There is no position that will receive more scrutiny at this training camp than defensive tackle. The Panthers will start camp with a collection of young and upcoming players, at least in their eyes. The truth is we have little to base our optimism on. The most experienced Panther in the group is Tank Tyler, who played in 6 games with the Panthers last season after coming over in a trade with KC. The remaining players have even less playing experience in the last year.
Ed Johnson has played in 5 games the past two seasons and Corvey Irvin spent his rookie season on IR. That leaves 3rd year player Nick Hayden who has three starts in his two seasons and Louis Leonard, who played all of one game for the Panthers before landing on IR as well. For these reasons at least one pundit has called the Panthers defensive line the worst in the NFL.
32. Carolina Panthers: How the mighty have fallen. A few years ago, the Panthers had a brutally tough line featuring Julius Peppers and Kris Jenkins. No, they have try-hard guy Tyler Brayton(notes) to go with a bunch of JAGs (Just A Guy) like Nick Hayden(notes), Louis Leonard(notes) and Everette Brown(notes). Rookie Greg Hardy(notes) has potential, but he needs to get his head on straight.
I think much of this ranking is based on the loss of DE Julius Peppers more so than the two DT's Maake Kemoeatu and Damione Lewis. Yet the Panther brass must think they have some players in this group and I'm inclined to trust them going into TC. If they end up disappointed in what they have Furney won't hesitate to pull the trigger on a trade or cut down casualty.
Of course the members of this site has a more positive outlook on this group. If you're a stats guy here is a good post by James that shows that by extrapolating the limited stats over the course of a season we might not have the drop off in performance many outsiders expect.
As I pondered the odds of which players are most likely to start I found I couldn't give any one player more than a 80% chance to start. Let's look at the candidates:
Tank Tyler 6'2" 306 25 yrs old, 98% chance to make the roster, 80% chance to start
When the KC Chiefs switched to a 3-4 defensive Tyler was a square peg in a round hole. The Panthers didn't hesitate to bolster their suddenly thin defensive line. Tyler now finds himself the senior player at the position for the Panthers and stands to start at RDT. He will be challenged at the position by Corvey Irvin and Derek Landri, both who could elevate their standing with a tremendous preseason. My money is on Tyler and a break out year where the new starter gets 4 sacks, 40 tackles and recognition as a force on passing downs.
more after the jump...
Louis Leonard 6'4" 325lbs 25 yrs, 98% chance to make the roster, 75% chance to start
Leonard is a classic LDT in a 4-3 defense, another guy who suddenly found himself in Cleveland's new 3-4 defensive and no place to go. Here's what we could find on Leonard after the Panthers traded for him just before the start of the 2009 season. Unfortunately Leonard played one game before losing the rest of his season to a leg injury. Yet based on his short time in pads he made enough of an impression on the staff to think he could replace Kemo. He will get every chance to do just that. I fully expect the big guy to make us forget all about he guy he replaced.
Ed Johnson 6'2" 296 26 yrs, 80% chance to make the roster, 20% chance to Start
Johnson is the real wild card of the group. He played well as a rookie for the Colts, getting 16 starts before off the field issues derailed his bright career the following season. He's spent the past two seasons trying to find himself. He comes to Carolina with the blessing of DC Ron Meeks, who hopes to resurrect the rookie who showed a knack for collapsing the pocket and being tough against the run. He may not start but he will be in the rotation and have a chance to prove his doubters wrong.
Corvey Irvin 6'3" 302 lbs 25 yrs, 90% chance to make the roster, 10% chance to start
Irvin was a feel good story after the 2009 draft; small town kid overcomes adversity to rise from a lower tier program to start at SEC power UGA. Here's what we had to say about Irvin after the 2009 draft:
Irvin was known more as a run stopper in college, a ‘high-motor’ guy who could potentially develop into a pass rusher if he can combine his long arms with improved technique. Irvin was not highly recruited going into college yet he beat the odds to get to where he is today.
Irvin's rookie season came to a close as quick as it started as he was the second of three Panthers DT's that would end up on IR. Though Irvin's roster spot is probably safe the Panthers are usually cautious with unproven players coming off an injury. Irvin will have to play hard and perform on a weekly basis to earn a jersey.
Nick Hayden 6'4' 294 lbs 24 yrs, 25% chance to make roster, 2% chance to start
Hayden is a player that has gotten the most out of his opportunities but I think in the end the Panthers will feel he has little upside. Hayden is a former 6th round pick that was signed to the practice squad as a rookie but then made the roster after two DT's were lost to IR in preseason. In his two starts in 2009 Hayden was often over matched at LDT though you can never accuse him of not trying. The high-motor player plays with fire and though he will battle long adds yet again its hard to bet against him.Okay, I think his run in Carolina will end before the season starts.
Derek Landri 6'2" 290 26 yrs, 20% chance to make the roster, 5% chance to start (pictured)
Landri is a former 5th round pick by Jacksonville who brings a surprising amount of experience for a guy that was claimed off waivers at 26 yrs old. He played a good bit his first two season but was waived in December of 2009, I imagine to make room for an injury replacement. The Panthers picked him up the next day and now the only question that remains is whether the Jaguars made a good decision or not. The Panthers will keep four DT's so Landri has to show he worth the risk of dumping a prospect like Corvey Irvin or Nick Hayden for him to stick. I'm not liking his chances at this point but I think he has a realistic chance none the less.
Andre Neblett 6'0" 295 lbs 22 yrs, 1% chance to make the roster, 20% chance ot make the practice squad
Neblett comes with a fairly impressive resume in spite of coming from a sub-par Temple program. Here's a scouting report from Big Cat Country. I could paint a very positive picture at this point and talk about how he really could make the roster if he does this or that. Naaaa...he's simply training camp meat with a slight chance to make the practice squad.