Once a stalwart position for the Carolina Panthers, DE is now in a state of rebuilding with the departure of Julius Peppers. The mantle is now passed to the new generation of ends who hope to emulate the positive aspects of players like Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker.
While this new crop of players are familiar faces, their roles will be greatly increased in 2010 and they will be required to step up and fill the void left by Peppers who some think to be the NFL's best DE.
Today we look at the 7 players vying for spots on Carolina's roster. We'll asses their chances and try and work out who we'll see in 2010. So join me...
After the jump
Tyler Brayton: 6'6", 280lbs; 8th year- Colorado
Tyler Brayton returns in 2010 and by this point we know what we're going to get from him. Brayton set career highs in almost every category in 2009 and hope to keep up this form after being rewarded with a fresh three year extension. What he gives the Panthers is a reliable run stopping DE who can, and will make the occasional impact on pass rush, but really not an impact player at the position. Tyler will be required to remain the reliable veteran on one side while he's spelled on 3rd down and other players are relied on to be the sizzle to his steak
100% chance to make the roster, 85% chance to start
Charles Johnson: 6'2", 275lbs; 4th year- Georgia
After waiting for three seasons Johnson is getting his shot. The former 3rd round draft pick has proven to be very effective in limited time posting 10 sacks in the last two seasons. Johnson is a highly skilled pass rusher and seems to have a natural instinct for getting to the quarterback. What remains to be seen is Johnson ability to handle the first three downs and get the stops required in the run game. Up until now Johnson has done everything the team has wanted from him and I think he'll have a surprising season to most fans in 2010.
100% chance to make the roster, 75% chance to start
Everette Brown: 6'1", 256lbs; 2nd year- Florida State
The player the Panthers chose to spend their 2010 1st round pick on is back for his second season and looks ready to make an impact. There have been several reports backed up with video that Brown has added between ten and fifteen pounds of muscle to his frame in the offseason and looks more physically ready to play 4-3 defensive end. Though Brown played in very limited time he did put up impressive rookie numbers in several categories beating out the vast majority of other 4-3 DE's from the 2009 draft. In this upcoming season he figures to be spelled with Tyler Brayton on 3rd down, but there is a possibility that if he makes the expected leaps and strides that he could leap an incumbent starter.
100% chance to make the roster, 20% chance to start
Eric Norwood: 6'1", 241lbs; Rookie- South Carolina
Though Norwood is the definition of a ‘tweener' it's likely he will see some time at DE in the 2010 season in pass rush situations. Norwood is blazing fast and has fantastic raw abilities, but he's an NFL project. Norwood will need to spend some time in an NFL conditioning program (much like Everette Brown did last year) because in his current frame he is a little small to be playing DE with any regularity. That being said, he's definitely the kind of player who the Panthers like who will flat out play and hit someone in the mouth when needed.
90% chance to make the roster, 0% chance to start
Greg Hardy: 6'4", 277lbs; Rookie- Ole Miss
Hardy is the enigma of the current group. Once hailed to be the best player in the 2010 draft by Sports Illustrated he fell drastically due to injury questions and a poor combine showing. Despite these concerns few thought Hardy to fall any further than the late 3rd or 4th round, so when the Panthers selected Hardy in the 6th round he was regarded as a steal at the position. Prior to the injury issues Hardy was drawing strong and warranted comparisons to Julius Peppers. Much was made of his 4.87 time in the 40 yard dash as scouts thought it could be an indicator to a poor work ethic; early reports out of the Panthers' OTAs is that Hardy is working hard and is extremely fast. Keep an eye on him.
85% chance to make the roster, 5% chance to start
Hilee Taylor: 6'2", 250lbs, 3rd year- North Carolina
The 3rd year player has been a solid backup the last two seasons and has shown flashes the last two pre-seasons. It's going to be an uphill battle for Taylor who looks to be a victim of circumstance rather than due to any fault of his own. I think a lot of his fate as a Panthers hinges on rookie Eric Norwood. If the Panthers see Norwood projecting as an OLB during training camp then Hilee Taylor's chances to remain with the Panthers rise greatly, but if Norwood looks like he can be an NFL DE it will be tough to justify keeping six players at the position.
20% chance to make the roster, 0% chance to start
Eric Moore: 6'4", 268lbs, 5th year- Florida State
The former 5th round pick Eric Moore has bounced from three different teams before signing a future/reserve contract with the Panthers in January of 2010. I believe Moore was brought in as a safety valve in case Peppers left and the bottom fell out of the draft and the Panthers didn't land any targets. As it stands now Eric Moore will have to put in a monumental effort to land a spot on the roster and with the talent in front of him I just don't see it happening.
0% chance to make the roster