up if he is going to stay in the league. If he plays well on special teams I think there is an outside chance the Panthers to use a roster spot on him but I wouldn’t bet on those odds.