One of new Panthers DC Sean McDermott's biggest challenges once the offseason gets under way is figuring out how to get LB Dan Connor on the field. Connor was averaging just under 6 tackles a game at MLB before a hip injury landed him on IR. Let's assume that he fully recovers from that injury. The 4th year LB is ready to contribute on 1st and 2nd downs at least in my view. If you agree then the question is where do you put him?
Let's first discuss whether we should put him anywhere. If Thomas Davis returns to 100% health as well we have to assume he steps back in at WLB. If the Panthers re-sign James Anderson he played his best games in the regular season at SLB. Of course that leaves Jon Beason to play MLB where he has earned two Pro Bowl nods.
We will look at the scenarios for getting this tackling machine on the field...after the jump...The answer gets easier if either Davis or Anderson do not return. But what if the Panthers do bring them both back? Does that point to a lack of confidence in Conner as a starter? Let's list off the options and discuss:
- Let Anderson leave and put Connor at SLB - This seems a fairly likely scenario given Anderson will be looking for a nice raise and Connor is ready to start.
- Re-sign Anderson but start Conner at SLB over Anderson - The Panthers could decide to keep the depth both players provide and let them battle it out in TC
- Let Thomas Davis leave and put Connor at SLB and Anderson at WLB - Anderson has played the WLB a good bit in the preseason and has excelled at the spot. I see no reason he couldn't make the switch again but I admit he doesn't have the speed we probably need for 3 downs
- Let Davis leave and put Connor at MLB and move Beason to WLB - Though Beason appeared to need adjustment time at WLB last season I still think he could be a PBer at the position. It's hard to see Beason moving from the middle though at this point.
- Re-sign Davis but start Connor at SLB and Anderson at WLB - Sit Thomas Davis on the bench? That's crazy talk!
- Re-sign Davis and Anderson and sit Connor except for the 3-4 base packages - This option has a pretty good probability as well depending on how much the Panthers work from a 3-4 base.
- The last option is one I know has been suggested on CSR but is not one I would advocate: trade Conner - I can't imagine we would get value for the former 3rd round pick, another 3rd at the best I imagine. That's cheap for a starter-quality MLB.
Now if you disagree with the premise of this post, that you believe Conner is not good enough to crack the Panthers starting LB core if both Davis and Anderson return then I must say I can't provide any stats to back up my position other than the 6 tackles per game average. I admit that is not lighting the world on fire at MLB. In the 8 games Conner started at MLB the Panthers had some good games in stopping the run and some back ones. It sure seemed to me Conner was always around the ball when he was in there.
In looking up the stats for this post I watched a couple highlights from the first 8 games and found examples of both the good and the bad. In particular, on the 68 yd TD jaunt by Matt Forte, the longest against the Panthers on the season, Conner was not in the game as the Panthers were in a nickel defense.
So take the poll on what you think the Panthers should do with LB Dan Conner.