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This is the second in a series of sponsored posts by Sprint that details the Panthers game changing offseason moves. In part one I described the release of long time Panther QB Jake Delhomme and the resulting ascension of back-up Matt Moore. This week we turn to the other side of the ball and the exit of Panthers DE Julius Peppers. As one of the league's premier pass rushers since 2002 Peppers has been the face of the Panthers defense and a player every opposing offensive coordinator must game plan for if they want to keep their QB upright. His loss and who is going to fill his shoes remains one of the major unknowns as the Panthers prepare for the 2010 season.
The decision to not place the franchise tag on Julius Peppers yet again was an easy one... financially. The $20M+ price tag would be hard for any owner to swallow (Dan Snyder withstanding). What most pundits outside Carolina assume is the Panthers are now in turn ‘rebuilding' their defense in order to compensate for his loss. I agree there is probably some truth to that but the replacement effort may not be as great as the pundits assume.
The Panthers are not usually caught by surprise and even when they are they tend to take swift action in the offseason. After the 2005 NFC Championship game that saw the Panthers run out of serviceable running backs they spent 1st round draft picks on RBs in two of the next three drafts. The drafting of Jon Beason in 2007 foretold a soon to be realized need at LB. More to the point in 2009 the Panthers correctly forecasted the Peppers exit in 2010 and consequently traded up to draft one of the best pass rushing prospects in FSU DE Everette Brown.
Yet now that Peppers is gone and Brown has a year under his belt the Panthers continue to add more options to the pass rush. They started with a 4th round selection of DE/OLB Eric Norwood from South Carolina. The former Gamecock is known for his relentless pursuit of the QB and leadership abilities. A classic ‘tweener' Norwood will surely bring a solid pass rushing option whether his hand is in the ground or he' standing up.
Later in the draft the Panthers selected Greg Hardy, the sliding DE from Ole Miss who could be one of the steals of the draft. The highly athletic Hardy stands 6'4", weighs 280 and has been compared to Peppers in physical stature. Yet his recent injury and weight control problems provide some pause and reason to temper our expectations of Hardy in the near term. Yet for the price of a 6th round pick the potential was too much to pass up. With a conditioning program and the tutelage of defensive line coach Brian Baker Hardy could develop into an every down DE.
No one expects any one player to replace Julius Peppers production or even his presence on the field in 2010. Yet Panthers Defensive Coordinator Ron Meeks is known for molding pass rushers from smaller, less physically gifted players than Julius Peppers. In time one or more of these prospects could require opposing offensive coordinators to sweat the night before the match-up. In time, possibly a short period of time, this game changing offseason move could become the classic ‘addition through subtraction' move that surprises everyone; everyone outside of the Carolinas that is.
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